‘It is time with my self–my body, my mind’

Treat yoga just like any other dedication to healthy living, says Dr. Christopher Rivera, well-known guru from New York
By Yashasvi Kannangara

‘The Art and Science of Yoga’ is a workshop series conducted by Dr. Christopher Rivera. Organized and presented by Spa Ceylon, the programme comprises three half day workshops that focus on the many types of yoga and meditation.

A well-known yoga guru and sought-after trainer for both group and personal training sessions from New York, Dr. Rivera holds a certification from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in the areas of Flow (Vinyasa) Yoga and Group Exercise. He has conducted workshops throughout the United States and Turkey.

The workshops to be held at Park Street Mews, warehouse D from July 22 to 24 are created specifically for yoga enthusiasts and beginners to yoga and meditation.

Here Dr. Christopher Rivera answers some questions from the Sunday Times

  • What does ‘Yoga’ really mean?

Yoga as a definition references traditional mental, spiritual and physical disciplines that originated in ancient India around 5,000 years ago.

  • What does it mean to you?

To me it means peace, strength, commitment and evolution. If I were to define it I would use the definition of “deliberate union of mind, body and spirit in motion.” However, what it means to me is more than the way I define it. It has changed my life and thus I think more of it as the positive effects it has had on my existence.

  • How and when did it originate?

The definition of yoga literally refers to one of the six schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy. Therefore if we are defining “yoga” in its original sense, it is fundamentally founded on the principles of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. However, this term has evolved over time and means different things to different people other than this original definition.

  • How is it different? How has it changed?

Yoga is different now because there are so many variations of the practice. For example there is Bikram yoga but now as an off shoot of that people are practising “Hot Yoga.” This is not a series of 26 postures as is Bikram yoga.

However, it does try to emulate the temperature and intensity in other ways. Also people study Power Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Laughter Yoga. The reality is that as the pressures and stresses of the world have changed, people have responded by creating variations of yoga to meet the needs of the people. I think this is what makes yoga still so important and popular—its ability to morph effortlessly and still provide people with the benefits.

  • What are the most popular and effective positions of Yoga?

This is of course a question that reflects my own personal opinion and practice. I believe any inversion can be considered among the most effective positions. The logic behind this first response is that we spend almost all of our lives with gravity keeping us fixed to the earth’s surface. Another way to think of this is that it is always pushing down on us.

Thus to change this pattern, for example, by doing a Headstand or Salamba Sirsasana, which is my favourite yoga position, really shocks the body—it improves balance, core strength, it helps the spine, and it calms the mind. It also makes fresh blood rush to your head and some studies show that this has the ability to improve mental acuity. I want to be clear inversion means any posture where the heart is higher in position than the head. Therefore the body does not need to be completely upside down to practice inversions. A Standing Forward Bend or Uttanasana is also a good way to receive the benefits of inversions.

Some of the most popular yoga postures are Downward Facing Dog or Adho Muhka Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog or Urdhva Muhka Svanasana, Child’s Pose or Balasana, Mountain Pose or Tadasana, Triangle Pose or Utthita Trikonasana and the Warrior Series (Warrior I, II and III) or Virabhadrasana I, II and III, and of course Corpse Pose or Savasana. Also, the choice of postures that are effective and popular really depend on a particular practitioner’s body and needs.

  • Do you think that yoga should be a part of life?

Yes there is no question that the benefits of yoga create a healthier, happier, and more balanced life. It brings peace and harmony and it also has innumerable benefits to overall body well-being. Strengthening the spine helps with the aging process of the body so that you have more flexibility and general mobility for years to come. Also certain postures help the body detoxify and provide internal massages for organs.

  • How has yoga changed your life?

I cannot accurately sum up the innumerable positive effects yoga has had on my life. First, I can say that until I was 18 I was significantly obese. There are times now, where I feel that my body is younger than it was when I was 18 or 19 and I am 31 now. I know this is in part due to my dedication to the practice of yoga. It has also helped me find a peace and serenity that I was greatly lacking. Understanding yoga as not just a physical practice but a mental and spiritual one as well helped me grow as a person and deal with various events from my past that troubled me into adulthood.

I joke with close friends and say it is cheaper than therapy! But in many ways it is my therapy. It is the time where I sit down with myself (or many times with a group of others) and focus internally and reflect on my life, my body, and process the various meanings of all of these things. I feel healthier, happier, calmer, and more at peace.

  • Some say that today’s stressful work hours don’t allow time for yoga. What is your take on that?

I also hear this from close friends I have been trying to convince [them] to begin yoga practices. However, my response is always the same—there is, of course, time if you make the time for it. It is just like any other dedication to healthy living. People say there is not enough time in the day for cardiovascular exercise because they are so busy, etc.

Get up earlier, watch television less, use the internet less are all responses these individuals need to hear. Or perhaps live longer, happier, and healthier is what I should say more!

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