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 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. (Top)
types of Yoga are there?
There are four paths of Yoga: 1)Jnana, the path of knowledge or
wisdom; 2)Bhakti, the path of devotion; 3) Karma, the path of
action; and 4) Raja, the path of self control. Hatha Yoga, which
includes postures and breathing, and is the form most popular
in the West, is actually part of Raja Yoga, the path of self control.
The path most followed in India is thought to be Bhakti Yoga,
the path of devotion. Within Hatha Yoga there are many styles,
such as Iyengar, Astanga, Integral, Kripalu and Jiva Mukti, to
name a few. These Yogas all share a common lineage back to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a text outlining the basic philosophy and
practices of Classical Yoga. It was written sometime between the
second century B.C. and the first century A.D. For more about
the different styles of Hatha Yoga, see the Yoga Site's Yoga
Styles Page. (Top)
and...maybe. It depends on how you define "religion" and how the
Yoga practitioner approaches his or her practice. The physical
and psychological benefits of Yoga are real and don't discriminate
on the basis of race, religion, gender, political persuasion or
any other way people like (or dislike) to categorize themselves.
The benefits also don't depend on chanting Om. On the spiritual
side, most mystical traditions -- East or West -- draw similar
maps of the spiritual path. So in that respect, Yoga is mainstream.
Like Shakespeare said, "A rose by any name would smell as sweet."
For these reasons, many people feel they can practice Yoga without
conflict with their religious beliefs. However, Yoga is connected
to the Hindu tradition and draws on many Hindu beliefs -- karma,
dharma, reincarnation, Atman, etc. (Top)
been "proved" that Yoga is good for you?
Western science has been studying Yoga for nearly 50 years, and
the evidence shows numerous physical and psychological benefits
from Yoga. Interestingly, there seems to be something about Yoga
-- vs. exercise and controlled breathing -- that is beneficial.
For example, a recent study with heart patients showed that those
who followed a stress reduction program that included many Yoga
practices did better than patients who exercised or did nothing.
Further, preliminary studies in the United States and India suggest
that Yoga maybe helpful for specific conditions, such as asthma,
epilepsy, anxiety, stress and others. Check out The
Yoga Therapy Report for more information. (Top)
the best way to get started, especially
if I'm out of shape?
a teacher, get a book and/or video. One-on-one interaction with
a teacher is invaluable experience. However, books and videos
have their place, too. Remember, there is a Yoga level for everyone,
regardless of physical condition. (Top)
Yoga aerobic exercise?
and...maybe. Aerobic exercise is simply exercise that improves
oxygenation of the blood through an increased heart rate and deeper
breathing. Yoga can do that, especially those styles such as Astanga
and ViniYoga that have a strong focus on the flow of one posture
to another. (Top)
a New Age practice?
is an ancient practice with a written history going back thousands
of years. It is not New Age, although various New Age movements
have adopted and adapted elements of Yoga. In addition, Yoga and
New Age movements share a focus on mind/body development. (Top)
the difference between Yoga and just plain stretching and normal
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. (Top)
the difference between a yogi, a guru and a swami?
yogi is someone who practices Yoga. A yogin is a male Yoga student,
a yogini a female student. A guru is a teacher. "Swami" is a title
of respect for a spiritual master. (Top)
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
times a week should I do Yoga and for how long?
schools teach a practice session that lasts 60-90 minutes. If
you can 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. (Top)
I am considering
traveling to India to study Yoga in an ashram. Any suggestions
as to where to start my research?
much demand for Yoga teachers and where should I go to become
is very popular right now, so there seems to be a demand for Yoga
teachers. Although some teachers make a living teaching Yoga full
time, many teach part time in addition to another job. The Yoga
Training Calendar has links to major Yoga organizations offering
teacher certification programs. (Top)
been any formal research into the benefits of Yoga?
been quite a lot of research, particularly in India. The Yoga
Site's Yoga Therapy Report covers
some of the latest studies reported in research journals. In addition,
it includes a list of some of the major organizations researching
Yoga therapy. (Top)
I have to be a vegetarian to practice Yoga?
the traditional Yoga diet is vegetarian, you don't have to be
a vegetarian to practice Yoga. In fact, in a recent survey by the Yoga Site only about one out of every three Yoga practitioners
was a vegetarian. (Top)
can Yoga help children diagnosed with ADD?
on the age of the child, Yoga may help him/her get a better sense
of control of both mind and body. There's an organization called "Yoga for the Special Child" that may be able to offer specific help. (Top)
Yoga help me lose weight and which style is best?
can make you look and feel better, regardless of your weight.
That said, Yoga can help you slim down in a couple of ways. First,
the exercises will help you burn calories. In addition, they'll
help tone your muscles and improve of your posture. Yoga is also
about healthy living, which includes a healthy diet. That doesn't
mean you have to become a vegetarian, just that you should be
conscious of the foods you eat, sticking with natural, fresh fruits
and vegetables, grains, etc. as much as possible while limiting
your intake of junk food and foods high in fat, like red meat.
