Frequently Asked Questions About Yoga

Frequently Asked Questions about Yoga are listed below.  If you have additional questions you may always reach out to us via Social Media or our Contact form.

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What are the Benefits of Yoga?

Recent medical studies suggest that meditation can have potentially powerful neurological effects. The power of focused attention gives us a key to our inner life and offers the potential for mastery over the mind (which is, of course, the goal of yoga).

Meditation enhanced the areas of the brain involved in perception and the regulation of emotion. People who meditate experience lower levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and tension, and that meditation can also be a supportive practice for those who have experienced trauma.

Does Yoga Work?

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine believe they’ve discovered yoga’s secret. In an article published in the May 2016 issue of Medical Hypotheses journal the medical team hypothesized that yoga works by regulating the nervous system. And how does it do that? By increasing vagal tone—the body’s ability to successfully respond to stress.

 

The vagus nerve, the largest cranial nerve in the body, starts at the base of the skull and wanders throughout the whole body, influencing the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. Often thought of as our “air traffic controller,” the vagus nerve helps to regulate all our major bodily functions. Our breath, heart rate, and digestion—as well as our ability to take in, process, and make sense of our experiences—are all directly related to the vagus nerve.

 

We know when the vagus nerve is toned and functioning properly because we can feel it on different levels: Our digestion improves, our heart functions optimally, and our moods stabilize. We have an easier time moving from the more active and often stressful states of being to the more relaxed ones. As we get better at doing that, we can manage life’s challenges with the better energy, engagement, and ease. When we can consistently maintain this flexible state we are thought to have “high vagal tone.”

 

We all know that yoga does a body and mind good. But up until recently, no one could really say with any degree of certainty why—or even how—it improves conditions as varied as depression and anxiety, diabetes, chronic pain, and even epilepsy.

How Does Yoga Change Thinking?

As in modern day psychology they are explanations of the nature of the mind, how it works and the obstacles, difficulties and emotional disturbances that can affect its functioning in terms of self-knowledge and reflective action. The wisdom of yoga leans into Patanjali’s ‘Eight-Limb Path’ as a way to change the mind positively. One of the minds fundamental characteristics was its inability and refusal to stay in the ‘here and now’.

  • Yamas– dealing with the world around us. This is our moral code of conduct. These are the moral principles that govern the way you treat others and the world around you.
  • Niyamasdealing with yourself. These are five observances or rules of conduct, by which we should live our lives i.e. purity, modesty, contentment, discipline, self-study and acknowledgement of our own limits.
  • Asana– dealing with the body. These are the physical postures or exercises in yoga.
  • Pranayama– dealing with breathing. This is the conscious control of energy by practising controlled breathing techniques.
  • Pratyahara– dealing with the senses. This denotes the withdrawal of the senses. It teaches us to close the doors to the senses so that the mind can still be aware of external stimuli but no longer reacts but responds to them.
  • Dharana– concentration. This is the ability to focus our entire concentration on one object, one question, or one consideration and keep it there.
  • Dhyana– meditation. This is an interaction with the object of concentration whereby we become observers and view the object intuitively, free from subjective notions. It is an acceptance.
  • Samadhi – The absolute: the inner freedom. This is the complete feeling of being at one with the world, knowledge of the true self. Ultimate enlightenment! Inner Happiness!

Why Do Athletes Need Yoga?

A well-rounded yoga practice includes dynamic flexibility training, core stabilization, strengthening and balance work. By focusing on these vital elements, yoga can help you recover faster after workouts, release tight areas that hinder performance, improve range of motion, and develop mental focus and concentration which results in athletic performance improvement. How yoga helps athletes:

