Five myths about yoga

Andrea R. Jain

Yoga has become more popular in the United States in recent years, with the number of people taking part in the discipline almost doubling between 2002 and 2012. Today, nearly 10 percent of Americans have tried it, and few of us have to travel farther than a neighborhood strip mall to practice our chaturangas. Yoga’s burgeoning trendiness isn’t restricted to the United States, either. In December, the United Nations declared June 21 the International Day of Yoga. The first celebration saw colossal gatherings of yogis worldwide, as hundreds, sometimes thousands, contorted their bodies into downward dogs and other poses en masse. Yoga has become one of the most fashionable practices in the world, yet a number of myths have grown up around it.

1. Yoga is exclusively of Hindu origin.

Yoga’s advocates and critics alike perpetuate the myth of its ancient Hindu origins. High-profile conservative pastors have warned of Christians’ inevitable Hinduization should they take up yoga, asserting that “when Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga.” The Hindu American Foundationhas made similar arguments, criticizing Americans for failing to acknowledge yoga’s Hindu origins — calling it “one of the greatest gifts of Hinduism to mankind” — and explaining that practitioners subject themselves to Hindu influences, whether intentionally or not.

Although there are countless Hindu forms of yoga, the notion that it is originally or definitively Hindu ignores its historical diversity. Throughout its history, yoga was shaped by an array of South Asian practices, ideas and aims widespread among not only Hindus but also Buddhists, Jains and adherents of other religions. Examples include the 3rd-to-4th-century Buddhist yogacara, or “yoga practice” school, and the 6th-century Jain thinker Virahanka Haribhadra and his text, the “Yoga Bindu,” or “seeds of yoga.”

Modern postural yoga — that popular fitness regimen made up of sequences of challenging poses — has more varied origins. It is a result of cross-cultural exchanges and influences from modern medicine, sports and exercise programs. In the 1930s, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, for example, became one of the first postural yoga gurus. He was Hindu but taught a form of yoga partly shaped by British calisthenics. Practitioners from India, Europe and the United States, with a wide array of religious convictions or none at all, created the yoga that Americans began adopting widely in the 20th century.

2. Yoga is not religious.

In many parts of the world, yoga aficionados tend to avoid describing the practice as religious. Yoga studios, conferences and journals prefer to define it as a regimen for nonsectarian “spiritual growth” or physical “fitness.” But while yoga isn’t specifically Hindu, that doesn’t mean it can’t be religious.

Some forms of modern yoga have explicitly religious aims, from Hindu schools such as siddha yoga, which promotes the “strength and delight that come from the certainty of the divine presence within you,” to Christian varieties such as holy yoga, which describes its mission as “experiential worship . . . to deepen people’s connection to Christ.” Even in other forms, yoga has implicit spiritual dimensions, though they’re not limited to one particular religious tradition. Practitioners participate in scripted rituals requiring movement through a sequence of postures meant to reorient them away from the day’s business and stresses and toward the goal of self-improvement.

Yoga classes in secular contexts have qualities that set a religious mood. B.K.S. Iyengar, a significant figure in the creation of modern postural yoga, tied his form of the practice to the ancient “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” which emphasize the exalted aim of enlightenment. K. Pattabhi Jois, another 20th-century influencer of modern yoga, taught that the nine positions of the sun salutation sequence delineate from the earliest Hindu texts, the Vedas.

3. Swami Vivekananda created modern yoga.

In the New York Times a few years back, Ann Louise Bardach wrote, wryly, that “you might blame Vivekananda” — a turn-of-the-century Hindu reformer, emissary to the United States and Indian nationalist who created a system of modern yoga called raja yoga — “for having introduced ‘yoga’ into the national conversation.” It’s a view echoed recently by the New Indian Express, which described him as “The Father of Yoga in the West.” The swami is known for a well-received speech he gave in Chicago in 1893 to the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in which he declared that “sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth” and “had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.” But the speech, in fact, never mentioned yoga.

In terms of his yogic teachings, Vivekananda had several Indian, European and North American contemporaries whose work was equally influential in the development of some of yoga’s earliest modern forms. Nineteenth-century American social radical Ida C. Craddock, who defended belly dancing’s “much needed blend of sexuality and spirituality,” for example, created a yoga system for married couples looking to improve their sex lives. Sadly, she was subsequently imprisoned on charges of obscenity and, facing the threat of more prison time, took her own life. Another early modern yoga advocate was Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian guru who traveled to the United States and taught yoga to Americans in the first half of the 20th century. He envisioned yoga as a scientific path to the experience of God and taught what he called kriya yoga at a time when such religious experimentation was unusual and discouraged. The organization he founded, the Self-Realization Fellowship, is still thriving.

Vivekananda’s emphasis on self-control, meditation and psychology appealed to many who challenged institutionalized religion. He encouraged his disciples to turn inward, toward the self, rather than outward, toward external authorities. But he wasn’t a fan of yoga poses — and those, of course, are what most of us envision when we think of yoga.

4. You need money to practice yoga.

Practitioners in the United States spend more than $10 billion a year on classes, clothing and accessories. A typical studio class can cost more than $18, and a Lululemon outfit pushes $200. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of yoga’s commercialization is the mat, which many consider a necessity to prevent slipping, to mark territory in crowded classes or to create a ritual space. The most committed adherents can shell out more than $100for a top-of-the-line mat.

But these accessories are recent additions to the experience. The firstpurpose-made yoga mat was not manufactured and sold until the 1990s. Before then, yoga was practiced on grass, towels, rugs or bare wooden floors. Today, a small set of traditionalists refuses to use mats, arguing that they interfere with the practice, especially by distracting the yogi away from the true aims of yoga and toward the accumulation of commodities.

