Many health trends seem to rise and fall in a matter of weeks, but one in particular has stood the test of time. That fitness trend would be yoga, a low-impact stretching exercise that many people practice. But even though yoga has its health benefits, it’s more than simply stretching your muscles and feeling relaxed.
For adjunct instructor Barbra Knox, yoga is about spirituality.
“I was drawn to it as a spiritual practice,” Knox said.
Since discovering the spiritual benefits of yoga, Knox has gone on to train at Kripalu, the largest yoga school in the country, where she became a certified yoga instructor. Along with teaching a yoga class at NMU, she owns her own studio, the Flowering Wilderness Heart Yoga studio.
The practice of yoga originated in India, and is often seen as part of the Hindu philosophy. From there it was incorporated into almost every other major world religion, from Islam to Buddhism, and has since spread even farther.
According to Knox, the very definition of yoga is what makes it such an appealing practice.
“Yoga means union,” she said. “It means connection. It helps you connect to your mind and spirit.”
Knox also said that, among many other benefits, yoga helps people reconnect to their surroundings, which is important for mental health.
“Part of the disconnection is stress related . yoga helps you get rid of that stress.
“(It’s about) trying to let go of the little things,” she added. If you stop and step back and get things in perspective, you see what’s really important — the big picture.”
At NMU, there are many different opportunities for students to reconnect to their surroundings. One such opportunity is the student group Hearts of Yoga. The group, which is run by junior geography major Michael Robinson, practices a specific type of yoga, called Bik Ram yoga. Bik Ram yoga is usually done in a hot setting, most times at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the muscles in the body to loosen up.
Robinson said he learned of the practice while attending a friend’s high school graduation party three years ago, and after trying it has kept doing it since.
“I felt so great afterwards that I continued to go,” Robinson said. “You sweat a lot so it removes a lot of toxins.”
Even though the health benefits make it worth it, Robinson said that he too uses it for a spiritual practice. It not only helps him meditate, but the philosophy behind yoga permeates nearly every other aspect of his life. By following a more yogic lifestyle, Robinson is able to have a greater appreciation for the things that he has.
Living a yogic lifestyle is definitely not a recent development, although it’s a trend that has been growing here in America. According to Robinson, living a yogic lifestyle is more than just doing yoga each day — it’s about knowing what food to eat and about what spiritual practices to engage in. One such practice is fasting, something Robinson practices occasionally.
“In a physical sense . it cleanses the body,” he said. “(But) you learn about the emotional dependence you have on food.”
Robinson has encouraged others to engage in fasting, from anywhere from one day to three days. However, Robinson strongly recommends contacting a physician before fasting for more than one day.
All of this, from the various poses to fasting, works toward one common goal — awareness. Awareness of not only your surroundings, but of your self is, according to Knox, the very essence of yoga.
“It’s all about awareness,” she said. “Being aware of yourself as a whole person.”