Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yoga or yoga-style? Reaching Further in Our Definition

The dimly-lit room accumulated people the closer the clock ticked to 5:45pm. Wednesday night yoga-style class seemed about to begin as I sat quietly on my mat at the Larson Lifestyle center. For the next hour Jessica Stolley, the instructor, a Union PA student, played uplifting music and led us through a series of stretches that tested our strength and flexibility. As I walked out I realized, that wasn’t yoga-style. That was yoga.
As part of the UCFIT student wellness program, Larson Lifestyle center has begun offering small group training, personal training, and “a class similar to yoga.” The green UCFIT signs dotting bulletin boards on campus illustrated four yoga postures next to their description of the “exercise/relaxation class.” According to Nancy Petta, program director of health and human performance, calling it “a class similar to yoga” would just be less controversial. What is yoga? When asked what the first thing that came to mind was when they heard the word “yoga” students said, “strength,” “flexibility,” “Buddha,” “dancing,” and even “yogurt.” According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, yoga is “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.” The second definition for yoga reads, “a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.” Yoga came to America primarily during the 60’s. Forty years later the practice boasts 20 million followers -- more than triple the 6 million enthusiasts in 1994 (
After I took Union’s yoga class Stolley told me, “Yoga has its roots in the Hindu religions of India. Some classes are more religious and involve meditation. But today’s Euro-American style of yoga is more sports-like and fitness-minded.” Stolley teaches the class with this same fitness emphasis which fits well with Union college’s Seventh-day Adventist views. The Union college employee handbook lists yoga under “Unacceptable Philosophies/Practices.” Further on it reads, “The philosophy and practice of this institution prohibit employees from using "nontraditional" or occult methods of treatment and therapy. Prohibited practices include such holistic methods as yoga…” Malcolm Russell, the academic dean, said, “It is a laughable matter to call the yoga class at Larson anything but what it really is: yoga. The employee handbook was last updated in 1988 and the portion mentioning yoga as “unacceptable” will be left out when the new handbook comes out.”
There are many varieties of yoga classes. Vinyasa yoga is a series of postures that flow together and are connected with specific breathing techniques. Hatha yoga, one of the most common forms of yoga in America, can be a challenging endeavor strengthening both mind and body. Bikram yoga occurs in a sauna-styled room packed full of people which brings the temperature to over 100 degrees. This style of yoga creates heat which deepens and intensifies the stretches.
When asked about the controversy between yoga and Adventism, Amanda Shea, a student who has taken the class, explains, “I’ve never been told to hum or chant to Buddha. In the class we do exercises for strength and flexibility. I like it a lot. I’m going to keep going.”
If you’re up for a good challenge, Stolley teaches an invigorating class Monday and Wednesday nights at the Larson Lifestyle Center. The class lasts an hour and starts at 5:45pm. Go see for yourself.

(The Clocktower, October 2009)