Categorized | Feature, Interviews

Yoga connects you with your inner self Tara Verma, Executive Director of Yogathon, Toronto

Posted on 10 July 2015 by admin


Tara Verma who is the Executive Director of Yogathon 2015. Yogathon is a fundraiser that supports Care for Children, an Art of Living program that provides children in India with access to a holistic education. Founded in Toronto in 2012, Yogathon has grown to become a global event in 10 countries and more than 45 cities around the world. Yogathon 2015 is happening globally on Saturday, August 22 at Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto.

 Tara has been instrumental in starting this event four years ago just in Toronto and a few cities in Canada. The event in Toronto has yoga studios throughout the GTA participate in the event and have some of their yoga instructors lead the 108 sun salutation session.

 Tara has studied at the University of Toronto Mississauga and graduated with a Bachelor or Commerce. She works full time at the University and is a part-time yoga teacher, meditator and a volunteer of the Art of Living Foundation.

 Here’s Generation Next’s interview with this young woman:

Why are you so passionate about yoga and Yogathon?

The first time I rolled out my yoga mat, I fell in love. Deeply inspired by the teachings of the Art of Living Foundation, and of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, I’ve been teaching yoga since 2012. I’ve been bitten by the ‘yoga bug’ and want to share my love of yoga with the world and make it accessible to everyone.

 What’s so special about Yogathon?

You may be wondering, what exactly is Yogathon? Well, it’s similar to the idea of a walkathon or a marathon. It’s a marathon of Yoga. We challenge participants to complete 108 sun salutations. Sun salutations are a dynamic sequence of movements (what we call asana, in Sanskrit), which help to build strength and improve flexibility.

 In Toronto, Yogathon happens at Yonge Dundas Square, in the heart of the city. Participants can register online at as individuals or in a team. The event is really for everyone – whether you’re new to yoga or an experienced yogi. It’s not about the number of sun salutations, it’s about coming together for a cause. That’s what makes Yogathon so special. We believe that Yoga is more about touching your heart than touching your toes. So we’re inviting everyone to help spread more love and positivity in the world.

 According to the UN, nearly 58 million children of primary school age were still denied their right to education in 2012. These are staggering numbers. Education is the key to a healthier, more empowered world. I believe strongly in the power of education and that the way to transform the world is by investing in education. When you educate a child, you can change the world.

How does yoga transform a person?

I believe yoga isn’t about transforming into someone new but rather that it helps you reconnect with you by uncovering the layers of stress, self-imposed limitations, negative thoughts, judgments and impressions. Through a yoga practice, we find that we can be someone who is skillful, calm, and happy like a child. This is our natural state, how we are born.

How does someone become a yogi?

We don’t need to become yogis. We are all born yogis.

Yoga postures are part of a child’s body language from the minute he is born. When babies start turning over, they do bhujangasana (cobra pose), natrajasan (leg crosses over while lying on the back with arms stretched out). Babies even unconsciously use yoga mudras (hand postures used during meditation). You’ll see sleeping infants very often hold the chin mudra (thumb and forefinger slightly touch). When they start crawling and are learning to walk they do the cat stretch which strengthens their spines.

Now, the question is, if as children, we are born yogis and perform yoga naturally, then why do we forget the practice and lose flexibility as we grow up? We are born with yoga but our minds are so stressed and preoccupied with so many thoughts, judgments and impressions that we become stiff and we don’t realize we all have an affinity for yoga.

To some people regulating your breathing or to relax in a life where cell phones are constantly buzzing is very difficult, what steps you suggest they take?

My suggestion to anyone who is too busy to relax, is to take a deep breath. Breath is one of the most important aspects of yoga – if you’re not breathing properly, you’re just stretching to music. Breath is really the secret to life and to managing stress and negative emotions.

European researchers have found that breath is the link between the mind and the body – each emotion has a distinct breathing pattern For example, when we are angry our breath becomes short and quick. When we are sad, our breath becomes long and deep. The secret is that the reverse of this is also true. A particular breathing pattern can induce a corresponding emotion. So instead of being overwhelmed by our emotions, we can transform them using specific breathing techniques. Through Sudarshan Kriya (a rhythmic breathing pattern) we can learn to skillfully use the breath to change the way we feel, releasing negative emotions that cause stress, such as anger, anxiety, depression and worry, leaving the mind completely happy, relaxed, and energized. The Art of Living has courses conducts courses for children, teenagers and adults –where we teach breathing techniques, yoga and meditation as tools to help transform our lives and be in the present moment.

Aren’t the benefits of yoga overstated?

All you have to do is google “yoga benefits” and millions of pages will list why you should practice yoga. Scientific journals point to decreased blood pressure, increased strength and flexibility, muscular endurance, decreased stress, enhanced immune function and improved psychological well-being.

Is yoga-ism inspired by religion or is it a lifestyle choice?

Yoga is not a religion. It’s a philosophy that began in India, an estimated 5,000 years ago.

We accept wisdom, food and music from all part of the world. If we eat Chinese food, we do not become Chinese, do we? Listening to Beethoven, doesn’t make you German, does it? If we are able to accept food from every part of the world, music from every part of the world, technology from every part of the world, why to single out wisdom that can bring you inner peace, without interfering with your own faith or belief system? This is a question we need to ask ourselves.

Yoga is India’s gift to the world and yes, it’s based on ancient vedic wisdom.

