I get A LOT of questions about yoga. Emails, texts, phone calls…oh the mystery that is yoga. Today I have decided to answer some of these questions. Though I know I will not be able to answer them all, I have chosen to answer the most frequent questions. Let’s get started and dissect some yoga stuff today.
So I get it, I understand where all the questions come from because I had them at one point as well, I still have some today actually. There’s also a lot of misconceptions about yoga. People think it’s super religious, only meant for hippies, incense and endless chanting, fluffy yoga voices, and so much more. The truth is, yoga is for everyone. You just have to find where you belong. I know I don’t belong in any of the rooms I’ve just described above. I wear almost only black, listen to metal, and Halloween is my favorite thing about life. It’s not a one-size-fits-all workout routine. Let’s dig into some of these questions and clear some things up.
Q: WHAT IS YOGA?
That’s a loaded question. Let’s try to keep this short and sweet. Yoga has changed A LOT over the years but it originated in India around the 6th/5th centuries BCE. That’s a LOOONG time ago. Asana (or poses) are only a small branch of traditional yoga and are relatively recent in development. Yoga itself is the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda, explain it as “the science of the mind.” So the idea is to practice each branch from the “8 Limbs Of Yoga” in order to master the mind.
The 8 Limbs Of Yoga are as follows:
- Yama (abstinence/social discipline)
- Niyama (observance/self-discipline)
- Asana (poses)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, inward flow of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (contemplation/superconscious state/mastery over the mind)
So as you can see yoga is more than just the poses themselves but is truly a lifestyle. A series of things that we practice each and every day to become a better person, mentally and physically. It’s the total wellness package all wrapped into one tradition: YOGA!
Q: WHO CAN PRACTICE YOGA? DO I NEED TO BE FLEXIBLE & FIT?
EVERY SINGLE PERSON CAN PRACTICE YOGA! I’m not sure what kind of message we’re sending through Instagram and Facebook, and all the social media platforms for that matter, but it has to STOP! There is not a single person who cannot practice yoga. You do not need to be flexible, you do not need to be skinny, you don’t need to be a pro, or a contortionists, you just need to be you. Show up in your skin with an open mind and enjoy.
There are all different levels of yoga. If you’ve never practiced before I would suggest starting at the beginning. There is no reason to push yourself into an advanced class. It will only make you feel lost and you’ll probably walk out hating yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga for many years and I still go to beginner classes. I love them, I learn more in beginner classes than I do advanced. There’s also many different types of yoga, will get to that in a second, hold tight.
Yoga is meant to help the inflexible (mentally & physically). Yoga will help you get in shape. When I started yoga I was deathly ill with Lupus, if there is any student that would be terrified to move their body it should have been me, but I started out slow and it saved my life. Chronic illness, terminal illness, addiction, you name it, whatever you’re dealing with there is an avenue of yoga that will fit your life.
Q: HELP ME UNDERSTAND ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF YOGA!
There are many different types of yoga. I cannot cover them all here, but I will hit the most common ones. If you don’t know what style of yoga is right for you, the best way to find out is to get a pass for a local studio and try them ALL. You should go to each style more than once to get an accurate feel because your yoga practice will vary from day-to-day, as our bodies are different from day-to-day. I have literally tried every style of yoga and have found that Iyengar is an absolutely perfect fit for me. It doesn’t mean I only practice Iyengar, but it takes up a bulk of my practice time. I still like to switch it up here and there to keep me on my toes, and spice things up a bit. Without further ado here they are:
- IYENGAR (MY FAVORITE)
Named after it’s founder B.K.S. Iyengar. This style of yoga utilizes props like blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters. It’s highly focused on alignment, sequencing, breath control, and you’ll typically hold poses for longer periods of time. It’s appropriate for all ages and abilities, and will help to develop strength, mobility and stability.
Hatha yoga refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. In a Hatha class you will most likely get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You’ll expect gentle/basic yoga poses with little to no flow between each pose. It is a slower-paced class that involves stretching, breathing exercises and perhaps a seated meditation at the end. Hatha classes are a good for beginners.
Ashtanga yoga is a method of yoga that involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures. It will involve an established, and likely strenuous sequence of poses. There is a primary series, second series, third series, and so on. Ashtanga yoga moves rapidly, flowing from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale. The poses produce lots of heat, which is meant to detoxify the muscles and organs.
