Yoga for the body and mind

By Miriam Chacko
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yoga-p2AS A COLLEGE STUDENT in Mumbai, I got to delve into new experiences, and hang out with very interesting people, some of whom I still consider good friends.

Although I had lived away from home before, this was my first time living in a big city. Mumbai is a lot of things to a lot of people, and to me, it is a beautiful yet shabby, mixed yet tolerant, fast yet unchanging melting pot of Indian subcultures.

Coming from a small town, it was exhilarating to be stepping into this minefield of modern ideas, speedy commutes and cultural highs and lows. In my first year, I stretched my wallet to attend concerts, to buy clothes that seemed more fitting and to explore the popular eateries and watering holes.

But the excitement and novelty of living in Mumbai soon succumbed to the reality of exams, small allowances and curfew. With endless assignments in Psychology looming over my head, the monotony of class, hostel food and sleep set in. Priorities changed and slowly, even though I longed for a new experience, I grew weary of keeping up with the latest buzz.

I was well into my second year (still weighed down by deadlines and Freudian theories) when a friend explained to me how she used yoga to calm her nerves and reboot. This conversation stayed with me and led to my first tryst with yoga, at the Kaivalyadham Yoga Centre (KYC).

The Centre was a short train ride away from the hostel and classes were conducted on a one-to-one basis for a nominal fee. In meeting my shortcomings of time and money, I was quick to include ‘2 hours at KYC’ into my routine. At KYC, I learnt the basics of yoga, complete with breathing and understanding.

With only a road lying between KYC and the urban shores of Mumbai, the view from the first floor was spectacular. I would enter the Centre, each time, leaving the hurried thoughts of college and city behind. Standing in ‘Vriksasana’ as the sun set over the Arabian Sea strengthened my young mind and improved my stance. Furthermore, the idea of learning by example and applying theory through physical practice was a refreshing contrast to textbook regurgitation.

That was college and now, ten years later I still practice yoga, both at home and outside. On the beach, on the terrace, in the garden or just about anywhere that is safe and spacious enough to put in a good session of yoga.

It is fascinating to think that yoga, a popular practice of the 21st century goes way back to 25th century BC, as confirmed by images retrieved from the ancient cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa.

Since then, in the hands of its followers, yoga has transcended into various styles, following different rhythms and meeting different ends.

The yoga smorgasbord includes Hatha; whose origins are pinned to 1000 AD and more recently, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Sivananda, Kundalini, Kripalu Yoga and then some.

The modernisation of yoga is prevalent all over the Internet, capturing its fast changing nature. In fact, Youtube hosts myriad videos of people explaining the how-tos of yoga.

Some of the yogis (using the term loosely) on Youtube are dancers using yoga to warm-up, some are working bees using it to unwind, some to detox, some to work-out and some to showboat. Youtube Yoga, as with Yoga down the ages, ranges from simple breathing and stretching exercises to advanced yoga poses involving headstands, splits and back bending bridges and everything in between.

The videos are all-inclusive and most provide clear instruction. But for a beginner, it’s best to start yoga with an experienced yoga instructor who can physically guide the student through the Asanas and give customized feedback.

Also, having a yoga instructor minimizes possible mishaps and works better for the body in the long run, as opposed to knotting up or rushing into a pose taken from a Youtube video.

I adhere to the basic practice of yoga for its effectiveness in building flexibility, strength and balance and for its visceral experience. Stripped of its religious connotations and trendy accessories, the simplicity of stretching out over a mat with bare feet is both humbling and comforting.

And although it is an art form in my eyes, Yoga is also investigated and researched for its medical benefits on the mind and its impact on the body at a cellular level. But more on that in another column!

Simply put, people who practice yoga regularly report feeling optimistic, realising more meaning in their lives, and building stronger relations with others (Hayes and Chase, 2010). Years ago, in search of something new, I stumbled upon yoga and since then, it has been a constant in my life. With time, circumstances have changed and stress has taken on new guises but yoga continues to clear the clutter, so to speak.

Miriam Chacko is essentially an environmentalist. After completing her postgraduate degree in Environment and International Development from the University of East Anglia, she got involved in projects promoting environmental awareness. Drawing on her experience, she has written articles on climate change and conservation.

A keen traveller, she has visited many countries in and around Asia and her love of the outdoors and interest in different cultures comes through in her writing.

Miriam has been writing for The Borneo Post SEEDS since 2013.

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