Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means “union”, of mind, body and soul and ultimately of the individual with the divine. This ancient, scientific method of spiritual and lifestyle integration stems from Indian and Buddhist traditions. Today we see yoga studios sprouting up in every part of the world and stemming from different lineages and styles — be it bikram, iyengar, ashtanga, sivananda or anusara, to name a few. All the styles originate from traditional hatha yoga. People are increasingly adopting yoga and meditation practices to help them lead a more balanced life. Well-established studios in the United States and Europe are investing in developing country seva initiatives as part of the Global Mala Initiative (affiliated to the United Nations Peace Initiative). There are many yoga fundraising projects and joint ventures between the yoga and art communities.
At an individual level yoga has many benefits, particularly with regard to stress management, disease control, weight loss and toning, clarity of mind and increased concentration. The practice of pranayama (breath control) is important for the nervous system, calming the mind and for stabilising chemical imbalances in the body. Yoga allows you to develop your body intelligence and practioners eventually migrate to the style of yoga best suited to their own body and mind.
But, there is also a socially conscious yoga. Get off the mat and see how yoga can raise social consciousness as part of the international peace initiative.
The spirit of the Global Mala (South African yogis should be looking at the Ubuntu Mala) is to encourage people to participate in a collective ritual by bringing hatha, bhakti, and jnana and karma yoga together. These aspects refer to actual asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing) practice, spiritual practise through worshipping the divine through songs, increasing knowledge by self-study and by increasing selfless service to others. There are many approaches to a yoga mala — a well known mala being a series of 108 sun salutations in the form of a marathon through which money is raised by each sun salutation completed.
The South African yoga community is demonstrating its social efforts by supporting, for example, HIV/Aids initiatives.
Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa from the Golden Bridge Yoga Centre in Los Angeles — often affectionately nicknamed the queen of Kundalini, will be hosting specialised workshops in Cape Town and Johannesburg on June 1, 2, and 3. Gurmukh trains the likes of Madonna, Reese Witherspoon and Cindy Crawford and is known for her work on pregnancy and pre-natal yoga. She has always had a deep interest in visiting South Africa and spreading her teachings to communities where they will make a difference.
The themes of the workshops are “live in peace not in pieces”, “magnificent grace”, and the “calibre of life”. These workshops have been chosen for their relevance to South Africa, with the aim of abating fear, rising above our situation, developing inner strength and harnessing our creative energies to foster the right social support systems.
Bhavini Kalan Maharaj is a South African-based yoga teacher doing work internationally. She is a close friend of Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa and both teach at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh.
They have embarked on Himalayan journeys together with other yoga teachers and Swamis and have seen how the teachings of yoga are applied in social development efforts in the most remote parts of the world. The financial proceeds of Kaur Khalsa’s visit will go to selected orphanages in South Africa.
Bhavini worked in the corporate world before changing careers to become a yoga teacher. She studied abroad, did policy and economic development work and finally switched to her work of passion, which she has been pursuing in the past two years. She teaches in India and works for the internationally acclaimed Ananda Spa Institute.
She specialises in ashtanga Vinysasa yoga and Sivananda yoga.
Bhavini Kalan Maharaj will host a monthly yoga column in the Mail & Guardian. Please send yoga queries to [email protected]