A yoga philosophy comparison
How yoga is performed in different countries says a lot about the culture, values and beliefs of those who perform it.
Having just returning from living in Cozumel for the last 3 months I have learned a lot about the culture, the language and most importantly the people. They are beautiful, amazing and loving people that welcome outsiders with open arms and hearts. They work hard to not only provide for their families but to better themselves. While they seem to have some wonderful healthy habits, they unfortunately look to their North American neighbours and mimic some of the terrible and unhealthy behaviours, striving to live the "American Dream".
Being down there only for a week in 2002 to visit my parents, I remember Cozumel being a cute little tropical travel paradise. It had a great little tourist strip where you could enjoy fun shopping, great food, fantastic snorkelling and some historical mayan ruins, but I don't remember them being overrun by big box grocery stores and chain restaurants like they are now.
San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
In 2002 Cozumel had a cool vibe with a slower more relaxed pace that is still present today, but in a different way.
As a healthy lifestyle coach, one thing I quickly began to notice once we arrived and were settled was how happy the people were, how they emphasized family and culture and were not so worried about outward appearances, what others perceptions of them were or the monetary value of things. This got me thinking about how the mindset differs, particularly in women from different countries, in regard to different areas of their life and how we can learn from other cultures to help balance out our own health practices. I wanted to learn more about Mexican women.
- What do they value?
- What beliefs do they hold about themselves?
- Are they stressed about money or what their scale says when they step onto it?
Mexican Festival - courtesy of Brianne Serrano Photography
I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful friend Mandy during my stay, and during one of our first conversations she told me of her experiences living in Silicon Valley. Mandy was born and raised in Mexico, and during our discussion I asked her questions about what she thought of Mexican women compared to the women she had coached, taught yoga to and befriended in Silicon Valley. The comparison she had made was one that I myself had noticed.
Mandy noticed the women in Silicon Valley are "picture perfect" on the outside but very hard on themselves internally, and most lack confidence with who they truly are, which of course lead to a lot of stress and unhappiness. We then got more specific and discussed this revelation in regards to yoga. In a yoga class in the Valley all the women would grunt, groan and constantly look at themselves in the mirror or glance at their neighbour to make sure they had perfect form, and if they didn't, they would force themselves into these impossible poses just to fit in. This I assume, can translate a lot to how they live their lives in general off the mat. Not being from Silicon Valley, but from Cambridge Ontario, I know I have experienced these same feelings in my past and watched women in my classes do the same.
For the women of Silicon Valley and in other parts of North America, yoga seems to be more about the physical body and the appearance of perfection than the connection between their body, mind and spirit.
Yoga in Silicon Valley - Pinterest
For Mandy, coming back to Cozumel after 6 years of being away, she began to teach yoga again, but to a much different group with a much different mindset. She said the women of Mexico would come in all shapes and sizes, wearing whatever T-shirt and shorts they had, not worrying about whether it had a Lululemon tag or not, never having performed a yoga pose in their life. They were happy and empowered and took on each pose with confidence, like a pro. They never worried about what they looked like in the mirror or compared themselves to the person next to them.
Even though the poses weren't perfect, the women in Mexico embraced each one with a sense of calm, just as it is intended, they let go, didn't compare and enjoyed the journey.
Yoga in Mexico
Of course I'm not saying that Mexican women are better when it comes to the yoga philosophy. While they treat their body like a temple on the mat, as I stated at the beginning, they are taking on too much of the bad habits of the North American mindset regarding their diet of fast food, big box and convenience. Neither of these cultures are wrong, in my opinion they are both slightly off balance and a lot can be learned from each other.
There is no wrong or right way to take on the yoga philosophy, if you are doing it for mental, physical or spiritual gain, the benefits of a regular practice are there, no matter what brings you to the mat. This is a general observation of course, but the subtle differences I noticed from culture to culture on this journey were remarkable, eye opening and wonderful.