Here are answers to 10 questions you always wanted to ask about yoga…
1. Let’s get to the heart of it. What is yoga, exactly? There are thousands of definitions and descriptions, but fundamentally yoga is a way of living which allows us to calm our minds, reduce the stress of our daily life and get more in touch with our real selves.
2. One of these new age health kicks, right? Well… not really. Yoga as a practice has been around in some form since at least 400 BCE, and may well be much older.
3. Don’t you just sit and meditate all the time? Although meditation is an important part of yoga, it is not the only part. In fact, most regular yoga classes focus much more on the practice of yoga postures than on meditation.
4. Oh yes, the postures. All that “stick your big toe in your ear” stuff. What’s that all about? In a nutshell, the physical postures of yoga (in Sanskrit “asana”) allow us to stretch, tone and open our bodies, and to build strength, stamina and flexibility. These are wonderful benefits, but are not goals in themselves. The practice of asana enables us to become more comfortable in our body so that it becomes less of a distraction, which then allows our energy to flow more efficiently, and our mind to calm and settle more easily. Once that happens, then maybe we can sit quietly and comfortably in meditation.
5. In the lotus position? Perhaps, but not necessarily. It is a common misconception that yoga practitioners spend lots of time sitting in lotus. Lotus is an advanced posture which can place great strain on the knees, and should only be attempted with the guidance of an experienced teacher. Any simple seated position can be just as effective – even sitting on a chair.
6. It doesn’t sound as if it is for me – I prefer more of a workout. Yoga classes can be as physically demanding as a session in the gym, and can generate just as much sweat, while working the body more efficiently. Most classes, particularly those described as “dynamic” or “flow” yoga, or “Ashtanga” yoga, will work on moving the body in conjunction with the breath in sequences of postures really designed to get the energy flowing.
7. But don’t I need to be able to wrap my legs behind my head? I can’t.
8. Or at least touch my toes? Not necessarily. The benefits of yoga are open to everyone, irrespective of flexibility, strength or age. Your body is unique to you. You simply start where you are, and don’t worry about what anyone else can do. You will get much more benefit from practising simple postures mindfully and with proper bodily alignment and breath awareness, than you will from trying to force your body to do something it is not ready for.
9. But I need to be a Hindu or a Buddhist, don’t I? Not at all. Yoga is a way of living, not a religion. It is open to everyone – of any religious belief or none. All you need to believe in is yourself.
10. OK, I am convinced. But there are yoga classes everywhere. How do I choose? There is no better way than to try a few and see how you get on. Because the yoga tradition is so ancient, many different ways of practising have developed over the years. Some classes will focus on detailed bodily alignment, others on more dynamic movement, and others on quiet reflection. If the first one you try doesn’t do it for you, try a few more.