By Terrah Baker
Yoga began as a philosophy. What it is today seems to be indefinable, even to the yogis of Northwest Arkansas who practice it daily.
“Yoga is not only the practice of flexibility and strength. It is about mental, physical and spiritual awareness. You can practice yoga at every moment in every aspect of your life,” said Anne Reynolds, yoga enthusiast and teacher at Mojo’s Hot Yoga Studio on Rolling Hills in Fayetteville.
Its purpose varies for each person, but they all seem to deal with bettering the whole self, not just a portion. It’s impossible to put a specific name like meditation, exercise or religion to yoga. Especially when you’re talking about different regions of the world and how Americans have, from the beginning, put their own twist on the practice.
The word itself dates back thousands of years and has become a general catchall for a stylized type of physical, mental or spiritual practice. In Sanskrit, the word means “yoke,” or “to join,” which is a part of what it was in ancient India as a philosophical way of life — uniting ourselves with our highest nature.
“Yoga is a concept or philosophy or a systemized philosophical lens in which to see the world, and it was that for thousands of years. As soon as folks began practicing asana (any physical yoga posture), it became hatha yoga — an umbrella term for any physical style of yoga,” explained Brent Miller, yoga practitioner for over 10 years and independent teacher at Mojo’s.
Miller studied alignment-based asana yoga for five years, and although he understands the other pillars of yoga — like drawing in of the senses and enlightenment — he focuses his classes on safety of the poses and awareness of the physical body.
Most yogis incorporate some of the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga into their practice, but still, the yoga taught in America is a world away from what it once was. In fact, there are many styles that were developed after yoga came to the U.S. — mainly built around the physical poses.
“We are limited. We can’t perceive yoga as it was perceived in the East. Our mind is something else,” said musician and yoga enthusiast for six years, Dorothy Vilencia.
Valencia calls herself a closet yogi. She doesn’t practice in a studio because to her yoga is about being alone with her spirituality. Her form of yoga, Kundalini, deals mainly with breath work and a type of meditation that changed her life completely. It took her to a level of peace she had never known.
“Little stuff that bothered me before, has nothing to do with my life anymore. Little stuff that held me back, if I were worrying about impressions that people have of me, or was I a good person or am I a loser, insecurities, all that mess, just fell away. It gave me a comfort,” she said.
At the Arkansas Yoga Center on Green Acres in Fayetteville, teachers have developed a new style of hatha yoga they call VariYoga, which has been successful with clients because of its accessibility and adaptability, said co-developer Bryan Fowler.
He and owner of AYC Andrea Fournet have put together what they feel are the best parts of other yoga styles — like many Western teachers before them — but have given it a new name and life. And now, through teacher trainings, they have instructors around the country also spreading their style.
The yogis of NWA agree that while trying to get a great workout and stretch tight muscles, practitioners can’t help but gain a sense of awareness of their deeper self.
“Americans, we’re geared towards hatha yoga. We all want a beautiful body and we want to look good naked. However, I think yoga is also something more. Yoga brings awareness to all aspects of our lives. Regardless of the reason why you began practicing yoga, a steady practitioner will automatically begin to see life differently,” said owner of Mojo’s, Erica Martin.
For Erica, who was a trained professional gymnast and athlete in her youth, yoga became the physical transformation she needed to get back in shape the healthy way. The same was true for AYC’s Fournet who got into yoga in the 1980s after enduring injuries from being a gymnast and dancer. She’s watched yoga evolve, and has studied many techniques.
“My body was ruined from gymnastics. I had issues with my knees, ankles, hip problems from having kids. I got in there and tried to do some gentle yoga and clear my mind,” explained Martin. “I felt like I could move. I felt athletic, but I also felt at peace. I felt serene and like I did get something accomplished on the inside.”
Yoga can mean many different things to each individual person, but the great thing about yoga seems to be the variety and freedom that can be had with trying to figure it out, while gaining physical strength and a better sense of self.
Want to do yoga?
Arkansas Yoga Center, 479-521-9642
White River Yoga, 479-444-9642
Millennium Life Center, 479-575-9297
Yoga Room of Fayetteville, 479-443-9642
The Art of Motion, 479-444-7779
Mojo Hot Yoga Studio, 479-263-4186
Soul Yoga Lounge, 479-445-6577