Yoga and meditation originate from eastern religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, yoga is mentioned in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-gita. Meditative yoga is an important aspect in Hinduism because of its meaning and outcome. Meditative yoga leads to samadhi (deep concentration that brings liberation of the self); therefore yoga is a system for attaining liberation (Knott, Hinduism). In class (10/07/11) we learned about how in Buddhism meditation involves visualization and concentration; enabling people to navigate through life and escape samsara. Meditation also includes samadhi (deep concentration) and siddhi (powers). Once the deep level of consciousness has been reached you remain there and have powers. These powers/accomplishments include reading people’s minds, walking on water, flying, no hunger or thirst, etc.
From it’s religious Eastern roots, yoga was introduced to the West by Vivekananda (a Hindu guru). Besides founding his Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Vivekananda was a key figure in Western establishment of yoga. The above article is about how Vivekananda brought yoga to the West and began its popularity. One comment from the article that I thought was interesting was this: “If you’re annoyed that your local gas station is now a yoga studio, you might blame Vivekananda for having introduced ‘yoga’ into the national conversation — though an exercise cult with expensive accessories was hardly what he had in mind.” This shows that the yoga that Vivekananda brought to the West was religious and not what the West makes of yoga today.
The view of meditation and yoga in the West is very different than in the East. The media is a main contributor to this different viewpoint. In the West, the media portrays meditation and yoga from a non-religious perspective. The main focus of western yoga and meditation is the physical body and mind. How do we reduce the stress and worries in our crazy, busy lifestyles we have in the West?---The media’s answer: yoga. In the West yoga is a huge, growing industry because of Americans’ hectic lives. By doing some yoga and practicing meditation, we can slow our lives down for a little while. The media emphasizes how yoga helps people relax and clear their minds. In addition, Western society has focused on how yoga and meditation can even improve people’s health; health clinic websites now promote meditation as a way to help people’s health conditions. In regards to the yoga industry, the rising number of yoga studios around America highlight how yoga can increase body fitness (flexibility and strength). Therefore throughout the West, yoga and meditation are seen through a non-religious perspective, for its physical and mind benefits.
Oftentimes the media presents meditation as a way to calm ourselves and reduce stress. One example from the media of this is through the article, “10-Minute Meditation For a More Peaceful Holiday Season.” The author of the article, Leslie Davenport, is also the author of the classic book on self-healing, “Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery.” Through the article, Davenport presents a 10-minute meditation routine that can help reduce stress and can lead to a “more tranquil mind and compassionate awareness” during the Holiday season. The meditation routine includes three sections: Body Wise, Heart Wise, and Soul Wise. The Body Wise section is for replenishing our energy by focusing on one’s breathing and its rhythm. Davenport states, “Keep your attention tethered to your breath, and focus on emptying out stress and tension. When your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back and refocus again on your breath.” The Heart and Soul Wise sections are about thinking and reflecting on your deep values and how to relax during the Holiday season. Overall, this article emphasizes how meditation can be used to get rid of extra stress in our lives and focus on slowing down & relaxing during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
In addition to meditation being promoted by authors of self-healing books, meditation is now even encouraged by the medical field. Research teams and doctors today are looking at how meditation can improve people’s health by reducing stress levels and therefore benefiting certain health conditions. One example of this stems from the Mayo Clinic; the Mayo Clinic staff wrote an article titled, “Meditation: A simple fast way to reduce stress”. This article describes the many benefits of meditation, especially the way in which it can decrease stress. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the article the authors do bring up the fact that meditation stems from religious roots: “Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life.” However the emphasis of the article is that meditation can be used for relaxation and stress reduction. As a result of decreased levels of stress from meditation, doctors are speculating as to how this could help certain medical conditions that are influenced by stress levels. However, this can not be truly concluded yet because even though there is growing research that supports the health benefits of meditation, the mechanisms are not yet fully known. Despite this the Mayo Clinic staff explains how meditation can be “considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine” that “results in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.” In addition to listing the benefits of meditation, the elements of meditation (focused attention, relaxed breathing, quiet setting, comfortable position) are explained in the article. Also, they highlight yoga as a type of meditation that promotes a more flexible body and a calm mind. “As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you're encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment.” Overall, if the media continues to present the medical research and benefits of meditation and yoga, this will largely influence people’s perception of meditation as a way to improve their health.
