Yoga News - Sept08
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|September 02, 2008
The Yoga News
it too big a stretch?
A few weeks before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics,
I started to notice a buzz on several blogs about yoga as an Olympic
sport. The familiar topic of yoga sports competitions was
also revived recently on the Rishiculture Yahoo Group that I
belong to. From the discussions, it’s clear to me that emotions and
opinions are strong on both sides, for and against.
Competition itself is not a foreign concept in yoga. In fact,
intellectual debates between masters of various spiritual traditions
were a vibrant part of ancient Indian culture. Can we, however, compare
ancient competitions with the modern phenomena of competitive sports?
Are the two similar or worlds apart?
For instance, today’s athlete often possesses an unwavering
determination to win at all costs. This is quite apparent in the
extremely high levels of training, along with the use and abuse of
performance enhancing supplements and drugs in sports today. Modern
sports stars also often seem willing to forego their academic
education, and even neglect to engage in many other aspects of an
evolving, well-balanced life; all in the name of winning.
As a result of this obsessive drive, even the most basic of human
dignities, a humble respect and appreciation for one’s opponent, is
often lost. The focus has become solely about the individual or the
team, their achievements, and a very public recognition of their
As such, much of the modern sports culture does seem in conflict with
the very core ideals of yoga: those of selflessness, compassion,
dignity, balance, humility and respect.
In India today, nearly every state holds some form of yoga sporting
competition; events that have gained much interest since Swami
Gitananda established the Pondicherry Yoga Association (PYA)
and held its first state yoga championships in 1975.
Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, the
current General Secretary of the PYA, says, however, that “many things have changed
over the years, and though I support yoga sport for the children and
youth, I may not say the same for the adult competitions… unless the
theoretical aspect is taken into consideration, it will be only another
Demonstrating this ideal, the PYA now uses yoga competitions to help
create a broader interest in the art and science of yoga in today’s
youth. Since 2000, it has organized the annual Swami Gitananda Best
Yoga Youth Award competitions, which tests the young competitors not
only in the physical asanas, or postures, but also in the theoretical
and other elements of yoga too.
The PYA has also introduced yoga theory aspects into all its yogasana
competitions, with the aim of exposing competitors to spiritual aspects
of the great science of yoga in addition to developing their skills in
Yoga Sport competitions are now seen across the globe. Though some
event founders and even some competitors speak publicly about the
spiritual and lifestyle aspects of yoga, it is not so apparent these
elements and the comprehensive attitude of the PYA is being embraced by
the majority who run or participate in these events.
The now famous Bikram Choudury began organizing his International Yoga
Asana Championship in 2003, a spectacle that was highlighted in the
controversial 2006 documentary Yoga
Inc. Ashley Hooper, a former medal winner, says, "We don't feel we are
competing with each other. We are competing with ourselves.”
Yet the focus of these competitions remains physical. Competitors are
only judged on the ‘perfection’ of the pose, its difficulty, their
poise and composure, and the grace of movement both into and out of the
Other well-known yoga competitions include the annual World Yoga
Championships, sponsored by the International Yoga Sports Federation,
which was first held back in 1989. The European
Yoga Alliance organizes the annual European Yoga
Championships, while regional competitions happen throughout the United
States and Canada as well. All of these focus primarily on the
performance of asanas.
Headed for Gold?
Yogasiromani Gopalji, executive director of The
World Yoga Council, is at the forefront of the push to get
yoga into the Olympics, a movement that has much support as well
as much resistance. In a recent BBC interview, he
rationalizes that “[yoga]
has been a traditional sport in India since more than 1,200 years.”
Esak Garcia, winner of the 2005 Bikram’s International Yoga
Championship, also supports the elevation of yoga to the world sporting
stage, saying that “once
yoga is in the Olympics, it will legitimize yoga for many people all
over the planet.”
Many people, however, don’t feel that yoga needs legitimizing, and that
yoga in the Olympics is counter to the very meaning and purpose of
yoga. This was all too evident in the flurry of responses to a June
posting about the subject on YogaJournal.com’s blog. “Making yoga an Olympic
sport would only increase the already existing over-competiveness”,
wrote one blogger. Another echoes the prevailing attitude that “making yoga competitive
takes the essence right out of it.”
Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanai, in his abstract entitled “A Brief History
and Introduction to Yoga Sport” says, “To prevent yogasana
competitions from falling into the trap of other sports, it is
important that those in charge of these competitions stand firm on
moral and ethical issues. Competitors should sign a statement that they
are vegetarian, non-smoking, non-drinking and non-drug users. They must
have a basic knowledge of yoga theory and marks should be allocated for
yoga deportment and character... yogasana competitions, when put in
this framework, can restore the competitions to their original purpose,
which was to produce a healthy
mind in a healthy body.”
The International Yoga Federation
(IYF) has echoed much of this sentiment in their Yoga
Sports Rules and Regulations, outlining a system
competitors are judged on physical and mental performance, as well as
given spiritual, social, ecological, cultural and philosophical
evaluations. However, the question remains: how can one evaluate
another on such a subjective level?