Some yoga advocates have rejected its commercialization by offering nonprofit classes and opening studios that spurn expensive accessoriesYoga to the People, for instance, offers donation-based classes in several cities, and part of its mantra is: “There will be no correct clothes, There will be no proper payment, There will be no right answers.” The company says the rising cost of yoga is at odds with its essence. Yoga is meant to help people become self-actualized, the company says — a priceless aim.

Increasingly, yoga is also being introduced in marginalized communities, with classes taught in prisonsschools in low-income neighborhoods and homeless shelters.

5. Yoga has always been about physical fitness.

When we think of yoga today, we envision spandex-clad, perspiring, toned bodies in a room filled with mats. More than half of yoga enthusiasts in the United States say physical fitness is their primary motivation, according to a Yoga Journal survey, and 78 percent say they’re in it mostly to gain flexibility. That vision is a modern invention; nothing like it has existed in most of yoga’s history.

Beginning around the 7th and 8th centuries, Buddhists, Hindus and Jains reworked yoga into varying tantric systems with goals ranging from becoming an embodied god to developing supernatural powers, such as invisibility or flight.

In the early days of modern yoga, turn- of-the-century Indian reformers, along with Western social radicals, focused on the practice’s meditative and philosophical dimensions. For most of them, the physical aspects were not of primary importance.


Looking Through New Eyes

Vivek Katju

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has imparted remarkable energy to India’s foreign policy. Leading from the front, he has visited 25 countries, taken part in seven multilateral conferences and addressed the UN General Assembly in a short span of 14 months. He has also been communicative on social media. Notably lacking though has been a comprehensive conceptual articulation at the political level of the government’s view of the world, India’s place in it and how its diplomacy would achieve that position. Addresses on bilateral and regional relationships or on specific issues are poor substitutes. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar has sought to partially fill this gap. In two noteworthy speeches (July 17 and 20), he dwelt on the government’s thinking on important foreign policy issues and the new diplomacy. Many aspects of Jaishankar’s remarks are reassuring; some are troubling. He asserts that Modi’s foreign policy represents change more than continuity; that India’s aspiration is to be a “leading” power rather than “just a balancing” power. And in this context he asks, “…whether India should raise its level of ambition. Are we content to react to events or should we be shaping them more, on occasion even driving them?” Of course, countries should be ambitious. But should ambition not be rooted in realism? Nowhere was the word “realism” used in either of the foreign secretary’s speeches. Does the word now connote passivity, reactivity and perhaps even defeatism? India’s foreign policy has always been realistic, even as it used openings to change the course of history, as in 1971. Action and reaction are often a dubious binary in diplomacy. Modi has taken laudable initiatives. The Indian Ocean strategy is imaginative, bold and timely. The emphasis on economic diplomacy and dovetailing it with the need for advanced technologies and capital serves the domestic development agenda. The Act East thrust imparts new vigour to relationships that will only assume a higher priority in the future. The invitation to the Pacific island countries is praiseworthy. However, traditional relationships in Africa and West Asia also have to be nurtured. It appears that Modi is now turning to them. “Connectivity, contacts and cooperation” is the mantra of Modi’s neighbourhood policy. To what extent does this represent a departure from the past? Modi’s decision to invite Saarc leaders to his oath-taking was pathbreaking. His visits to Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh redressed a lamentable neglect. The emphasis on connectivity and cooperation is in keeping with the traditional Indian approach towards South Asia. The key now lies in convincing neighbours that Indian policies do not represent a desire to curtail their space for autonomous action. Modi wishes to include Pakistan in his overall South Asian approach. As Jaishankar says, “…the relationship with Pakistan has its share of challenges but is part of the neighbourhood agenda”. The fact is that Modi has, as yet, failed to formulate a consistent policy towards Pakistan. Is it realistic to include it in the ambit of the South Asian policy when its most important institution considers India as a permanent enemy? Modi has laid greater emphasis on culture and the Indian diaspora. While his attitude to both derives from his ideological background, they are potent factors that could push Indian national interest. Modi’s emphasis on yoga, gifts of Indian spiritual texts, visits to temples and profiling the Buddhist connection resonates in many countries. But India’s cultural diplomacy has to take care to reflect the totality of its rich and varied traditions. These diplomatic tools have also to be handled with subtlety and finesse. Modi’s diplomatic style is markedly different from his predecessors’. Jaishankar notes, “Personal chemistry has emerged as a powerful tool in our diplomatic kit.” Good relations between the top leaderships of countries can help in ironing out wrinkles in bilateral ties. They can never impact on core issues unless there are objective reasons for a leader to change direction. The recent negative response of the Chinese to Modi’s reported personal demarche with President Xi Jinping on Beijing’s approach to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi illustrates the limits of personal chemistry. Professional diplomats can scarcely ignore the lesson this incident provides. Many world leaders reached out to Modi because of his decisive mandate and the intrinsic importance of India. Overall, Modi has responded well and successfully, but now the diplomatic terrain will be more difficult. The writer is a former diplomat

Vedic Vidyalayas catch people’s fancy in Hindi belt

Kapil Dixit,

ALLAHABAD: Vedic Vidyalayas are emerging as the latest fad. This became apparent when around 400 children, aged between 9 and 11 years, came to Prayag (Allahabad) from across the country on Wednesday to take the entrance test for 25 seats in two such schools. Most of them were from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP.

Only 150 students had appeared in the test in Prayag last year. There are around 35 Vedic Vidyalayas in the country, with UP accounting for eight of them. Prayag and Haridwar have two schools while Kashi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Rishikesh and Lucknow have one each. Vedic schools have also been set up in Manipur, Kolkata, Jammu, Pune, Amrawati and Pushkar.

