Ciera J. Cuevas
Yoga: Theory, Culture and Practice
February 25, 2013
How To Get A Yoga Butt
I came across 02 Yoga studio while walking down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA. My first thought was: It’s interesting how Yoga studios have been catching my attention so much more lately. I relate this feeling to the strange phenomenon that happens when you acquire something new in your life, such as a car or a pair of shoes, and suddenly this something new that you never noticed before begins to pop up everywhere you go. For me this subconscious focus is closely related to my participation in the Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice class at Lesley University.
In Yoga: Theory, Culture and Practice we discuss the theories of yoga based on readings by Swami Muktibodhananda, and J. Krishnamurti. In addition, we observe and discuss how the practice of yoga is influenced by culture. In order to explore these avenues further the class was given the task of individually researching a local yoga studio and attending a class. The Yoga Studio I have chosen to analyze is O2 Yoga Studio.
O2 Yoga Studio is not just a clever name for the studio, it is the name of the practice. This Western inspired branch of Yoga draws from the philosophy of the eight-limbed path of Patanjali. O2 Yoga balances many principles of Asthanga Yoga by using heat-generating sequences of postures or asanas, and a mind-focusing breathing technique. It was created in 1998 by Mimi Loureiro “as a way to introduce people to the system she believes is like no other for changing and improving body, mind, and spirit”(Loureiro). Mimi Loureiro has a BA in Nutrition, a BA in Psychology, and an MS in Exercise Physiology and has been a full-time Yoga instructor for the last 15 years. She created O2 Yoga to show others how “to harness all the good energy by focusing it on one point, creating a “harmonious individual and therefore a more peaceful world” (Loureiro).
Mimi officially opened the first O2 Yoga Studio in 1999 and 12 Years later, this past fall, the Cambridge location is now open. The Cambridge location offers classes to the public seven days a week at affordable prices, a 200 hour teacher training program, a monthly intensive class for members, Intro to O2 Yoga workshops, a vegan café, massage therapy, and a conscious clothing boutique. The classes and schedules differ month to month but as for the month of February 2013 the classes provided are Karma Yoga, Intermediate, Power Yoga, Basic Yoga, Pre-natal, Asthanga, Post-natal, and meditation.
The atmosphere of the O2 Yoga Studio is partially commercialized, business in the front and strictly yoga in back. Upon entering you are greeted by the front desk and introduced to the prices and packages. I passed the Conscious boutique of all name-brand O2 products, such as tight yoga pants, tanks, sports-bras, mats, mat holders, headbands, and water bottles. After passing through the bright and cheery boutique I followed the beautifully carpeted floor through the O2 lobby which was nicely decorated with paintings, murals, and statues to “assist in creating focus and drishdi.” Upon entering the studio room, I could see it was split level and equipped with all natural flooring: bamboo, wood, and cork. The room was dimly lit and the temperature of remained comfortably warm at 82 degrees. The instructor was accompanied by a statue of Buddha and her voice by a faint worldly.
I took Basic Yoga with one of the regular instructors, Maggie Hall. The Basic Yoga class is advertised as an introduction class which focuses on the proper execution of postures and principles essential to O2 Yoga. The class is supportive of students that are new to the yoga practice and to individuals that need a refresher on the foundation of the practice. From my experience I would say that the advertisement is very accurate. Walking in to the class I saw a mix of people all age ranges within adulthood, genders, and ethnicities. The students ranged from intermediate to beginner. Regardless of age, gender, or experience Maggie encouraged the use of a supportive straps, blocks, and advised us to not worry too much about how far we can go in a position.
Maggie engaged us in our breath, she asked us to focus on our breath by placing one hand on the abdomen and bring the other hand to the chest. This brought awareness to my heartbeat and how I breathe. Maggie told us to take inhale through the mouth into our abdomen followed by a deep breath through nose into the chest. On exhale were told to force our breath out with an ocean sound. Maggie referred to this as ocean breathing, or Ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breathing is a very guttural type of breathing and it brings about a feeling of heat pulsing through the chest into the throat on exhale.
Breathing was reinforced in every pose which was very consistent with the practices I was used to from the Yoga, Theory, and Culture class. The poses in the course were also very similar. The sequence of poses was fairly simplistic, downward dog into a yoga push-up, and then back up alternating legs, and flexing the feet. Towards the end we were proposed with more challenging forms of some of the position.
At one point we were guided from a seated twist position into an arm balance called Astavakrasana which was very difficult for me. If we couldn’t we were encouraged to laugh at ourselves, acknowledge that this is to promote relaxation and a stress free life not worry if we could do the position right at a basic level. At the end of the class there was a small meditation portion, we laid on our backs, closed our eyes and listened to the faint worldly tune. I also noticed that room began to get very cold, but attributed this to being the last class of the day but I am not sure. After about five minutes of meditation we closed with Namaste, which Maggie explained to mean the light within me sees the right within you.
At the end of the class, I talked to the members about some of the other classes I may be interested in taking. The class that was mentioned was Karma Yoga in the mornings. Karma Yoga is taught by aspiring yoga teachers in the 200- hour teaching program as a means to gain teaching experience. One thing that I really admired about this class is that all of the proceeds go to the Maple Farm Sanctuary which is a non-profit organization provides a sanctuary for animals that have been abused, abandoned and unwanted by “promoting veganism and respect for all life through public information ("Maple farm sanctuary," ). It was refreshing to witness the studio and instructor’s true commitment to the Vegan Café and lifestyle was not just a marketing tool.