Researchers in the West are looking at how meditation can improve people’s health. As a result of researchers’ findings, people will continue to look at the physical benefits of meditation on their health. From the article presented above, it was shown that experience meditators have decreased activity in certain areas of the brain associated with attention and anxiety disorders. However, there should be some caution when applying these results and other previous meditation research because the actual mechanisms of how meditation affects the brain are not shown or explained. I think that more detailed research needs to be done on meditation before it can be applied and displayed to the public like it is today.
In the West today, yoga is even seen in schools; however this brings up much controversy because of the separation of religion and schools. When yoga is presented in schools, it raises questions about if the yoga is religious in any manner. From the article, “In schools, yoga without the spiritual,” Mary Billard wrote, “But with its [yoga] spiritual connotations, it is a potential tripwire for school administrators and parents.” The extent to which yoga relates to religion can be a problem for school administrators; however, oftentimes schools present the yoga in a non-religious way. One program presented in the article shown above is called Bent on Learning, a 10-year old program that teaches yoga to New York City public school children. Through the program, “yoga teaches children to use their body and mind to learn and live better” (http://bentonlearning.org/about-us/). It improves the students’ concentration and reduces their stress, allowing them to learn better. Therefore, the overall presentation of yoga in schools emphasizes physical benefits and dissociates yoga from its religious origins.
In addition to yoga being implemented in some schools, the popularity of yoga studios in the United States is quite extensive. Yoga studios are popular because people enjoy going to a place in which they can learn how to do yoga. Also, yoga studios portray yoga as a way to improve one’s body and mind, which is very appealing to people. This idea is shown through an article that I looked at about a yoga studio (Virayoga), in New York City (http://virayoga.com/). The author of the article, Elena Brower, is the co-owner of Virayoga. Brower states that in yoga, her mission is to make one’s physical body stronger and clear one’s emotional body. In this article, Brower presents a yoga sequence composing of nine poses that are to help the body and enhance the wellness of the mind.“ The movements in this simple sequence will enhance your immune system, strengthen and awaken your muscles, and pave the path for your most refined listening in any moment of your day.” Shown above is one of the first two poses of the yoga sequence; the other poses are also shown in the article. Overall, this article emphasizes that the purpose of yoga is mainly for it’s physical benefits.
Along with the increasing number of yoga studios comes competition between the studios. This competition can go as far as to lawsuit between yoga studios. As shown in the article above, two studios (Bikram Yoga NYC and Yoga to the People) in New York that both offer Bikram Yoga (series of yoga poses done in a heated room) are involved in a lawsuit. The founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, is suing the studio “Yoga to the People for copyright infringement, seeking monetary damages and asking a federal judge to block Yoga to the People from offering its hot yoga class.” The owner of Yoga to the People, Greg Gumucio, began as Choudhury’s student & decided he wanted to start his own studio that was less expensive for students; therefore, the competition between the two studios has led to this lawsuit. When I first looked at this article I was quite surprised because I had never heard of a lawsuit between two yoga studios. I don’t think that it is right for studios to argue over which yoga moves they can and cannot do or own. If everyone in yoga copyrighted their own yoga poses then nobody today would be able to enjoy yoga to its full extent. The author does not relate yoga, in any sense, back to it religious origins, but it is interesting that the last line in the article states: “There is a line in the Hindu scriptures: ‘Let good knowledge come to us from all sides,’ ” Mr. Mehta wrote. “There is no follow-up that adds, ‘And let us pay royalties for it.’ ” Overall, this article demonstrates that yoga has truly changed from the religious perspective to an industry that is deeply involved in money and policy.
