If you are looking for an exercise that brings both muscle toning, cardio workout, and relaxation, yoga may just be for you! This old world tradition has turned into a new world craze, for all ages.
On this path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India, this form of fitness has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute. It's the exercise meditation for the new millennium, one that doesn't so much pump you up as bliss you out
It now straddles the continent - from Hollywood, where $20 million-a-picture actors queue for a session with their guru du jour, to Washington, where, in the gym of the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and 15 others faithfully take their class each Tuesday morning. Everywhere else, Americans rush from their high-pressure jobs and tune in to the authoritatively mellow voice of an instructor, gently urging them to solder a union (the literal translation of the Sanskrit word yoga) between mind and body.
These Type A strivers want to become Type B seekers, to lose their blues in an asana (pose), to graduate from distress to de-stress. Fifteen million Americans include some form of it in their fitness regimen - twice as many as did five years ago; 75% of all U.S. health clubs offer yoga classes.
Many in those classes are looking not inward but behind. Oprah Winfrey, arbiter of moral and literary betterment for millions of American women, devoted a whole show to the benefits of yoga earlier this month.
Everywhere you look, it is there. Testimonials from everyday yogis and yoginis can be found just about anywhere.
Namaste, as your instructor says at the end of a session: the divine in me bows to the divine in you. Is yoga more than the power of positive breathing?
Can it, say, cure cancer? Fend off heart attacks?
Rejuvenate post-menopausal women? Just as important for its application by mainstream doctors, can its presumed benefits be measured by conventional medical standards?
Is yoga, in other words, a science? By even asking the question, we provoke a clash of two powerful cultures, two very different ways of looking at the world.
The Indian tradition develops metaphors and ways of describing the body (life forces, energy centers) as it is experienced, from the inside out. The Western tradition looks at the body from the outside in, peeling it back one layer at a time, believing only what it can see, measure and prove in randomized, double-blind tests.
The East treats the person; the West treats the disease. It is more holistic-it's interested in the integration of body, breath and mind.
The few controlled studies that have been done offer cause for hope. A 1990 study of patients who had coronary heart disease indicated that a regimen of aerobic exercise and stress reduction, including yoga, combined with a low-fat vegetarian diet, stabilized and in some cases reversed arterial blockage.
The author Dr. Dean Ornish is in the midst of a study involving men with prostate cancer. Can diet, yoga and meditation affect the progress of this disease?
So far, Ornish will say only that the data are encouraging. To the skeptic, all evidence is anecdotal.
But some anecdotes are more than encouraging; they are inspiring. A series of exercises as old as the Sphinx could prove to be the medical miracle of tomorrow - or just wishful thinking from the millions who have embraced yoga in a bit more than a generation.
This form of exercise and enlightenment was little known in the U.S. - perhaps only as an enthusiasm of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Keroua, and other icons of the Beat Generation - when the Beatles and Mia Farrow journeyed to India to sit at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968.
Since then, yoga has endured more evolutions of popular consciousness than a morphing movie monster. First, it signaled spiritual cleansing and rebirth, a nontoxic way to get high.
Then it was seen as a kind of preventive medicine that helped manage and reduce stress. At each stage, the most persuasive advocates were movie idols and rock stars - salesmen, by example, of countless beguiling or corrosive fashions.
If they could make cocaine and tattoos fashionable, perhaps they could goad the masses toward physical and spiritual enlightenment. Today it is practiced by so many stars with whom audiences are on a first-name basis - Madonna, Julia, Meg, Ricky, Michelle, Gwyneth, Sting - that it would be shorter work to list the actors who don't assume the asana.
If you want to jump on the bandwagon, check out some DVD's, or take a class at your local gym. You may become addicted too!
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