  • Prevents InjuryMany sports, such as cycling and running, have very repetitive movements usually in one direction and in one plane of motion. These sports can develop certain muscle groups while ignoring others. Over time, this process causes imbalances in the muscles and joints leading to overuse injuries. Yoga goes beyond simple stretching by working the muscles and joints through all ranges of motion–activating the little-used muscles that support the primary movers. The body must be worked through all three planes of motion in order to remain balanced and healthy. Yoga works not just in the sagittal plane but, in the frontal and transverse planes as well, ensuring well-rounded development.
  • Attention on the breath for performance improvementThe attention to breath during yoga can be considered one of the most important benefits to athletes. Learning to stay focused and centered through uncomfortable poses by concentrating on even inhalations and exhalations sets up the athlete to stay focused during a race or challenging workout. The mind-body connection in yoga is essential to helping athletes develop mental acuity and concentration. In addition, yoga helps you to relax not just tight muscles, but also anxious and overstressed minds. Remaining relaxed improves athletic performance.
  • Yoga reduces stress by triggering the Relaxation Response.The antidote to the Stress Response is the Relaxation Response, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga triggers the relaxation response through conscious breathing, practicing physical poses, learning relaxation response, and stabilizing the mind through meditation. More importantly, yoga teaches us how to remain calm with a stable mind in the face of discomfort and life’s challenges.
  • Yoga makes us pay attention. Yoga is ultimately the art of awareness. We become more self-aware physically, mentally and emotionally through the practice of yoga. By paying attention to the physical sensations of the body and breath we are able to reprogram the CNS. Ultimately we become aware of the cycles of our thoughts and begin to change our response to the stresses of everyday life.
  • Yoga is a healing practice.Yoga poses, conscious breathing and visualization serve as a therapy to reduce physical pain as well as emotional anxiety. We learn practical methods of self-comfort. And through active effort, we advance our practice into one of self-love and self-acceptance. That shift then vibrates within us and as we move through the world.
  • Yoga breaks our bad habitsWe unlearn patterns of being in our bodies both physically (posture) and mentally (negative thinking) that keep us stuck. This teaches us discipline and commitment to our own health by getting on the mat even when we don’t want to. Yoga helps us let go of bad diet and lifestyle habits and allows us a new perspective.  Yoga is the art of awareness and allows us to see the possibilities for an improved quality of life more clearly.
  • Yoga teaches self-responsibility Yoga teaches us to move from blame to a place of self-responsibility. First, we become responsible for our physical bodies: where we put our hands in downward facing dog, or how to keep our knee above our ankle in Warrior II. Next, we observe our thoughts and begin to take responsibility for our inner dialogue. Eventually, we accept authorship of our own lives in a co-creative expression of designing our best life. This is the process of self-transformation that yoga promises to deliver.

What are the Effects of Yoga on the Body?

  • reduced stress
  • sound sleep
  • sense of well-being
  • reduced anxiety and muscle tension
  • reduced cortisol levels
  • slowed aging process
  • improvement of many chronic medical conditions
  • lower blood pressure
  • smoking cessation help
  • lower heart rate
  • spiritual growth
  • clarity of vision of life’s work

Why is Yoga Good for You?

  • Stress relief: The practice of yoga is proven to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body. The body responds to stress through a fight-or-flight response, which is a combination of the sympathetic nervous system and hormonal pathways activating, releasing cortisol – the stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is often used to measure the stress response. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol. Most yoga classes end with savasana, a relaxation pose, which further reduces the experience of stress.
  • Pain relief: Yoga can ease pain. Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.
  • More Oxygen: Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells. The practice includes breath practices known as pranayama, which are effective in reducing our stress response, improving lung function and promoting relaxation. Yoga emphasizes present moment experience, slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This is one of the most profound lessons we can learn from yoga practice.
  • Flexibility: Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity.
  • Increased strength: Yoga poses use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.
  • Weight management: While most of the evidence for the effects of yoga on weight loss is anecdotal or experiential, yoga teachers, students and practitioners across the world find that yoga helps to support weight loss. People do not have to practice the most vigorous forms of yoga to lose weight. Yoga encourages development of a self-awareness, promotes positive self-image, and a regular practice brings greater attention to nutrition and the body as a whole. A study from the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that regular yoga practice was associated with less age-related weight gain.
  • Cardiovascular conditioning: Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improve oxygen uptake.
  • Inner peace and calm: The meditative effects of a consistent yoga practice help many cultivate inner peace and calm. Yoga connects us with the present moment. The more we practice, the more aware we become of the sensations of our body and mind, our surroundings and the world around us. It opens the way to improved concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory

How Does Yoga Change Your Brain?

The ancient practice promotes growth in brain regions for self-awareness. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Md., used MRI scans and detected more gray matter—brain cells—in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subjects. “We found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas were more enlarged,”.

Yogis had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, which contains a mental map of our body, the superior parietal cortex, involved in directing attention, and the visual cortex, the hippocampus, a region critical to dampening stress, the precuneus and the posterior cingulate cortex, areas key to our concept of self. All these brain areas are heightened and engaged by elements of yoga practice.

Does Yoga Help with Anxiety?

