What is Yoga?
The word “Yoga” means “union.” Yoga is a psycho-physical discipline with roots that go back about 5,000 years. There is a lot more to Yoga than physical postures (Asanas), or the breathing exercises (Pranayama) or even the Meditation. In the true tradition of Yoga the goal is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman, the true self. Most people now, however, approach Yoga to obtain the very real benefits of health, mental clarity, stress release and fitness. The wonderful thing about Yoga is its flexibility. Practitioners can focus on the spiritual, psychological or physical benefits of Yoga, or all of the above.
Is Yoga a Religion?
Yoga defies categorization. Whatever your method of contacting the Divine, Yoga can accelerate movement in that direction. It does not discriminate on the basis of gender or religion or race. Yoga is truly universal. Most people find that they can practice Yoga without any conflict with their religious beliefs.
Is Yoga Good for You?
Studies in the United States and India suggest that Yoga can help conditions such as stress, Anxiety, and even Epilepsy. Western science has been studying Yoga for nearly 50 years and evidence suggests numerous physical and psychological benefits.
How many styles of Yoga are there?
There are many different styles, and this is a good thing because people have such differing temperaments. There are four basic paths of Yoga: 1) Jnana, which is the path of knowledge and wisdom; 2) Bhakti, the path of devotion; 3) Karma, the path of action; and 4) Raja, the path of self control. Within this path (Raja) is found Hatha Yoga, which is the most popular path in the West. In India, Bhakti is perhaps the most popular. Many paths such as Iyengar, Kripalu, Astanga, Integral and Jiva Mukti, to name a few, are Hatha Yoga styles. A common lineage dates back to Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, the text which outlines the basic philosophy and practices of classical Yoga.
What does Hatha mean?
The word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha Yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body�especially the main channel, the spine�so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects�active, hot, sun�and feminine aspects�receptive, cool, moon�within all of us. Hatha Yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.
Hatha Yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
Is Yoga a New Age Practice?
Yoga and New Age movements share a common focus on the improvement of the body and mind and their connection to the soul. Yoga goes back thousands of years.
What is Om?
It is a sacred Hindu sound symbolizing the Absolute. It can be spelled Aum. It is used as a mantra during Meditation. Correct pronunciation rhymes with “home.”
Is Yoga Aerobic Exercise?
The physical Yogas are certainly aerobic, because they improve oxygenation of the blood through increased heart rate and deeper breathing. Astanga and Vini Yoga are good examples.
What is power Yoga? Is it okay for beginners?
Power Yoga is a style of Yoga that moves quickly from one posture to the next. The foundation of this practice are 3 variations of the sun salutation, named simply A, B, and C. All of the other standing postures are thrown into modifications of these 3 series, making the practice very vigorous and challenging. Generally, non “power Yoga” Yoga classes are slower, softer and a bit more static.
The problem with power Yoga and the beginning student is that there is none to very little alignment instruction provided. The other problem is that a beginning student doesn’t know how or when to slow down, stop or modify a posture. Both of these problems lead to Yoga students hurting themselves in class by poor alignment in the postures and by over exerting themselves and going past their edge.
What if I am out of shape?
Finding a good teacher is the optimum way to go. Also books and videos can be very helpful. Remember, if you have any condition or physical situation you are in doubt about, consult your health care practitioner.
Is it difficult to do Yoga being overweight?
Yoga can be difficult for any body type. Being overweight is going to make it a bit more challenging on a physical level, but Yoga is as challenging as you make it. Do not try to fit your body into the pose, but adapt the posture for your body. Accept where you are at and do not judge or criticize yourself because you cannot it perfectly.
How is Yoga different from normal exercises?
Yoga focuses more on process than goal. Gym activities or other more goal-driven exercises are quite different. You are not competing with anyone when you do Yoga. Toning is the way in which Yoga achieves muscular strength, in contrast to, for example, weightlifting, which breaks down muscle to build it.
Do I need to be vegetarian to practice Yoga?
Recent surveys suggest that only one out of three Yoga practitioners is vegetarian. The traditional Yoga diet is vegetarian, but one’s awareness keeps evolving, and at each stage a person can tune in to what is best for her/his own body.
How often should I practice Yoga?
I would suggest starting by practicing Yoga 3-4 times per week, 30-60 minutes per day. It is best to start slow and gradually build up the duration per day and per week. Your body may change a lot the first year of Yoga, and you need to listen and adapt/adjust your practice to work with your body. Most importantly do not push yourself, and do what feels good for your body. Shorter sessions like 20-30 minutes a day are better than one 90-minute session a week.