Overall, my feeling of O2 Yoga studio is from a Western perspective very positive. At the end of Basic Yoga I would say I felt energized and relaxed. Walking to the studio my mind was very negative, and filled with thoughts, one in particular was “How am I going to really engage in this class without overthinking what I need present and write?” By the time I finished talking to the members and instructors I was excited to take on the 25 minute walk and qualitative research project with no complaints. However, I also recognized how significantly different the standard of O2 Yoga differed from that my class teachings.
The main focus of the O2 Yoga practice is anatomical; by going through the stances the individual will gain a better understanding of their body, strengthen their muscles, adjust the spine and therefore create better posture. The belief is that by doing this the individual will have a “better mood, better interactions with the world, and a more centered and quiet mind” (Loureiro). The O2 Yoga purpose differs from the teachings of Swami Muktibodhananda who explained in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that yoga is to be “practiced for the sole purpose of preparing oneself for the highest state of raja yoga, i.e. Samadhi” (Muktibodhananda 1985, p.27).
While yoga can result in a balanced physical, mental, emotional equilibrium that is not the purpose. Instead yoga is meant for preparation of the body, mind, and emotions so the entirety of an individual can withstand the obstacles they will face on their journey to a higher state of consciousness (Muktibodhananda 1985, p.26). In O2 yoga the goal is to achieve what Swami Muktibodhananda considered the “side effects” of reaching Samadhi. Muktibodhananda would say that these side effects are better off ignored because they render the practice useless.
The O2 Yoga Studio advertised massage therapy, yoga pants, and a Vegan Café all of which from a Western point of view sound fantastic but from an Eastern stand are commercial and have nothing to do with yoga. In westernize society we have come to put yoga in the same category as massage therapy and eating healthy. The Hatha Pradipika would say that “hatha yoga is not being taught for its own sake, for therapeutic purposes, or for gaining worldly or psychic powers, and this is something the hatha yoga practitioner should always keep in mind” (Muktibodhananda 1985, p 28). Muktibodhananda belief examines how in the past five decades the new generations of yoga presented in the West have lost the true meaning of yoga. Modern society uses yoga as an exercise regimen with headings in magazines such as “Get a Yoga Butt in 10 Days.” Just as promoted at O2 yoga in the west yoga practiced mainly to improve or restore health, to reduce stress, to prevent the body from ageing, to build up the body or to beautify it (Muktibodhananda 1985, pg. 27).
Much like most studios in the West, O2 Yoga studio has a variety of instructors and a variety of classes. Sometimes individuals will take a liking to one instructor and class and stick with it but often individuals take a combination of different styles and different teachers. This is done partially because they want to find the right fit, or they just get bored. I have come to notice a pattern in West where individuals like to keep moving always in search of the next best thing. We tend to believe that what is old is the problem in our lives and maybe if we try this new thing our lives will be better.
However, this is not the case in traditional Yoga. If an individual wishes to practice yoga and reach their highest potential he/she must commit to one teacher and one form from beginning to end. “Whether one practices karma yoga, bhakti yoga, kriya yoga, jnana yoga, Zen Buddhism, or a combination of a few varying techniques, one has to have an ordered system and that system has to be followed from beginning to end, without diverging and trying other systems and gurus along the way”( Muktibodhananda 1985, p 29). A different approach on master’s and yoga practice which differs from both Western Yoga and Muktibodhananda traditional yoga is presented in the Krishnamurti text, This Light In Oneself. Krishnamurti does not believe that a teacher or a class is required to reach the highest state of consciousness. He believes it to be more satisfying to see if one could be a light to oneself, a light that has no dependence on another and that is completely free. (Krishnamurti 1999, p. 17).
Personally I feel most inspired by the theories explained in the Krishnamurti’s text. His overall belief is the meditation practice within yoga and his focus is on the power of oneself. A common problem residing especially in the West is this habit of depending on someone to put us in the right direction and to tell us what we need to do in order to be happy. We crave happiness and use phrases such as “I will be happy when…, or I was happy….,” but rarely do we say “I am happy at this present moment.” What Krishnamurti explains “We all want to accept somebody who promises something, because we have no light in ourselves. But nobody can give you that light: no guru, no teacher, no savior, no one” (Krishnmurti 1999, p 18).
At this point I have known the yoga practice from a western perspective through O2 Yoga studio. I have come to know it from Yoga:Theory, Culture, and Practice at Lesley University. I have also learned about the eastern perspective through the ideas of Swami Muktibodhananda and J. Krishnmurti. However, I still have much to learn about what yoga is from my own perspective. The question I have yet to answer is what does yoga for me and what does it mean to me?
This is a difficult journey because it seems at times these theories of yoga even within the same hemisphere conflict a great deal with one another in certain areas. Although what I have come to understand is that in the end all of these practices seek the same goal. The goal is to flourish, to reach the highest potential of oneself. The conflicting views are not the necessarily the goal but the meaning of what it is to flourish and be at your best.
Krishnamurti, J. (1999). This light in oneself: True meditation. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Maple farm sanctuary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.maplefarmsanctuary.org/apleFarmSanctuary).
Muktibodhananda, S. (1985). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Light On Yoga (2013 ed.). Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India. DOI: www.yogavision.net
O2Yoga (2013). http://www.o2yoga.com . Web. Feburary 24, 2013.