I'll be the first to admit that the idea of a yoga video game bugged me out. A number of people have told me that Wii Fit Yoga challenged them, even introducing a few to actual yoga studios, so I'm never against any channel that leads to yoga. When I was asked by Equinox Fitness to help develop a real yoga class based on Deepak Chopra's Leela video game, I was skeptical. Fortunately I am someone who enjoys being proven wrong.
For use with the Xbox or Wii systems, you'll need motion detection to play this game. Unlike Wii Fit, however, it's not about balance poses, but rather focus, focus and focus. There are subtle movements, such as the turning of your hips and one especially fun sequence that involves rolling your neck and spiraling your head, but overall physical activity is minimal. The real point of Chopra's chakra-blasting exercises is to tune you in for meditation, just as asanas were designed to do.
Chakras are what this game is about. The producer, Curious Pictures, spent years developing this game with Chopra, introducing programmers to yoga and taking crash courses on those seven subtle energy channels running up our spine. The work paid off. Colors, music and overall visual stimulation are all exceptional. The various space-age scenarios—building trees from the earth's fire; making a Death Star-run through the angular channels of your brain—grab your attention. As in yoga itself, however, the real gem of this game is meditation.
Seated in the production room watching demos, our curiosity was piqued as we began to figure out how to translate this game into a class. It was when we demoed Chopra's guided meditations that I was drawn fully into this "game." Leela (lila) is a Sanskrit word translating as "play," and has a few connotations. The most popular is the understanding of the entire universe as the playground of the various Indian gods, with meditation being the key in realizing what is to be treated as real and what illusory. Not everything that happens on this playground is kind or gentle. By seeing clearly we break through the illusions (fear, greed, anger) and stand on solid ground. The game mimics the actual practice well.
In class this translates as finding the balance between staying focused and challenged without taking yourself too seriously by getting upset or angry. If you're getting mad at the fact that you can't balance on one leg, there's probably something else triggering the symptom. By developing a physical class that takes this principle, we tried to create an environment that offers people a stimulating sequence of asanas, as well as integrating breath exercises (pranayama) and meditation that helps in the development of clarity.
And having fun while we do it. Our bodies respond better when we're calmer, looser. Perhaps that was part of my own lesson, thinking a video game could not help with these qualities. Plenty of today's yoga has absolutely nothing to do with the romanticized "ancients sages," yet keeps in tune with the times that we are living right now, video games included. Leela has always been one of my favorite aspects of yoga, in whatever form it arrives.
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Image: Summer Fun