woman and dog at beach Hannah Cole

Hannah Cole

Yoga was brought to the western world in the 1960s and has never left. Based on ancient poses that came in visions to the sage Patanjali, yoga is a great way to get fit, stay relaxed and live in the moment. It has however come under fire of late, as it has sadly been found that many of the ‘gurus’ of the top yoga schools spent years sexually and sometimes physically abusing their students. What stuck was that many of the top schools defended their gurus, rather than address the claims, which has led many to focus more on the poses for fitness, rather than the rhetoric of ‘false prophets’.

Find a qualified teacher to avoid injury (don’t practice while pregnant unless under guidance of a teacher). Avoid inversions for menstruation/medical conditions. Online, we Ekhart Yoga (many affordable classes) or Charlie Follows (free online videos).

A disturbing aspect of yoga is that although it’s designed to be a focus for simple living, many of the mats, accessories (and clothes) used in yoga are very polluting. Most yoga mats are made from PVC (a deadly chemical that pollutes everything in site and has health concerns), and most ‘trendy’ yoga clothing is now made from recycled plastic, which (unless you use a plumbed-in microplastic catcher) leaches microplastics back into the sea, from where the plastic originally came. Just stick to loose organic cotton or hemp clothing.

Stretching on cheap flimsy mats can cause injuries and bring you out of alignment, rather than the other way around. A good yoga mat should last you years if not decades. There are a few choices, cork is one good one (especially for ashtanga or ‘hot yoga’ as it gets more grippy, the more you sweat). Other choices are organic cotton, hemp and jute (many blocks and accessories are made from bamboo, the world’s fastest growing grass – industrial bamboo is not the same as fresh shoots eaten by pandas).

non-slip jute yoga mats & accessories

complete unity yoga

Complete Unity Yoga is one of the best brands of yoga mat, made from sustainable jute and designed to be non-slip. Ironically (considering that yoga is about helping the planet), most yoga mats on sale are made from toxic PVC, which also means they get slippery when wet. Lightweight and easy to transport, you can also fold this yoga-mat so it’s ideal for travel or taking to yoga class.

Loved by practitioners and yoga teachers worldwide, the mat is made from sustainably-harvested natural tree rubber and jute fibres, and gives incredible grip, so you’ll never fall on your face, while in Downward Facing Dog again! Also good for fitness or Pilates, it’s easy to clean and free from microfibres. Ethically made and packaged in FSC-certified craft paper, it has a natural rubber fragrance.

Cork Yogis makes quality yoga mats and accessories from cork, which does not require trees to be cut down, workers simply strip the bark every 9 years or so. Keeping the cork industry alive helps to protect forests that are home to native wildlife (important in a world of plastic wine corks). A portion of profits are used to help  survivors of human trafficking. The thickest mats are best for outdoor or uneven surfaces, or extra cushioning for injuries.

Brentwood Home (USA) offers a lovely range of organic cotton yoga mats, in beautiful colours. Obviously these are good for the planet, as the cotton industry is responsible for around a quarter of all the world’s pesticides. Made with a natural rubber anti-skid bottom, these are super-thick and super-comfy and biodegrade nicely at end of use. The woven fabric means the textured mat wicks away moisture, so you won’t slip nor have to wipe down the mat in hot yoga. Great for forearm and kneeling poses, and for tender knees or achy joints (a good reason to do yoga!)

an illustrated guide to yoga poses

yoga anatomy made simple

Yoga Anatomy Made Simple is a delightful guide to this wonderful of exercise for mind, body and spirit. Although yoga is deep and complicated, most books are either celebrity dross, or so spiritual that they go a bit weird and uncomfortable for the average western reader. However, this book takes all the important stuff, adds colourful illustrations and makes learning how to do postures correctly fun. Read  helpful tips for a greener yoga practice.

Knowledge of anatomy is crucial when practicing yoga, as you want to know why you are doing the postures, not just how. But most yoga anatomy subject matter can be dry and difficult. Instead, this book (for written for yoga practitioners and teachers) by a long-time yoga teacher pairs expert knowledge with real-life examples and colourful illustrations, to understand the benefits of each posture, and understand why certain postures are easier or more difficult than others, for different people. Concepts are demonstrated on different body parts and posture groups:

  1. Forward bends
  2. Hip rotations
  3. Backbends
  4. Twists
  5. Shoulder postures
  6. Inversions
  7. Arm balances

Embracing each student’s lifestyle, environment and life history, learn how to analyse postures from a physical perspective, create effective yoga sequences  and avoid unnecessary injury. Stu Girling has been teaching yoga anatomy workshops for years, and specialises in treating injuries and tension patterns.

what about Christians who say yoga is demonic?

Alas, there is huge fear now among many people who enjoy yoga, thanks to some evangelic Christians who are taking it upon themseles to say that yoga is ‘inviting evil forces’. The best way not to be scared, is simply to give up watching late-night You Tube videos! Let’s look at bit more into this, what the theory behind it is, and whether they are right.

It is true that yoga originated in the Hindu religion, but of course millions of people are Hindus, and it seems to only be right-wing American evangelists who have a problem with that (most other Christians are fine with other people practicing different faiths). What’s interesting is that when you look at the history of the people who telling others not to do yoga, they are often people who got heavily into the New Age to the extent you could almost call them occult practices (messing around with dark forces etc). Anyone who does this obviously opens themselves up to dangerous practices, and it could well be that they experienced circumstances that made them fearful. Millions of people practice yoga and actually find peace. But it does pay to avoid the ‘weird stuff’. In other words if you’re a practicing Christians, go to the kind elderly teacher at the community centre who can help your aching knee, but avoid the ‘cult’ chanting classes making you chant things you don’t understand, and doesn’t qualify for the British Wheel of Yoga.

Some people instill fear by saying the postures are designed to worship evil Gods. You can’t accidentally worship the Devil just because you’re doing Downard Dog to help your hamstrings. If it bothers or concerns you, simply don’t do it. Nobody can force you to do yoga, there are many other forms of exercise. If you like yoga, then do it but do avoid the weird stuff and teachers. Either way, it’s fine!

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