Yoga - Art of Mind and Body or Just Mysticism?

Coventry Evening Telegraph (England), November 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Yoga - Art of Mind and Body or Just Mysticism?


Byline: Paula Hall

A VICAR'S posturing over yoga stunned many when he banned it from his church hall in case it led parishioners on a path towards Eastern mysticism. And yet yoga has never been more mainstream. PAULA HALL reports.

YOGA is more about mind and body than mysticism for Ervin Menyhart.

As a teacher of ashtanga yoga though, he's had one or two questions in the past from Christians who are concerned about whether it will conflict with their faith.

The Rev Richard Farr, of St Mary's in Henham on the Essex-Hertfordshire border, certainly revived the debate this month after banning yoga from his church hall.

But Hungarian-born Ervin doesn't see the conflict between what he sees as a lifestyle, and organised religion, in which he doesn't get involved.

"Yoga is a discipline but it's free of dogma," he says.

"It was a tool for Hindus for self-improvement and development, but yoga was not the religion. Hinduism was the religion.

"If there is a spiritual level to it, it's a personal thing.

"I'm not much of a mystic myself - for me it's all about discipline and the range of it and what it does to the mind and body."

Ervin took up yoga in the early 1980s when he moved to Australia, having fled Hungary during civil unrest in eastern Europe, fearing he would be called back into military service. Then in 1997 he moved to England.

Now living in Earlsdon, his sessions around Coventry and Warwickshire focus on ashtanga or so called "power yoga".

There is no chanting, although he shares the original names of postures out of interest.

The emphasis of this energetic form of yoga is on movement, breathing, concentration.

Ervin says most sessions popular in the West are "really quite free of even a hint of eastern mysticism" since even a hint of trying to attain a state of higher consciousness is "enough to put people off".

Yet it is this perception, of yoga being a mysterious art from the east, which many people still associate with it, and which is still capable of causing alarm among the clergy.

"Yoga in the west is quite different to its origins in India," says Ervin. "But we have a lot of the old imagery attached to it.

"The first thing that pops into people's minds is someone sat in the lotus position and contemplating their naval, whereas yoga is quite different from that and it's hard to dispel a misconception that started at the beginning of the last century.

"When it first came to the West it was a curiosity and became a freak show with people getting into these amazing postures, and for a lot of people it's what it still is - being a contortionist or being a meditative spiritual person.

"It was only really thanks to the adventurers in the 1960s and 70s, when young people went to India themselves seeking enlightenment and looking for answers, that gradually it started to establish itself in the west. …

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