Monday, 07 April 2014 11:25

YOGA ADVOCATE JUDIT TOROK

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A regular visitor to Tokyo, New York City-based Yoga Instructor and Interculturalist Judit Torok shares her techniques for alleviating big city stress.

Yoga for Everyone

I recently read an article about parents of elementary school children in California who were outraged about their children practicing Ashtangastyle yoga at school as part of their physical education program. They claimed that yoga is inappropriate and dangerous for kids because they believe their children are being indoctrinated into the Hindu religion in a public school. I couldn’t disagree with them more. These parents, and unfortunately many other people, hold inaccurate notions of this ancient practice.

The idea that yoga is a religious activity designed to worship Hindu deities is just one of the many misconceptions about it. People frequently associate yoga with Indian gurus with long beards, bead necklaces and white turbans. A more modern misperception is perpetrated by the media images of well-toned and attractive young people in eye-catching yoga poses captured generally on the beach with a beautiful sunset behind them or in a forest with a waterfall as the background. While purely religious sects of yoga do exist and there are expensive yoga retreats organized at Caribbean beaches, these are not the norm and instead obscure what I believe is yoga’s universal appeal.

A regular visitor to Tokyo, New York City-based Yoga Instructor and Interculturalist Judit Torok shares her techniques for alleviating big city stress.

Yoga for Everyone

I recently read an article about parents of elementary school children in California who were outraged about their children practicing Ashtangastyle yoga at school as part of their physical education program. They claimed that yoga is inappropriate and dangerous for kids because they believe their children are being indoctrinated into the Hindu religion in a public school. I couldn’t disagree with them more. These parents, and unfortunately many other people, hold inaccurate notions of this ancient practice.

The idea that yoga is a religious activity designed to worship Hindu deities is just one of the many misconceptions about it. People frequently associate yoga with Indian gurus with long beards, bead necklaces and white turbans. A more modern misperception is perpetrated by the media images of well-toned and attractive young people in eye-catching yoga poses captured generally on the beach with a beautiful sunset behind them or in a forest with a waterfall as the background. While purely religious sects of yoga do exist and there are expensive yoga retreats organized at Caribbean beaches, these are not the norm and instead obscure what I believe is yoga’s universal appeal.

Yoga is for everyone. Yoga is at its core a system of pose, stretches and breathing and relaxation techniques that can be beneficial for all people, from children to adults of both sexes and people with disabilities, the pregnant, overweight and even the elderly. Are you the type who enjoys working out at the gym, building muscle and toning your body? Yoga is for you. It works your core muscles while strengthening joints and building flexibility in ways that complement your gym routine. Or perhaps you are the type who avoids the gym and this leaves you with a nagging guilt for failing to exercise enough. Well, yoga is for you too. It provides a non-competitive environment to safely explore what your body can do as well as to push your limits for building strength and flexibility while getting in shape and becoming healthier.

Everyone needs a good stretch once in a while. Yoga provides effective ways to get all your muscles and joints working in harmony. Many people choose to practice yoga primarily for the relaxation of body and mind. This calming and meditative aspect of the practice is an added benefit even for those who perceive it mainly as exercise. Consistent yoga practice tones the body and can even contribute to healthy weight loss over time. Other benefits include improved breathing and digestion, ease of aches and pains, a stronger immune system and elevated self-esteem. Joining a yoga community also can be attractive to those who work long hours and don’t have much of a chance to socialize and meet new people outside their co-workers.

I teach yoga at LaGuardia Community College in New York. Not in a studio, not in a club, but at one of the most diverse learning institutions in the country, where the halls are lined with the flags of over 100 nations. My yoga classes reflect this great diversity of ethnicities, cultures, religions, experiences, ages and abilities. On any given day I welcome Americans, Caribbeans, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Europeans into my class. I teach students in their early 20s, working adults, middle-aged men and women and retirees. Some are skinny; others might be considered overweight. Some have flexible bodies; others tighter. My yoga class meets the needs of everyone who chooses to attend. We practice the Vinyasa-style, which coordinates deep breathing with slow, carefully-sequenced movements to explore our bodies. I explain and demonstrate each step of the yoga pose clearly and provide more difficult alternatives for those wanting to challenge themselves and easier postures for beginners. Everyone enjoys it and leaves feeling lighter and rejuvenated.

Take a step toward a calmer, healthier you and consider giving yoga a try. To get started, my first advice is not to be afraid. Seek out a studio or community center in your neighborhood and sign up for a beginner class. Try out different styles. They can be quite different, so you might find that one fits you more than another. Teachers and studios also approach yoga differently, so don’t be discouraged if your first experience isn’t what you expected. Before you jump into an organized class, you could also get started on your own. Read more about it or view a couple of free videos online. Regardless of how you begin, keep in mind that noticeable results in improved health, weight and well-being come only from persistent practice — just as with anything else. Find the time in your busy schedule to give yoga a try. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? tj


Originally appeared in Tokyo Journal Issue # 270.

To order Issue 270, click here.

 
Read 59546 times Last modified on Monday, 07 April 2014 11:57

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