Yoga lowers tension and promotes relaxation. In times of high stress and anxiety, our bodies tend to constrict. We start to hold tension in our shoulders, necks, jaws, or elsewhere. Excessive muscular tension can then feed back to our minds and perpetuate the feeling of unease. When we experience the relaxation benefits of yoga, we can lower our physical tension, which helps release the grip that anxiety can have on us. Click here for a yoga video specifically geared toward relaxation.

 

Yoga helps us regulate the breath. Our breath is intimately connected to our nervous system. When we’re anxious we tend to take rapid, shallow breaths, or we might even unconsciously hold our breath and then take big gulping breaths. When we slow and deepen our breathing, we soothe the nervous system. Yoga can teach us to breathe with awareness and to use the breath to move through challenging poses. As I found in the delivery room, we can take this breath focus with us anywhere. Most yoga instructors will direct your attention to the breath during a class; click here for videos that demonstrate specific breathing techniques in yoga.

Yoga increases bodily awareness. In addition to the relaxing effect that comes directly from a session of yoga, we can also learn greater awareness of our bodies that can further lower our physical tension and stress away from the mat. We often carry unnecessary tension in our bodies, and through the practice of yoga we can get better at recognizing tension and letting go of it.

 

Yoga interrupts worry cycles. All of us have had the experience of getting stuck in our heads, and chronic worries can be exhausting. When we step on the yoga mat, we have an opportunity to step out of the thinking mode. Our worries can of course come with us, and yoga gives us the opportunity to practice letting go of the worries and coming back to our bodies and breath, over and over. Through this practice we can learn to let go of our worries at other times, too.

Doing yoga demonstrates self compassion. When we’re stressed and busy, it’s easy to stop doing things that are good for us, like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well. When we take 20 or 30 minutes to do something kind for ourselves like yoga, we treat ourselves as someone who’s worth taking care of. And as nice as it is to think well of ourselves, it’s at least as important to show that we care about ourselves. I’ve often found that the behavior comes before the feeling among those of us who struggle to love ourselves.

 

Yoga fosters self-acceptance. As challenging as yoga can be, the practice is grounded in an acceptance of where we are. It’s something that comes across very clearly in the Yoga With Adriene videos—to accept our bodies, abilities, and limits just as they are. Importantly, acceptance doesn’t have to mean resignation to stagnation. As I’ve written before, we can have an intention toward growth even as we see ourselves as fundamentally whole, just as an acorn is complete and yet isn’t done growing.

 

Yoga trains us to accept discomfort. We often move reflexively away from discomfort, and at times this retreat can lead us away from what we value. For example, avoiding activities that cause us anxiety will bleed the life out of our experience. I remember one time feeling extremely uncomfortable in a pose and feeling like I couldn’t hold it, and the yoga instructor said to the class, “You should be feeling uncomfortable right now.” Just knowing that discomfort was expected made it more tolerable: It was just discomfort, no better, no worse. I didn’t have to run from it.

How Yoga Transforms Your Body and Mind

ParaYoga founder and Tantra scholar Rod Stryker says that to truly understand why yoga is so transformative, you first have to understand the concept of transformation. The idea that yoga changes you into someone better than the person you were before is something of a misconception, Stryker says. It is more accurate to say that yoga helps you remove the obstacles that obscure who you really are, that it helps you come into a fuller expression of your true nature. “We’re not transforming into something we aspire to,” he says. “We’re transforming into the very thing that we are innately: our best Self.”

 

One way yoga encourages transformation is by helping you to shift patterns you’ve developed over time, patterns that may be unhealthy, Stryker says. When you put your body into a pose that is foreign and you stick with it, you learn how to take a new shape. Taking this new shape with the body can lead you to learn how to take a new shape with the mind. “If practiced correctly, yoga asana breaks down the psychological, emotional, physical, energetic, and psychic obstacles that inhibit us from thriving,” Stryker says.

 

Yoga also teaches you how to make better decisions. Everything about practicing yoga involves intention—you set apart time in your day to do it, you move in a specific manner, breathe in a specific way. And when you are mindful and deliberate in your yoga practice, you create the opportunity to become more mindful and deliberate in your life. “The people who stick with yoga realize that they make decisions that are more constructive than destructive,” Stryker says. “I often tell my students that one of two things will happen after you do yoga for a few years: Either you will begin to change for the better, or you will stop doing yoga.”

What Does Om Mean?

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean?

 

Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.

What Does Namaste Mean?

The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

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