With the wide range of feelings about yoga as a competitive sport, is
yoga right for the Olympics? David Wallechinsky, an author and
Olympic expert doesn’t think so. In a recent BBC interview, he said, “at this point, the Olympics
is looking more for the sort of sport where the first to cross the line
wins. They are also going more and more for events that play well on
television; [events] that are more action oriented. If you had combat
yoga… maybe that would have a better chance of making it into the
That hasn’t deterred the IYF, which has already contacted the Olympic
committee and plans to petition to have yoga included as an Olympic
sport. The earliest that could happen is 2020. Coincidently, the Indian
Olympic Association has also said that it plans a pitch for New Delhi
to host the 2020 Olympics. If yoga does somehow find its way into this
illustrious event, what the competition will include will most
certainly continue to be a topic of much emotional debate.
the Author: Yogacharya is the director of
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The Loss of Sanskrit in Yoga
modern spiritual tragedy.
By: Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani
Ignorance, or avidya,
is not bliss for the yogi. According to Maharishi Patanjali, it is the
the principle hindrance to spiritual growth, and the root of all evils.
It gives birth to the other four kleshas:
or ego; raga,
aversion; and abhinivesa,
the incessant clinging to life.
The science of yoga is becoming devitalized by modern ignorance,
characterized by superficial, materialistic living. This pollution of
the high science of yoga is nowhere more evident than in the modern
tendency to de-Sanskritize
yogic terminology. Replacing the power-packed Sanskrit words with weak,
inaccurate and Shakti-less
English terminology is the modern trend. In fact, there are places in
the world today where the average person would even be surprised to
learn that yoga itself is a Sanskrit word.
This trend started with the movement of yoga practice from the East to
the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through pioneers
such as Swami Vivekananda and Swami Yogananda. For instance, Swami
Yogananda built a spiritual empire in the USA with his Self Realisation
Fellowship, where his spiritual centres were known as ‘churches’ and
his initiated teachers as ‘ministers’, both terms familiar to the
Christian culture of the West, but completely foreign to the Eastern
heritage of yoga.
The trend of replacing the Sanskrit terms with English words and
familiar foreign concepts continued into the 1950's and 1960's as Yoga
Masters from India flooded the West, seeking to establish their
empires. Popularity of the asanas,
or postures, led to the development of new names. Terms such as ’the
dancer‘, ’the bow‘, ’the plough‘ and ’downward facing dog‘ were
introduced into the yogic vocabulary. These English equivalents,
however, miss the profound depth of meaning that are implicitly implied
in their Sanskrit counterparts.
examples of commonly used yoga terms and their Sanskrit counterparts:
yoga practices have also been tagged with wildly inaccurate
four-footed stick pose
Tapas pose of sage Vashishta
side leg stretch
half(incomplete) cobra pose
Likewise, essential yogic concepts like dharma lost true
in its translation as the rather unattractive and dull word ’duty‘. The
vitality of the idea of abhyasa
was diluted to that most despised word
’discipline‘, giving the impression that this profound,
life-transforming concept was something that one does not wish to do
but is forced to do. The list of examples like these in yoga today is
In his classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by
any other name would smell as sweet.” In yoga, however, we understand
that a name is a subtle, yet very real part of the thing that it is
attached to; a subject that takes much study and awareness to really
understand. With the loss of its Sanskrit terminology and vocabulary,
the great science of yoga has been denuded of a vast part of its
magnificent soul. That, in the end, is a real modern tragedy.
Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani is the resident Acharya of Ananda
Ashram in Pondicherry, India. She is also the Director of the
Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER), the
Director of Yoganjali Natyalayam, and Editor of Yoga Life, a
publication of Ananda Ashram.
For more information, visit: Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani and Ananda
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birth of Lord Ganesha
September 3rd marks the celebratation of Ganesha Chaturthi, the birth
famed elephant-headed God, Ganesha. Ganesha is the son of
Lord Shiva. Also called Ganapati,
he is one of the most
popular Gods in the Hindu pantheon. In fact, no matter what celebration
or ceremony is taking place, Lord Ganesha must first and foremost be
praised, which is why you will find the image and worship of Ganesha in
nearly every home and at the commencement of every occasion in India.
Ganesha represents the call to spiritual power. Soon after his birth he
acquired his famous elephant head when the god Saturn — symbol of
obstacles, difficulties, and delays — came to salute the newborn child.
Saturn's powerful, fatal glance immediately reduced the head of the
baby Ganesh to ashes. At once Vishnu, God of Love, set forth to look
for another head and returned with the head of Indra's elephant,
Airavata. From then on Ganesha came to be called Vighnesa,
“one who removes fear from the minds”, or more simply, the "remover of
obstacles", whose overriding purpose is to help worshippers surmount
Ganesha's four arms stand for his immense
power to help humanity. With the goad, a farm tool in one hand, he can
strike and repel all obstacles. Along with removing obstacles, he can
also put them in our way to prevent us from going down the wrong path.