Any of the basic hatha styles will help. The important thing is
to practice daily (or at least 4-5 days a week). If possible,
try and find a teacher. Books, videos and website can be a great
help, but nothing beats a live instructor. (Top)
is the most physically challenging form of Yoga?
one of the basic styles can be physically challenging. It depends
on what you do and how you approach it. Some styles focus on holding
postures for a long time, which can be very challenging, while
others link a series of postures into a single flow, which results
in physical workout. Ashtanga, Bikram's, Iyengar and Power Yoga
are probably the most physically focused forms of Yoga. For more
on Yoga styles, visit the Yoga Styles
am a 60 year old male runner who is just starting the "Power Yoga"
routine. Is this the correct program for me or should I consider
a different program? I have never been in a Yoga program.
forms of hatha Yoga will help increase your flexibility. Power
Yoga, as you've probably noticed, can be quite a workout. It's
usually considered a physically advanced form of Yoga, however,
and therefore may not be suited to a beginner. Check around for
a beginner's class in any style. Once you've got the basics down,
then go back to Power Yoga. If you're working from books, try The Sivananda Companion to Yoga; videos,
both Lilias Folan and the Yoga Journal offer excellent intro videos
(try your local library); or try practicing the postures outlined
on the Yoga Site's Posture Page. (Top)
see that there are so many styles of Yoga out there. How do I
know which style is most beneficial to me?
out the Yoga Styles page for brief
descriptions of some of the major Yoga styles. Any one of them
will help you. The best thing to do is sample classes of few different
styles and go with the teacher you like the best. The teacher
is more important than the style. The important thing is to get
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.
women do Yoga during menses?
a matter of personal preference. Some women don't want to do
Yoga during 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. (Top)
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.
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 of Yoga. (Top)
Can Yoga help cure 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 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. (Top)
Will Yoga make me taller?
If you are
a fully grown adult, you won't grow as a result of Yoga. However,
a regular Yoga practice will improve your posture, which will
have a similar effect. A regular program of asana (postures)
and pranayama (breathing) will do the trick. The postures outlined
on the Yoga Site's Posture page are good place to start. You
may find that one of the side effects of practicing Yoga is
that you no longer care as much about your height. If you are
young and still growing, regular Yoga practice and a good diet
will help you reach your full height. (Top)
Is there a Yoga program for tendinitis of the wrist?
relaxation are the best treatments. If you can make slow gentle
movements without causing pain, do those to help prevent the
wrist from becoming stiff. During the episode, relaxation, meditation and visualization may help ease the pain. It is important to
breathe diaphragmatically, i.e. belly breathing, to trigger
the relaxation response. Set aside some time to practice. During
the session, use the breath to help soothe inflamed area. As
you breathe direct the cool incoming breath to the tender spot
and then exhale away the inflammation. Spend at least 5 minutes
a day doing the exercise, and try to extend it to 10 or 15 minutes.
As the episode recedes, try some of the the exercise outlined
in the Yoga Site's carpal tunnel article.
They may help prevent a recurrence. Like carpal tunnel, tendinitis
is caused by repetitive stress. Examine your work habits and
see if there is a more ergonomic way to function. (Top)
I suffer from social anxiety, despite trying several kinds of
medication, nothing really helps me. Can Yoga help?
the combined practice of Yoga postures, meditation and pranayama
breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety levels. It also helps
build feelings of confidence and well-being and creates a stronger
sense of self, all of which can help reduce levels of social
anxiety. In addition, some of the practices -- such as Nadi
Shodhana and other breathing techniques -- can help alleviate
the symptoms of an anxiety attack. Yoga also teachers greater
self awareness of mind and body. With practice, you may begin
to sense the conditions that lead up to an attack and deal with
them before they get out of control. It's important to start
and maintain a regular practice. You should feel some immediate
temporary relief, but it may take several months before you
notice significant change. (Top)
Can Yoga get rid of varicose veins?
veins, the enlargement and discoloration of veins, cannot be
cured (surgery and injection treatments can improve their appearance,
though). However, yoga can help alleviate the symptoms and mitigate
complications. The book "Yoga for Common Ailments" recommends
a classic Yoga asana routine, especially inverted postures.
Also, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning
a practice to make sure that there is no danger of blood clots.
All the different places that offer teacher training seem to
have different criteria or hours to become a teacher. Is there
an "official" criteria one must fulfill to become
a "certified yoga teacher" or is it basically individual to
the certain yoga schools?
no nationally recognized standards. So-called "certification"
programs range from a weekend course to multi-year programs
that are the equivalent of a college degree. In fact, there's
a mini controversy within the Yoga community about the issue
of national standards. Some teachers and organizations support
the creation of uniform standards while others oppose them on
the grounds that Yoga is so rich and diverse it would be impossible
-- and destructive -- to set a single standard. That said, the
Yoga Alliance, the organization at the center of the controversy,
has outlined minimum training requirements that Yoga teachers
must meet in order to become "registered" Yoga teachers.
Registration has no national or official significance. However,
the training requirements are reasonable and followed by most
major training organizations. Click here for more on the requirements.
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