You’ll typically hear this one being called “Vinyasa Flow.’ The name basically gives it away. You will practice yoga poses synchronized with breath, and you will move from one pose to the next in an almost constant flow from beginning to the end of class. You’ll definitely be moving in this class, a lot! It’s an active and athletic style of yoga.
Kundalini yoga requires you to move constantly through invigorating poses. It is a blend of movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and chanting. The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness.
This is a meditative yoga practice. It is slow-paced, involving passive poses that are held for longer periods of time. This style of yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body and helps to regulate the flow of energy in the body.
- RESTORATIVE (MY SECOND FAVORITE)
Most restorative classes will consist of about 4-6 poses. Way less than most classes BUT you’ll hold each of these poses anywhere from 5-20 minutes. This class is about, well, relaxation (here I am stating the obvious). Each of these poses will utilize strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps. I’ve been to classes where we use eye pillows (which are super yummy, you can bring your own, the ones infused with essential oils are the best). My favorite classes often involve some kind of musical instrument that the teacher walks around and plays. It’s typically a drum, and is very soothing, and you can feel the vibrations. Definitely treat yourself to a restorative class from time to time.
This is hot yoga! Very hot! Something like 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. Most Bikram classes involve a series of 26 yoga poses, each performed twice. These poses are designed to scientifically warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Q: WHAT DOES NAMASTE MEAN?
Almost all classes end with the hands in “prayer pose,” and then the teacher will say Namaste to close the class. So what does it mean?
Namah means ‘bow’, or ‘adoration’ and te means ‘to you.’ Therefore, Namaste literally means “bowing to you”. Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. In Hinduism it means “I bow to the divine in you”.
Teachers say Namaste at the end of class as a symbol of gratitude and respect for their students and their own teachers. Students are invited to return the gratitude by repeating it after the teacher.
Q: WHAT DOES OM MEAN?
Om is typically chanted at the beginning and end of each class (well most classes). In the classes that I take at YogaWorks we chant Om 3 times at the beginning of class at once at the end.
Om is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Indian religions. It is also a mantra in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols. It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge).
There is another way of explaining it. When I was in teacher training we learned about Om, but it looked more like this: AUM. Each letter brings it’s own meaning.
A: Creates a sound that represents the creation of the universe. It is the beginning of all sounds. It connects us to our sense of self, the ego. With this syllable you experience the existence of the world through the activity of the senses.
U: Creates a sound that signifies the energy of the universe. It connects us to an inner sense of something greater than that which we can see and feel with our senses.
M: Creates a sound that signifies the transformative energy of the universe and your thoughts and beliefs. It is an awareness of oneness. It allows you to feel connected.
This is all followed by the sound of silence, or Anahata. This is the vibration which is beyond verbal pronunciation. It is the pure consciousness of the Self.
Q: WHY SHOULD I PRACTICE YOGA?
Why wouldn’t you? That’s my question! HAHAHA. You knew I would say that, being a yoga teacher and all, right?
Yoga does so many amazing things for so many people. And it means something different to every student I know, and to every teacher I know. For me yoga was the thing that saved my life. It helped put me in remission from Lupus. For some of my students it has helped them with anxiety, stress and depression. For some it has helped guide them through severe chronic illness and even terminal illness. Some of my friends practice yoga to stay fit, and will only walk into a room if it’s 105 degrees and they’ll look like they just took a shower when they walk out.
It can calm the mind, prevent injury, or manage a current injury. Science is showing that yoga is helping treat (as a complimentary form of medicine) some ailments like; diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, addiction, and more.
I’ve heard people tell me that it helped them realize they wanted to quite their corporate job and follow their dreams. I’m not kidding, one of my students actually told me this. It changed her mental outlook on life and made her more present. When she took those 90 minutes each day to get on her mat it allowed her time to reflect and look inwards.
It can be quite transformative, mentally and physically. And there are so many options that there is just no way you wouldn’t be able to find some style or level that didn’t fit you specifically. If you go online right now you’ll find yoga for runners, athletes, animal lovers, Lupus, obesity, anxiety; you name it, you’ll find it. And don’t forget that yoga isn’t just about poses. Meditation, breath control, and many other techniques, and modalities are part of the yoga family. So when you combine all of these techniques and modalities into your practice… MAGIC!
I really hope that you enjoyed this blog and learned a little bit more about Yoga today. I would love to cover any further questions you might have about yoga, health & wellness, vegan lifestyle, anything I can help with. So send those questions on over.