Yoga practice does a body (and a spirit) good

Our phones can take pictures. We can watch “Pretty Woman” or “Die Hard” to pass the time on that long car ride. For a country obsessed with multi-tasking, it is no surprise that yoga has found its audience.

Part workout regime, part spiritual path, yoga has become a popular practice over the last decade, and it is still growing.

According to Yoga Journal Magazine, some 15 million Americans are yogis and yoginis – men and women who practice yoga. Five years ago, the number was only half that. For a practice born over 2,000 years ago, the spread of yoga to mainstream America has been nearly instant.

Who do we have to thank for this craze? Just as Hollywood’s newly spiritual are sporting the latest fashion accessory – the red string Kaballah bracelet – yoga has been popping up on talk shows and in magazine interviews as the preferred cleansing ritual of the rich and famous.

Ashley Judd discussed her yoga mat mishaps with Jay Leno earlier this summer. Oprah devoted an entire show to the yoga fad. Like Atkins, South Beach and pilates, yoga has become a word in our common cultural vocabulary. But what do we really know about it?

Yoga evolved an estimated 2,000 years ago through the Yoga Sutra, a collection of philosophical statements that underlie the practice, believed to be penned by Indian sage Pantanjali. The original yoga scripture, is a clear illustration of a common yoga misconception – it is much more than just a workout.

The yoga most commonly practiced in the United States is known as Hatha yoga. Sanskrit for “willful” or “forceful,” hatha is a series of postures (asanas) used to develop core strength, alignment and flexibility.

As with all eight limbs of yoga, hatha is one step on the path to enlightenment and inner peace, a traditional yogi’s ultimate goal.

When studying the yoga philosophy, one important principle a yogi or yogini must learn is that of ahimsa. Literally translated as “non-harm to self and others,” ahimsa is the basic yoga principle of non-violence. Many yogis and yoginis view ahimsa as a vegetarian edict. Although this point is still unresolved, it explains the strong ties that exist between vegetarianism and yoga.

Though yoga is based on moral and philosophical principles, it is not a religion. As a spiritual practice, yoga is often associated with Buddhism and Hinduism, but people of all religions and beliefs can practice and enjoy yoga without altering their belief system.

Many people believe yoga is primarily a workout, but physical exertion is only one part of the practice of yoga. Yoga is not an aerobic workout, and its health benefits are seen in the areas of flexibility, breathing and core strength.

Though not widely accepted as a weight loss regimen, the Internet is full of testimonials of people who claim to have lost weight and reshaped their bodies thanks to yoga.

For a true yogi, however, the practice is much more than daily exercise – it is a way of connecting body and mind. Unlike traditional goal-oriented workouts, yoga is considered an end in itself.

So where does a College student have to go to learn more? Surprisingly, not very far. The Ewing area boasts two local studios within 15 minutes of the College.

The Princeton Center for Yoga and Health, located on Vreeland Drive, offers a variety of classes for beginners to advanced yogis. The Yoga Studio at Pennington, conveniently located on West Franklin Avenue, offers similar classes for any level.

On Saturday, the Yoga Studio will be hosting an open house for anyone interested in learning more about yoga. There will be free classes in discovering yoga, level one yoga, a posture demonstration and an all-level yoga class.

For more information about these yoga centers, visit their Web sites at and

For the majority of people who practice yoga, it is the overall peaceful effect of the practice that keeps them involved.

“I started because I had knee surgery and I was told that yoga is good for your joints and bones, so I wanted to make some of the annoying daily pain go away,” Dave Hunter, senior computer engineering major, said. “But I continue to do it for the other benefits and not for my knee. It calms and centers me. It makes me feel very peaceful and very alive.”