A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring Yoga in Northeast Florida
It’s not just about a pose. And it’s not about a particular style. It is, arguably, not even about where yoga comes from. Yoga is about living in the present moment, regardless of who you are or where you are. It’s fundamentally a way of life. One that combines philosophy, meditation, breath, and movement of the body. Yoga is a spiritual, mental, and physical practice that’s all about the journey, not the destination.
And yoga is different for everyone, at every stage in life.
As with most things in life, one size does not fit all. And the same goes for yoga. Just as there are many types of shoes, there are many styles of yoga. You have to find the one that fits. Yet discovering what style might work best for you can be more challenging than trying to put your leg behind your head.
The word yoga, in most circles, means “divine union” in Sanskrit, the classical Indian language often used by teachers when calling poses during class. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you might have heard words like chaturanga, garudasana, and tadasana. That’s Sanskrit. They mean plank pose, eagle pose, and mountain pose, respectively.
Yoga originated in India some five thousand years ago and is rooted in Hindu thought. The practice has evolved in many, many ways over the years. It’s believed that yoga first ventured to America in the 1920s, but didn’t really find a permanent home until the 1950s and ’60s when Richard Hittleman, Walt and Magana Baptiste, Swami Vishnu-devananda, and B.K.S. Iyengar each made their own unique stamp on the western world. Their stories, among many others, are the building blocks of yoga as we Americans know it today.
Over the years, America embraced the physical aspects of yoga, perhaps more so than the historical, philosophical, ritualistic, religious, and spiritual aspects of the practice. Not surprising though, seeing that we’re a fitness-crazed society.
Some argue that the growth of “Americanized” physical yoga is diluting the “real thing,” thereby diminishing the more meaningful aspects of the practice. Yet others champion yoga’s evolution in America while acknowledging that it’s no easy feat to modernize the ancient teachings and practices to fit into American society as we know it today. Their idea being that some yoga is better than no yoga, as its health benefits are numerous and muchneeded.
Tapping into the physical can help one to discover other experiences, such as the power of the mind. This, in turn, can lead a practitioner of yoga into the more spiritual, philosophic, and ritualistic aspects of a given practice.
America, like other countries across the western world, has certainly hybridized yoga in a variety of ways. In addition to taking its own spin on traditional Hatha and Raja yoga, America has pushed the creative boundaries and offers culturally-unique hybrids such as Rave yoga (no-drug dance party), Aeriel yoga (hanging from the ceiling), Doga (yoga with your dog), Laughter yoga (self explanatory), and SUP yoga (poses on a stand up paddle board on a body of water). There are so many styles and camps of yoga today that it’s hard to keep count.
Regardless of which camp you’re in (and even if you don’t camp at all), yoga is here to stay. It has sprouted numerous studios in the backyards of our very own Bold City. And the demand for yoga continues to grow. Today, yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by famous yoga teachers, designer-quality active wear, celebrity yogis, teacher trainings, and destination yoga retreats.
Northeast Florida has more than thirty yoga studios, and that doesn’t even account for all the YMCAs, gyms, Pilates studios, athletic wear companies, outdoor shops, cross training facilities, nonprofits, and other health and wellness businesses that include yoga as one benefit of a larger offering.
Yoga is BIG business. And women play a big part in it. Of the more than thirty yoga studios currently operating in Northeast Florida, more than 95% of them are owned or co-owned by women. That’s impressive, although probably not surprising. Yoga in America tends to be viewed as a young women’s “sport.” But that’s been shifting over the years. More and more men, and people from all demographics, are starting to embrace the benefits of yoga, and classes are increasingly becoming more integrated.