By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
The ashram of the imagination is solitary as a mountain summit, riddled with secrets, inhabited by gaunt, ascetic bodies swaddled in monastic robes, wrapped in turbans, shrouded in mystery.
Yogi Hari's ashram, or retreat for yoga practitioners, belies this idealized image, except for the fact that it is a bit hard to find. The numbered streets of his middle-class neighborhood in Wilton Manors don't help much; crisscrossed by canals, they are lined with late 1970s¯style ranch homes that repeat, one after another, like a mantra.
As it turns out, the yogi teaches from his family home, a two-story structure of natural stained wood. It is located, inauspiciously, on a dead-end street. The oak-and-glass front door is unremarkable save for the shoes, which are lined up outside, two by two, like Old Testament animals awaiting entry to the vehicle of their salvation: leopard-print ballet flats; high-heeled mules from Bloomingdale's; a pair of blindingly white Avia running shoes; a couple pairs of Birkenstocks; beaded, teenagerish flip-flops. Some retain the heat of recently removed feet, palimpsests of the wearer.
Inside, standing among and yet apart from his guests in front of a sliding glass door that leads to a small kidney-shape pool at the edge of a canal, is an elfin man with a ZZ Top¯style beard. His name is Yogi Hari, and though he is often called upon to speak, perform music, and instruct at yoga conferences and ashrams all over the world, he only occasionally opens his home for all-day seminars like this one. About 40 people have shelled out $45 apiece for the program, which includes a class of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing) and a vegetarian lunch followed by music, chanting, and a lecture.
Backlighted by glare, Hari's head-to-toe white garb seems to glow. Though he's internationally famous, he keeps a low profile locally. He sold more instructional videotapes in Germany alone last year than in all of the U.S., a fact which Hari attributes to dilettantism on the part of the American yoga student. "Here people tend to dabble," he says. "[In Europe] they want to go deep."
Yogis are generally circumspect, slow to anger, and hesitant to disparage others, but on this sunny Sunday afternoon, Yogi Hari has uncharacteristically strong words for a culture that embraces yoga's asanas yet eschews its spiritual roots.
"Stupid Madonna come and tell you, "I know,'" he lectures, scornfully referring to the Material Girl's professed devotion to yoga. "You very easily follow. O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, these have become our idols. Because the only thing they teach you is external. Not about the source."
The source is a source of consternation for Hari. In America in general, and particularly in South Florida fitness circles, yoga is equated with exercise. Most local instructors and their students focus primarily -- if not entirely-- on the physical benefits of the practice. Hari, on the other hand, is a traditionalist who sees yoga for what it is and has been for thousands of years: a conduit to the divine. It irks him when would-be students call him to find out what "kind" of yoga he practices -- meaning what sorts of poses.
"There has been a lot of effort to popularize yoga in the West. This is mainly the asana aspect. The majority of people only relate to the asana aspect. But if you are only stuck on the very surface of the practice, it's just the surface. People need to know there's more than that. There's so much more."
Asana is in fact just one of eight "limbs" of yoga. Together asana, the third branch, and pranayama, the fourth branch, combine to form hatha yoga. But hatha yoga is still only part of the story, the physical aspect of a system intended to bring about enlightenment through self-realization. Initially used in India to prepare for meditation, hatha yoga has long been prized as a sacred tool that does not exalt the ego but rather obliterates it, auguring enlightenment, a joyful union with the universe. Today, however, hatha yoga is perhaps best known as the source of Madonna's sinewy, sculpted arms and Courtney Love's exquisitely toned abs.
Looking around at the lithe and limber bodies stretched out across beige wall-to-wall carpet, it's tough to see the harm in asana alone. Hari suggests one: "If you are obsessed with just one [aspect of yoga], then you might find it will lead to an imbalance. You are not just a physical being. Asana as calisthenics, without awareness, is not yoga."
Hari's statements are a hard sell. His call to return to the spiritual roots of yoga contradicts its current incarnation as a fitness craze. Moreover, his students, who have been sitting on the floor for more than an hour, are now especially beholden to their bodies. One gets up to use the restroom; others are struggling not to slump. In the back, leaning against a pillar, a young man has dozed off. They have come to learn about yoga, and Yogi Hari is going on about God.
