What is Yoga?
Yoga is a science for living. It involves a systematic approach to understanding the body, the mind, and liberating the spirit. It was developed in India approximately 4000-5000 years ago. The common language of yoga is Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages spoken in the world. The word “yoga” is translated to mean “union,” “yoking with/to,” “oneness,” or “non-separation.” Some of the many benefits of a yoga practice include reduced stress and tension in the body and mind, increased ability to focus and concentrate, as well as enhanced sense of clarity and will.
Yoga is also a beautiful complement to religious or spiritual practices. Drawing us inward, closer to the truth of our Self, yoga reveals the power and beauty we already possess. It will not make us into anything we are not already. It challenges us to look at ourselves and observe the activities of mind: our thoughts. A goal is to learn to calm the mind, to become aware of thought, without judging or criticizing ourselves. Mental awareness and mindfulness help create more opportunity for growth and compassion. That which is on the inside is revealed in our outward circumstances. Meditation and quiet concentration open the door to limitless possibilities.
Nicole responds to students’ questions:
About the Spiritual
Is yoga a religion?
No. Yoga is not a religion. In fact, yoga is a science for living, a way of life. It involves ethical precepts, which some may misconstrue for a religion, but yoga is not a religion. People of all faiths can, and do, practice yoga. It was developed in India approximately 4000-5000 years ago. The common language of yoga is Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages spoken in the world.
Do I have to change my religion to do yoga?
No. You do not have to change your religion to do yoga. As stated above, people of all faiths can do yoga. It may be a beautiful complement to your current religious or spiritual practices, and you just might find that practicing yoga will bring you closer to yourself and God.
Is yoga a cult?
No. Yoga is not a cult. Who told you yoga is a cult?
Do I have to believe in God to do yoga?
No. You do not have to believe in God to do yoga. Yoga practice draws us inward, closer to the truth of our Self, and it reveals the power and beauty we already possess. Meditation and quiet concentration open the door to limitless possibilities.
About the Physical
I’m not very flexible; can I do yoga too?
Yes. You can do yoga if you are not very flexible. You should find a gentle session with an experienced teacher to help you open the muscles at a pace appropriate for you. Modifications can always be made to make the postures (asanas) accessible for your individual circumstances. For example, you may use blocks or a strap to make forward folds more comfortable. Sitting on a folded blanket can make it more comfortable to sit on the floor in a cross-legged seated pose. In time, your body will gently open up and build endurance, making your practice more fluid. If you have specific physical concerns, always share them with your yoga teacher so he/she can help you, and remember to do what your doctor recommends.
I have old injuries and/or tired joints. Am I able to do yoga too?
Yes. As stated above, you should find a gentle session with an experienced teacher to guide you in making modifications to the postures. Props are very helpful in making yoga available for individual needs. With a mindful, regular practice, your body will become stronger. Not only should you speak with your yoga teacher about your individual circumstances, you should speak with your doctor about your interest in yoga. He/she might guide you in ways to work with your injuries and joints.
I have asthma. What should I do if I come to a yoga class?
Yoga is accessible for all people; however, there are many cases in which modifications to the practice must be made. This is an example of one of those times. An important aspect of yoga is breath awareness and practice (pranayama). If you have asthma, it is very important that you speak with your doctor about your interest in yoga. He/she might make recommendations regarding your specific circumstances. It is also necessary for you to work closely with your yoga teacher, so you may be guided through the yoga session accordingly.
Will I sweat?
Perhaps. Some yoga classes are more gentle, while others are more vigorous. Bodies are different too. It really depends upon your individual body and the classes you attend.
Is yoga safe for pregnant women?
Yes. With a qualified yoga teacher experienced in working with pregnancy, yoga can be very healthy for a Mom and her unborn child. It can deepen the connection between the two as well as prepare them both for the birth. Again, it is very important to speak with your OB/GYN about your interest in yoga. It is also important to speak with your yoga teacher so he/she can make the necessary accomodations specific for the ever-changing body of a pregnant woman and her developing child.
