At one time it seemed that yoga was little more than a dated hippie fad, rather like the lava lamp. But now this ancient health system is back in vogue.
Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and Julia Roberts and Sting are not shy about advocating the mental and physical benefits of the discipline. It is cool to carry around a little purple mat and tie yourself up in knots in local gyms and draughty church halls. It seems yoga is everywhere, and nowhere is it more omnipresent than on the net.
Should you wish to learn more about Sting’s views on the subject, for instance, you might care to read the in-depth interview available at the White Lotus website. You’ll find a glossily professional web page which features authoritative articles on the many different forms of yoga – and the debate about which is the best. You can also access a shop selling books and videos, or click through selection of celebrity interviews.
Share the well-illustrated interview with Sting, in which he expresses regret at not having started yoga earlier. But he adds that, if anything, the exercise seems to be reversing the ageing process. This view is echoed by fellow megastar Madonna. Indeed, the title song, Ray Of Light, in her best-selling album incorporates a traditional yoga chant. If you are moved to discover more details, Roots And Wings, a ‘yoga, bodywork and natural healing centre’ will be happy to provide you with the original Sanskrit text of that chant.
Roots And Wings is largely geared to selling yoga products, but you’ll also find articles, discussion groups and a search engine for locating those all important Sanskrit lyrics (just type in Madonna). Another site, called Evolution, describes itself as an online yoga magazine, and although it can be a little graphic-heavy and slow, it’s a snazzy and informative creation.
The visitor is offered enticements such as a free email newsletter, meditation advice, chants and even recipes. Should you find Evolution’s animated yoga girl icon annoyingly limber, you might be tempted to compete with her by practising a selection of yoga postures yourself. Evolution allows you to call up these postures on your screen.
It seems that cyberspace is not yet the proper place to learn the subtleties of this ancient discipline: for that you’ll still need to take a traditional class with a teacher.
Yoga Videos Aren’t All Equal at Getting Out the Kinks
Yoga used to be the kind of thing someone’s eccentric aunt did – a woman with a braid wrapped around her head who entertained the children by putting her foot behind her neck. I tried screening three different videos on a day when my neck and shoulder muscles were tighter than last year’s jeans. I had knots the size of Rhode Island that had been there for weeks. Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise (A.Vision) relaxed them. Kathy Smith’s New Yoga (BodyVision) warmed them up. Three hours later, after falling under the reassuring southern spell of actress Dixie Carter’s Unworkout (MCA Universal), they melted away.
Here’s how it went:
An all-natural Jane Fonda appeared on a set that looks like a craggy moonscape, wearing plain red leotards and tights, and sporting a French braid down to her hips. (It’s a hair extension, but what do we care.) She demonstrated the classical Sun Salutation, a choreographed yoga routine traditionally used to greet the day, her huge Ted Turner diamond gleaming in the spotlight. Then she asked us to join her in a warm-up, several rounds of the Sun Salutation, and a relaxation and breath awareness segment, 60 minutes all told.
Yoga is slow, I decided, slow enough that I have time to examine the webs between my toes and the lint on the carpet while holding each pose. While nearly standing on my head, I meditated on the most profound of Jane’s statements: When in doubt, breathe. After the relaxation segment, my thoughts switched to her final message: I am relaxed, and I will carry this feeling with me.
She said this hour would help me stretch, tone and energize my body. At that moment I felt lethargic, noodled, ready for lunch. The knots are still there. Kathy Smith also appeared in a red leotard and tights and urged me to do the workout on an empty stomach, preferably just before dinner. She worked with Rod Stryker, yoga instructor of the stars, to update the ancient disciplines and merge them into a workout for fitness fans.
Kathy stood on a raised pylon as she led a more athletic version of the Sun Salutation, a half dozen other poses and a meditation, 60 minutes total. The great thing about yoga, I’m learning, is the great names attached to each exercise: the downward dog, the cobra, the plank.