Yoga is complicated. You wouldn’t think so from the way it’s been marketed – three classes a week, one DVD, and everybody can be an expert! But yoga is a way of life with roots in multiple religions – from Buddhism to Hinduism to Jainism – and is meant to discipline body, mind and spirit. It’s an ancient science that can affect the way your body and mind function, sometimes in ways that modern science cannot explain. As a result, it’s often dismissed, much in the way that modernity seeks to dismiss everything that cannot be explained within the rather limited boundaries within which it functions.
In the 1980s, yoga started turning into a fad. The centuries of thought and study behind it were easily compressed into another way to get fit, which is only one aspect of yoga. What we usually see written about as ‘yoga’, or what we see in the DVDs that assure you that you can be as fit as a goddess if you do it, is Hatha yoga, which is believed to have been founded by Shiva himself. It is incredibly beneficial if you make it an integral part of your life.
Even Hatha yoga has more to it than just asanas, which is the first thing people talk about. Mudras, meditation, breathing techniques, and different purification processes are just as important. The asanas will make you physically stronger and tone you up, but without paying attention to the rest of it, you’re reducing an all-encompassing ancient discipline to a workout regime. Obviously, you cannot expect to experience the changes it can bring about in you if you approach it in this way.
Let’s say you go deeper into what yoga is and try to meditate, using that aspect of it as a relaxation technique. While it will help you, is still extremely reductive. Yoga’s philosophy is intended to help you transcend that; it’s intended to be a path to immortality. Even the physical aspects of yoga, the parts we use to stay fit and reduce aches, are part of that path. After all, immortality involves preservation of mind and body.
An obvious reason why yoga has become so trendy is, of course, celebrities. Hot yoga, for instance, is huge now everybody from Lady Gaga to Sonam Kapoor swears by this particular kind of intense, physical version of an ancient discipline. Plenty of others, from Madonna to Meg Ryan to Ricky Martin, swear that yoga is the reason why they’ve remained centred even while being the focus of much publicity and media attention. Kareena Kapoor and Jennifer Aniston go a step further, claiming that their days would be incomplete without yoga. Some, like Gwyneth Paltrow, aren’t so easily understood; her perception of a healthy lifestyle seems to be drawn from too many things to be called yoga.
Sometimes, it feels like taking things too far. Reese Witherspoon, for instance, claimed to have sessions of Yoga Hop tailored for her. This is a workout routine that combines yoga with high-tempo pop music, a concept that might have disturbed ancient seekers of immortality enough to throw them off their stride considerably. Russell Brand says that yoga helps him “tune into a higher consciousness”, which sounds distinctly unlikely if you know his ‘brand’ of humour.
Prenatal yoga is another big celebrity draw – it helps prepare the body for birth and motherhood, traumatic experiences that need the body to be extremely resilient. It also needs the mind to be strong enough to deal with the pain and strain involved, which makes yoga the natural answer. Of course, the welcome side effect is that it encourages the body to spring back into shape more easily, allowing new mothers to shed their pregnancy weight quicker. Jessica Alba swears by this one. Celebrities even find a way to cash in we all want to get in shape quickly, and Lara Dutta didn’t miss the opportunity to release a DVD with her yoga secrets, to help women get back in shape and lose baby weight.
Yoga, learnt properly, is a way of life. It isn’t something that can be compartmentalised into an hour a day. While practising it can give you toned muscles and help you hone your mind to better focus on your tasks, those benefits should not be your ultimate goal when you decide to invest in the discipline. Let’s put it this way: if we ever reach a point where we truly understand yoga and its purpose, thunder thighs will stop being such an intense priority.