These vidyalayas are run jointly by Vishwa Ved Sansthan (an organ of Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Maharshi Ved Vyas Pratisthan (Pune) and offer a seven-year course in Vedas. The academic session of Vedic Vidyalayas in Prayag will begin in the last week of July.

Shubham Tripathi, who had brought his son from Jaipur for the test, said, “Two years back, yoga was not too popular but today International Yoga Day is being celebrated across the world. Same is the case with Vedic education.”

Pranav Pandy, who too brought his son Saurabh from Delhi said, “Entrance test was both written and oral. The results will be announced on July 20. I will be happy if my son is selected.”

Maharshi Bhardwaj Ved Vedang Shikshan Kendra, Prayag, principal Acharya Pankaj Sharma said, “Many western universities offer graduate level courses in Vedas, Sanskrit, Hindu philosophy, yoga, ayurveda, jyotish and medicines. Meritorious students get a worldwide exposure as various universities are on the lookout for such students. Demand for acharyas and experts is on the rise in western countries.”


 KG Suresh

The 16th World Sanskrit Conference, held in Bangkok and supported by the Union Government, was yet another feather in India’s soft diplomacy cap, following the grand success of last month’s International Yoga Day

Following the grand success of the International Yoga Day on June 21, another feather in India’s soft diplomacy cap was the 16th World Sanskrit Conference held in Bangkok from June 28th to July 2. Supported by the Government of India, the conference witnessed participation of over 600 delegates from 60 countries. The five day meet was inaugurated by the Thai princess, a scholar and patron of Sanskrit language, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.

Addressing the distinguished delegates, including scholars, teachers, Indologists and lovers of the ancient language in chaste Sanskrit, Ms Swaraj, emphasised that Sanskrit is not a mere language but a “world view.” In fact, the motto of the international meet itself was “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the universe is a family).

The hosting of the conference in Suvarnabhumi, Thailand, and the presence of a large number of scholars from across the world including a big chunk of westerners highlighted the significance of the Sanskrit language in understanding ancient India and its contributions as also its relevance in the present times. It also indirectly served to reject attempts by some “secular” sections to project the language as ‘dead’ and a symbol of Hindutva as against its vibrancy and universality.

As Ms Swaraj aptly put it, “the language of Vedanta is Sanskrit. The language of Yoga is Sanskrit. The language of Ayurveda is Sanskrit. The language of Indian mathematics is Sanskrit. The language of Indian dramaturgy (natyashastra) is Sanskrit. The language of the Bhagavad Gita is Sanskrit. The language of ancient Indian architecture, sculpture, agriculture, chemistry, astronomy, veterinary sciences, economics, political science, and other fields of knowledge is Sanskrit.”

Spread over 31 sessions, including 24 main sessions and seven auxiliary sessions, the conference delved deep into Sanskrit lore including 18 seats of knowledge, 64 arts, four Vedas, over 100 Upanishads, six ancillary Vedas (upavedas), six adjuncts of Vedas (vedangas), 18 epics, the 10 systems of philosophy, history (itihas), literature and dramaturgy.

Staging of the popular Thai Ramayana, a play in Sanskrit, the Sanskrit kavi sammelan (poetry session) and shastrarth (debate) were among the other highlights of the event. Interestingly, one heard the ‘dead language’ being spoken extempore by several foreign scholars.

Ironically, in many graduate and post graduate courses in India itself, Sanskrit is not taught through Sanskrit, and candidates often write their examinations in languages other than Sanskrit. Similarly, it has been observed that Sanskrit scholars pay more attention to the subjects in Sanskrit rather than the language.

Sanskrit can prosper only if it is made the medium for teaching and learning the language. Sanskrit and Sanskrit alone should be the language of communication in Sanskrit educational institutions and Sanskrit departments as also Sanskrit conferences. In schools, Sanskrit is seen as a subject which fetches maximum marks as it can be learnt by rot. It is important that the teaching of Sanskrit be made much more attractive for prospective students.

Apart from the Union and State Governments and NGOs such as Samskrita Bharati, which are doing a yeoman’s service to the language, promotion of Sanskrit should be taken up by corporates as part of their CSR activities. Linking Sanskrit with modern subjects, developing literature on contemporary issues, conducting a scientific study of the available texts and carrying out more functional research in Sanskrit are among the measures that can be taken up on a priority basis to get the language its due place under the sun. These philanthropists can also contribute to the health and well being of crumbling ved pathshalas imparting the centuries old oral and written traditions, particularly in States such as Kerala.

The country’s national news channels  Doordarshan News has recently introduced Vaartavali, a 30-minute-long weekly news magazine, which has become very popular with its viewers. Apart from news, the programme includes interviews with celebrities, teaching of Sanskrit words, coverage of cultural events and even snippets from Bollywood movies. Doordarshan has been running Vaarta an early morning news bulletin for five minutes for some time now and the same is expected to be extended by another five minutes. One only hopes that the public broadcaster introduces a bulletin of the same duration later in the evening, encapsulating the developments of the day.

Apart from growing interest in the language and its text the world over, the spread of Yoga, Ayurveda and Indian classical dances have also contributed to the global enthusiasm towards Sanskrit. Recent decisions by the Narendra Modi Government to grant a $20,000 International Sanskrit Award to any scholar making significant contribution to the language, the institution of fellowships for foreign scholars for conducting research in India in Sanskrit language or literature and the provision of opportunities for new learners to pursue graduate or postgraduate courses or research in India are all expected to give a major boost to the promotion of the language internationally. Reflecting the National Democratic Alliance regime’s commitment to the promotion of the language, Ms Swaraj at the conference also announced creation of a post of Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry exclusively to further Sanskrit.

