Today we find ourselves swamped with options, whether it's the type of mayonnaise we are buying to the pair of jeans we are wearing - the diversity of the same product (effectively repackaged) is vast, and can lead to confusion on what is right for us as an individual.
Yoga in its heritage is derived from India and yet all over the world it is now being practiced in many forms. Yoga means yoke or unity, bringing together mind, body and spirit. Modern-day yoga brings us to classical hatha classes as well as commercial forms of yoga that have been adapted to people's physical and mental desires such as hot yoga, wheel yoga, yoga with pets and more. However, yoga was originally created to strengthen our systems from the inside, using certain movements combined with breath work to achieve optimum balance and ultimate potential.
According to Sadhguru - a realised yogi, mystic and visionary who has dedicated himself to the elevation of the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of all people, founder of The Isha Yoga Centre and The Isha Foundation, 'Hata Yoga' (as he spells it) is the basis of all yoga and stems from a deep understanding of the mechanics of the body, using yogic postures, known as yoga asanas, to enable the system to sustain higher dimensions of energy. He adds that: "The subtle processes of changing the energy in the system and straightening out physical and mental imbalances come from regular practice of these asanas in a precise unified way."
The danger seems to lie in a practice undertaken using classical yoga postures that are designed to generate certain effects on the internal functions of the body (scientifically proven), combined with other movements that may contradict the function of the yoga posture itself.
So what do we need to look out for, especially as yoga beginners, when taking up the practice? If in a yoga class we are doing certain postures/asanas without the proper assistance, alignment, room temperature, surroundings and guidelines, could we actually be doing more harm to our bodies than good?
We spoke to three yoga instructors within Dubai to give us their perspective.
Dr Swami Mahavanam Saraswati
Ph.D. in Yoga from the Bihar Yoga Bharati University in India
Currently works at 136.1 Yoga studio Dubai
In the modern world there is a fantasy approach to yoga, with much misguided information. I learnt and taught yoga in India for 32 years, but then came to Dubai to teach. Due to the expectation of what people believe yoga to be, I have had to compromise in my own classical classes, simply because so much has been misinterpreted already.
In my classical teaching, in 90 minutes you would do 10 yoga asanas or postures. In Western society I see 30 asanas in 60 minutes. Yoga has become a gym. Unfortunately, there are courses that create teachers in 100 and 200 hours and the like, but yoga for me is 24 hours a day for 38 years now and I will keep going; it is not 100 hours and a certificate. There is of course a political game - India is the root of yoga but the USA wants to claim it as their own and so developed these new types of yoga practices that work more on the physical than anything else. Unfortunately the misuse of yoga can cause a lot of injuries and this completely goes against the point of yoga which is to balance and heal.
So how to correct this?
Your teacher should take you through a physical and mental journey. In traditional yoga each and every movement should be around 5 - 6 minutes and the energy points should be explained. The body should be in a neutral temperature whilst in practice - not too hot and not too cold as this puts you into a state of shock which may cause dehydration, dizziness, or even "osmosis", leading to hormonal distruption. Another thing to consider is eating; ideally 2.5 hours should be left between a light meal and a yoga class. This is so your system is empty and the benefits of yoga can be attained. It is also ideal to leave at least 1 hour to shower after your practice so as not to disrupt the heat that has been created in the body.
If something is borrowed, it is not as authentic - consider this when choosing a teacher.
Founder of Yoga Limassol
Currently works at Yoga House, The Greens, Dubai
I was taught that yoga is a way of connecting with one's "true nature"... through techniques such as pranayama, asana and meditation one can still the mind by joining the body, breath and therefore connecting the mind and soul as one - to demolish the ego and be fully present. As our bodies have changed and adapted over time there has been some need for adaptation of traditional yoga asanas. Perhaps hundreds of years ago it was easier for practitioners to sit in such asanas or postures as full lotus or for long periods of time, crossed-legged in meditation. In today's modern society people have got used to the comfort of sofas and other luxuries that manipulate the spine. This can make beginners struggle or have a resistance to yoga so it's important we adjust slightly to the times. We should adapt the postures depending on the condition of the student but always have the same mindful intention, this means understanding the principle of alignment in each of our individual bodies when facing asanas, and always remember the ultimate purpose of yoga when practicing.
500 hours with Yoga Medicine, trained under Tiffany Cruikshank
Currently works at Piloga Studio Dubai
Practising yoga incorrectly would be like having sustenance without getting any nourishment. Yoga asanas are to be practised everyday to strengthen and nourish the physical vessel that houses our consciousness, yet under the correct conditions and under supervision of a certified instructor. There have been a lot of teachers and schools that have led to different interpretations of yoga. However in essence if the message is still the same, to gain freedom and attainment of the higher consciousness, but the method is different, then I feel that is okay, as times have changed. Social media has put up a certain standard that disillusions people from the real essence of yoga. We tend to focus on the end picture of the posture and overlook the fact that it was the journey that took the person to that moment. Not all bodies are the same; some people are gifted with more flexibility, and if another cannot do one posture then the acceptance part of it is what can put people off yoga. Everyone can benefit from a trained and honest instructor.