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Turning the Tide of Yoga in a Woman-Dominated Culture

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In the early days of yoga, men were the only practitioners. In fact, up until the latter part of the twentieth century, the practice was almost exclusively for men. But as Westerners became interested in the practice, traveling to India to learn more about its secrets, women were slowly invited to practice.

Fast forward to today, and yoga around the world is a woman-dominated practice. How the tides have shifted! In most yoga studios, women make up the majority of students—and teachers. But yoga is not a sex-specific practice. Truly, yoga is for everyone. And men will find just as much benefit from the practice as women.

While women can tend to be more flexible than men, yoga is not a practice for only flexible bodies. In fact, it’s designed to work with any level of flexibility, loosening tight muscles and releasing tension that can lead to injury. The tightness men experience due to exertion and lack of adequate stretching will really benefit from a yoga class.

Not to mention, yoga can be a great strengthening practice. The stereotype of yoga is that it’s a calming, easy practice with light stretching, but anyone who attends a vigorous yoga class can attest that it’s one of the toughest workouts around. Yoga works such a wide range of muscles that its effect on strength can be quite remarkable—and felt throughout the whole body.

Men, if you have been hesitating to come to yoga because you think it’s for women and weaklings, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s a practice you’ll get a lot out of—and one you can tailor to your own needs.

Exploring the Myths of Asana—Savasana

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At the end of a yoga asana practice comes what many find to be the best part of the practice—Savasana, or Corpse Pose. Often, Savasana is referred to as Final Resting Pose or Final Relaxation Pose, but at its essence, Savasana is about surrendering deeply to an energy that prepares us for the inevitable—our death.

The idea of facing death makes most of us, especially in the West, squirm. Facing our ultimate demise is something we would rather put off for another day. But yoga encourages us to consider our death each and every time we come to the mat. The symbolic practice teaches us to surrender our efforts. All that work we have done on the mat is ultimately not for us. When we devote ourselves to the practice with non-attachment to its results, we surrender to whatever might arise. That ultimate surrender is realized when we lay down, close our eyes, and let go.

This symbolic practice shows us now only how to live, but also, ultimately, how to die. When it our time comes, we can either bow out with grace and acceptance, or fearfully fight the inevitable. Savasana teaches us how to get comfortable with our mortality, which gives us a renewed vigor for life itself. When you know—truly know in your bones—that you are going to die one day, how will you choose to live?

Alanna Kaivalya, author of Myths of the Asanas, states it beautifully, “We come into this world with empty hands, and we must leave with empty hands. Being conscious of death in a yogic way does not turn us into curmudgeons, but instead allows us to live every moment in freedom and joy.”

Essential Oils During Yoga Practice

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Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of aromatic essential oils derived from plants. Aromas are inhaled, used topically, or sometimes ingested to bring about mental and physical well-being. Popularity of aromatherapy has steadily increased in recent years, prompting its integration into such practices as massage and yoga.

You may have already experienced aromatherapy in yoga class. Teachers will sometimes diffuse essential oils into the room before or during class to invoke certain energetic qualities. During more challenging practices, invigorating oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, citrus, or lemongrass may be used while calming oils such as lavender or chamomile may be used during more relaxing practices. Some essential oil formulas are pre-blended to bring about enhanced breathing, feelings of serenity, or even a sense of groundedness.

As an alternate to diffused oils, some teachers massage oils into the skin during a lengthy Savasana or spray the oil into the air above students resting in this final relaxation pose. You can also make a blend of essential oil–infused water to clean off your mat after a particularly sweaty practice. Certain oils are antimicrobial in nature and can help to inhibit bacterial growth on your mat.

Aromatherapy can also be helpful during meditation. Frankincense, sandalwood, and lavender are often diffused during sitting meditation practice to bring about feelings of calmness and well-being. Certain essential oils can also be helpful when working with the energetic centers of the body, or chakras.

In essence (pun intended), these oils are yet one more tool to enhance your practice and help you to go inward. Seek out a class that incorporates essential oils to experience this added dimension yourself. You may find that you want more of it in your life.

Be sure to stop by the studio and check out the wide range of oils available right here at the TYS Boutique.

 

 

Staff Spotlight—Gwen Burdick The Teacher’s Teacher

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Many years ago my best friend sent me a copy of the book When Things Fall Apart by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. At the time I was unfamiliar with her work, but my life was definitely falling apart and out of my control. So I was interested in what it might offer to help me make sense of what, at the time, did not make sense.

I read, “Only to the extent that we are willing to subject ourselves over and over again to complete annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us,” and found these words to be remarkably comforting. It was an aha moment that changed my perspective altogether. Of course it was not difficult to be happy when everything was easy and going my way. But I was at least partially aware of the spiritual dimension of life, and I wanted to discover that which was indestructible within me. So here was my chance. The catastrophic circumstances of my life were not likely to improve, but I was determined to embrace my greatest teacher: annihilation.

Much more recently I had the opportunity to witness this year’s class of nervous graduating high school seniors, my oldest daughter among them, go through the grueling and selective college application process. Supremely qualified candidates with high hopes organized and sent their big GPAs, impressive class ranks, extreme test scores, fabulous letters of recommendation, skillful art supplements, financial documents, long lists of notable athletic and extra-curricular accomplishments, and, finally, the personal essay to hypercompetitive university admissions offices across the country.

After what seemed to be an endless wait period, the results came in. The award-winning essays (I read a lot of them with interest) were those that described some episode of failure and what was learned as a result. The kids who fared the best were those who had embraced the Buddhist teaching of annihilation (Goddess Kali in Yoga and the 8th house in Jyotish) and told honestly and courageously how disappointment, obstacles, loss, and other painful experiences helped them become more patient, caring, and purpose-filled.

My Savana, who was raised on a fairly heavy diet of Eastern philosophy, did not get into her first-choice school. But with that option annihilated, she got into my first-choice school, and happily and indestructibly accepted the merit scholarship to study ecosystem science and policy at University of Miami, class of 2020. Go ‘Canes!