Yoga can seem a bit like a cult. Dozens of people line up in a classroom, all dressed in similar outfits, moving in unison and sometimes chanting words in a foreign language. To an outsider, this odd display of behavior can bring up a lot of questions. So if you’re scratching your head, wondering what’s the deal with this whole “yoga thing”, here are some answers to common questions the yoga curious ask.
What is yoga?
Yoga originated in India over 2,000 years ago. While today most people perform yoga through a series of postures and stretches, the original practice of yoga was much broader and included 8 total practices, which were referred to as “limbs”. The postures you see students performing in your local gym are one of these 8 limbs; the others include concentration, ethical guidelines, breathing exercises and a few others.
The original purpose of the posture-based yoga practice was to purify the body and prepare it for long meditation sessions. If you were to follow this and the other 7 practices, you would hopefully achieve the ultimate goal: samdhi, referred to today as enlightenment.
So does that mean yoga is a religion?
When you see how serious some students take yoga, you can see why it’s sometimes misinterpreted as a religion. However, yoga by no means qualifies as one. It should be noted that it was originally created as a philosophy (as described in the previous answer above), and some of the more devout practitioners today would still consider it a way of life. With that said, modern-day yoga can really be whatever you want it to. It can simply be a means to improve your flexibility, mental focus and health, or it can be a serious discipline that shapes every aspect of your life. Regardless of what yoga means to you, there are many varieties that are a far cry from religion. These include rage yoga (which involves cursing, screaming, and sometimes drinking beer), cat yoga, stiletto yoga and more.
Do you have to be a vegetarian to practice?
Vegetarianism in yoga is a hotly debated issue. One of the original principles of yoga philosophy stresses non-harming to self and others. Some interpret this to mean you can’t eat meat, as doing so harms animals. And if you choose to eat your triple cheeseburgers, steaks and mounds of bacon, you may be scrutinized by some of the old-school members of the yoga community. However, most fellow yoga practitioners won’t bat an eye, and will even enjoy that philly cheesesteak with you.
The point is that practicing yoga and eating meat is a matter of choice. You are free to do so if you’d like. And in today’s modern yoga scene, most people could care less whether you do or not.
How many times should you practice per week?
To achieve some of the benefits of yoga, aim to practice at least one hour a week. By doing so, you should notice your body becoming more limber with less pain and a slightly increased mental focus. However, if you want a more dramatic difference, aim to practice for an hour, 3 or 4 times per week. This can help you develop better posture and more muscle strength, greatly improve your disposition and provide an array of health benefits that include lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
How is yoga different from stretching?
On the surface, it’s easy to see why some people think yoga is just some glorified stretching practice. When you look closer though, there a few key differences. For one, most yoga classes try to sync your movement with breath. For example when you move into a stretch, you will breath in, and then exhale when you release it. Also, yoga requires you to pay attention to more than just the stretch and posture you’re maneuvering into. You’ll also be aware of what’s going on in your body, mind and breathing process. Becoming more aware of these three things will help you develop focus and mental clarity both on and off the yoga mat.
We hope these five answers will help shed some light on these common yoga questions. If you have more you’d like to ask or are interested in joining a class, call us today.