Although it is sometimes equated with religion or spiritualism (it has been influenced by both Hinduism and Buddhism) yoga is neither of these things. The easiest way to explain yoga as a concept is to say what it is not. It is not a religion, a set of beliefs, or a value system, per se, though it encompasses all of these elements. Yoga is not a philosophy, a doctrine, or a discipline.
Many would also argue that yoga defies translation as it has no real equivalent in Western culture. (See sidebar, "Yoga's Journey," below.) The Sanskrit translation, "yoke" or "union," helps, but giving meaning to the word invites paradox. To define yoga is to divide it from all other things, to limit it, and this, yogis contend, is impossible because yoga, like God and the universe, is infinite.
"What is the religion of earth, water, fire, air, the sun, moon, stars, and space?" writes Swami Brahamanda Srasavati. "They have no particular religion. They belong to everybody, to the religious and nonreligious alike.... Electricity belongs to everybody, because everyone can use it. In the same way, Yoga belongs to everybody."
A Bronx-born, leotard-clad Jew named Richard Hittleman brought yoga to the American mainstream in the 1950s through his public television shows and best-selling books. Hittleman died in 1991, and though his books and tapes continue to inspire millions, his former South Florida presence is all but forgotten by local yogis.
In 1957 Hittleman opened the American Academy of Yoga in Coral Gables, likely one of the first of its kind in the area. Hittleman's former school stood not far from the place where Dona Piza opened Prana Yoga a year and a half ago.
"We're pioneers here," the 29-year-old Piza blithely announces, adding that she's unaware of Hittleman's South Florida trailblazing. "I think I have one of his books," she offers. The disconnect is no surprise. Hittleman was an old-school, spiritual teacher; Prana, which served 5000 students last year, is a big, modern facility. Once relegated to the Spartan floors of the YMCA and the Unitarian Church, yoga now has luxurious homes of its own in specially built studios. Dozens of such schools can be found in South Florida. However, yoga's inclusion in health clubs remains a major factor in its continued growth.
Troy Mills, a wiry, effusive 30-year-old with wavy brown hair and a goatee, sees the problems and benefits of gym-based yoga classes. He took his first class at a Gold's Gym where he was a member. After completing Yogi Hari's teacher training in March, he began to add a facet other gym classes often omit: "The number one thing I did as soon as I left here [the ashram] was have all my classes chant "om.'"
Mills' emphasis on spirituality is often at odds with the goals of the beginning student. "When you teach at a gym, people are more focused on trying to get a workout. When you get into a gym like that with a lot of meathead guys, people think it's so easy, you sit around and hum. Or they think we sit around and contort our bodies, put our legs behind our heads."
Mills shuttles back and forth among Broward gyms and Boca Raton, where he teaches at the Athletic Club of Boca. The 20-mile drive is the gap between two worlds. In Boca his students are mostly women in their forties, and many of them are Jewish, a fact which has come up when Mills has instructed his class to chant. He says a few of them have balked, nervous that by saying "om" they'd be straying from their faith. Though Mills says he doesn't push the spiritual aspect on anyone, students usually come around in time and often enjoy the feeling the mantra elicits. "Their faces are radiant, and they say "I just "om"-ed for the first time!'"
Meanwhile the sleek black-and-chrome interior and body-beautiful aesthetic of Better Bodies gym are an odd match for the ancient tradition.
"The gym isn't really conducive to yoga," says Mills. "It's disco music, and it's pounding."
Nonetheless Mills says his superfit students, mostly men in their thirties, are increasingly curious about yoga's spiritual side, and it doesn't surprise him: "The spiritual aspect of it naturally follows automatically." In fact he sees yoga as the antidote for those who feel constrained by mainstream faith. "It's not a limiting spiritual practice," he says, "It's all-encompassing. It's very free. It's just all about whatever the divine means to you."
