1. I’m a Christian, can I still do Yoga?
One Christian woman yoga teacher answers this question with no long discussions. She smiles and says, “It’s OK for a Christian to practice yoga.”
As a trained Minister in the Quaker Tradition, I have found yoga to help my personal religious practice by allowing me to concentrate long enough to pray. Before studying yoga and meditation, my mind flitted from one topic to the next. Managing stress is a valuable aid to one’s religious faith.
Father J. M. Dechanet who wrote Christian Yoga explains his Benedictine view of Catholic theology and Yoga. The purpose of yoga is to purify the human mind so that the individual may gain a clearer experience of reality. This “experience of reality” is not labeled by yoga. Classical Yoga is non-sectarian, thus it does not define God or the experience of God.
Christianity traditionally includes Greek and Hebrew philosophy as its basis. Faith in Jesus Christ for the Christian has little to do with Greek or Hebrew philosophy, however. Another key point is that Yoga is one of the six philosophical systems of India. Hinduism adopts much of yoga philosophy, but yoga is not Hindu. Just as Christianity adopts Greek philosophy, Greek philosophy is not Christian. From a positive perspective, yoga may help the Christian become a better Christian.
You may, however, find versions of yoga that adhere to a central Guru figure who add religious beliefs to their yoga practice. This type of Guru yoga is sectarian and may infringe on your religious beliefs. For an open-minded person who wishes to learn from all religions, however, even most Guru-centered institutions do not pose any threat to one’s religion.
2. Is Yoga a religion?
No, Yoga is a philosophy, not a religion. A religion defines God in terms of a specific faith. A philosophy guides one’s lifestyle. From seminary study and meeting people from Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sufi, Taoist, Shinto, Naturalist, Jewish, and Christian, I witnessed no problems for these people to perform yoga and remain faithful in their personal religion.
3. What is Classical Yoga?
Classical Yoga follows a 2,000 year-old philosophical book The Yoga Sutras or The Rules of Yoga. Yoga means any pursuit that leads to a complete mastery of one’s self by uniting the lower self with the higher self; some call this self-actualization or enlightenment. These rules of yoga are considered a grammar of spirituality. As one progresses in the self-actualization process, a pattern of growth is noticed. In brief, Classical Yoga is any technique that brings one to a higher state of consciousness. As you read this book, a broader definition of Classical Yoga is explained.
4. How is Classical Yoga different from other Yogas?
Classical Yoga follows the traditional approach to yoga drafted by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. It includes a grammar of spiritual practices or rather a non-sectarian explanation of how one gains the highest states of consciousness. “Other Yogas” are usually separate schools of one branch or one type of yoga practice. Everyone who practices yoga in some form interprets the philosophy differently. Classical Yoga is a non-sectarian version, but still every group will define their lifestyle differently. This book defines The Yoga Institute’s version on Classical Yoga adapted for modern family people.
5. What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga is the psycho-physical yoga or external yoga. Five steps, namely restraint of negative behavior and thought, observance of positive mind-body qualities, yoga postures, breathing and sensory mastery comprise the parts of Hatha Yoga. The first two steps are headed by non-violence and purity, respectively. The yoga posture part is popularly misconstrued as the definition of yoga, stretching is a small part of the philosophy. Breathing exercises aim at increasing the body’s life force while concentrating the mind. The sensory exercises help with strengthening the nervous system by conserving energy.
6. Do I have to complete step l before moving on to step 2?
No, all the five steps of Hatha Yoga are practiced together. A focus on non-violence is a lifelong practice as is purity. It is important however, to follow both step one and step two of yoga to cultivate a positive state of mind.
7. Is Yoga just for physical health?
From reading the above questions, one realizes that yoga concerns physical, mental, moral and spiritual health. Yoga studies each facet of life in order to raise consciousness. Physical health is a part of this. Due to numerous applications of yoga to health conditions, one may think that yoga is only concerned with physical health. As one studies yoga, an emphasis on mastering the mind becomes a means for yoga practice. Once the mind is mastered, the health may be improved. However, it is possible that a health condition does not improve, but a person masters the mind. So, yoga helps with health but is not limited to the physical level.
8. If I am not flexible can I still do Yoga?
Yes, you may do yoga even if you are not flexible. Do remember not to push yourself to look like the person who has her head to her knees. If you remain relaxed while performing the yoga postures and you accept your body as it is, you have no trouble. The other point to remember is that stretching is only a small part of yoga and that relaxation, attitude, meditation, breathing and other lifestyle factors are also yoga.
Classical Yoga practice concerns gaining mastery over the mind. An advanced yoga pose is not measured by exterior form, rather by interior quiet of the mind. Since there is no competition in yoga and no judge, being flexible is not an issue.
9. I’m overweight, can I still do Yoga?
Yes, you can still do yoga. As mentioned above, yoga stretching can be modified if necessary and yoga is more than stretching. With help from yoga’s philosophy, you may be motivated to follow the yoga lifestyle that includes healthy diet, exercise, yoga postures, breathing, meditation, study and positive attitude. As you balance your life by minimizing stress, your body weight and metabolism may normalize.
10. I’m over 50, can I still do Yoga?
“The ancient yogi’s have affirmed that not only the young and the old but even the very old, the sick and the infirm can undertake the practice of Yoga with success and, thus, achieve the highest fruit thereof.” Cyclopedia Yoga 1 (Yogendra, J., The Yoga Institute, Santacruz, India, 1993. P. 49)
Yes, yoga is an excellent practice for all ages from 5 years old to 85 years old. The practices vary according to need, thus one may utilize any beneficial yoga practice. As a health practice, yoga helps energize the body and mind and is an excellent exercise for one who ages. Often as one gains life experience, the meditative aspects of yoga are more appreciated.