The modern character of the ancient language can be gauged from the fact that it has been found highly effective in developing software for language recognition, translations, cyber security and other aspects of artificial intelligence. As the repository of ancient knowledge, Sanskrit has the potential to provide solutions to many of the contemporary problems.

It would be most appropriate if scholars from organisations representing modern science and technology such as Indian Council for Medical Research, Indian Institutes of Science and Indian Institutes of Technology work together with their Sanskrit counterparts to carry out inter-disciplinary research and come out with the panacea for the manifold problems confronting mankind.

In sharp contrast to the controversies back home, in Buddhist Thailand, one was pleasantly delighted to find Hindu deities such as Vishnu (Wsnu), Ganesh and Brahma being worshipped with equal reverence. At yoga sessions across Thailand, people chant aum, perform the surya namaskar and Ramayana, study Indian classical dances and savour Indian cuisines without any civilisational conflicts whatsoever.

One of the most prominent tableaux at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is that of the saagar manthan or churning of the ocean from Hindu mythology. Guru Buddhhacharan, a Chinese born Thai scholar of Vedas is planning to open a 100 Vedic schools in the South East Asian country and the nation’s Princess Maha Chakri herself developed interest in Sanskrit studies since she was very young. She obtained her Master of Arts degree in oriental epigraphy from Silpakorn University and Master of Arts in Pali and Sanskrit from Chulalongkorn University. The Princess has supported further education in Sanskrit by granting scholarships for university students to study the language abroad, many of whom have become lecturers at Silpakorn University, whose Sanskrit Study Centre jointly organised the World Conference.

As the world increasingly looks at India as the vishwa guru, learning valuable lessons from its rich past, it is high time we, Indians, close our ranks and reflect our collective identity and unity overcoming petty partisan politics. As our ancestors exhorted, “Sanghacchadhvam, samvadadhvam, Samvomanamsi janatam” (Let us move together, speak in one voice, think alike and understand one another).

(The author is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)

How to decolonize your yoga practice


As an Indian woman living in the US I’ve often felt uncomfortable in many yoga spaces. At times, such as when I take a $25.00 yoga class by a well-known teacher who wants to “expose us to the culture by chanting Om to start class“ and her studio hangs the Om symbol in the wrong direction, my culture is being stripped of its meaning and sold back to me in forms that feel humiliating at best and dehumanizing at worst.

It took me going to India to really connect with the roots I was seeking on the mat in yoga studios. As I walked the streets of Shimla’s legendary markets I learned that Indians had been forbidden to tread the main thoroughfares.

It was here that I started to apprehend the true meaning of colonization. Did you know that Yoga and Ayurveda were banned in India under British rule and colonization?

The practices millions of Westerners now turn to for alternative health and wellness therapies were intentionally eradicated from parts of India to the point that lineages were broken and thousand-year old traditions lost.

To be colonized is to become a stranger in your own land. As a desi, this is the feeling I get in most Westernized yoga spaces today. Of course, powerful practices that reduce suffering persist, despite all attempts to end them. These facts are critical to understanding the power and privilege we continue to possess or lack, to clarifying the positionalities we embody as we practice, teach and share yoga today.

Now, when so much of what the Western world sees as true yoga is beautifully achieved physical postures, (accomplished, photographed and displayed by popular yoga magazines, journals and sites) executed by mostly young, white, stylish-yoga-apparel clad women and men, yoga is going through a second colonization. This colonization is the misrepresentation of yoga’s intention, its many limbs, and its aims.

Yoga is not now, nor has it ever been, a practice aimed at physical mastery for its own sake. Nor is it a practice aimed at “stress-reduction” so we can function as better producers and consumers in a capitalist society.

Yoga was originally intended to prepare the body as a foundation for unity with the spirit. The limb of asana aims at strengthening the body. Asana, along with dhyana or meditation, aim to harmonize body with breath in order to attain deeper and deeper states of meditative awareness or samadhi. The purpose of this kind of meditative awareness is to experience, practice, and live oneness of mind, body and soul with the divine. This kind of freedom is called samadhi or liberation.It is ironic that practice meant to free us has becoming so confining.

The current state of yoga in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world highlights the power imbalance that remains between those who have access to wealth, an audience and privilege in contrast to those who have been historically marginalized.

If someone from the dominant culture completes a yoga teacher training that is primarily asana based, and remains blissfully unaware of the complexity of yoga’s true aim or the roots of the practices, they are culturally appropriating yoga. By remaining unaware of the history, roots, complexity and challenges of the heritage from which yoga springs and the challenges it has faced under Western culture, they perpetuate a re-colonization of it by stripping its essence away.

Now, this is not to say that there can’t be some true, heartfelt and deep liberation possible. Or that only Indians can practice or teach yoga and white people can’t. There can be authentic cultural exchange, harmony and understanding. Clearly, since the true aim of the practice of yoga is liberation, uniting mind, body and spirit, this form should not limit us. Liberation here, is no joke.

Yoga means liberation from every construct, including that of race, gender, time, space, location, identity and even history herself. However, in the current cultural context where there is a billion-dollar industry profiting off taking yoga out of context, branding and repackaging it for monetary gain we need to address this. Or else we perpetuate a second colonization, i.e., eventually eradicating the true practice, as was accomplished in many places under Britain’s occupation of India, and we stray further on the path of maya, or illusion.

These are a few ways to decolonize your yoga practice:

1. Inquire within.

One powerful way we can decolonize yoga and reunite it with its true aim and purpose is to practice Gandhian svadhyaya, or self-rule and inquiry, and to truly learn the full honest, integrity of an authentic yoga practice.

2. Explore, learn and cite correct cultural references.

As practitioners of yoga I would love to see more of us citing cultural references as we attempt to understand and connect with the complexity, culture and history from which this tradition comes. I’m not suggesting people put on a watered down, context-removed faux Hinduism. To me that is not the answer.

