Q: What is yoga therapy?
A: Traditionally, the goal of yoga is the spiritual path of transformation; whereas, the goal of yoga therapy is to improve health and well being, since health challenges can be impediments to seeking a spiritual path, a la Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs.
Q: Isn’t all yoga therapeutic?
A: Yes, all yoga should feel good and be healing. However, with its growing popularity in the West, and in particular on the West Side of LA, many yoga classes are geared toward fitness for the young and healthy. And many yoga teachers are qualified to teach healthy adults but don’t have the training or expertise to teach students with injuries, chronic illness or even the over-50-ish crowd. So yoga therapy has emerged to meet people of all ages and conditions where they are now, instead of some crazy idea of where they used to be or some commercial of how yoga and/or they are supposed to be and look that has nothing to do with reality.
Q: What are the qualifications of a yoga therapist?
A: Yoga therapy is a brand-new profession so this question is being discussed right now by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Their board is developing educational standards to accredit yoga therapy training programs, so stay tuned for The Answer. But yoga therapy programs are all advanced training beyond yoga teacher training for healthy adults, and many focus on specific areas, such as structural or physiological or somatic healing. To find a yoga therapist or a yoga therapy training program in your area, go to www.iayt.org.
Q: How do I find the right teacher?
A: It’s like dating. Your friend’s favorite teacher may not resonate with you at all. Someone may come highly recommended as the expert for your needs, but she reminds you of your evil stepmother. So do get friendly and expert advice, do your homework to find someone with appropriate training and experience, but in the end, trust yourself.
Q: Which style/type of class should I do?
A: There are many styles of yoga with different emphasis, such as focusing on alignment or flowing in and out of poses versus long holds in poses. Even within a style, teachers vary greatly in their approach. If you have a yoga studio in your neighborhood, check out their web site, which will explain the classes and provide teacher bios; or call the studio and someone would be happy to help you. Check out this site for an explanation of yoga styles: http://yogasite.com/yogastyles.html If you think of it as a treasure hunt, it’ll be more fun.
Q: If I have a health condition, can I do yoga?
A: If you are breathing, you can do yoga! It’s a matter of finding the class that is the right pace for you and a teacher who has training and experience in any health issue you are experiencing, whom you also feel comfortable with. Private lessons are also a great way to begin and learn specific modifications tailor made for you.
Q: I had an injury/surgery and am not sure if I’m ready for yoga?
A: If you have been under the care of a physician, physical therapist or other health care professional, get their approval before beginning/resuming a yoga asana/movement program. (AND yoga is more than just asana, so some form of yoga is always available to you.) Make sure you have an experienced, reputable teacher who understands your situation. Consider getting private classes to help you transition into a class.
Q: Can I do yoga if I can’t get on the floor?
A: Start where you are! Most senior centers offer chair yoga classes. Some students in my senior yoga classes sit in a chair. I have created several online classes seated in a chair, as well as a class designed to build the strength, flexibility and game plan to safely get up and down from the floor. You can preview the classes before you buy at: http://yogisanonymous.com/yoga-video-library.php
Q: What should I wear to yoga and what should I bring to yoga?
A: Wear comfortable clothing that you can move freely in. (Believe it’s possible!) If you have a structural issue that needs attention, more fitted clothing will help your teacher see you more clearly. Room and body temperatures vary over the course of a class, so dress in layers so you can control your own temperature and be comfortable. Most studios have yoga mats that you can rent and provide their own props.
Q: Do I have to take my socks off?
A: Yoga is practiced with bare feet to enhance strength, flexibility and proprioception/awareness of feet and ankles, which is your base of support and one key for balance. If your feet get cold or you have another reason for needing to wear socks, wear socks with skinless soles. And if you can get a pair of skinless toe socks that separate your toes, even better. You can order them online at: http://www.assistedlivingstore.com/p-344-yoga-toe-non-slip-socks.aspx?gclid=CMSmnJjzz7ICFYaDQgod2XgA5w
Q: What/when should I eat before practice?
A: In a perfect world, practice on an empty stomach. But in the real world, this may leave you cranky (that would be me!), distracted or lethargic. If so, have something light about an hour before coming to class and plan to eat a meal after class.
Q: Will I be sore after class?
A: You may feel some soreness after a class from either strengthening or lengthening muscles. A slight soreness is a sign of positive change. However, if you feel so sore that it hinders activity, then that is a sign that you pushed too far and that you need to back off. You should never feel sharp pain either during or after yoga or any activity, as this is a warning sign to stop what you are doing.
Q: What is the difference between good pain and bad pain?
A: Many people come to yoga to heal their pain. This can make it difficult to determine when to move through pain and when to back off. It is always best to start slow and steady, observe the sensations in the moment as well as the results after class. This is the true aim of yoga! Over time, you will cultivate more awareness and learn to trust the signals your body is sending you. That said, sharp pain is never useful.
Q: How can I sync the breathe with the movement?
A: One of the keys of yoga is moving on the breath. This can also be one of the most challenging elements, even for the experienced yogi. Again and again, in any class, just keep returning to the breath and trust that over time, when the movements become more familiar, linking the breath with the movement will become more natural. It is akin to learning the steps of a dance, awkwardly linking them to the music, and then with practice, you are dancing! (Even if you think you can’t dance, you can do yoga. Really.)
Q: Can yoga heal my fill-in-the-blank?
A: To recover from an injury or surgery, I “do” a short daily practice that focuses on breath and relaxation techniques, then I add simple movements to support my healing that gradually increase over time. Yoga will support you in whatever is happening in your life; it just may not look at all like the yoga you did before an illness or injury.
Q: How often should I practice?
A: Personally, I began practicing once a week, then twice a week, until it naturally evolved into daily practice. Like most things in life, consistency is key. Taking 15 minutes a day will reap more benefits than a 2-hour practice once a week.
Q: How long before I see results?
A: It depends on your situation and what results you are seeking. Many students feel a sense of well-being in each class, as the relaxation response is evoked, which relieves stress, enhances immunity and promotes healing. If you are not getting the results you want, discuss it with your teacher. You may need to practice more frequently or have a different type of practice that is more suited to your needs. According to the Yoga Sutras (or yoga bible, as I call it), yoga should be practiced consistently, over a long time, with enthusiasm.
Q: What is the word that is repeated at the end of yoga class?
A: “Namaste,” pronounced nah-mah-STAY, is a Sanskrit word that is traditionally spoken by the teacher and repeated by the students to close class. It has many embellished translations, such as, “The light in me honors the light in you,” and even longer interpretations. The literal translation is simply, “I bow to you.”
"NOW…We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening
and unfolding before us, from day to night." — Jack Kornfield