From East to West, the word “yoga” has many different meanings, connotations, and symbols. The yoga practice you’ll find in places like India is a distant world compared to the yoga you’ll find in studios across Europe and America. Some studios seem to miss the whole point of yoga. Editor and Chicago yoga activist Carol Horton and co-editor and author Roseanne Harvey stitched together a collection of essays about yoga called 21st Century Yoga. Julian Walker, yoga enthusiast, massage therapist and avid blogger wrote Chapter 1 in 21st Century Yoga. The first chapter opens up to the “ultimate purpose” of yoga, which is to unify oneself with “the Divine” or with whichever collective consciousness one believes in (pg 7).
I have been practicing yoga for a few years. My favorite studio, located on the edge of Lincoln Park and Bucktown, Yogaview, strives to be a center for the surrounding communities as well as communities from far away. The neighborhood is one of the nicest in Chicago – lawn space and newly remodeled apartments can be seen on every block. Yogaview itself is also newly expanded with a third large studio to keep up with the popularity of yoga in this community. While yoga classes can be quite expensive, it seems as though studio fits in well with its surrounding neighborhood. Yogaview offers monthly workshops from Moving Meditations to Gong Baths, Ashtanga Workshops to Michigan Retreats and virtually everything in between. There is something that will suit a myriad of people’s needs.
The “goal” of yoga, as I discussed earlier, is to move the body into different forms to unify the mind, ultimately ceasing the suffering caused by life (pg 7). Through asana shapes and direct focus, one may be able to still the mind’s continuous thoughts. At Yogaview, I took Stephanie’s class and appreciated her direct cues and up-beat music. Before the class, I felt tired and weak. During the class, I felt aware of my body and my breath. Stephanie has a calming voice and relaxing presence. Afterward, I felt rejuvenated, alive, and stretched out. A critique of Yogaview’s classes would be that sometimes in the advanced classes, a teacher may tell the students to practice a difficult posture or transition if they already have learned it. It may be an arm balance or an inversion, but a yogi would have to learn it on his own before coming to class. Yogaview expects you to do your homework. Although you may practice the asanas in class, one may have to have a self-practice (physically and mentally) to gain true insight from taking a yoga class.
Yoga in the 21st century in Western society is popular for many reasons. The culture is booming, and it seems as though everyone wants to take a yoga class, buy a pair of lululemon leggings, or become a yoga instructor. Although I found the first chapter of 21st Century Yoga to have a condescending attitude toward American yoga culture, I do believe the author has some great arguments. There is a dichotomy of beliefs in American Yoga culture. Some studios simply teach asana poses and base their practices solely for athletic purposes. Other studios teach a “yoga that is … ‘deeper,’” tying in 20th Century Indian philosophy and ancient meditation (pg 10). A conscious yogi must search for a while before finding a studio, which stems from a holistic view. The class that I took at Yogaview was mostly focused on the physical asana practice, but the tone of voice and direct cues alerted me, drawing me into the present moment. There is room to understand focus, stillness of the mind, presence of the breath, and a sense of oneness if the yogi is consciously aware.
Julian Walker believes in a “humanistic spirituality” emerging from ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle (pg 20). These ancient thought-processes along with ideas such as the Yoga Sutras, “a manual for concentrated meditation and self-restraint” shape the spiritual side of the yoga we practice today (pg 25). While some yogic theories claim to achieve pure enlightenment, or samadhi, through meditation and other practices, in today’s yogic world there is an underlying belief that we are at our core human beings, discovering our collective consciousness.
The state of Chicago Yoga ties in some Indian philosophy and grounded meditation, but through my experiences at Yogaview, asana classes mainly focuses on the Self. The teachers at Yogaview want a student to attempt new poses in class, leave feeling good about his self and his current life, as well as become an overall healthier being. Yogaview gives the foundation for someone to either build or neglect his or her “spiritual life.” For some people in the city, yoga is their lifestyle, and they incorporate its teachings to many areas of their lives. For others, a sense of oneness comes from the “tribal/communal space” that one feels by practicing yoga in a community of people who won’t be quick to judge (pg 9). Yogaview especially attracts people from different areas of the country. Since Chicago is known as a hub for people of different backgrounds and hometowns, this comes as no surprise. Even so, as yoga continues to become more popular, the diversity and definition of the world of yoga will change.