What is Yoga?
Developed in India, Yoga is a psycho-physical discipline
with roots going back about 5,000 years. Today, most Yoga practices
in the West focuses on the physical postures called "asanas," breathing
exercises called "pranayama," and meditation. However, there's
more to it than that, and the deeper you go the richer and more
diverse the tradition becomes. The word "Yoga" means union. Linguistically,
it is related to the Old English "yoke." Traditionally, the goal
of Yoga is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman,
the true self. These days the the focus is often on the more down-to-earth
benefits of Yoga, including improved physical fitness, mental clarity,
greater self-understanding, stress control and general well-being.
Spirituality, however, is a strong underlying theme to most practices.
The beauty of Yoga is in its versatility, allowing practitioners
to focus on the physical, psychological or spiritual, or a combination
of all three.
What's the best way to get started, especially if
I'm out of shape?
Find a teacher, get a book and/or video. One-on-one
interaction with a teacher is invaluable experence. However, books
and videos have their place, too. Remember, there is a Yoga level
for everyone, regardless of physical condition.
What if I'm not flexible?
This is the most common misconception that prevents
people from coming to a yoga class. Yoga is not about how flexible
you are; it is about stretching your body and spine. The more inflexible
you are, the more you need yoga. You become flexible by doing yoga.
Is Yoga aerobic exercise?
Yes and...maybe. Aerobic exercise is simply exercise
that improves oxygenization of the blood through an increased heart
rate and deeper breathing. Yoga can do that, expecially those styles
such as Astanga and ViniYoga that have a strong focus on the flow
of one posture to another.
What's the difference between Yoga and just plain
stretching and normal exercise?
Traditional exercise is goal oriented: How many push
ups can I do? Can I touch my toes? I'm going to do 10 more crunches
today than I did yesterday. Yoga, by contrast, is a process. The
idea is to focus your awareness on what you are doing and how you
feel as you perform the postures. In exercise, you fail if you
miss your goal. In Yoga, you succeed by trying. There's also a
difference on the physical level. Weight training, for example,
makes you stronger by breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue.
It's this breaking down and rebuilding that results in the bulky
muscle look. Yoga increases strength by toning the muscles.
How many times a week should I do Yoga and for how
Most schools teach a practice session that lasts 60-90
minutes. If you canc do that everyday -- great. If not, try and
do that much a few days a week, including a class or two, and fill
in with shorter sessions on days when you don't have as much time.
Any Yoga is better than no Yoga, and 20 to 30 minutes a day is
better than 90 minutes once a week.
What is Om?
Om, also spelled "Aum," is a sacred Hindu sound symbolizing
the Absolute. It often is used as a mantra during meditation. Although
often pronounced as if it rhymed with "home," it is also pronounced "ah-oo-mm."
Should women do Yoga during menses?
Mostly it's a matter of personal preference. Some
women don't want to do Yoga while have their period, many don't
mind and continue to practice during menses. For women who do choose
to practice, it is suggested that they avoid inverted poses, abdominal
strengtheners, extended holding of any pose, or energizing breaths
(kapalabhati). The issue is that these practices might interfere
with the downward flow or cause discomfort.
Is it okay to practice Yoga while pregnant?
It's okay to continue practicing Yoga while you are
pregnant as long as you were practicing before conception. Yoga
is a great way to keep fit during pregnancy. In particular it can
help strengthen the pelvic area, normalize thyroid functioning
and blood pressure, and help keep you calm and relaxed -- all of
which is good for the baby, too. In general, however, you want
to avoid strain, compressing the belly or abdomen and inverted
postures, especially in the later stages. The Yoga Site's Bookstore
has a couple of books about Yoga and pregnancy (www.Yogasite.com/pregnancy.htm).
In addition, many public libraries also carry books about Yoga
and pregnancy. It's also a good idea to work with a Yoga teacher
with pre-natal Yoga experience.
Can Yoga control high blood pressure?
Sometimes. Studies have shown that certain Yoga practices
can help some patients control their high blood pressure. In general,
Yoga promotes health, a sense of calm and relaxation. In addition,
it teaches you to be aware of your body and to listen to the signals
it sends -- all of which can be very useful.
Specific techniques that may be helpful controlling
high blood pressure include diaphragmatic or belly breathing, which
has been shown to reduce stress and induce relaxation, and a pranayama
(controlled breathing) technique called Nadi Shodhana, or alternate
nostril breathing, which also helps reduce stress and induce relaxation.
Moreover, there have been a number of studies that show meditation
can be a great help in controlling high blood pressure.
Certain Yoga postures should be avoided, however,
if you have high blood pressure, including the shoulderstand, headstand
and downward dog. There are also a number of postures that you
should approach with caution and not hold for extended periods
of time (more than a few breaths). These include Warrior I and
II, Mountain, Triangle, Half Moon, Tree, Standing Squat and Symbol
Can Yoga help cure migraines?
Migraines are caused by the sudden constriction and
then dilation of blood vessels to the brain. No one knows what
causes the blood vessels to behave this way. It could be genetics,
stress or a something else entirely. Regular practice of Yoga,
including postures, pranayama (breath exercises) and meditation
can help relieve some of the suffering and make the condition more
manageable. Postures will help improve blood circulation and also
relieve physical tension and stress, which may be a contributing
factor to migraines. The book Yoga for Common Ailments suggests
that you avoid excessive forward bends and back bends, however,
because they increase the flow of blood to the head, as do inversions.
In addition, breath work and meditation will help balance the emotions
and relieve mental stress and tension. As part of a regular Yoga
practice, try the neck and shoulder exercises described in Head & Shoulders
Yoga. To relieve the effects of a migraine, lie down and close
and cover your eyes. Practice savasana the corpse pose. If possible,
try a progressive relaxation exercise while in savasana. Simply
bring your awareness to a specific area of the body and relax that
area, allowing the muscles to grow soft and release their holding.
Begin at the feet and work your way up through the ankles, calves,
knees, thighs, hips, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, neck, face
and head. Take a few breaths at each area to explore where the
holding may be. Repeat the exercise. Also, if you're are in pain,
lie die in savasana with your eyes covered. Use the breath to relax
as much as possible. Once your breath is steady and deep, use it
to soften the pain. As you inhale, imagine the breath going to
the center of pain and soothing that area, cooling it and releasing
its grip. As you exhale, imagine the breath expelling the pain
from your body. Always breathe slowly, deeply and gently.