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  » Yoga department  »   Frequently Asked Questions

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. There is debate about this in the yoga community–I believe that it 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.

5. 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 awhile your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. I'm not flexible–can I do yoga?

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.

9. What do I need to begin?

All you really need to begin practicing yoga is your body, your mind, and a bit of curiosity. But it is also helpful to have a pair of sweat pants, leggings, or shorts, and a t-shirt that's not too baggy. No special footgear is required because you will be barefoot. It’s nice to bring a towel to class with you. As your practice develops you might want to buy your own yoga mat, but most studios will have mats and other props available for you.

10. 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.

11. What are the branches of Yoga?

In ancient times yoga was often referred to as a tree, a living entity with roots, a trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruit. Hatha yoga is one of six branches; the others include raja, karma, bhakti, jnana, and tantra yoga. Each branch with its unique characteristics and function represents a particular approach to life. Some people may find one particular branch more inviting than another. However, it is important to note that involvement in one of these paths does not preclude activity in any of the others, and in fact you'll find many paths naturally overlapping.

Raja Yoga
Raja means "royal," and meditation is the focal point of this branch of yoga. This approach involves strict adherence to the eight "limbs" of yoga as outlined by Patanajli in the Yoga Sutras. Also found in many other branches of yoga, these limbs, or stages, follow this order: ethical standards, yama; self-discipline, niyama; posture, asana; breath extension or control, pranayama; sensory withdrawl, pratyahara; concentration, dharana; meditation, dhyana; and ecstasy or final liberation, samadhi. Raja yoga attracts individuals who are introspective and drawn to meditation. Members of religious orders and spiritual communities devote themselves to this branch of yoga. However, even though this path suggests a monastic or contemplative lifestyle, entering an ashram or monastery is not a prerequisite to practicing raja yoga.

Karma Yoga
The next branch is that of karma yoga or the path of service, and none of us can escape this pathway. The principle of karma yoga is that what we experience today is created by our actions in the past. Being aware of this, all of our present efforts become a way to consciously create a future that frees us from being bound by negativity and selfishness. Karma is the path of self-transcending action. We practice karma yoga whenever we perform our work and live our lives in a selfless fashion and as a way to serve others. Volunteering to serve meals in a soup kitchen or signing up for a stint with the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity are prime examples of selfless service associated with the karma yoga path.

Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti yoga describes the path of devotion. Seeing the divine in all of creation, bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel the emotions. The path of bhakti provides us with an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone we come into contact with.

Bhakti yogis express the devotional nature of their path in their every thought, word, and deed—whether they are taking out the trash or calming the anger of a loved one. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are prime examples of bhakti yogis. The life and work of Mother Teresa epitomize the combination of the karma and bhakti yoga paths with devotional aspects of bhakti and the selfless service of karma yoga.

Jnana Yoga
If we consider bhakti to be the yoga of the heart, then jnana yoga is the yoga of the mind, of wisdom, the path of the sage or scholar. This path requires development of the intellect through the study of the scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition. The jnana yoga approach is considered the most difficult and at the same time the most direct. It involves serious study and will appeal to those who are more intellectually inclined. Within the context of our Western religious traditions, Kabalistic scholars, Jesuit priests, and Benedictine monks epitomize jnana yogis.

Tantra Yoga
Probably the most misunderstood or misinterpreted of all the yogas, tantra, the sixth branch, is the pathway of ritual, which includes consecrated sexuality. The key word here is "consecrated," which means to make sacred, to set apart as something holy or hallowed. In tantric practice we experience the Divine in everything we do. A reverential attitude is therefore cultivated, encouraging a ritualistic approach to life. It is amusing to note that, although tantra has become associated exclusively with sexual ritual, most tantric schools actually recommend a celibate lifestyle. In essence, tantra is the most esoteric of the six major branches. It will appeal to those yogis who enjoy ceremony and relate to the feminine principle of the cosmos, which yogis call shakti. If you see—and are deeply moved by—the significance behind celebration and ritual (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other rites of passage), tantra yoga may be for you. Many tantric yogis find magic in all types of ceremony, whether it be a Japanese tea ceremony, the consecration of the Eucharist in a Catholic mass, or the consummation of a relationship.

Combining the Paths
You may already be involved in one or more of these branches. For example, you may already be a hatha yogi or yogini practicing the postures with a teacher or by yourself. If you are a hospice volunteer for AIDS patients, or a participant in a Big Brother/Big Sister program, you are actively practicing karma yoga. Perhaps reading this book will spark an in-depth study of yoga philosophy, setting you on the path of jnana yoga. Remember you need not be limited to one expression—you may practice hatha yoga, taking care of your physical body, while simultaneously cultivating the lifestyle of a bhakti yogi, expressing your compassion for everyone you meet. Trust that whichever avenue of yogic expression draws your interest, it will probably be the right yoga path for you.

12. How can yoga help me with my body problems?

Many injuries and chronic aches and pains are caused by overdoing or under-doing. We might be overworking some areas of the body while others become weak. Just the inactivity of sitting at a desk all day, only using your eyes and your fingers on the keyboard, can cause trouble. The body likes to move, stretch, run, play -- yoga offers a complete method of stretching and strengthening so that the whole body becomes revitalized, and its capacity to heal is boosted.

13. How can yoga help me relieve stress?

Yoga reminds us to take time for ourselves. It is a well-known fact that exercise relieves stress, and a good yoga program offers the same promise and more. The stretching and strengthening of yoga recharge and balance the body, and the inner awareness from yogic breathing and meditation calms the mind. When the body is open and strong and the mind is focused and calm, we are empowered to face the challenges of life with freshness and self-confidence.

14. How can I avoid hurting myself while doing yoga?

Injuries are caused by overdoing or under-doing, as well as from doing a good exercise with poor alignment. To avoid injuries, follow instructions carefully, and be especially mindful of your body position when setting up for the exercise. Use a conscious energetic action in your muscles, but avoid clenching aggressively. And always breathe! You can also learn to tell the difference between the two main types of pain. The discomfort of a tight place being stretched, which you could call outgoing pain, will be temporary. Incoming pain, when you are straining, should be avoided.

15. What if I feel self-conscious doing the exercises?

You might feel self-conscious just because it's unfamiliar. Give it some time. Remember that you're doing this for yourself. After a short time, it will feel quite natural.

16. How can I find a good yoga class?

There are many styles of yoga; some emphasize the meditative aspect of the practice, others are more physically demanding. Some styles emphasize details, others don't. You can ask people you know who study yoga and try out a class. ‘Yoga Journal’ magazine publishes an annual directory of teachers, organized by state. If you have physical problems, it would be good to ask the teacher how much experience she has with therapeutic yoga and what her training is.

17. How long will it take me to feel results?

This depends on your condition when you start. If you really give yourself to it with a positive attitude, results can come quickly. Long-term practice, of course, yields the best results.

18. How Can I Get a Consultation?

YES' You can receive a consultation through this web-site CLICK HERE