Starting a yoga practice is an exciting experience. While there is a lot to learn, discover and explore in the tradition of yoga, it is best to start simply and not let yourself be overwhelmed. Here are ten basic questions and answers about yoga.
1. What Is Yoga?
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit means “union”. Yoga postures, also called “asanas” are designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
2. What Does Om Mean?
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga class. It is said to be the sound of the universe. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
3. Do I Have to Be Vegetarian to Practice Yoga?
The first principle of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which means non harming 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.
4. 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 a while your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.
5. How Is Yoga Different From Stretching or Other Kinds of Fitness?
Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. 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.
6. Is Yoga a Religion?
Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 yoga 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 available for you.
9. Why Are You Supposed to Refrain From Eating 2–3 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, you can have a light snack such as yogurt, a few nuts, or juice about 30 minutes to an hour before class.
10. What Does Namaste Mean?
The word Namaste, pronounced ‘na-ma-stay’, is Sanskrit, both a Hindi and a Nepali word. It is said in India and Nepal as a salutation. Namaste is typically said with the hands pressed together and held near the heart, with the head bowed. Some of the translations include: “I honor the place in you which is of love, truth, light, and peace.” , “I bow to the divine in you.”, “I honor the sacredness and equality in us all.”