3. Ask ourselves, and other yoga teachers, the hard questions.

These tension asks us to bring all of ourselves to the table. So what I am suggesting is for us to decolonize yoga we need to inquire deeply. We each have our unique story and gifts to share as do all the practitioners we teach or learn from. Lets ask ourselves “For whom is yoga accessible today and how might that be a legacy of past injustices that we have the opportunity to address through our teaching practice and our lives?”

4. Live, know, share and practice all eight limbs of yoga, not just asana.

We can also decolonize yoga by studying the depth of practice beyond the postures. In addition to asana we need to understand, practice and teach all eight limbs of yoga: yama or ethical conduct, niyama or personal practice, pranayama or working with the breath, pratyahara awareness of the senses, dharana, meditation, concentration and insight, dhyana or being present with whatever arises and samadhi, or interconnection with all that is.

5. Be humble and honor your own and other people’s journey.

When we humbly and respectfully consider yoga’s history, context, many branches and practices we give ourselves a fighting chance achieving yoga’s aim of enlightenment of mind, body and spirit.

By really engaging the full, whole and multifaceted face of yoga we not only liberate ourselves but we may just overthrow this second colonization of yoga, freeing ourselves as well as the yoga practitioners of the future to experience the full, liberatory, authentic and true practice of yoga. We allow our own practice to grow and our gifts to really shine.

With mutual understanding, respect, and a deep reverence and caring for the history we can decolonize ourselves, the yoga-industrial-complex, and stage our own ahimsa, or nonviolent revolution of the mind, body and spirit.

This article was originally published by

About the author

Susanna Barkataki is a descendent of a lineage of Ayurvedic healers and teachers, she integrates tools from Ayurveda, yoga, mindfulness and energy wisdom. Susanna has taught K-12 for 14 years where she loves to teach poetry, writing, and social justice integrated with yoga and mindfulness. She loves harmonizing lives as a one-on-one Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor and also teaches 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Trainings with Cloud Nine Yoga.

20 Meditation Tips for Beginners

If you’re new to meditation, then you might feel overwhelmed when trying to keep so many instructions in your head: watch your breathing, calm your mind, keep your back straight…

To take the pressure off and allow your practice to unfold more naturally, here are 20 priceless tips to help you get started. As you practice more, you’ll develop a routine and get more used to these concepts. As a guiding principle, whatever happens during your meditation session is okay. Meet your experience with kindness and gratitude, and your meditation session will be well worth it, no matter what happens.

1. Begin With Quick 5-Minute Sessions
It’s easy for beginners to get overwhelmed when trying to sustain a 20-minute-meditation. That can feel brutal in the beginning. Start out nice and easy. Begin with 5-minute sessions, and when you’re ready for more, move it up to 10 minutes.

2. Stretch or Do Yoga First
By stretching or doing yoga before you start meditating, you’ll prepare your body to sit in one position for a long time. Yoga and meditation go hand in hand. Even just rolling your neck and stretching your back beforehand can help you stay comfortable for longer.

3. Try Out a Guided Meditation
For a fun experience and to have someone guide you through your meditation, try out a guided meditation. You can find free guided meditations available on YouTube and other platforms. You might find it easier when you follow someone else’s instructions.

4. Set Your Timer
When you set a timer for your meditation, you don’t have to keep checking the clock. This removes a big distraction from your practice. Moreover, you won’t be sitting in meditation all day because you’ve forgotten to see how much time has elapsed. Set your timer so you can relax and enjoy your experience.

5. Remove Distractions
Turn off your cell phone, put it on vibrate, or leave it in the other room. You want to be in a space without distractions. I find that the best place to meditate is in my room with the door closed.

6. Don’t Try Too Hard
Meditation at its best is soothing, relaxing, and effortless. It’s merely observation; observing your breathing with your conscious awareness. So there is no real effort involved, just being consciously aware. So don’t work too hard at it.

7. Create a Daily Practice or Ritual
By meditating every day at the same time or within the same daily routine, you develop a habit that becomes easier to practice every day. If you don’t build meditation into your daily routine, you’ll find yourself forgetting to do it.

8. Get Relaxed Beforehand
You want to wear comfortable, loose clothing and be in a relaxing environment. Make sure your room is comfortable. Before you start, take a few deliberate deep breaths and stretch any part of your body that feels tense or achy.

9. Try Out Different Types of Meditation
There are dozens of techniques to meditate, such as Zen meditation, chanting meditations, mantras, and so on. Try out different types to see which one feels right for you.

10. Read “The Power of Now”
This epic book by Eckhart Tolle sheds new light on what it really means to be present. And meditation is simply the practice of being present. To me personally, “The Power of Now” is like the bible of true meditation and mindfulness.

11. Let Go of Expectations
Don’t expect enlightenment. Meditation is about noticing and observing your own sensations, thoughts, and feelings. By just allowing your experience of meditation to unfold in any way that it does, you’ll get the best experience.

12. Stay Nonjudgmental
By simply noticing things as they are — without judging them — you are being mindful. When you notice your mind labelling, commenting, and making opinions about things, you’re judging. And that’s okay when you judge too. Just notice that, and let it go.

13. Have Fun with Your Practice
Allow yourself to really enjoy your meditation session. View your repetitive or silly thoughts with humor. Laugh at your “monkey mind” as it keeps churning. Have fun with it!

14. Your Mind Will Quiet Itself
Don’t try to force your mind to stop thinking; that’ll create distress. It will stop thinking all on its own when you practice your technique, whether it’s observing your breathing or repeating a mantra.

15. Your Mind Will Wander
It’s okay when your mind wanders, that’s just what minds do! Just notice that your mind has wandered, and gently — with compassion — return your attention to your technique (observing your breathing). Don’t beat yourself up, it’s normal.

