pop goes the world: muscles and peace through yoga

NO COLUMN 5 Dec, Thursday

 POP GOES THE WORLD, by Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  9 December 2012, Sunday

Muscles and Peace Through Yoga

There are many studies proving that work-related stress is linked to many physical and mental health problems. The word “stress” comes from “distress”, which means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” The term comes from a Latin term that means “to draw or pull apart.”

Certainly this is what many feel when laboring under the tension that modern life brings. We are pulled in many directions by work and home obligations, often feeling unable to cope and looking for a way to ease the strain.

Coping mechanisms can be destructive – alcohol, late nights, smoking, unhealthy lifestyles and habits – and positive – exercise, healthy eating, creative hobbies and sports, an interest in spiritual pursuits.

Increasingly popular nowadays is yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit that means “to yoke, to connect” and its emphasis is on the mind-body connection, the interrelation between physical and mental fitness.

Yoga studios have burgeoned in the metropolis since the early part of the last decade, although yoga has been around since at least the ‘70s. I recall my father and his contemporaries in media attending yoga and meditation classes at Ananda Marga (still around in Quezon City) at that time.

Today, yoga studios offer a wide range of classes, from vinyasa to hot flow to anti-gravity yoga. Some emphasize physical fitness, others infuse a spiritual component into the practice with chanting of sutras and mantras.

In search of a sustainable activity suitable for an unfit, sedentary, middle-age person, I happened upon Bliss Yoga Manila in Jupiter Street, Makati, and have attended several classes there.

The front of the Bliss Yoga Manila studio in Makati. One wall is hung with three banners depicting the seven chakras.

Gentle Flow with instructor Jill Kobza is, as described by the Bliss Yoga Manila website, “a slightly-slower paced practice, with focus on the foundation and alignment of poses…emphasis is on awareness, control, and effective use of the breath, as well as on building strength and flexibility.” The class is good for those new to yoga.

The poses mentioned are called “asanas”, and look effortless in photos of advanced yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners, respectively), but they are in truth difficult to do for the newbie. Merely stretching like a triangle in the “downward dog” position or in “plank” (full pushup) or chaturanga (half-pushup) makes you use muscles you probably haven’t felt since high school calisthenics.

Yoga, however, also ensures that each person practice at their own pace and perform comfortable variants of the poses until they get stronger.

Jill Kobza’s Gentle Flow class is perfect for beginners. She is gentle and patient and guides everyone through the surya namaskar – Sun Salutation sequence -  and other poses in a soothing voice.

Buddha has abs! This statue sits in a back corner.

Nancy Siy’s Jivamukti class may also be attended by people at all levels of physical fitness. It is a form of yoga developed by a Western teacher, and incorporates chanting from the Patanjali sutras; Nancy chooses one sentence that conveys a lesson on a trait, such as aparigraha or non-possessiveness. There is nothing religious here, only philosophical and moral.

Jivamukti is more challenging in terms of asanas, and Nancy goes around the studio to correct each student’s pose and help those who need to reach a bit farther or hike their hips up higher. In the latter part of each class, she puts students in the savasana (corpse) pose – lying flat on their backs in repose, with eye pillows for relaxation and to enhance meditation. A lecture tape may be played or silent meditation encouraged. Students are asked to listen to their bodies, to deliberately release any tension, to “let go” with each exhale.

Basic yoga gear: cotton strap (to help stretch the legs and arms), cork block (for elevation during certain poses, until the body gets stronger and more flexible), towel (to absorb sweat and prevent slipperiness), and mat.

Jivamukti, Nancy says, helped her “…calm (her) mind and deal with the external clutter of daily life…” At the time she started, in 2009, she was “irritable, angry, empty,” and “felt that there must be something more than the repetitive cycle of everyday life. Yoga paved the way for my healing and emotional growth.”

Nancy was “awakened to the reality of animal suffering” and has also adopted veganism as a way of life. She was drawn to Jivamukti and its emphasis on ahimsa (non-violence) and “compassion for all beings.”

Jill and Nancy end their classes with a chant of om, giving thanks to their students, and the valediction “Namaste” –  “the spirit in me greets the spirit in you.”

This door handle at the Makati studio is in the shape of a hand lifted in the abhaya mudra (seal/gesture of no fear, protection, benevolence, assurance).  

Yoga is beyond the current popularity it is experiencing as some sort of trendy fitness program. It is an ancient discipline, one of the “six “orthodox” schools of Hindu philosophy,” dating back to before the Common Era and given formal shape in the early centuries CE.

For us today in modern times, it can become a way of life, one that incorporates physical wellness and philosophy into an integrated whole. ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

Follow: Facebook (Bliss Yoga Manila), Twitter (@BlissYogaManila), and Instagram (@blissyogamnl).

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