At ten minutes before 6 p.m., Jimmy Barkan takes off his pants. Despite his dishabille Barkan looks relaxed. His legs are the uniform tan of a man who spends a lot of time in a Speedo.
Forty-five years old and balding, Barkan has a ruddy, muscular face, strong jaw, and wire-rimmed glasses that soften him, creating a purposeful look. He is broad-shouldered and fit, with the good-natured bearing of an orthodontist or the high-school coach who also taught physics. As an aspiring Los Angeles actor, Barkan might've auditioned for any of these roles, except that in 1980 he met Bikram Choudhury.
Barkan's bare legs dangle beneath him as he perches on a tall swivel chair behind the counter at Yoga College of India. The name seems a bit grandiose; the school Barkan has owned and directed for 17 years is no more a college than an Arthur Murray Dance Studio is a university. It stands in an inconspicuous Federal Highway strip mall, wedged in a corner spot between a neon-lit cell phone shop and a vacant storefront. Though its curriculum has roots in India, the nondescript exterior of its Fort Lauderdale outpost is more evocative of Davie than Delhi.
Barkan is preparing to teach a class in the singular style of yoga known as Bikram, named for its founder, the now-54-year-old Bikram Choudhury, who brought the practice to America in 1974. Today Yoga Colleges of India can be found throughout the world. Of the more than 100 in the United States, 20 have opened in the past year.
As Bikram's most senior teacher, Barkan is faithful to the iconoclastic master, whom he quotes frequently, and with whom he sometimes teaches. Barkan's classes are based on the 26 poses Bikram selected and refined. They are the same in every Yoga College of India, including Bikram's flagship studio in Beverly Hills. The most distinctive feature is the heat: Space heaters placed around the room heat it to about 100 degrees. Bikram says the heat simulates conditions in his native Calcutta, purging the body of toxins while enabling a deeper stretch. He likens it to forging steel.
He claims his program, practiced faithfully and "honestly," can cure almost any ailment. Hundreds of thousands of his students all over the world agree. With three South Florida schools and more than 400 active students in Fort Lauderdale alone, Bikram yoga is unparalleled in its popularity among the local sweat set.
Barkan proudly declares the style "the most mainstream of all forms of yoga." With its mirrored studio, space heaters, and wall of spandex for sale near the door, his Yoga College of India is arguably the antithesis of an ashram. On the hallway near the locker room is a bulletin board cluttered with business cards and ads for yoga portraits and cosmetic-surgery vacations in Mexico. On the opposite wall hang signed photos of Martin Sheen, Candace Bergen, and Blythe Danner.
Barkan points out some logo merchandise displayed near the front door. "Did you see that T-shirt?" he asks, pointing to one emblazoned with the words Some Like It Hot. "That is very cool."
Inside the kiln of a room, students face mirrored walls, the fluorescent panels overhead casting a bluish tint on their dewy skin. The women wear tight, strappy tank tops and unitards; the few men in attendance go shirtless in gym shorts or swim trunks.
After one class a fit, fortyish man ambles out in the evening air, which is weightless and cool compared to the sweltering room. He comes regularly, he says, buying his classes in the discounted multipacks. In fact Ron says he started going to Yoga College of India 11 years ago because he heard it would help his bad back. It has, he says, and that's that.
"It's just a workout," Ron says with a shrug. "Keeps my back in alignment." Although he's heard of the sacred yoga classes the school also offers, he's never tried one and doesn't plan to. Nor does he plan to try different forms of yoga. He's satisfied with Barkan's class. "I'm not interested in going anywhere else."
Many of Barkan's students eventually become teachers. Among the 20 or so Barkan has trained is Ronnie Dubinsky, who, with his wife, Nancy, runs Yoga College of Hollywood. Nancy Dubinsky avoids categorizing the style of yoga the couple teaches, preferring to call it simply "fitness yoga." Dubinsky claims no association with any form or school of yoga and eschews the idea of a guru. "We're not sitting and meditating," she says, adding that she herself has meditated for years, "but that's completely separate from my students."
In class, she says, "We're moving and focusing and looking right in the mirror. It's strictly a workout," she insists. "It's not like a mumbo-jumbo, Eastern-spirituality thing at all."
