Mind boggling yoga

by Jessica on July 26, 2012

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Yoga Class at Balance Yoga & WellnessRecently two New York Times Articles have chronicled the rise of physically demanding yoga classes in “A Yoga Mind and Boot Camp Workout” and Yoga Classes Reach for the Extremes.

In one class upscale New York City class the teacher puts her “hard bodied” students through
“a grinding cardio routine of lunges, push-ups, side planks and squats.”  The article goes on to describe a new wave of yoga classes that aim to get the heart and lungs pumping rather than any mention of bringing the mind closer to stillness.   These are sanskrit-free classes.   They are mixing in Capoiera, Cardio routines, Boot Camps routines into yoga.    With the explosion of yoga in the USA and growing competition, studios and teachers are trying very hard to distinguish themselves.
Most of the styles are promising a tough workout with very little reference to yoga’s roots in philosophy.  Can you imagine the sages who have passed yoga down for centuries being obsessed with their hard bodies or texting in class?  Last week the headlines chronicled a teacher who was fired from Facebook for asking a student not to text in class.  While there is nothing wrong with texting, the root of yoga is to “yoke” the mind into stillness, so that the true self which is clouded and obscured by our whirlwind of constant thoughts can shine out.
While there is nothing wrong with getting physical benefits from yoga, when this becomes the goal it changes the nature of the practice.  When the goal is to raise the heart rate, and the breathing pattern the mind will become agitated.
Yoga’s philosophy grows from Samkya which describes the nature of the universe and its three attributes which govern and describe all aspects of nature.  “Sattva” which brings clarity of vision, intuition, calm, peace and discernment.  “Rajas” bring frenetic activity, action, movement, and change.  “Tamas” is a state of inactivity, dullness, lethargy, inability to see clearly.  The goal for the yogi is to develop sattva through yoga practices.
The sattvic mind is peaceful, calm and content.  The raja sic mind is anxious, fearful and hyperactive.  Interestingly in the last few years there has been a dramatic rise in the
The modern world with its constant state of change and activity is hyper-rajasic.  And this state of activity desires a yoga which increases its activity and therefore increases the anxiety.   Anxiety is not something that we need more of in society.  Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illness affecting children and adults, and women are twice as likely to be affected.  It is estimated that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety.  (http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety)
One comment from the NYT article stated that the difficulty of the classes keeps their participants from thinking or worrying too much.  Distracting the mind does not make the worry go away.  In mindfulness based approaches, the anxiety or worry is acknowledged, which brings us back to the present moment and to the breath.  Distraction from the worry will not make it disappear.  Many yoga classes, especially those focusing on breathing and meditation encourage students to bring awareness to the present moment, using the breath and ever-unfolding awareness of the richness of the present moment.
Our current obsession with yoga workouts may be fueling mental activity leaving us feeling over-anxious and depressed.
The solution?  Observation.  Learn to observe your breath, your mind, and your emotions.  While taking a yoga class, try to keep the focus on your internal state, notice your thoughts and try to come back to your breath.  Do not compare yourself to there people in the class. Observe how you feel after the yoga class.   Cultivate a home practice.  Wake each morning, give thanks for all that you have, and sit for five minutes, trying to keep your attention on your breath.

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