For as long as it has been popular in the West, yoga has always struggled to reconcile its noble traditions of using physical postures to bring calmness to the brain with the West's glorification of the aesthetic benefits yoga's postures produce. In other words, many of the millions of people who actually do yoga in this country do it so they will look hot and have a rocking body, while many of the people who teach and cultivate yoga in this country turn a blind eye to this and pretend that everyone does yoga purely for the deep spiritual insight.
The unfortunate result has been that many people who are seeking just the physical benefits of yoga have been turned away from one of the healthiest and safest ways to build muscle, lose weight, and tone the body because of what they perceive as an officious kooky religious element infecting their workout. Yes, there are classes and studios that have accepted that people come to yoga for their vanity, and many of these teachers have adapted well to teaching physically-focused yoga classes and subtly allowing the spiritual elements to creep in on an unsuspecting audience. But there simply has not been a yoga movement that has acknowledged that many people take up yoga just to lose weight without trying to indoctrinate them.
Until now. The P90X of yoga has arrived in the form of The Ultimate Yogi, a 12-disc, 14-class set, complete with a detailed diet plan and calendar (and yes, a meditation plan, too). (Full disclosure: I participated in a yoga teacher training program that included instruction from Travis Eliot, the mastermind behind The Ultimate Yogi, but was not involved whatsoever in the Ultimate Yogi program.) Yes, they're a little reluctant to call it what it is and advertise it as a comprehensive weight-loss plan that could rival The Biggest Loser in the results it produces. But the fact remains that most people who buy home exercise systems are looking to achieve the elusive beach body seen on infomercials. Plus, for the many people who don't have access to the 30 different types of yoga urbanites in big cities are accustomed to, this program gives them access in one purchase to 14 different types of yoga classes to change up their stayed workout routines. And there are clear benefits to using yoga instead of more traditional calisthenic methods to get in shape. There is persistent and pervasive research that yoga offers benefits that may not be as easily achieved with the average gym workout. Yoga may also help reduce stress, regulate breathing, increase flexibility in the joints, fight mental disorders, defend against many physical signs of aging, and even fight off Alzheimer's disease. Many argue yoga is less likely to result in injury (although it has been well-documented that yoga done carelessly can result, like all physical activity, in serious injury.) But the point is if yoga can give you the same body as a gym workout, you might as well do the yoga and get the added benefits. Eliot's Ultimate Yogi program is so revolutionary because it's a program that does not shy away from focusing on the physical benefits, even if they're not willing to say it. The program is approachable enough for beginners and yet difficult enough to be challenging for yogis who already have an inversion practice. It can be completed in its entirety in 108 days (a meaningful number to yogis), and there's an online community if participants to seek moral support, as has proven successful for many weight-loss programs these days.
Eliot's yoga classes are similar to many of the recognizable yoga masters who have distilled yoga into power yoga for the Western masses like Bryan Kest, Shiva Rea, Vinnie Marino, and Baron Baptiste. The difference here is the comprehensiveness of the program. There are classes that focus on each balance, strength, flexibility, balance, detox (twisting), hardcore, yin yoga, gentle yoga, and more -- which might not seem like much if you live in the yoga capital of the world in Santa Monica, but for everyone else, it is going to be sufficient to keep from getting bored for 108 days.
The diet is what you might expect: general healthy eating principals that you already know but with tasty new recipes to try. The hard part comes in short periods of time, making it accessible for the red-meat-eater-yogis out there. Yes, he asks you to be vegan but only for three days, which makes conquering temptations to cheat conquerable. Same goes for the juice cleanse, which is incredibly restrictive but also lasts for a short enough period of time to be a realistic expectation.
But lest the custodians of yogic purity be preparing to reign down their wrath on Travis Eliot for desecrating the spiritual goals of the sacred Sutras of Patanjali upon which yoga is based, let me be clear that the imprimatur of yoga is never lost in any aspect of the program. Travis's classes especially are heavily focused on linking the movement to breath, finding mental equanimity in the face of physical challenge, and of course on reaching for a goal that is not purely aesthetic. The diet's focus is more on health than calorie intake. And of course, the meditation is not something even the most serious of yogis could sneer at. The holy yoga goals are pervasive throughout and Travis never lets you forget about them even if you wanted to.
But the reason the program is so successful is that those elements are not forced down the throat of the participant who's just looking to shed pounds. For those not looking for spiritual enlightenment but simply counting the days til they look better naked, the program is one of the best out there to achieve that. And if they happen to welcome a little more equanimity into their life as result, well how can the fundamentalist yogis be upset about that?
Check it out for yourself here, The Ultimate Yogi.
For more by Tamara Shayne Kagel, click here.
For more on yoga, click here.