The flames of small votive candles flicker in front of two vases of fresh roses placed on either side of an eight-by-ten¯inch illustration of Swami Sivananda, who appears swathed in a golden robe, rays of light streaking out around him. The shrine rests on the raised part of Yogi Hari's living room, which functions as a makeshift stage. On a cushion at the left, Yogi Hari sits at a keyboard near the window above his sunken living room.
Beckoning his dark-haired disciple, Tara, to join him, he chants in Sanskrit, accompanying himself on his electronic keyboard.
The assembled class spent the afternoon stretching their bodies, softening their muscles, and opening their minds, at first through a series of alternate-nostril breathing and well-known asanas (sun salutations, downward dog, locust, the crow). All the while, they tried to avoid hitting the two cognac-color leather sofas clustered in one corner. Breathlessly they muttered polite apologies when they bumped into one another. Then they spent a few moments lying still in sivasana, or corpse pose, then sitting with their legs folded in lotus position. After standing in a circle and chanting the familiar Hare Krishna refrain, they enjoyed a buffet vegetarian lunch, then gathered to hear Yogi Hari's music, which he calls nada yoga.
He chants for a few minutes over the lilting melody he produces with his keyboard, then clears his throat and begins to speak, his terse sentences punctuated by laughter: "How many of you believe you have a soul?"
He frequently employs the Socratic method, and this is one of his favorite questions. Hari waits until nearly every hand has gone up, then responds in typically contrary fashion. "You do not have a soul," he says. "You are the soul. If you say you have a soul, who is having a soul?"
Overturning assumptions with the grace of a judo flip, Hari underscores the oneness that is at the core of yogic thought. But Yogi Hari was not always Yogi Hari, and he was not always so contented. Born Hari Narine Sukhu in an Indian community of Guyana, Hari says he was plagued with medical problems in his youth and was dependent upon a phalanx of prescriptions. "At the age of 20, I was really old," he relates. "I used to pray for the day to finish."
He often tells the story of how his wife, Leela Mata, left a yoga book out for him, but he would stubbornly ignore it. Finally, alone behind closed doors, he practiced the poses, and he felt better. In fact he felt -- as many serious yogis do -- like he'd always known the asanas. "The moment I got into yoga, my whole life began to change. I don't have need for even an aspirin," he says. "Is that freedom?"
It was a calling. Hari began to practice intensely and in 1973 met his guru, Swami Vishnudevananda, at the Sivananda Yoga Center on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. For seven years Hari, his wife and four children in tow, traipsed after Vishnudevananda, moving from ashram to ashram. During that time he also met Swami Nadabrahamanda, originator of nada yoga, a method that uses sound vibration for inspiration and healing, much the way asanas are meant to prepare for meditation. Hari studied music with the Swami, and in 1975 he moved to Florida.
Hari opened a yoga center on Oakland Park Boulevard, but with his growing international teaching career and the video and audio recordings the pair produced under the name Nada Productions, he was stretched too thin, he says. Last year alone he produced 12 CDs of his music.
He closed the center about three years ago but continued to hold two-week teacher-training seminars out of his home when not traveling. His wooden bookshelves brim with photo albums filled with pictures of him posing with other famous yogis, students, and teachers around the world, including several snapshots of Hari with his son-in-law, actor Mario Van Peebles. In one, taken at Everglades Holiday Park, Hari straddles an alligator holding its snout closed, while Van Peebles crouches next to him. Both men are beaming.
Hari teaches a method he calls sampoornayoga, which means fullness. A number of local yoga instructors have been certified in his two-week program. Students live with him like a family, rising at 5:30 each morning from their bunk beds to practice chanting, meditation, and asana. They dress entirely in white, read yoga philosophy, and eschew drugs, alcohol, meat, and cigarettes. Some forms of abstinence are particularly tough: One former student remembers his colleague walking to the convenience store in sight of the ashram, buying a pack of cigarettes, smoking only one, and leaving the rest on the curb.