Will Yoga help me to reduce weight?
You will look and feel better very soon if you practice regularly and eat healthy food, fresh vegetables and more water will soon improve your physique. Also your muscle tone and strength will improve.
I am wondering if Yoga will tone my body in the same way as working out?
Yoga does tone and strengthen the body, but not in the same way as working out. To build strength in Yoga focus on holding the postures longer and longer (without strain) and possibly move on to more advanced postures.There is also a style of Yoga called “power Yoga” or ashtanga Yoga that moves very quickly between postures, which builds strength and Endurance.
Is it normal to experience soreness after Yoga?
Some soreness is normal following your first class. However, a nagging ache or intense pain is not.
Is it normal to feel tingling in the arms and legs during Yoga?
Yes, a small amount of tingling is normal. If the tingling is intense, you may be holding the pose too long, or not resting sufficiently between poses. The tingling sensation usually occurs in new students and subsides with time and further practice.
Sometimes my legs shake when I am doing stretches, do I continue the stretch and just let it shake. Or do I stop?
Usually when the body shakes during Yoga it is because the muscles are becoming fatigued and need to be strengthened to hold the posture longer. In postures where the focus is on building strength (like upward boat) its okay to shake a little, if you hold too long you can strain a muscle (or just feel really sore the next day).
I’m not sure why your legs would be shaking if you are only stretching the muscles and not strengthening them as in seated head to knee. You may be pulling yourself a bit too hard into the posture. You want to work on finding the balance between using effort and relaxing into the posture. If you are tensing up the muscles they will not be able to stretch and increase their flexibility.
Is it okay to use a chair to assist me with some balancing postures?
Yes, it is fine to use a prop (chair, block, wall) to help you with balance. Try to use the lightest touch possible to support yourself, slowly lessening the pressure until you can hold yourself up without it. Most importantly, focus your gaze at one point on the wall or the floor in front of you, as this will assist you in being balance.
Are there certain postures that you might suggest to help me as I basically have little balance?
I would suggest trying some of the balancing postures on the floor: upward boat, balancing table, prayer squat, balancing bear, half warrior, and balancing bound angle. If you want to work on the standing balancing postures use a wall to help support you. In both positions, focus on building Concentration by using a drishti or focal point to stare at.
Whenever I do any inverted postures (especially the Headstand) I usually get a Migraine, is there a way in which I can overcome this?
Usually inversions would be a good thing to do for Headaches and Migraines. But it sounds like the increase in blood pressure is triggering them for you. I would avoid all inversions where the legs are over the head (head stand, shoulder stand, hand stand) and would experiment with plow, Yoga mudra, standing angle, standing forward fold, downward dog and other semi-inversions.
The other possibility is to only go into the full inversions for very short periods of time on a daily basis, and very very gradually lengthen the amount of time you hold the posture.
I have a problem with my hands and feet sliding during poses. I have a sticky mat but it has made no difference. Do you have any recommendations?
You may want to try several things: 1. wear socks and use a small hand towel between hands and sticky mat. 2. wash your sticky mat. 3. try a different type of mat. 4. hold the postures for shorter times.
Do I have to exhale through the nose or mouth?
You inhale and exhale through the nose, unless doing a specific pranayama.
Can Yoga help me improve my height?
Yoga can help improve your posture, which will make you feel and look taller, but it will not make you “grow” any extra inches. The bones in the body stop growing once you reach adulthood, and thus make it impossible for the body to increase it’s height.
Practice the mountain posture (tadasana) not only in your Yoga practice, but all through your day, standing, sitting, driving your car, waiting in line at the supermarket. Consciously keep your awareness on your posture, keeping the spine long and straight as much as possible.
Which style is best?
Try a few different styles and when one clicks, commit to that one. Any style you choose will help you. Availability of a teacher whom you like can also play a big part in your enjoyment.
Should I do Yoga while I am Pregnant?
Yoga is a great way to strengthen the pelvic area, normalize thyroid function and blood pressure, and reduce stress, all of which are good for the baby. It is fine to continue modified practice if you were doing Yoga before; if you are just beginning, it is best to work with a teacher who has prenatal Yoga experience. In general you should avoid strain, compressing the abdomen, and inverted postures, especially in the later stages.
What postures are contraindicated during Pregnancy?
