Just before Thanksgiving – and barely one year shy of its front page story on the Hindu American Foundation’s Take Back Yoga campaign – the New York Times ran a piece, “Yoga Addict’s New Mantra: ‘Mix it Up’” by Deborah Schoeneman, that intrigued me due to its rather unusual juxtaposition of practicing yoga and working out with a trainer.  While I found it odd that the piece appeared in the Fashion & Style section of the paper, I found it interesting (although inaccurate) for a number of reasons.  First, the writer practiced at the yoga studio where I currently practice – Ashtanga Yoga New York, run by Eddie Stern.  I love the studio for a number of reasons, but the fact that it doubles as a Hindu temple in the heart of SoHo just makes it all the more endearing to me.  Unfortunately, the piece does not do justice to the studio, its students, or Eddie, whose thoughts on the piece can be found on his blog at http://ayny.org/category/blog.  Second, like Ms. Schoeneman, I also workout with an amazing trainer, but unlike her, I never would have thought to compare squats and lunges with sun salutations.

Most importantly, the article highlights once again the ever prevalent fallacy that yoga is just another form of exercise that can be swapped out for weight training, running or biking (all of which I do in addition to my yoga practice).  It is not.  As we at HAF have been emphasizing for some time, yoga is a holistic practice that is encompassing of both physical and spiritual exercises and is rooted in Hindu philosophy.  Asana, or the physical postures, is but one limb of yoga, albeit an important one.  Also integral to yoga are the remaining limbs, including the first two – yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) – which provide ethical and moral guidelines for righteous living.  Patanjali lists five yamas – non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence for the unmarried/faithfulness for the married, and non-possessiveness – but other sources list ten, including mitahara, or the concept of moderation of appetite.  Perhaps if Ms. Schoeneman viewed yoga as a holistic practice and maintained the same sugar-free, tea-totaling, vegan restraint she had in India rather than “wining and dining,” she may have not have “bulge[d] bigger than a size 8.”

Ms. Schoeneman is far from alone in portraying yoga as just a form of physical exercise.  Her piece joins countless others in demonstrating how yoga continues to be delinked from its underlying philosophy.  As Prashant Iyengar, son of the famous BKS Iyengar, said to Namarupa magazine, ““There is no physical yoga and spiritual yoga.  If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be yoga.  Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.”

That said, I do agree with the writer that it is important to incorporate both cardio and strength training into one’s routine.  As I mentioned above, I workout with a fabulous trainer, and I can’t believe it took me almost 30 years to finally get one.  Almost two years later, he still surprises me with completely new and challenging workouts that I can’t quite seem to replicate on my own.  He has simultaneously made me stronger and slimmer and somehow manages to keep me laughing throughout our sessions.

Not surprisingly, my trainer has issues with yoga teachers, particularly with those who think that yoga is a good substitute for weight bearing exercise.  And Eddie has his issues with trainers, particularly since many methods of lifting weights tend to constrict muscles and hinder flexibility.  At the same time, my trainer appreciates my yoga practice because it tends to keep me injury free (unlike my running addiction) and flexible so he doesn’t have to bother stretching me out at the end of a session.  Conversely, I wasn’t able to do chaturanga (yoga push up) until I was force fed countless variations of push-ups by trainer nor was I able to hold navasana (boat pose) until I was pushed to complete hard core exercises (pun intended).

I’m at Eddie’s at least three times a week, and I’m with my trainer three times a week.  They are both integral parts of my life and develop me in different ways. I credit my trainer for making me stronger and keeping me thin.  I credit yoga for keeping me flexible, calm, and relatively sane.  I would never dream of swapping one out for the other.

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