His training regimen does not differ much from the Sivananda approach, though Hari doesn't call it that. "I tried," he notes with a rueful laugh, "but I get threatening letters from lawyers." Hari voluntarily agreed to stop using the Sivananda name at the organization's request, he says. Hari also would describe his approach to yoga as integrated, but Integral Yoga, he notes, is already copyrighted. He breaks into laughter again: "Soon you will copyright Jesus."
Hari has made a living marketing his videos, but he insists preoccupation with the body misses the point of yoga.
"This that is made up of pizza and ice cream, you mistake that for the self. And because of this misunderstanding, you cater to it 24 hours a day. In yogic philosophy, when you talk about the body, we are not only talking about the physical body. This which was born, which grows up, which changes, will go back to the elements. To dust. But who you really are never dies. That is immortal. It is divine. It is one with the Father, pure consciousness, one without a second. This process which is called yoga is to help unveil the soul."
He is thus wary of the quick-fix, "Enlightenment for Dummies" approach. "All of this New-Age stuff," he continues, "that is from deranged minds. Read the scriptures. Take yoga teacher's training course."
Scrawled in blue on a white dry-erase board in the storefront chiropractic office of Jesse Rogers are the words Spine of the Month. Written underneath is the name Yogi Hari. Though Rogers and Hari are little more than acquaintances, the two men have much in common.
Sixteen years ago Rogers was 36 years old and working, or rather trying to work, as a standup comedian in New York City. One night, on a whim, he showed up at a talk the Swami Vishnudevananda gave at a local yoga center, and for once Rogers' timing was right-on.
"It was just the right talk for me at the right time," Rogers remembers. "I was a burned-out case. It kind of sparked a light in me that I needed to get back to the source, that I needed to be more spiritual."
So at the advice of the swami, he left the city for the Sivananda Vedanta Ashram in Canada. Expecting to stay two weeks, he ended up staying three years and later spent five years at the Sivananda ashram on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where Yogi Hari also has lived.
A memento of his time there, a large, wood-grained "Master of Yoga" plaque hangs in his chiropractic office behind the Gateway Shopping Center. He painted the walls a tranquil bluish-green to remind him of the shade of Bahamian waters.
Now a chiropractor, Rogers is practicing karma yoga, the yoga of good deeds. His pay-what-you-can fee structure doesn't earn him much money, but Rogers, a tall, avuncular man with an easy grin, doesn't complain. He likes to help people.
Many of his clients are local yoga instructors or students; those who aren't are quickly, though gently, reminded of the benefits of the practice. They don't have to go far; a yoga studio stands next door. He has seen the benefits of yoga in his clients, but as a long-time student and sometime teacher, he is also mindful of its greater purpose.
"The goal of yoga is to realize the truth, your union with God," he says. "And this God realization is pure peace and bliss; there's no separation. You are one with everything; the stars are like your skin."
Then Rogers pauses a beat and adds the caveat that many Western yoga students would rather omit: "But there's a very high price, and that is your ego. No one wants to give that up. The price you have to pay is you give up your individuality."
Rogers was drawn to yoga for spiritual reasons, but he is practical enough to know that this is not the case for all, or even most. "A woman gets to be 25, 35 years old, she gets a little big on the hips," he chuckles. "If you keep up the practice of asana, the diet changes, you don't have the usual cravings. You just gravitate towards green foods. It just happens; it happens slowly. What happens is you slowly realize that this body is the temple of God."
He laughs mischievously: "Slowly, slowly, you get to shove God down their throat!"
Or not. "It doesn't matter," Rogers says evenly. Though he has experienced the rigors of ashram life and the traditions it entails, he doesn't insist such devotion is the only way. If yoga is about oneness, it is likewise all-inclusive.
"Everybody can benefit from the practice of a yoga class, Even if it's some Westernized yoga-robics, maybe it will spark something," he says hopefully. "Maybe it will plant a seed."
At Yogi Hari's house, the late-afternoon sun is slanting sideways through the windows. One student unhinges her legs and shakes them out, fighting numbness.
Hari leads his students in an English-language chant about ananda (bliss):
From joy I came
In joy I live
In blissful joy I melt again.