16. Find a Comfortable Posture
There are no rules that you have to sit in the lotus position. As long as I’m not feeling sleepy, I prefer to lay down. Find a position that works well for you, whether it’s sitting on a chair, cushion, or bench.

17. Your Eyes Can Be Open Or Closed
Do what feels right for you. If you keep your eyes open, you might see visual distractions. If you close your eyes, it may feel forced and unnatural while you’re awake. So do what works for you.

18. Get Up Slowly
After you finish your practice, take your time getting up. Don’t rush off to the rest of your day, as you want to stay mindful and bring your meditative state into the rest of your day’s activities.

19. Meditate With Others
Whether it’s with friends, family members, your partner, a coach, or an organization, by meditating in a group it’ll help you stay committed to the practice. Moreover, you can share your experiences afterwards. You might be surprised to hear how different their experience was.

20. Observe the Feeling Within Your Body
Notice how you feel internally, within your body. What sensations are there in your legs? Do you feel your toes and calves? Notice your diaphragm moving as you breath. This will keep you connected to your body.

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As a guiding principle, whatever happens during your meditation session is okay. Meet your experience with kindness and gratitude, and your meditation session will be well worth it, no matter what happens.

Is Surya Namaskar religious? I don’t think so

Aakar Patel

‘Few practitioners of yoga doing the Surya Namaskar, including lakhs of Americans and Europeans, see it as a form of worshipping the sun. They do it because it is good exercise.’

‘In my view Muslim groups need to be more flexible on such things and not present their problem in terms that are confrontational.’

‘Having said that, are they over-reacting? It must be accepted that many groups feel under siege and threatened by the words and actions of the BJP. If they feel provoked by this we should not be surprised,’ says Aakar Patel.

Yoga in New York

I think it is a good thing to have more compulsory physical exercise in Indian schools, particularly yoga.

Scholar Wendy Doniger has written that the modern practice of yoga (meaning physical poses) is not ancient, but a recent phenomenon. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra does not prescribe any poses and modern yoga came to India in the 18th and 19th centuries with Europeans.

They were discovering the benefits of exercise, encouraged by books like Rousseau’s Emile. Many dispute this fact and think yoga is ancient. Whatever the truth, the fact is that yoga is a practice that millions of Indians are familiar with. And it will be less difficult to find people who can teach yoga to school students than instructors in other physical things like athletics and gymnastics.

I learnt some of the benefits of yoga during a course with the Art of Living many years ago. The one thing that occurred to me was that through yoga, the body could be used to calm the mind. This was after a session doing the breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya.

During this session, a photo of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was put in front of the class. Those who wanted to, could bow to it, but it was not compulsory. I was not comfortable doing that and so abstained from the bowing.

I was also not convinced by the witty answer the Guru had given to someone curious about why Ravi Shankar prefaced his name with two Sris. He said, according to the teacher of our session, that ‘Three Sris were too many for him and one too few.’

Anyway, I recounted this story to show that one can enjoy the benefits of yoga and take part in its group sessions without subscribing to any religious sentiment.

The government was compelled to drop Surya Namaskar from the various asanas, meaning postures, to be performed by schools across the country to mark the ‘International Day of Yoga’ on June 21.

This came after opposition from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which said the Bharatiya Janata Party was compelling Muslim students to take up Hindu religious practices.

I think this is a pity because Surya Namaskar is a comprehensive asana and probably the single best exercise one can do, whatever religion or race you may belong to.

It involves a flowing movement of standing up, bending back, crouching, doing a push up and during all of this throwing the legs back and then springing in front. The Surya Namaskar mixes light calisthenics and body weight exercises.

Is it religious? I do not think so. Few practitioners of yoga doing the Surya Namaskar, including lakhs of Americans and Europeans, see it as a form of worshipping the sun. They do it because it is good exercise.

In my view Muslim groups need to be more flexible on such things and not present their problem in terms that are confrontational.

Having said that, are they over-reacting? The history and the background of the government and its ministers would lead us to believe otherwise. There is a constant targeting of minority groups through snide remarks by women and men in responsible positions.

It must be accepted that many groups feel under siege and threatened by the words and actions of the BJP. If they feel provoked by this we should not be surprised.

I do not think the government meant ill in this instance of promoting yoga. Prime minister Narendra Modi is personally passionate about it and a Gujarati newspaper I edited had carried a report on his exercise routine for which his office had sent photographs of him doing variousasanas.

It was a personal triumph for him when at his instance the United Nations General Assembly adopted June 21 as International Yoga Day with over 175 nations supported this.

Enthused by this, the government is asking its departments including the largest, the railways, to initiate some yoga activities that day. This is slightly problematic because June 21 is a Sunday.

Anyway, it would have been good if the government could have stayed out of controversy over this issue which, as I said, is a good one and beneficial to all particularly children. That it failed in this is partly its own fault and it should have reached out to all communities. It should have predicted that given its record and reputation here would be some trouble.

8 Yoga Mudras To Overcome Any Ailments!!

Yoga is not only an exercise but a form of spiritual practice to improve you physical, mental and spiritual well being. It doesn’t only refer to twisting and curling your body into different shapes and poses, but it also involves some specific mudras posed during meditations. Mudras mean gestures adopted during pranayams and meditations that directs flow of energy into our body. Yogic tantras say that these mudra yoga techniques stimulate different areas of the brain.

Hand yoga mudra and their benefits:

There are many different yoga mudras and each of them have a different benefit. Below is the explaination to each.

  1. Gyan Mudra:

This is the first yoga mudra pose known as Gyan Mudra or the Mudra of Knowledge.

Gyan Mudra

How to do?