Not only are yoga studios, in general, popular in the West, but yoga studios are also becoming more diverse. Not all yoga studios offer the same type of yoga or are portrayed to the same type of people. One interesting type of yoga class that was recently developed is called Broga (a blend of the words “bro’’ and “yoga’’). The purpose of this yoga is to make men feel more comfortable doing yoga because right now “yoga has primarily been marketed to middle-age housewives.” Therefore, this yoga class allows for hesitant men to join in. Interestingly, the two men (O’Neill and Sidoti) who started this class were at first reluctant to do yoga. However, once they got into yoga they wondered why yoga wasn’t more appealing to guys and why there weren’t programs oriented towards men. As a result they make their Broga class welcome to men, but also allow women to come. The yoga is a “slightly more aggressive and physical incarnation of yoga” with push-ups and squats being added between poses. O’Neill and Sidoti also are thinking about possible Broga merchandise (athletic & casual clothes, and DVDs for Broga to be done in people’s homes). When reading and analyzing this article I thought it was interesting to think about this article really shows how far yoga has come from its religious origins. Since some yoga classes are now oriented towards males and are more physical in nature, this truly demonstrates how yoga is now portrayed in the West as physical exercise. I agree that is good to have different yoga classes that focus on different types of people in the population; however, with this comes a greater divergence from yoga’s religious beginnings.
Overall, Western media presents a very different type and purpose of meditation and yoga than the East. In the West, yoga is seen as being useful to people because it reduces stress, clears the mind, increases body fitness (flexibility and strength), and improves overall health. Western media depicts yoga in this way because of the huge, popular yoga industry in the West; with competition among yoga studios leading to lawsuits. Increasing popularity of yoga studios and different types of yoga studios has lead to more exposure of yoga to the public. Also, basic research on meditation has lead to people’s interpretation of meditation and yoga as a way to achieve and maintain physical health. I agree that yoga and meditation do reduce stress because it is a way for people to relax and calm down; however, I do not think that the main emphasis of yoga should be on its physical benefits. As a result of the media’s emphasis on the physical benefits of yoga and meditation, religious yoga is not displayed as much. Subsequently, people forget (or don’t even know) that yoga comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. As the media continues to portray yoga and meditation from a certain non-religious perspective, this is what people will know and understand. It will be interesting to see how the media’s portrayal of meditation and yoga will be like in the future. Will yoga continue to be displayed as a way to maintain physical health or will this completely change?
WESTERN MEDIA’S PORTRAYAL OF MEDITATION AND YOGA Erica Hett
EASTERN RELIGIOUS ORIGINS OF MEDITATION AND YOGA
Meditative yoga leads to samadhi- deep concentration leading to liberation of self
Yoga = system for attaining liberation
(Knott, Hinduism )
Meditation involves visualization and concentration
Samadhi and Siddhi
Visualize Buddha world and living in it
Enables people to navigate through life and escape samsara.
Meditation helps with a variety of health problems.
Researchers use functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (fMRI) to look at how meditators’ brains are different than those who don’t meditate.
Experience meditators have decreased activity in areas of brain called the default mode network.
Leading to “lapse of disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, and buildup of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.”
“ Meditation may help brain tune out distractions ” http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/news/meditation-may-help-brain-tune-out-distractions Picture above is a fMRI scan of experienced meditators. “The areas shaded in blue highlight areas of decreased activity in meditators’ brains.”
Yoga in schools improves students’ concentration “ Class is in session at Achievement First Bushwick Elementary School, a charter school where students are taught in a hallway by instructors from Little Flower Yoga.” “ In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/nyregion/in-yoga-classes-at-schools-teachers-avoid-the-spiritual.html?_r=4&ref=religionandbelief
Yoga in schools is presented as non-religious.
“ No om. No prayer position with the hands. Nothing that anyone could look in and think, this is religious.”
Bent on Learning program
Teaches yoga to children in school
Improves students’ concentration and reduces their stress levels.
Yoga helps increase muscle flexibility and wellness of your mind
Yoga sequence: Nine poses that enhance your body and mind
At left is the first two poses of the yoga sequence: “ From standing with feet parallel, inhale your arms high overhead. With eyes soft, exhale your arms out wide to shoulder height. Repeat this 9 times. Breathe under your arms, into all sides of your heart & let your breathing tell you when to move. Feel your body absorbing that motion.”