Frequently Asked Questions

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a profound system of holistic health that originated more than 2,000 years ago in India.  The word yoga means “to yoke” or “unite,” and the practice is designed to unify many things.  At the most basic level, yoga helps unite body and mind.  At a deeper level, yoga seeks to unite the individual with the universal.

In the West, the word “yoga” is commonly used to refer to Hatha Yoga, one branch of this ancient discipline that focuses on physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation.   Hatha yoga teaches you how to relax and release tension, as well as strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight ones.  It also helps balance and integrate mind, body and spirit, to enhance energy flow and stimulate the body’s own natural healing processes.

Do I need to be flexible to do Yoga?

Absolutely not!  The only requirement for practicing yoga is the ability to breathe.  It’s a common misconception that yoga requires people to twist themselves into pretzels.  But while advanced postures like headstand may be part of the yoga practice for some people, they are by no means required.  Yoga poses should be selected to fit each individual’s abilities and needs.  For many people, yoga practice involves easy, yet powerful, meditative movements that anyone can do.

Isn’t yoga a trendy form of exercise?

Yoga is much more than a workout.  In fact, a central goal of yoga is to quiet the mind.  Since a peaceful, stable mind is essential to wellbeing, the ancient yogis created the Hatha Yoga practice to help calm the mind and harness its power for physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual healing.

What are the benefits of yoga?

Research suggests that yoga can relieve a wide array of ailments including back and neck pain, hypertension, arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Yoga research in the West is embryonic, but it’s booming—with more than 3,500 studies involving yoga listed in the National Library of Medicine’s research database, PubMed.  Currently in the United States, more than 400 federally and privately supported clinical trials are underway examining yoga’s benefits for a variety of conditions including insomnia, heart failure, pediatric headaches, epilepsy, diabetes, obesity, hot flashes, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder and cigarette addiction.

Is Yoga safe?

Under the guidance of an experienced and qualified teacher, yoga is generally safe.   However there are many different styles of yoga—including some that are quite challenging.  For example, Ashtanga yoga is a very athletic style, while Kripalu yoga tends to be gentler. If you attend a large group yoga class that is too demanding for your specific level of conditioning, you may risk injury.   It’s very important to be sure you’re in a class that is appropriate for you and that you inform the instructor of any health concerns.  If you have a specific medical condition, consult your health care provider for guidance.   Also, be aware that some classes called yoga, are actually “yoga-flavored” exercise classes taught by instructors with minimal yoga training.

How is yoga being used in Western medicine?

Today, this ancient practice is being used in modern medical settings as an adjunct therapy for a wide array of ailments—from heart disease to hot flashes.  Hospitals are increasingly offering yoga classes for general wellness as well as classes designed for specific groups, such as breast cancer survivors, people with MS, heart patients and adolescents with eating disorders.  Some insurance companies are subsidizing participation, and a growing number of physicians are recommending the practice as a safe, inexpensive way to relieve stress and boost health—and sometimes avoid medications and surgery.

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga Therapy adapts the practice of Yoga to the individual needs of people with health challenges.  Unlike a group Yoga class, Yoga Therapy is offered one-on-one, so the yoga teacher can create individually-tailored exercises for a home practice.  Typically, this practice involves postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, which are basic tools drawn from this ancient holistic healing system.  Often, Yoga Therapy is offered to people who are unable to participate in a regular group class or who have specific concerns such as back pain, hypertension or asthma.  Yoga Therapy is designed to empower the individual to progress toward greater health and well-being.

Where can I find out more about yoga and yoga therapy?

The International Association of Yoga Therapists offers an extensive bibliography of therapeutic applications of yoga, as well as information and referrals to yoga teachers.  Visit www.iayt.orgThe Yoga Alliance is a non-profit organization that maintains a national Yoga Teachers Registry to recognize and promote teachers whose training complies with certain educational standards.  For information and referrals visit www.yogaalliance.com.