Practice this mudra when doing meditations. It’s perfect when you do it early in the mornings with a fresh mind. Touch the tip of your index finger with the tip of your thumb. The other three fingers, you may keep it straight or just keep it free, doesn’t matter even if they are slightly bent. This is a very commonly used mudra when practicing meditations.


This is a very beneficial mudra and anyone can practice this.


  • As the name suggests, this mudra is meant to increase your concentration and memory power.
  • This mudra sharpens your brain power.
  • It has the ability to cure insomnia.
  • Practice this mudra regularly to heal yourself of all mental and psychological disorders like anger, stress, anxiety or even depression.

2. Vayu Mudra:

How to do?

This mudra can be practiced in a standing, sitting or lying down posture. It’s easy to do. Fold your index finger. As you fold your fingers you can see two bones. These are called phalanx bones. When you have folded your index finger the second bone that you see, you have to press it with the base of your thumb just as shown in the above picture. The rest of the three fingers should be kept extended as much as possible.

Do this at any time of the day as per your convenience. There is also no compulsion of doing this at an empty stomach. You may also practice this mudra with a full stomach.

Vayu Mudra

[ Read: Yoga For Reduce Stress ]


Once you achieve the benefits from this mudra, stop doing it. After a certain time, it may cause imbalance within your system.


As the name suggests vaayu mudra, it balances the air element within your body. This mudra releases excess wind from stomach and body thereby reducing rheumatic and chest pain.

3. Agni Mudra (Mudra of Fire):

How to do?

Fold your ring finger and press the second phalanx with the base of your thumb. Keep the rest of the fingers straight. This mudra should be practiced only in sitting position early in the morning with an empty stomach. Maintain this mudra for atleast 15 minutes every day.

Agni Mudra


But if you are suffering from acidity or indigestion, avoid this mudra.


  • It helps to dissolve the extra fat boosting metabolism and controls obesity.
  • Quickens digestion.
  • Improves body strength.
  • Reduces stress and tension.
  • Controls high cholesterol levels.

[ Read: Herbal Remedies For Stress ]

4. Prithvi Mudra (Mudra of Earth):

How to do?

Touch the tip of your ring finger with the tip of your thumb. Pressing the tips of these two fingers, keep the rest of the fingers extended out.

It is preferable that you perform this mudra in the morning. However you may even do it at any time of the day and for any duration. Sit in a padmasana keeping the palms of both your hands on your knees with straight elbows. Perform this asana when you feel stressed out and exhausted. Padmasana accompanied by this mudra will immediately perk you up.

Prithivi Mudra


Nothing at all. Perform this asana freely.


  • It improves blood circulation throughout the body.
  • Increases patience and tolerance.
  • Increases concentration while meditating.
  • Helps strengthen weak and lean bones. Also increases weight of people suffering from low weight.
  • It reduces weakness, exhaustion and dullness of mind.

[ Read: Remedies To Treat Nervous Weakness ]

5. Varun Mudra (Mudra of Water):

This is the best yogic mudra for your outer beauty. It has a positive effect on your skin and keeps it away off all problems. A very effective yoga asana for your overall health let us learn to do this mudra with perfection.

How to do?

Lightly touch the tip of your little finger with the tip of your thumb. The rest of the fingers should be kept straight. There is no specific time to perform this mudra. You may do it at any time of the day and in any position, but sitting cross-legged when doing this mudra is preferable.

Varun Mudra


Take care not to press the tip of the little finger near the nail. That will cause dehydration instead of balancing the water level in your body.


A number of benefits can be achieved by doing this mudra:

  • Varun Mudra balances the water content in our body.
  • It activates fluid circulation within the body keeping it moisturized always.
  • It adds a natural glow and luster to your face.
  • Varun Mudra also relieves and prevents any muscle pains that you may suffer from.

6. Shunya Mudra (Mudra of emptiness):

How to do it?

Press the first phalanx of your middle finger with the thumb.

Shunya Mudra


  • Practicing this mudra with full concentration will cure earache within 5-10 minutes at the most.
  • It is also very helpful if someone is deaf or mentally challenged. But those who are handicapped inborn won’t benefit from this mudra.


After you are cured of these diseases, stop practicing this mudra.

7. Surya Mudra  (Mudra of the Sun):

How to do it?

Press your ring finger and press it with the thumb just as shown in the picture.

Surya Mudra


  • It is quite beneficial when it comes to reducing bad cholesterol.
  • Want to lose weight? This mudra comes handy.
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Also improves your digestion.

8. Prana Mudra (Mudra of Life):

This is a very important mudra as it activates the energy in your body.

Pran Mudra

How to do it?

This yoga mudra pose should be accompanied along with padmasana. Bend your ring finger and little finger and touch the tip of both these fingers with the tip of your thumb.

There is no specific time to perform this asana. Any time of the day will be suitable.


  • This mudra improves your immune system.
  • It also increases your eye power and also cures any sort if eye diseases.
  • It reduces fatigue and tiredness.

These are some very important mudras in yoga and are beneficial for your health. Practice them everyday.


Yoga rooms offer a quiet break in hectic airports

Sallie Jo Cunningham was not expecting a good night’s sleep. Waiting for her 12:30 am flight out of San Francisco International Airport to depart, Cunningham, a bu8siness development professional, had resigned herself to a groggy trip back home.

Then she visited the airport’s yoga room, a dimly lit, hardwood-floored oasis of calm. “I thought it would be a good idea to stop in the yoga room and see what they offered,” she said. The mats, blocks and bolsters were useful, but not so much as just having a quiet place to stretch, practice her flow and unwind.

“I can tell you that I actually did feel quite a bit more relaxed for that flight,” Cunningham said.”I was really glad I had the opportunity to do yoga.”

