As Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist for children and young adults, I get asked a lot of questions around yoga. And I believe that there are no stupid questions at all, each question brings us closer to the truth. Today I wanted to share some of the yoga stereotypes I have been asked the most, and my interpretation of them.
Is Yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion. It does have spiritual philosophy attached to it, but you can choose to ignore it if you wish to. I know many Catholics, Christians and Hindu practising Yoga. It’s about your personal development not about what you believe in. And I always say that to my students, never believe in what I say, experience it and it will become your reality. If you just cognitively memorise it, it becomes another story created by your mind.
Do I need to be flexible to do Yoga?
You don’t need to be flexible, thin or fit, you just need to attend with open mind and experience it yourself. If you have current medical conditions, you need to consult your doctor if physical yoga would be suitable for you before joining the class. Also, it is important to tell the teacher about any medical conditions. Any experienced and qualified teacher will be able to adapt any postures to your needs.
Dr McCall (2007) in his book ‘Yoga as medicine’ states that” if you feel that you couldn’t possibly do yoga, then yoga might be especially helpful for you. It’s those who find yoga the most challenging, think that they are terrible at it, and can’t seem to quiet their minds, who have the most to gain.”
Is Yoga about the physical postures?
Asanas (physical postures) are part of yoga practice, but they don’t have to be. Yoga is so much more. Asanas are there to support us in the journey inwards, journey to get to know the true Self. Asanas were designed to bring our mind to stillness. In yoga sutras (chapter 1, sutra 2) we read “ yoga is stilling the modifications of the mind” (1) and that’s the aim of yoga, to align our mind, body and energy and bring them to a point where we feel happy and at ease. Asanas are used in different types of yoga for example: hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga, yin yoga, Iyengar yoga etc. However, there are also different types of yoga we can use not only on the mat but also in daily life. I mention only few of them. If you wish to know more about meditation, I recommend reading “Meditation from tantras” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (2).
- Raja Yoga – the science of mind as I call it. It focuses on meditation, mindfulness practices which allow us to get insight into our mind. From psychology (3) we know we are aware of 10% of our mind. 90% is hidden in the subconscious and unconscious mind. Meditation allows us to become more aware of the 90% of the hidden mind. I practice meditation every day and it transformed my life completely, however if you have existing mental health problems, please consult with your healthcare professional before attending classes.
- Mantra Yoga – the yoga of sound. Is focused on repetition of combination of sounds. And when I chant, sing the sounds, it’s not really about meaning of the sound, it’s about vibration it creates in the body. Try it yourself, close your eyes and sing your favourite song, and after that keep your eyes closed and feel what is happening inside. The vibration is created. I believe in times of X factor, we are afraid of being judged and we don’t sing enough. I encourage everyone to sing as often as you can, in the shower, in the car, in the kitchen, just let yourself go and sing with all your heart, bring all the emotions into it and let yourself go. It’s like having a shower for your internal organs, isn’t that beautiful?
- Karma Yoga – in this type of yoga we focus on doing the work. However, the difference is we do the work with complete awareness and non-attachment to the outcome. That doesn’t mean not to care about what you do. It means give your 100% but don’t expect the reward. It moves us away from our conditioned mind, and we move away from likes and dislikes, and helps to change the perception of the external world.
There are also others like Bhakti yoga – yoga of devotion, jnana yoga – yoga of knowledge/wisdom or yoga nidra – the yoga of sleep and others which you can search and read about. And that’s why I always say there is a yoga for everyone.
Do I need to become vegan to do yoga?
You don’t have to change anything in your lifestyle to do yoga. Just join the class and try it, experience what yoga means to you. And yes, with time, if you practice yoga daily possibly your perception of life will change. You will become more aware of your body, mind, energy and external environment and you will see life in a different light. And that’s the beauty of yoga.
Do I need a Guru when I decide to practice yoga?
Word Guru comes from Sanskrit and means teacher, expert, or light and darkness. Whichever yoga you start to practice, it is useful to have someone to guide you. Someone who is a little bit further on the way than you because they will know what you are going through. Having a teacher is a bit like using shortcut. Although I still believe in the most important teacher – our inner teacher, in each and every one of us, and that’s the teacher you need listen to the most, our inner voice, your intuition.
What If I don’t like the Yoga teacher?
That’s ok. Just find a new one. I always say to my students, if I am not your cup of tea, go and find someone who resonates with you, but don’t give up yoga. Only with time we move away from likes and dislikes in life, and we understand that person triggering something inside of us, actually help us discover the depth of our unconscious mind. On my yoga journey I found the most helpful teachers were those who challenged my belief system and showed me a different perception on reality. But again, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, your brain is there to protect you, if you are not ready for something, it will reject it.
Does word Yoga mean anything?
In B.K.S Iyengar “Light on Yoga “(3) we find that the word Yoga comes from Sanskrit and means to ‘bind’, ‘join’ or ‘direct’, it also means ‘union’. Yoga is connecting us with present moment. We are aligning our mind, body and energy and become fully aware of what’s happening now. Most of our life we think about the past or the future and life is disappearing in front of our eyes. Focusing on present moment allows us to live our life fully. The way I explain it, to the children is this: Yoga is the light inside of us. Like a bright shining star. We are all born with it. With time we cover it with different scarfs (thoughts, feelings, memories, experiences, definitions, stereotypes) and it disappears and stops to shine. Yoga helps us to re-discover it and let it shine through, and this light is what connects us all, no matter what gender we are, what colour of skin, what nationality, we are all the same.
- Am I not too old to do yoga?
You are never too old to start yoga, it is never too late. I have people in my class ages 19 – 80, and we are still finding common grounds in the class. Research in neuroscience shows that creating new pathways in the brain (learning abilities) do not depend on age. There are no more excuses not to learn something new even if you are 100! (5)
- Isn’t yoga too boring for children? My child cannot stay still for 2 seconds.
I have taught many children over the years, and I have never had anyone complaining that yoga is boring. Yoga can be defined as finding stillness in action. It does not have to be sitting still with eyes closed. A good teacher will be able to adapt practice to children’s needs and abilities and make it fun and engaging. If you wish to introduce your children to yoga, I write yoga stories for children ages 3-8. It is based on the programme I delivered for the last few years – called Yogi Superhero series. You can try and see if your child enjoys doing poses and breathing. Yogi Superhero relaxation is coming in August, based on the traditional Yoga Nidra practice, but adapted for children.
Yogi Superhero adventures in Nature – Forest:
McCall T., (2007), Yoga as Medicine