oga! Suddenly, everyone wants to know about this gentle approach to whole-self fitness. A recent Roper poll reveals that over six million Americans (more than 3% of the population) already practice yoga, and easily 17 million more —about one in 10— are interested in trying it. These numbers will likely double once the word gets out: You don't have to be lean, lithe, and super-flexible to practice yoga.
I recommend yoga as a Fitness Resource For People With "round Bodies." Depending on how you feel about the fact, you might describe me as plump, large-size, round-bodied, obese, heavy, or fat. Except during temporary bouts with diet pills, Weight Watchers, and grapefruit diets, I've never been slim.
I am in company with fully a third of the U.S. population, who are `overweight' even according to the more relaxed new height-weight charts. And up to two thirds of Americans consider themselves to be `too fat.' We are the people who are least likely to imagine ourselves doing yoga — and most likely to secretly wish we could find a non-strenuous, enjoyable path to greater fitness that would not make us feel inferior, ugly or inept. Feeling good about the fitness program we select, and about ourselves as we practice it, may be as important for good health as the more objective benefits this or that program may boast.
While the medical consensus is that excess weight poses a health risk, it has also been shown that fluctuation of weight from repeated dieting is more harmful than consistent obesity. Other studies, reported by a 1992 National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel, have shown that no weight-reduction regime yet devised results in permanent weight loss for most patients. More than 90% of dieters regain all they have lost, or more. That being so, I have decided to forget about `losing weight' and focus instead on being as healthy as possible with the body I have. I have become convinced that much of the health risk from obesity is the result of stress and self-rejection due to repeated failed efforts to reduce weight, and internalized messages that round bodies are both unattractive and dangerous to health. All this means is that if I can become self-accepting of myself as I am, if I can find a way to enjoy being in my body as it is, then I should be healthier than if I keep trying to lose weight. Kripalu Yoga has become my personal key to health as a heavy-weight. Total well-being is my goal.
There is evidence that regular yoga practice can contribute to cardiovascular health by providing both stress release and aerobic effect without strenuous calisthenics. These same features make yoga a natural choice for helping relieve a variety of other ills, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, stiffness from arthritis, eyestrain, posture-related back and neck problems, and chronic pain. Benefits accumulate with regular practice. Even three sessions a week can bring impressive results.
Yoga: Body & Soul
Stress release, flexibility, strength, peace of mind, cardiovascular health...how does yoga do all this? It has to do with aligning both physical and subtle bodies so that clear channels open for the movement of energy, at every level. Yet, the practice is supremely simple. Ease into a posture...hold the position for maximum benefit... then slowly release. By moving just to the edge of your current flexibility, and holding at that edge without pushing yourself to achieve more, you will activate chronic tensions held deep within the body at both physical and subtle levels. These are tensions not touched by ordinary relaxation methods. Yoga asanas consciously induce therapeutic tensions in order to discharge habitual, pathological tensions. As Yogi Amrit Desai, founder of Kripalu Yoga, explains, "It is like using a thorn to pick out a thorn; and then throwing them both away."
While it is perfectly possible to approach yoga as a purely physical discipline, most people find that their experiences on the mat spontaneously take on the quality of spiritual experiences. This is in keeping with the original purposes of yoga as the science of enlightenment.
Mostly, these experiences are quiet, interior events...moments of clarity, joy, peace, unconditional love for self and world. On one memorable occasion, I experienced such a moment while demonstrating yoga under bright studio lights, in front of three cameras.
My teaching partner and I had been `on the set, live' for fifteen hours a day, two days running. The final segment taped was a Postureflow, a feature distinctive to Kripalu Yoga. Guided by the body's own energy, a person slowly flows spontaneously from posture to posture. It's an intimate experience, choreographed by the body itself.
We weren't sure we could accomplish that level of concentration under those bright lights. We told the crew we needed not only their best technical expertise, but also their deepest attention to create a real flow under those conditions.
It worked. As we flowed from posture to posture for nearly a half hour to Steve Roach's haunting "Structures from Silence", there wasn't a sound but our breathing and the music. I entered into deep communion with my body, experiencing peace, well-being, bliss, watching as my body took itself into positions I had never before achieved. My heavy-set body, so often considered ugly and unhealthy by myself and others, flowed with grace and beauty.
When we finished, the entire crew remained suspended in silence for several minutes longer, some with their eyes closed as though entranced by what they had just witnessed. This spontaneous communal awe was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
Yoga, More Than Religion
The techniques of yoga help open the practitioner to experiences that can only be called spiritual. Because yoga originated within eastern culture, sometimes elements from eastern religions are carried over, causing westerners to fear that their faith traditions might be harmed. This need not be so. Insights from the mat have not interfered with my foundational faith as an ordained Protestant minister, and I believe it is possible to integrate yogic consciousness with any authentic spiritual path.
Health, wholeness, and holiness all come from the identical word root. In seeking one, we are destined to find them all. This is why the science of yoga, from a Sanskrit root meaning `union', is an excellent choice within any holistic program for total health. It promotes union of body, mind and spirit — ultimately, the only basis for wellness.
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About The Author
Genia Pauli Haddon, D.Min., Ph.D., creator of the nationally acclaimed videos "Yoga for Round Bodies 1 & 2", is a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher. Dr. Haddon is also the author of "Uniting Sex, Self, & Spirit" and "The Art of Living" inspirational card deck. She can be reached at: Plus Publications, P.O. Box 265, Suite 200, Scotland, CT 06264.