At the end of the chant, students are smiling. Yogi Hari trains his gaze at a spot above their heads. His face softens to a grin, then turns serious again. "If you never heard that, you must believe. Do you believe that?" he asks.
A few meekly answer yes.
"Did you come from joy?" he exhorts them, his eyes widening with a smile, "or did you come from monkey?" He chuckles. If yoga has been stripped of its spiritual elements, so has daily life. "We don't want to hear about God," Hari complains. "We take God out of the schools. We're moving away from the truth. There's nothing wrong with talking about God in school."
Likewise, in contrast to most local yoga teachers, Hari is not afraid of speaking of gurus. "Guru means he who will remove your dullness and ignorance. Now, tell me what is wrong with that? You need that teacher," he insists. "You cannot have anything without a guru."
However, Hari does not advocate the active seeking of a guru, but rather relies on the yogic maxim, "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears." In order to prepare for that, he says, the would-be disciple must cultivate a state of dispassion, associate with people who are positive influences, and exhibit a longing for liberation and a desire to know the truth.
Hari closes by encouraging his students to buy his CDs, audio- and videotapes, and posters of him performing "perfect" asanas. "One more commercial:" he adds, self-mockingly, "Sign up for teacher training."
Students line up to thumb through the videotapes, and many of them whip out plastic to take advantage of a one-day-only 15 percent discount on a full set of tapes. Hari wanders around the room, hugging each of them and asking why they've stayed away so long -- and what they bought. It is shameless commerce; after all, Hari is hoping to purchase a seven-acre tract of land in Miramar to build a new ashram and is facing a likely split from his wife, Leela, who is currently studying ayurveda, a holistic system of medicine, in India.
When the students have gone, he sits on the floor by the sliding glass door, the light glinting off the white satin robe he put on before his talk. The red tassel on the mala beads around his neck accents the crimson swoosh on the ankle of his Nike socks. It has been a long day; scheduled to last until 3 p.m., the program did not even begin to wind down till after 3:30. Now, the magenta numbers on the small digital alarm clock near his shrine blink past five o'clock.
Though the exact date remains a mystery, yoga is believed to have originated more than 5000 years ago in India. The earliest yogis performed rituals intended to merge the material world with the spirit world, isolating themselves in forests, taking vows of silence, and meditating. Key to this were hymns known as Vedas, India's four central spiritual texts.
One of the best-known and best-loved of these scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita ("Lord's Song"), a sacred text for millions of Hindus. Composed about 5000 B.C., the Gita teaches the importance of actions that promote good.
About three centuries before the birth of Christ, a man named Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutra, a classical text threaded with roughly 200 cryptic aphorisms. Unlike his philosophical forebears, Patanjali believed the deliberate separation of matter and spirit through a yogic form of purification provides a more perfect union of the two, the true path to enlightenment. Known as Raja (royal) yoga, Patanjali's eight-limbed model was vastly influential.
Later, a mysticism called tantra influenced both Hinduism and Buddhism. Like its predecessors, tantric yoga proclaimed the oneness of all things and the union of the earthly with the divine. But whereas ancestral yogis sought to transcend the body altogether, tantric mystics embraced the physical realm as a conduit to enlightenment, an emphasis especially tangible in contemporary Western incarnations of hatha yoga.
Baby boomers may remember yoga's 1960s incarnation, when members of liberation movements, seeking ways to transform and transcend the status quo, turned to Eastern religion and mysticism. The beat poets went to India, the Beatles consorted with transcendental meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, buttoned-up accountants donned Nehru jackets. It was bohemian, baby, and yoga was embraced with a wave of countercultural approbation.
Although hippies and beatniks seemed to bring yoga to the mainstream, they were really only reinvigorating a tradition that arrived in America decades earlier. Beginning in the early 1800s, transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau began studying and publishing translations of Hindu scriptures; in 1843 Emerson received the first American copy of the Bhagavad-Gita in translation. Both men were profoundly influenced by such writings; Thoreau, whose Walden Pond reflections include asceticism, meditation, and isolation, once observed he was "at rare intervals, a yogi."
