Transcendence for Newbies

Yoga, Part 2

Sabu Chaitanya has something that I want. I’m not really sure what it is: it’s that gleam in his eye; it’s the peaceful energy that radiates from him; it’s how expressive he is – even though he uses few words and English is clearly his second language.

It’s all of these things.

After trying out a few lunchtime drop-in classes at Shanti Yoga (see last week’s column), I was sold on the physical benefits, but the emotional and spiritual ones seemed more elusive.

As Shanti’s director, I sought out Chaitanya to learn more, and he, along with his wife and senior instructor, Jyoti Chaitanya, was happy to oblige.

Turns out I actually can have what Chaitanya has (anyone can, apparently), but, sadly, there’s no magic pill or fast track to enlightenment on offer here.

“Yoga is the union between the individual self and the supreme being. It’s about controlling your body to control your mind,” he explains.

Yeah, probably not the type of thing you can achieve in a few drop-in classes.

Chaitanya has been teaching and studying yoga for 22 years, but he assures me that although yoga, for many, is a lifelong journey that is never truly mastered, anyone who commits to practising seriously, for six months, can reap the spiritual and emotional benefits.

Speaking with Chaitanya, for even a few minutes, it becomes obvious that he embodies the core values of yoga and sees no need to compromise its spiritual underpinnings. But, at the same time, he needs to get people in the door, and in the age of the ShamWow and other epiphanies that will change your life “in just four easy payments”, six months is a long time.

When I point this out to him, he acknowledges the challenge. But that gleam in his eye doesn’t waver, “It’s hard to explain to someone who has not practised,” he points out, “but over the last 50 years, yoga has been diluted to make it more attractive and understandable to Western minds.”

And unlike the mental and spiritual benefits, I can attest to the fact that the physical ones come more readily, “The physical benefits are greater than for any other exercise.” Chaitanya continues. “The different positions stimulate every system of your body. The shoulder stand, for example, stimulates your endocrine system.”

I can’t help thinking that this would still be a hard sell to the folks picking up heavy things and putting them down again at the local gyms, in faithful adherence to the “beach workout”. You just can’t impress the ladies by flexing your parathyroid gland (I know … I tried).

Personally, these days I find myself less concerned about how sublime my pecs look, in a tank top, and more concerned about things that actually contribute to my quality of life: like developing my core stability for riding my bike, working on my flexibility so I don’t put my back out reaching for the leftover pie in the back of the fridge or clearing my head of all the tiny minutiae of my job for a few minutes so I can get things back into perspective – all tangible benefits that yoga offers.

But after talking to the Chaitanyas, I have come to accept that I’m unlikely to make the most of these benefits by just doing the odd drop-in class. That’s why I’m signing up for a “beginner’s intensive” course: an hour and a half of yoga, five days a week, for a month, starting at (gulp) 6:30 in the morning. It will be tough, but after meeting Chaitanya, I’m convinced it’s worth trying.

As Jyoti Chaitanya points out, “It’s about making a commitment to yourself; to do the course, you have to get up earlier. To get up earlier, you have to get to bed earlier. To get to bed earlier, you have to get yourself organized the night before….”

“It can help your whole life come together,” she summarizes.

Of course, signing up for a yoga course isn’t the only way to get yourself off the sofa and to foster these positive changes in your life. It could be any activity that you’re interested in, that you’ve heard cool stuff about, that will force you out of your comfort zone a bit and, yes, that may even lead to some embarrassing newbie moments. But it will be worth it.

So, let’s do it! Find your yoga.

Shanti, Alpine Bakery, the Canada Games Centre and the local gyms all offer yoga classes for a variety of levels.

Got a suggestion for an active pursuit that could be profiled in this column? Want to draw attention to your sporting or recreational organization? Are you staying fit in some unique way? Drop me a line and tell me about it at [email protected]

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