Do you find women to be more interested in yoga than men are?

More women gravitate towards yoga than men. When you’ve never tried yoga, it can seem intimidating, especially if all you’ve seen is media images of women in impossible positions and pretzel-like poses.

More men practice yoga and it’s become a tool to increase their flexibility, improve muscle conditioning and strength. It’s common to hear about football, baseball or hockey players who augment their workouts with yoga. What we need to understand is that yoga is a powerful add-on to any workout.

Are there different poses for yoga for kids, adults, seniors, men or women?

Yes, absolutely. Yoga can be targeted and personalized based on an individual or groups needs. Yoga for kids is fun and children learn to move in a fun and playful way. There are also specialized classes for seniors such as chair yoga, which make the practice more accessible for those with physical limitations. Whether you are 7 or 70 years old, yoga can help you stay fit and energized.

How long should people do yoga for each day or each week?

It depends on what your goals are – flexibility, strength, weight loss, relaxation. Generally, practicing yoga 3 times a week is ideal. I always say, a little bit of yoga each day is better than a lot of yoga once or twice a week. Even if all you can do is 15 minutes each day, do that.

How much time should beginners spend on yoga to get used to it?

For beginners it’s important to learn from a certified instructor, to ensure your foundation is strong and your alignment is correct. If you’re new, you’ll want to develop a regular practice so that you can build muscle memory and get your body used to moving in a new way.

Do people need to have athletic bodies to do yoga?

No! Not at all. Yoga is about accepting your body as it is this moment. There is never any judgment in yoga. The idea is to get on your yoga mat, everything else – strength, flexibility, that will come with practice.

Do you find that the concept of yoga is different in the West versus the East?

It can be. Patanjali, is considered the father of yoga. In the yoga sutras, he outlines the 8 limbs of yoga: yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation) samadhi (absorption). The idea is that as we move through these eight limbs, we turn our attention inward and reach moksha or liberation. Today, very often we find that many people practicing yoga are focused only on asana (postures), the third limb. Yoga has so much more depth than its physical postures and it’s not just a form of exercise. We need to bring more awareness to the depth of this ancient wisdom into the world.

With PM Modi participating in a yoga session, do you think it will help promote the yoga lifestyle?

I’m thrilled that PM Modi first took the idea of declaring International Yoga Day to the UN. This year I participated in the inaugural International Yoga Day celebrations in Mississauga on June 21st. As a yoga lover, it was amazing to witness hundreds of countries celebrating and recognizing the universal appeal of yoga while raising awareness of the many benefits of practicing yoga.

Four risks that come with modern forms of yoga – and how to prepare for them

 When something has been around longer than chocolate, has more followers than Oprah Winfrey’s Twitter account and is as good for the soul as a compassionate TED talk, how can it be bad? For thousands of years in India, the practice of yoga has been a respected tool for health and vitality. But as we turn up the studio temperature to exactly 40.5 degrees Celsius, add the “power” to our yoga and balance frantic cycling with downward dogs in something called “Spynga,” we must be aware that new, modern forms of yoga come with associated risks.

Here are four common risk factors and the best ways to prepare your body for class.

  1. No assessment:If muscular balance is the destination, then the initial assessment is the dot on the map that reads “You are here.” Without a starting point that identifies existing asymmetries, “balancing the body” with equal work may reinforce past deficits and move your body in the wrong direction.

Fix: Find a professional to give you a detailed musculo-skeletal assessment and provide you with a plan that reflects your postural imbalances, stability and mobility deficits, compensatory patterns and level of core function.

  1. Forcing the stretch and not preparing the fascia:Fascia is a tough sheet of tissue that binds all your muscles together. It is often affected by the strains and stresses of both chronic activity and sustained positions of inactivity such as sitting. This can lead to decreased flexibility and increased pain. According to a March, 2013, study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, releasing problem areas with an acute bout of foam-rolling on the quadriceps was an effective treatment to enhance range of motion without any decrease in muscle performance.

Fix: Get to the gym or yoga studio ahead of class to foam-roll specific areas of restriction on your body. Find and hold sore spots for 30 seconds or more.

  1. Weak stabilizers:The National Academy of Sports Medicine identifies a distinction between muscles we use for stability versus those we use for movement. People who lack the proper development of key stabilizers compensate by relying on movement-based muscles to perform both tasks at the same time. This can lead to eventual dysfunction and injury.

Fix: Twice a week, isolate the muscles of the deep core, glutes, posterior shoulder, deep neck and foot. Use slow tempo resistance band exercises combined with static holds and isolated core movements.

  1. Prior injury:Understanding your past injuries and being aware of what movements cause discomfort is essential for getting the most from yoga. For example, lower back pain in someone with a posterior disk herniation can often be eased by spinal extension in a cobra, whereas those with facet joint arthritis or spinal narrowing can hit the roof in the same position. Consult with the proper health-care professionals to prepare yourself for injury-free practice.

Fix: Know your limitations and take control. Here is a quick list of injuries and movements that could cause problems.

  • Spinal stenosis, facet joint arthritis, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis: Avoid back bends, side bends to the affected side, one leg standing poses with spine extension and twists.
  • Posterior lumbar disk herniation, SI joint pain and ligament sprain: Avoid forward bend, twisting, seated with forward bend or twist, posterior pelvic tilt.
  • Migraines, rotator cuff injury, scapular weakness: Avoid most arm balances, inversions and downward dog.

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