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Yoga for Everything

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Photo by Alexy Almond from Pexels

Published in the Humboldt Independent on March 9, 2021

The term yoga has become one of the biggest umbrellas in the world of health over the past few decades as it has transformed from its spiritual and not necessarily physical underpinnings into many varied manifestations taking place in studios, medical offices, retreat centers, and temples today.

If you are a “yoga fundamentalist”, you might as well stop reading now, because what follows will anger you. But if you are willing to allow the stretching of the word’s meaning to include applications across the whole spectrum of human health, whether physical, spiritual, or intellectual, chances are you can find a form of yoga that suits you and can contribute to your well-being.

Evolution of Yoga

It is generally accepted that the oldest forms of yoga originated in India an uncertain number of centuries ago BCE.

The ancient practices of yoga, right up until well into the 19th century, were largely non-physical, contemplative practices that were shared by varied cultures and traditions, each one shaping the ancient disciplines to suit its particular worldview.

It is generally accepted that the oldest forms of yoga originated in India an uncertain number of centuries ago BCE, as the peoples of the Indus Valley converged and a cultural bloom occurred in which spiritual traditions blended. Seekers of this time used contemplative practices and retreats into nature to achieve a more evolved state of mind. Over the centuries, as cultures split and merged, yoga found itself a loose-fitting garment that was adopted by Islamic, Jain and Hindu faiths.

Spiritual texts began to show some forms of a physical practice in the middle ages, as adepts were depicted in sitting positions designed to provide the most comfort during long periods of stilling the mind.

At the time of the industrial revolution, and as western civilizations had sent the tentacles of colonialism onto the Indian sub-continent, another form of blending began to occur.

Posited by yoga scholar Marc Singleton in his 2010 book “Yoga Body”, what we now call “modern postural yoga” developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at least partly in response to the changing role of the human body as mechanized manufacturing and agriculture took over.

European humans found themselves craving a connection to the body that had been radically changed. To rediscover the body, various systems of exercise were invented in Europe. Perhaps ironically, many of these forms made their way to India in a cross-pollinating fostered by colonialism, where a few key spiritually inclined practitioners of traditional yoga adapted them to be a vital part of their new yoga.

By the middle of the 20th century, yoga masters from India were teaching westerners the physical forms we now think of as yoga, albeit with a definite spiritual leaning. As many westerners were experimenting with eastern philosophies, it was a natural fit.

Modern Yoga

No longer the domain of spiritual gurus alone, yoga was being effectively prescribed for all kinds of conditions often considered to be purely physical in nature.

So how did we get to Goat Yoga from there? An antidote to modern life’s busy-ness, modern postural yoga became more and more popular in the west and both its western and Indian teachers began to branch out and share disciplines when they observed positive changes in health occurring in their students.

No longer the domain of spiritual gurus alone, yoga was being effectively prescribed for all kinds of conditions often considered to be purely physical in nature. Alongside this development came the whole body-mind concept that has come to be accepted more and more widely in mainstream medicine. The value of body-awareness, relaxation, and attention to the breath is well known in most all forms of modern medicine.

You could research on the internet “Yoga for justaboutanything” and get some hits. The International Association of Yoga Therapists is a well-respected organization that maintains a rigorous certification process if you are looking for professional one-on-one help with a certain condition.

Yoga has been proven to be helpful for all kinds of disease and conditions, sometimes through postural forms, sometimes through its contemplative forms, often from blending the two. Yoga has informed many other gentle movement modalities such as Feldenkrais and has also been utilized in training and minimizing injury in top athletes, as even professional sports teams hire yoga teachers.

Dr. Loren Fishman of New York has been studying the effects of yoga on osteoporosis for several decades and has proven that yoga poses can stress bone enough to stimulate bone strengthening.

Drs. Timothy McCall and Baxter Bell are examples of many western-trained docs who are also yoga teachers and weave the two disciplines together in their work.

One of the few pandemic silver linings is that many of these therapeutic yoga offerings can be easily accessed online at this time, as many teachers were forced to close their studios and move their teachings to zoom or other online classroom platforms. An internet search can connect you to highly trained instructors you can learn from in a class or sometimes even individually.

Yoga for all

There is Yoga for Arthritis, Yoga for Back Care, Yoga for Cancer, and so much more, all backed by results showing both physical and psychological benefits from practicing yoga in some form. Not claiming to be a panacea or miracle cure, yoga can be a major part of maintaining good health and can help restore well-being when it is compromised. You get to say what your yoga is, whether it is a simple stretch in the morning, a devotional chant at sunset, a postural sequence to alleviate back pain, or a moment of stillness in the presence of beauty. Make it your habit, your practice, to connect with your breath, feel your body and relax your mind, practices that have been a part of yoga, whatever else it has incorporated, for thousands of years.

Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.