San Francisco is one of a growing number of airports that are creating rooms for yoga and meditation.

Airports including O’Hare %in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth and Burlington in Vermont all have set aside space for yoga. A temporary yoga room at Heathrow in London proved so popular last year that it was made permanent, and its operator is looking to open one in Hong Kong.

Even people in the business of relaxation, it appears, are not immune to flight-related anxiety.

“I definitely have found myself going to the bar and having a glass of wine,” said Ritu Riyat, a yoga instructor and life coach who has used airport yoga rooms. “With yoga, I don’t need to have that glass of wine.”

Travel industry analysts %say that the rooms are a ref8lection of an increasingly te8nse environment at airports. “This is a tacit recognition by airports that travel can be stressful, and they want to do what they can %to help travellers reduce that stress reduce that st8ress,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst. “Yoga’s pr8obably a lot healthier than %trying to quell stress at an airport bar.” The rooms have been particularly well received at larger airports where passengers wait for connecting flights.
“It really was just the most pleasant layover I think I’ve ever had,” said Leslie Wei, an ophthalmology fellow from Wisconsin, who happened across the airport yoga room when traveling through Chicago last fall. “It’s like the quietest place in O’Hare. It’s really hard to find a quiet place there.”

O’Hare added its room in November 2013, and Midway Airport followed suit last September.

While a number of airports have, over the last couple of decades, converted existing chapels into interfaith sanctuaries that offer a quiet place, yoga rooms – most of which are free and open to all – straddle the line between secular and spiritual, offering a quiet place for meditation as well as a space to stretch or sweat.

One exception to these inclusive facilities is at the SkyTeam Lounge at Heathrow. Members of the SkyTeam airline alliance have access, though other travelers can buy a day pass. SkyTeam began what was intended to be a two-month pop-up yoga room last year, but kept the space open after traveler response. Now, SkyTeam plans to introduce yoga to its lounge in Hong Kong International Airport when the lounge opens this year.

Mr Harteveldt said that airports were simply responding to consumers’ needs by creating yoga rooms. Travelers these days must arrive earlier than ever for their flights, especially at busy hub airports, leading to more of the hurry-up-and-wait routine of long lines and idle time. And more travelers also want to maintain their health and wellness routines on the road, whether that means seeking out healthier food options or finding ways to sneak in exercise during their trip.

“This whole trend of how consumers are expressing their health consciousness is one we’ve been observing for several years,” said Jim Crawford, an executive at a design firm that does a lot of work with airports.

Airports with yoga rooms say that they are working hard to make traveler well-being a priority, though, and that offering a place for tranquillity is an important step toward that goal.

“It was installed as part of this holistic program to actively promote the pursuit of healthy lifestyle choices,” said David Magana, a spokesman for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which added a yoga room in 2012.

Like other airports with yoga rooms, Dallas-Fort Worth does not log every traveler who visits, but Mr. Magana estimated that dozens of travelers used the rooms every day.

“We felt that a yoga room would kind of be an interesting thing that would differentiate our airport,” said Doug Yakel, a spokesman for the San Francisco airport. “A yoga room seemed to be something that resonated with travelers.”

San Francisco lays claim to the first airport yoga room, which it opened in 2012. That room was later relocated to a walkway where Terminals 1 and 2 connect in order to give more travelers access to it, and a second yoga room opened early last year in Terminal 3. Mr. Yakel said the airport was considering adding another room to serve the airport’s one remaining terminal.

Burlington added a room for yoga after officials saw passengers flow through sequences right in the terminal. A local studio, Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga, helped design and stock the space.

“What it comes down to is customer satisfaction,” said Gene Richards, director of aviation at Burlington International Airport.

Most airports, though, are not so accommodating. Dedicated yogis say they often end up practicing out in the open in the terminal.

“It definitely elicits lots of curious looks,” said Jessica Thompson, who co-founded and runs YOGO, a company that makes foldable yoga mats for traveling.

Having a room solves that problem.

“It allows you to do a full flow or deeper stretching without feeling like everybody is staring at you,” she said, “because they do.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s yoga session inspires European Parliament

BRUSSELS: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call at the UN for an International Day of Yoga reverberated in the European Parliament, the world’s largest legislative body, on Tuesday, with internationally known guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar leading a major yoga event.

The event titled “The Yoga Way” was organised by the Indian embassy in Brussels in cooperation with the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s discourse, the interactive question and answer session and the relaxing meditation exercises created a unique buzz among the large audience comprising members of the European Parliament, European Union (EU) officials and ambassadors from various countries.

As a curtain raiser event to celebrate the International Day of Yoga on June 21, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was invited to speak on yoga and conduct a meditation session.

At the instance of Manjeev Singh Puri, Indian ambassador to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg, the event was supported by members of all political groups in the European Parliament. This was perhaps for the first time that any event had found resonance among members of all the political groups in the European Parliament.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was received at the European Parliament by Puri and Members of European Parliament (MEPs) Geoffrey Van Orden, Nirj Deva, Neena Gill, Jo Leinen and Alojz Peterle.

A video of Prime Minister Modi’s exhortation at the UN general assembly (UNGA) for declaration of the International Day of Yoga by the UN started the event.

Van Orden, chairperson of the Delegation for Relations with India, welcomed the guests and said that the delegation was happy to organise yoga in the European Parliament.

Puri said that yoga was important for a holistic approach to health and well-being and was one of the many Indian contributions to the world.

Deva, a British MEP of Sri Lankan origin, and a close associate of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, delivered the vote of thanks.

The European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament, issued a statement saying, “Sri Sri’s presence in the European Parliament has been a true inspiration for European leaders to strongly engage in more inter-cultural dialogue that would lead towards non-violent societies.”