From the late 1800s to early 1900s, several swamis came to the United States from India, bringing with them their various philosophical teachings. The introduction of yoga in America is most often attributed to Swami Vivekananda, who attended the Parliament of Religions held in 1893. He was celebrated by conference participants and later attracted many students to yoga.
Another well-known luminary, Swami Parmahansa Yogananda, arrived in Boston in 1920 and started the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles in 1925. Though he died (or as yogis put it, left the body) in 1952, Yogananda's teachings continue to inspire millions through his best-selling book, Autobiography of a Yogi, and through the Los Angeles center he founded, which remains to this day. Yogananda also provided the basis for the Bikram yoga practiced by Fort Lauderdale yoga teacher Jimmy Barkan.
By the 1950s yogic breathing and transcendental meditation had entered the mainstream, laying the groundwork for contemporary forms of yoga, including ashtanga, or "power" yoga, and Iyengar yoga. American fitness enthusiasts have championed both; each is rigorous in its own way. Considered the most "aerobic" form of yoga, ashtanga is often touted for its cardiovascular benefits.
Though it is markedly different from ashtanga, Iyengar yoga shares the same lineage. B.K.S. Iyengar developed a practice that is distinguished by an exacting emphasis on proper alignment in and perfection of the postures and the innovative, if controversial, use of props. The method is outlined in Iyengar's seminal book, Light on Yoga, which was first published in English in 1965 and has since been translated into at least 17 languages.
Another swami who profoundly influenced modern-day yoga is Sivananda Saraswati. A descendant of Swami Vishvananda of Sringeri Math, an Indian monastic lineage, Swami Sivananda is the namesake for an international organization, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centers, which was founded by Sivananda's disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda. Dubbed the "flying yogi" for his international efforts to promote peace, Vishnudevananda traveled the world in a brightly colored airplane painted by his friend, artist Peter Max. Like many of India's great swamis, Vishnudevananda's influence continues to be felt around the world and right here in South Florida, from Jesse Rogers' storefront chiropractic office in Fort Lauderdale to Yogi Hari's ashram in a quiet residential neighborhood in Wilton Manors.
asana:physical postures or poses; a "comfortable position"
ashram: a retreat for spiritual practice and the study of yoga, the word literally means "place that removes the fatigue of worldliness"
ashtanga: one of the "eight limbs" of Raja yoga; a form of yoga poses which emphasizes fluid movement from one asana to the next
ayurveda: the science of life, a system for promoting health and well-being by adhering to the laws of nature
Iyengar: a form of yoga named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar
japa:repetition; also used as a synonym for mantra
kriya: literally, action; also refers to a method of yoga
kundalini: life energy harnessed by yoga or a method of yoga that promotes such energy; once considered esoteric, in recent years kundalini yoga has edged its way into the mainstream
mantra:an "instrument of thought"; any word, prayer, verse, or phrase used to invoke a deity, more commonly used as a phrase in meditation
Namaste: literally "I bow to the divine in you"
om:the universal mantra, the vibrations of which are believed to bring about oneness
Raja:royal or sovereign; the eight-limbed system of Raja yoga is thought to be the royal path
Samadhi: the superconscious state of oneness with all things
satsang:a meeting of devotees for the purpose of chanting, meditation, and the study of philosophy; can also refer to the deepening of a the guru-disciple relationship
siddhis:a magical or spiritual power for control of the self, others, and the forces of nature; believed to be dormant in all people and cultivated through yoga
sri:an honorable title used by followers to revere great masters
swami/swamiji:the title given to a monk; swamijiis an affectionate form of the word
tantra:the oldest known form of yoga; means "loom" and seeks to weave together the physical being with the spiritual one
Veda:literally translates as "knowledge"; one of four classical Hindu scriptures of India
viniyoga: a method of yoga that stresses the importance of developing a specialized, personal practice and may involve the study of scriptures, pranayama, mantra, visualization, and meditation
yogi/yogin/yogini:one who seeks union with the divine; yogini is the feminine form, yoginthe plural