I’ve been in California all week, driving and in meetings, and falling into bed at night. I have a travel yoga mat and CDs, too, but I just wasn’t getting to it. This morning I looked on the web and to my astonishment there was an Iyengar studio only blocks from my motel; even better, one of the directors is someone whose book on back care I bought a couple years ago. She wasn’t teaching today but I had a wonderful class with Ruth Owen (this was at the California Yoga Center in Mountain View, BTW), and was reminded afresh of how yoga practice connects me with my body. And that takes us to environmentalism. Just as we live in our physical bodies and need to pay them attention, take care of them, and recognize that we are physical creatures (I forget this when I’m working intensely), we need to see our place in the physical world. The way we care for our bodies says a great deal about how we care for nature.
I wrote about sports–and yoga–in my 2000 Eco Living and thought I’d share a little of that text here:
**Get a book or go to a sports centre or gym to get started. A perfectly adequate strength programme can be done at home, but you may want guidance and support to get started (if you have health concerns, do check with your doctor).
**There are running clubs all over the country, many with support for novice, older and female runners.
**Don’t wear headphones. They are a safety hazard (you won’t hear cars or other dangers) and also disconnect you from the outside world – eco living is about tuning in to your world.
**Drink plenty of water – plain tap water, filtered if necessary, rather than bottled water or sports drinks – before, during and after sports, to avoid cramp, muscle strain and fatigue.
**Wear the right shoes for impact activities and try to run on grass, dirt paths or a track.
**Warm up and cool down with five minutes’ walking or even jogging in place.
**Wear the right clothing, shoes and reflective gear if you’re out in the rain or after dark.
From Eco Living (2000)
Yoga is an ancient Indian system of physical and mental practice. It came to the West in the 1960s and has become increasingly popular since then. Originally it was seen as a rather introspective activity focused on stretching and meditation. In the 1990s, the picture changed as well-known actors and performers, including Madonna and Richard Gere, took up more vigorous new forms of yoga and announced that it was the best exercise they’d ever done. What has remained consistent is that most practitioners feel that they benefit spiritually or psychologically, as well as physically, from their practice.
Yoga is about as low tech as exercise gets. You simply need comfortable, loose clothing and a mat or towel. It can be learned from a book, but you’ll get most benefit from going to a class. If you want gentle toning, try Hatha or Iyengar yoga (both systems can be practised to an advanced level, too). If you’re interested in a more aerobic workout, look for Power or Astanga yoga.
Tai Chi is characterised by simple and graceful circular movements that are performed in a continuous flow and at a slow, even pace, and also by a strict composition in which lightness is integrated with firmness and tranquillity with solemnity. Along with other Chinese and Asian martial arts, it focuses on self-development and discipline, not competition. It is extremely hard work, though, much like some types of yoga, and highly fit people find themselves aching after their first session. You’ll need to learn it from a teacher, but it can be practised anywhere with a little space and privacy.
Pilates is a physical training system developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates (1881-1967) and long used by dancers and actors because of the way it builds strength and shapes the body without adding bulk. Like yoga, which it is based on, Pilates develops a long, lean look and works a lot with the spine and stomach muscles.
Traditional Pilates is done in private lessons on special Pilates machines. It is very expensive. The system has become much more popular in the last couple of years, because proponents have developed exercises that can be done without expensive equipment, at home or in small classes.