Monday, October 3, 2011
Yoga On The Rock
1. Is Yoga An Exercise?
No, yoga is not an exercise. In fact, the “stretches” practiced in yoga are not even called exercises. They are called poses or postures, or the correct Sanskrit name is “asanas”. Asana, according to the yoga sutras (yoga philosophical text) means “steady comfortable posture”. The postures should always be comfortable and practiced without strain; and, this “sthira” (firmness steadiness, alertness) and “sukha” (comfort, ease) should always be maintained in unison during practice. Hence yoga does not “expand” energy as such, like when exercising, but rather allows the practitioner to “gather” energy from practice, which stays with them long after the class is done.
2. What is the difference between hatha yoga, asthanga yoga, vinyasa flow yoga or yin yoga etc., are they similar?
Actually, they are all the same, in that they are all ‘hatha yoga” practices. Much of the yoga we see practiced in the gym or the yoga studios or with private teachers is hatha yoga, which is the physical aspect of yoga. So asthanga, vinyasa flow, yin yoga and even power yoga are all hatha yoga practices. “Ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon” , hence in hatha yoga the sun and moon energies within the body are brought into balance. All the different ways of practicing hatha yoga strives to create this condition within the body and mind. How they differ is the way they approach this practice. Vinyasa flow is usually practiced in a quick continuous flow moving from one pose to another in rapid fashion, while yin yoga is practiced deliberately slowly where focus on one pose could last as long as 5 minutes. The style of each way of practicing depends on individual tastes; asthanga yoga really puts much emphasis on alignment while the integral yoga approach emphasizes the meditative aspects of practicing hatha yoga. While there are indeed different types of yoga, for example, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga etc. these aspects of yoga are not hatha (physical) yoga practice. The physical yoga practice is all hatha yoga.
3. Many people say they like to practice yoga for stretching but they do other exercises for strengthening the body or for a cardio vascular workout. Is that true that yoga is only for stretching?
No, that is not true. Yoga in our western society is so misunderstood, although we are learning. While I say we should continue to do our workout at the gym, swim, walk or run if we enjoy that along with our hatha yoga ( in fact, hatha yoga will enhance physical activity); however, if we wish to just focus on hatha yoga we can get a full workout from our yoga practice. In fact many people who practice serious hatha yoga only do that and maintain strong healthy bodies. I always tell students in yoga you learn to lift your own body weight. When you consider a headstand and/or arm balances, that is clearly what one has to do. These poses require great strength in order to perfect them, and this strength does not come from lifting weights, but from slowly building up the ability to lift one’s own body weight through consistent yoga practice. Also a vinyasa flow approach to yoga provides a great cardio workout, as do standing poses that are great strengtheners for the body and a stimulant for the heart muscle. As one whose main workout is practicing yoga, I always tell students, at the end of the day, when we reach three score and then some, the three best practices to do to keep the body fit is walking, swimming and yoga. That’s it!
4. Does yoga help you lose weight???
Now everyone wants to know the answer to this question although often people are afraid to ask. I always tell people “yes” and “no”, which sometimes will turn some off, especially when they are looking for a quick fix. But what I do encourage people to do is to look at the whole picture, and in this regard yes, yoga is great to help work on weight loss and maintenance. Of course we do know the only real way to lose weight is to stop eating the junk and/or overeating. But what yoga does is help us get rid of the stress which is the greatest impetus for curtailing overeating and making poor choices in diet, in the first place.
Yoga works directly on the mind (our biggest culprit when it comes to overeating) and on all the systems of the body, for instance, the endocrine system, thus stimulating the thyroid and parathyroid glands. It works on our digestive system through twisting poses, hence our digestive system improves tremendously. It works on circulatory, elimination, skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and nervous system etc. and has an overwhelming effect on how we manage and maintain a healthy stress level. Hence indirectly in this way, through practicing regular hatha yoga, the pounds melt away.
5. Can yoga help with health issues?
Because many of our modern day health issues come from stress, yoga is an excellent way to help improve body/mind health and wellness. The diseases of our modern world (unlike many diseases in countries like Africa and India), are non-communicable diseases, that are not caught from contagions, but are life-style diseases caused by how we live and manage stress in our lives. Cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish has designed an award winning practice using yoga, diet and meditation to reverse heart disease in patients with CHD. Yoga is also widely known to be effective in auto-immune health and wellness and those suffering from auto-immune diseases, for example fibromyalgia, arthritis, sarcoidosis etcetera; or, respiratory diseases like asthma or digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome. These and many other health issues are greatly benefitted if not cured, by practicing hatha yoga.
6. Do I need a teacher to practice yoga?
No, many people begin or are inspired to practice yoga through practicing with a book or video. However if one is serious about the practice of yoga and/ or is inspired by being in a group, then a yoga centre or working with a teacher is best for you; this is particularly important if one wishes to work with yoga to help improve health and/ or correct structural problems with the body, as these require expert advice and guidance to safeguard the student.
7. Is yoga a religion?
No, but yoga can benefit body, mind and spirit. Hence those who practice the “spiritual” aspects of yoga – raja yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga – these practices are designed to assist the student’s mind for higher development and self- awareness. Hence it can benefit any religious practice, but remains neutral more like software for any religious practice one may subscribe to. However, this is not accomplished through the practice of hatha yoga practiced in most yoga studios as this practice
( hatha yoga) mainly works on the physical body.
Joanne Wohlmuth, Director –E-RYT-500
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