Frequently Asked Questions
What is yoga?
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female practitioner, a yogini.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing),pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi(absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).
Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
What is Hatha Yoga?
“HA” means sun and “THA” means moon. Branches of the yoga practice that involve physical exercise, breathing practices, and movement. These exercises are designed to have a salutary effect on posture, flexibility, and strength and are intended ultimately to prepare the body to remain still for long periods of meditation.
How many times per week should I practice?
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. I suggest starting with two or three times a week, for an hour or an hour and a half each time. If you can only do 20 minutes per session, that’s fine too. Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle—do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will likely find that after a while your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.
How is yoga different from stretching or other kinds of fitness?
Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali’s eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. 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.
Do I have to be flexible?
Do I need to lose weight before starting yoga?
Absolutely not! True, carrying extra weight will make certain poses more challenging, and there will be increased pressure on the joints in some poses. But not doing yoga until you lose weight is like not doing yoga until you get flexible. Among other things, we do yoga because of the tremendous physical and mental benefits it brings us in exactly those areas where we struggle. If we were already as strong and flexible and thin as we tell ourselves we should be, then we wouldn’t have to do an asana practice at all. We could just sit around meditating all day until we found bliss.
What is the right amount of time to wait after eating, before practicing yoga asanas? And how long should I wait after practicing yoga before I can eat?
Two hours after you eat is generally when you have an empty stomach and it’s okay to practice yoga. If you are starving and want to practice yoga but need some nourishment it’s fine to eat a banana or have a little juice to sustain you through the practice. Just no bean burritos before hitting the mat. After you practice, wait 30 min for your body to reacclimate and then eat. This way your body won’t go i
nto food shock.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical ashtanga yoga (the eight-limbed path, not to be confused with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga yoga) is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutra. These scriptures provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body. Yoga sometimes interweaves 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.
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.
Can men do yoga?
Obviously, the short answer is 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.
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. Delayed Onset Muscle 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. Sometimes it feels good to do some light stretching. If you continue to do yoga regularly, you will likely discover you experience less soreness.