This is all part and parcel of Ganesha’s seat within the mental plane,
where he organizes and clears the mind so that greater awareness may
flow into it. It is this clarity of vision and understanding, bestowed
by Lord Ganesha, which leads to success and abundance in life.
In any murti,
or statue, Lord Ganesh has only one tusk; this is because he
tore the other one off to scribe the great Indian epic, Mahabharata.
Thus he is also considered a patron of literature.
also teaches us that knowledge and dharma,
our inherent duty and
purpose in life, are of the utmost importance, even worth sacrificing
pride and material possessions to attain.
vehicle, of Ganesha is a tiny mouse, which he is always shown upon. It
is said that the contradiction between the heaviness of the elephant
and the lightness of the mouse is an illustration of Ganesha’s role as
one who brings about unity, balance and harmony.
It is fitting that Ganesha Chaturthi also occurs at a time of year
which, for many, is a time of transition and change. We now begin to
move from summer into the decline of the seasons. Children are off to
school and we're all moving from our active summer lifestyles back into
work and a different daily routine. Ganesha Chaturthi signals the
perfect time to embark upon new projects, to initiate new learning, to
establish new relationships and to breathe new life into our current
May Lord Ganesha remove obstacles, steer you onto the right path and
guide you through this season to prosperity and success!
My Father, My Guru
By: Krista Ford
My father’s physical body is nearing its end. Some might say that he is
dying, but I see that he is evolving, that his spirit is simply
outgrowing his body. Plato said, “Death is nothing more than a
migration of the soul from this place to another.”
As I looked into my father’s eyes, a man who has given much of himself
to others, a man who has been and continues to be greatly honored
because of his gentle ways, I knew that he, a man who has never
has been practicing yoga his entire life.
My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease over ten years ago and
now lives within the ending stages of it. During my most recent visit
with him, he became my greatest yoga teacher. He was always graceful,
leading a non-harming life to the best of his abilities. I can honestly
say, anyone that has ever come into his presence leaves a better
A man once in control of his body, he no longer waltzes smoothly across
the dance floor. Over years, his deliberate gentle steps on earth
gradually grew to a shuffle. He went from using a cane, to a walker,
and then a wheelchair. Now he is confined to a hospital bed. He lives
at a constant forty-five degree angle to prevent pneumonia from hugging
his lungs. Bit by bit, his physical body sheds parts of itself, like
layers unraveling from an onion, but his mind is filled with true
He embraces the disease with a quiet acceptance as his muscles continue
to atrophy all around him, yet he still portrays utmost grace. He
accepts the changes, what was given and what is taken and though there
have been moments of aggravation and anger, he always returns to an
infinite state of grace. He doesn’t coin it as such, but it’s a strong
yoga practice, a state of grace that is reflective of the heart of
As I massaged his feet, his eyes closed, I heard him release AUM with
each touch. He lives completely within the moment. As I
kneaded my father beneath my hands, and needed him within my heart, I
whispered, Loka Samasta
Sukhino Bhavantu, “may all beings be happy, peaceful and
free from suffering.” I hugged him good-bye and all I could say was, “I
love you. I’ll see you at home.”
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
the Author: Krista Ford is a Registered Yoga Teacher with
the Yoga Alliance. She teaches Flow Yoga for The Zen Room in
Cocoa Village, Florida, and for the YMCA in Cocoa.
Yoga instructor raises $2,500 to
fund cleft palate surgeries in India
Instructor John Calabria recently led a yoga class in Framingham,
Massachusetts to benefit SmileTrain,
a charity focused solely on providing free cleft palate surgeries in
SmileTrain helps children who were born both disfigured and into
poverty. In many cases, these children are unable to talk, eat
properly, or even attend school. Hidden away, they suffer in silence
and isolation. The modern-day medical miracle of cleft repair surgery
costs an average of only $250 in these developing countries and gives a
desperate child not just a new smile, but a new life.
Mystic Fitness owner Amy Karibian donated the use of her Framingham
studio for the event. The initial goal of the fundraiser was to fill
the yoga studio and raise $500, enough for two surgeries. The donations
started to trickle, then poured in. In the end, a total of $2,500 was
raised, enough to help ten children smile for the first time.
Calabria's SmileTrain benefit was such a great success, he plans to
offer another this fall.
John Calabria is a yoga instructor in Maynard, Massachusetts.
He can be contacted through is website:
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Yoga nudie sparks police search
UK man recently sparked a major police search after two sets of clothes
were found abandoned on a beach. The hunt, which involved lifeboat
crews, ended up costing UK taxpayers 10,000 pounds.
Before police divers joined the search, a man in his '40s from Margate,
UK, turned up at a police station in his boxers and solved the mystery.
He told officers that he had been practicing yoga on the beach and took
two sets of clothes along with him, in case he lost the first.
Apparently, he went home without either set. It is not known
whether this man will be participating in future studies of the effects
of yoga on memory.
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