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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 long?
Most schools teach a practice session that lasts 60-90 minutes. If you can't 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.