11. Is Yoga a cult?
Classical Yoga is by definition non-sectarian, which means not affiliated to any religious organization or other association with strict rules. Yoga itself is the opposite of a cult because it helps your mind and body become relaxed and concentrated. A concentrated mind is clear and strong, thus no one can control a strong mind.
As in any field, there may be groups using yoga in their name that follow extreme principles. You do not have to have a guru nor change your name or job in order to do yoga. In fact, under most circumstances, Classical Yoga recommends that one remain in the same job and learn from the situation. If you feel pressured to donate money or join an association, remember that yoga does not require any high fees or joining any groups.
12. Where does Yoga come from?
Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. The authoritative text on Classical Yoga is The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali written around 2,000 years ago (Ancient Indian texts have no reliable dates). Mountain ashrams were founded by Yogis who wished to learn more about themselves and reality by reaching samadhi or complete stoppage of the mind waves. They studied nature and lived simply as an aid to reaching higher states of consciousness.
13. What is spirituality?
Spirituality is the non-sectarian term for the study of reality. This reality is not what we think of as the world around us but the actual world around us. Thus, to know reality, one must go beyond personal thoughts and ego-centric conceptions. As soon as one goes beyond one’s own ego, one nears spirituality. If you consider the needs of another person for no gain of your own, then you are being spiritual. If you meditate to quiet your thoughts to go beyond your ego, you are being spiritual.
14. Is Yoga concerned with attitudes and values?
Absolutely! Our attitudes and values are considered in each aspect of yoga. What you eat expresses values, thinking patterns are attitudes. We may have deep values and attitudes, however living our values is very difficult. Yoga helps one experience the values you do live so that you may understand how to improve yourself.
15. How long before I can get results?
This question is flawed according to an important aspect of yoga philosophy. Yoga is to be performed without attachment to the results. If you are only focused on results, then you may be thinking more about the end of your practice and not enough about your practice. More practically, the amount of effort you put into your yoga practice, the corresponding benefits you will experience. Also, the results are relative to who you are as an individual. Issues like emotions and health are beyond our control to a certain degree. “Do your best and leave go of the results” is a helpful quote taught at The Yoga Institute.
16. What does a Yoga lifestyle mean?
A Yoga Lifestyle means that yoga does not stop at yoga exercises. Most community yoga classes cover yoga’s stretching movements, relaxation and possibly breathing exercises. The yoga lifestyle applies the principles of yoga to your daily life by adopting healthy attitudes. For example, yoga emphasizes a non-violent attitude beginning with behavior and ending with subtle thoughts. When you remember to act non-violently while driving in the car or during a heated discussion, then you are practicing the yoga lifestyle. Any way of living that aims at increasing consciousness while performing daily activities is the yoga lifestyle. This includes diet, rest, spiritual practice, relationships, yoga exercises, study, work and hobby.
17. Do I have to change my lifestyle to practice yoga?
This depends on your lifestyle. If you are overworked or out of balance in some area of your life, eventually, you may choose to change your lifestyle. However, this change can be as small as watching less television or finding some quiet time each day where you reflect on your life. You do not need to stop working and move to the Himalayas to practice yoga! You may continue working with the openness to make healthy changes at a slow pace.
18. How do I deal with criticism from friends and family when I practice Yoga?
Creatively! In the case of serious criticism where people will not give you any quiet time at home, you may need to use some problem solving techniques. Because of the range of criticism, speak to your yoga teacher about your personal situation. Otherwise, you do not need to speak about yoga in unwelcome situations.
19. Do I have to become a vegetarian to practice Yoga?
No, you do not have to become a vegetarian to practice yoga. Non-violence is a central theme of yoga and many people who practice yoga find that a vegetarian diet serves them better for a variety of reasons. Eating lower on the food chain is good for the earth and science shows that a plant-based diet lowers health risks. Others believe that killing animals is violent or that meat is not good for the health. A third issue from yoga is that foods influence one’s mind. Certainly, if you overeat any food, the mind suffers. You may notice a lighter feeling in the mind when eating vegetarian. However, it is not recommended to make sudden dietary changes (if you choose to become vegetarian, make sure you receive balanced nutrition).
20. Will Yoga help me quit smoking?
Yes, yoga will help smoking cessation, however yoga is not a miracle cure. The smoker must stop smoking. Yoga helps by cultivating a concentrated mind. A relaxed and focused mind helps the smoker develop a strong will which is needed for smoking cessation.
21. Will Yoga help me lose weight?
As with most health conditions, yoga helps balance your mind and body. If you follow the yoga lifestyle and reduce stress in your life, the body’s weight may normalize. However, eating a healthy diet, exercising and personal growth are all necessary to help with weight. If you follow healthy patterns some weight may be lost. Yoga is most helpful at disciplining the mind which helps with proper nutrition or the avoidance of fattening foods.
22. I have a very full schedule, how do I fit Yoga in?
First, you can learn to place small yoga techniques into your daily routine. Deep breathing is the type of exercise that can be done anytime. Secondly, as you study the philosophy of yoga you may integrate these ideas into your life. Once your attitude improves, you will notice how stress is reduced and peacefulness is increased.