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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009

In-body Experience

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Twenty years ago Tom Pilarzyk began a daily regimen of yoga and meditation as an antidote to an energy-stealing illness. Today, his health is strong and he is touring the country with a new book, Yoga Beyond Fitness, featuring an age-old philosophy and tradition that is widely spread yet sometimes misunderstood.

What’s new about yoga?

What is new is that there is a growing recognition by many “yoga vanguard” that along with yoga’s growing popularity there is something that may be lost. Yoga in America is out of balance and has become essentially physical, you know, just doing poses. That notion forms yoga in terms of pure physicality. Among those leaders there is concern to more effectively re-establish a balance with physicality and mental discipline; that teaches physical movement along with the mind and breath. That is really what my book is about: re-establishing that balance.

What is yoga beyond fitness?

It is going beyond merely doing the poses in the class. When one holds a pose in yoga they are not checking themselves out in the mirror, but drawing themselves in with the breath, and the subtle coordination of mind and body through awareness of breath is essential for going beyond yoga as a fitness regimen. Yoga is much more than that. If we think of yoga as an “opening of the body,” it is also about an opening of the mind and heart.

Why is this relevant today?

All we have to do is look around us at the madness that we see; countries going off to war without thinking, without an open heart about the effects of that aggression. It is all around us in how people conduct their lives. I just read about a man who rang the doorbell of his ex-girlfriend and opened fire. That is a man whose mind is out of control, a man who is not connected to his heart. Oftentimes when we act impulsively and aggressively, without centering ourselves in our hearts, that is what happens.
There are a million reasons, but those are just two. I tell stories in the book about how yoga transforms people by bringing their minds back in the body and resting their minds in their hearts. Keeping your mind in your heart is critical because when the two are detached, the result is craziness.

What other populations could benefit from yoga?

There are yoga instructors who go into prisons. I helped to support bringing meditation into prisons about five years ago, and bringing yoga to all sections of the city, especially in typically low-income areas where people can’t afford it. I have taught at CORE/El Centro on Milwaukee’s South Side, where the amount that is paid is prorated to your income. You can enjoy the benefits of yoga, massage, energy work and therapy in ways that have not been open to low-income populations. It is important to widen people’s opportunities to do yoga, to understand the deeper side of yoga, which goes way beyond merely fitness.

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