Avoid all postures that put pressure on the belly, especially after the 3rd month. Inverted postures are not contraindicated but are cautioned. This is mostly a concern late in the Pregnancy, as the weight of the belly will compress the chest and make it difficult to breathe. It may also be just to strenuous to lift the legs and belly over the head.
In Pregnancy there is a hormone secreted that makes muscles very easy to over stretch, which can cause injury if the woman pushes/pulls to hard into the pose.
Postures done on the back are cautioned due to the weight of the fetus pressing on the abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava (cutting off Circulation), and shavasana should not be practiced, have her lay on side in fetal pose.
Why are certain postures contraindicated during menstruation?
The postures that are contraindicated for mensuration are inversions: shoulder stand, head stand, plow, etc. These postures increase the flow of the menses, and cause a greater loss of blood which could leave to health problems. Other postures may be cautioned because they put stress or pressure in the lower abdominal region.
A slow gentle Yoga practice is recommended during mensuration, focusing on postures that stretch the sides of the torso (triangle), open the hips (bound angle), forward folds and spinal twists.
I am 45, in early Menopause and I would like to know which styles of Yoga would best help me at this stage of my life.
The best styles of Yoga to balance the endocrine system and regulate the hormones are ones that hold postures for long-ish periods of time: Kripalu, Iyengar, Sivananda.
Can Yoga help with social Anxiety?
Stress and Anxiety levels can be drastically reduced by Yoga practice. A stronger sense of self is built with regular practice, and over time this increased confidence and well-being can reduce or nullify feelings of Anxiety. Nadi Shodhana, which is a breathing technique, can help alleviate the symptoms of an Anxiety attack. You may also become more able to observe the factors that lead to an Anxiety attack, and deal with them before the symptoms escalate. There can be significant improvement within months.
Is it possible to use Yoga to help lower back pain?
Yes Yoga can help. Try knee down twist, child, forward bending poses, half and full wind relieving poses. I would also suggest strengthening your abs and core body strength using upward boat, triangle, and some belly down (prone) poses (being careful not to strain the back muscles).
I have a Circulation problem in my hands and lower arms, which includes numbness and pain. Is there an asana or pranayama that will help release the energy blockage?
Standing and inverted Yoga postures and kapalabhati pranayama will all help improve Circulation.
Can you recommend any Yoga positions that may be beneficial for Hypertension?
Yes, it has been shown that practicing Yoga does lower blood pressure, mostly due to its calming and relaxing nature, but also because it is a form of exercise. There are a few postures that are contraindicated for Hypertension, mainly the inversions where the head is placed below the heart. I would suggest you focus on gentle Yoga postures, mostly doing the postures done on the floor. The most important posture to practice is “Savasana” (relaxation/sponge/corpse pose). Pranayama (yogic breathing) and Meditation will be very helpful as well.
Can I do Yoga when I have a cold and a headache?
For Headaches and colds a slow gentle Yoga practice is best. Focus on floor postures, especially those that are focused on the spine. Try spinal twists (seated and knee down twist), forward bends (seated forward bend, seated angle, seated head to knee) and inversions (half shoulder stand, plow, standing Yoga mudra).
I have Anxiety attacks and cannot relax, can Yoga postures help?
Try a slow gentle Yoga practice focusing on asanas that stretch out the area(s) where you hold the Tension and stress in your body. Specific postures to reduce stress would be: standing Yoga mudra, triangle, standing forward fold, cobra, camel, child, knee down twist, and at least 10 minutes of conscious relaxation in shavasana.
How do Yoga positions open up the chakras?
Even though the chakras are often described using physical qualities, these are energy centers in the body. Yoga effects the energy of the body, and using Yoga postures that focus on the chakra centers will stimulate them allowing the energy to flow and open.
Stress and Tension (physical as well as emotions and thoughts) that accumulate in the areas of the chakras will obstruct the flow of energy, and make the chakras close down. When these areas are stretched, twisted, pressed into and lengthened (though Yoga), the stress and Tension in these areas are released, and the energy of the chakra can flow and open.
How do I recognize a qulified teacher?
There are no universal standards. Someone who is certified may have just done a weekend course or may have studied for many years. Yoga is so diverse and broad that some people in the Yoga community feel it would be impossible to create uniform standards. However; the Yoga Alliance has outlined some minimum requirements that Yoga teachers must meet in order to become “registered.” Yoga teacher registration has no national or official significance. The training requirements for registration are very reasonable and are followed by most training organizations.
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