About the Mental
What do I do with my mind during a yoga session?
During a yoga class, you focus on the task at hand, the postures you are doing. You also observe the activities of your mind, your thoughts. If your mind wanders, and it will, especially early on in your practice, gently bring it back to the postures and breath. Try not to be judgmental or chastise yourself for having a wandering mind. You will gain control the more often you work with it. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to simply be.
What if I can’t make my mind empty?
The goal is not to make the mind “empty,” so to say. It is to learn to calm the mind, to become aware of thought. Mental awareness and mindfulness help us to create more opportunity for deepened concentration and will. Once you observe your mind this way, you will notice there are times when you pause between your thoughts. Yoga helps us to focus on those times and even lengthen them.
About the Yoga Session
What is a typical yoga session like?
Yoga classes vary depending upon the location, instructor, students, etc. Presence Yoga, ltd creates a balanced session that begins with a centering activity, followed by gentle warm-ups to heat the body; it then progresses to holding traditional yoga poses (asanas). Finally, Nicole guides students through a cooling period to calm the body and prepare for a guided relaxation (savasana), which ends the yoga class.
What is the atmosphere like?
Like a typical yoga class, the atmosphere of a class will also vary. Some classes are held in rooms with subdued lighting, soft music, candles, and perhaps incense. Others might be in brightly lit areas with louder music. Outside yoga classes will feel very different than indoor ones. Presence Yoga, ltd attempts to create an ambiance that fosters acceptance, comfort, stress reduction, and relaxation. Nicole uses soft lighting and unscented candles wherever possible; soft music is often used to compliment her voice as she carries you through your yoga class.
What should I wear?
It is best to wear loose-fitting clothing that allows you to move. Dressing in layers can help to regulate your temperature as you progress through a class. For example, you can take off a lightweight jacket after warm-ups and for the more heating poses, and then cover back up again for relaxation (savasana).
What should I bring to class with me?
If you have a yoga mat, please bring it with you. A towel (bath size) is another prop you will want to bring too. The mat will create your space within the room, as well as provide traction for standing poses (asanas). The towel is used as a sitting cushion, a pillow, and for other adjustments if needed. Mats and towels are versatile props to have on hand. If you do not have a yoga mat or you forget your towel, there will be some available to borrow.
What do I do before and after a yoga class?
Before: It is most beneficial to practice yoga with an empty stomach. Allow about 4 hours after a heavy meal, 2 hours after a light one. Drink plenty of water.
After: Remember to breathe deeply, keep good posture, and eat healthy foods. You may want to keep a journal to chronicle your yoga experience. Be happy and Smile! You are doing great things for yourself!
Other Yoga Topics
Do I have to be a vegetarian to do yoga?
No. You do not have to be a vegetarian to do yoga.
Will yoga turn me into a vegetarian?
Yoga will not make anyone anything they are not already. (Really). While it is true that many people who practice yoga are vegetarian or vegan, you do not have to become one, or worry that you will become someone completely different from the person you are now. In a nutshell, here is the deal: there are eight limbs in yoga. The first limb is “yama,” which roughly translates to “abstentions,” things from which we consciously choose to abstain. The first yama is called “ahimsa,” or “non-harming.” We consciously choose to abstain from violence (toward ourselves and others). Many yogis/yoginis observe ahimsa by choosing a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. This is so they do as little harm to themselves, animals, and the earth as possible. This does not mean that you have to do likewise. You may find that your practice of ahimsa involves choosing grain fed, free range animals from socially responsible farmers.
Please understand that this discussion of the limbs of yoga is very brief. Ahimsa is one important aspect of one limb of the whole, very important system. A discussion of the limbs of yoga would not be appropriate here. Essentially, the answer to your question is: No, yoga will not turn you into a vegetarian. You might choose, of your own free will, to become one though.
Do I get to use a sword?
No, Paul. You do not get to use a sword.