Many current trends that fall under the umbrella of “yoga” have attracted large numbers of practitioners; one can argue that this is a good thing. However, yoga fitness classes are becoming increasingly narrow and imbalanced, their therapeutic nature all but lost.
On a recent trip, I attended a yoga class in California, at a studio chain that prides itself on being cool, affordable, and accessible to all. The staff was friendly and it was great to move around after three days of travelling. Muscularly and neurologically, however, there was nothing comprehensive or balanced about it. Upon leaving, I could not wait to get to a yoga class!
If you are interested in yoga as even just a physical healing practice, make sure you find a class that truly addresses the strength of all major and minor muscles, tests all ranges of motion of every joint (especially all of the joints of the spine ), and compresses and extends the organs, glands, and tissues in medically therapeutic ways. Many classes makes these claims but do not deliver.
Many yoga fitness classes concentrate only on the hips and shoulders and focus on moving and stretching them in one or two directions. “Finding your flow” and moving creatively have become more important than learning how to contract and relax specific muscles. Massage of the internal organs does not enter into the approach. And the spine has nearly disappeared from the equation!
Balance in a therapeutic yoga class should exist on many levels. One level that is getting lost is the balance between effort and relaxation. In order to create physical and mental balance, rest must take place in equal amounts as effort, and it should take place after every single posture.
Flowing, fidgeting, or moving between postures is not equivalent to rest. Another crucial level is the balance of total backward bending and total forward bending of the spine. The central nervous system is affected very directly by these positions, and this is the main system that we ultimately address in yoga!
Finally, once a student has figured out how to breathe normally (by the nose only, quietly, and evenly), the two major types of breathing should also occur in relative balance. Every posture has specific breathing techniques which should be addressed by the teacher, as the student is ready.
Ann Chrapkiewicz, M.A. (Medical Anthropology, MSU), is owner and mentoring senior teacher at Bikram Yoga Capital Area. She is also founding director of the Ten Percent Project, a non-profit dedicated to communicating the accessibility of the Ghosh and Bikram Yoga traditions. Learn more and contact Ann through WWW.BYCA.YOGA.