Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 5000 years. Yoga developed out of the belief that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit. In fact, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to “yoke” or “unite”.
What most Westerners recognize as yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga seeks to promote health and well-being through physical exercise. Styles of Hatha yoga differ in their emphasis on alignment, movement, and breath.
A regular yoga practice makes the body strong, supple and healthy. It has a profound effect on the circulation and on the functioning of the inner organs, glands and nerves, keeping all systems in radiant health and leading to greater energy, and better concentration. Many common physical ailments can also be improved through the regular practice of yoga, and it is never too late or too early in life to take it up. Anyone can practice yoga!
Is yoga just stretching?
Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. It is a practical philosophy and the asanas (poses) are just one limb on the tree. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.
Will doing yoga make me sore?
It is not uncommon to experience sore muscles after doing yoga, especially if you are just starting out or practice infrequently. Soreness usually occurs a day or two after exercising, which differentiates it from the sudden and immediate pain you would feel from pulling a muscle. Yoga can cause soreness, even if you are in good physical shape, because it encourages you to use muscles that are otherwise neglected. A hot bath can help relieve soreness and so will some light stretching. If you continue to do yoga regularly, you will likely discover you experience less soreness.
Can I do yoga even though I am not flexible?
Yes! You are a perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that's a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to play tennis in order to take tennis lessons. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible. This newfound agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being.
Should I avoid inverting while menstruating?
There are a range of opinions about whether one should do inverted poses while menstruating. On one end of the spectrum are people who say you do not need to change your yoga practice at all while menstruating. On the other end are people who say you should not do anything but the most gentle restorative yoga poses while on your period. The most important thing is to listen to your body. Each woman has a different experience with her period, so no blanket rule will make sense to everyone. If doing a vigorous practice with no modifications makes you feel great when you are menstruating, then by all means do that. On the other hand, give yourself permission to take it easy when you have your period if that makes sense to your body.
Though there is no medical reason not to invert, many woman choose not to during the times of heaviest flow. If you don't want to call attention to yourself by calling out "I have my period!" when the teacher instructs the class to do an inversion, take Supta Baddha Konasana (sunbathing frog), in which you lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees falling out to either side.
Will doing yoga help me lose weight?
Some types of yoga may not raise your heart rate enough to make them the only form of exercise you need to include in your weight loss regime. It depends on the type of yoga you select and how frequently you practice it. In order to lose weight, you must eat right and burn calories by doing exercise that raises your heart rate on a regular basis. Some types of yoga, such as Yin, in which yoga poses are held for several minutes with rest in between each pose, will increase flexibility and ease tension and other symptoms of stress. But they will not give you the cardiovascular workout you need to lose weight. If you plan to make yoga your primary form of exercise, you must do a vigorous, 90-minute yoga class at least three times a week. A Vinyasa or flow class is recommended.
Can men do yoga?
Yes! Until very recently, in fact, yoga was practiced exclusively by men. But many men are concerned that they will not be welcome in a yoga class or that they are not flexible enough to try yoga. This is a basic misconception: yoga will improve your flexibility, but you do not need to be flexible to do it. Since yoga has been practiced by men for so long, many of the poses actually make more sense for a man's body and some require a lot of upper body strength, which women often lack at first.
What should I do about a slippery mat?
When you buy your first yoga mat, may discover that your so-called sticky mat has no traction at all. Aside from being annoying, if you are really slipping on your mat, you could hurt yourself. You can “break in” your mat by running it through the washing machine with mild detergent or let it bake in the sun for a day on each side. Keep using your mat and it will soon acquire a slip-free surface. If sweaty palms are causing you to slip, try placing a hand towel across the front of your mat. Just make sure the towel is on the mat so it doesn't slide.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. Yoga sometimes interweaves spirituality into the practice, as well as other philosophies such as Hinduism or Buddhism, but it is not necessary to study those paths in order to practice or study yoga. It is also not necessary to surrender your own religious beliefs to practice yoga.
How many times a week should I do yoga?
Yoga is amazing–even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. Start with two or three times a week, for an hour or an hour and a half each time. You will likely find that after awhile your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.
What does Om mean?
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean? Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us–that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell. Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves–the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
What does Namaste mean?
The Sanskrit word Namaste, said both in greeting and in departing, offers love, service, compassion and respect. Meaning "I bow to you," it is often accompanied by the gesture of placing the hands palms together and bowing the head.
Do I have to be vegetarian to practice yoga?
The first principle of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which means nonharming to self and others. Some people interpret this to include not eating animal products, but there is debate about this in the yoga community. Becoming a vegetarian is a personal decision that everyone has to make for themselves. If you are considering becoming a vegetarian, be sure to take into account your personal health issues as well how your choices will affect those with whom you live. Being a vegetarian should not be something that you impose on others–that kind of aggressive action in itself is not an expression of ahimsa.
Why are you supposed to refrain from eating two to three hours before class?
In yoga practice we twist from side to side, turn upside down, and bend forward and backward. If you have not fully digested your last meal, it will make itself known to you in ways that are not comfortable. If you are a person with a fast-acting digestive system and are afraid you might get hungry or feel weak during yoga class, experiment with a light snack such as yogurt, a few nuts, or juice about 30 minutes to an hour before class.