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Frequently Asked Questions from Beginning Yoga Students

Do I have to be flexible to do yoga?  No.  This is a very common misconception.  Yoga can be learned and practiced by anyone, no matter how inflexible.  You may have seen photos or videos of extremely agile people doing yoga, but the majority of people who do yoga classes are not doing these things in class.  Yoga is endlessly adaptable and our classes at CSY include people of all ages and physical capabilities.  As teachers, we think about the people who are attending our classes and create a yoga class that encompasses some relaxation, body awareness, stretching, strength, and balance work.  We hope that students find the class a bit challenging at times, but the overriding feeling is of leaving with a sense of wellbeing – having had a good stretch, standing a little straighter, shoulders down, a sense of feeling good, the mind calm and breathing easy, having taken care of oneself.

What does “yoga” mean?“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning “union.”   It can be interpreted in a number of ways, but generally, it is describing the union of the body and mind.  Yoga recognizes and works to improve the connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind.

There are so many different yoga styles – how do I know which one is the right one for me?  There are a lot of different approaches to yoga – you may have heard about Hatha yoga, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kripalu, Bikram, Kundalini, Viniyoga/Vinyasa, restorative, etc.  Hatha yoga is properly defined as any type of physical yoga, as opposed to yoga practices that focus on devotion to a guru or good works.  So all of the yoga styles listed above are actually types of “Hatha.”  Despite this, “Hatha” has come to be used as a term for gentle or foundational yoga.  The basic yoga poses, which are called asanas, are similar in all of these styles, but over the years, some influential teachers became known for creating more athletic or challenging sequences, raising the heat in the room, emphasizing breathing patterns and relaxation, or working for perfect postural alignment.  As to which one is best for you, I would suggest you read up on some of the yoga styles/classes near you and try them out.  As in any yoga class, don’t feel pressured to do anything that you feel doesn’t seem right for you.  For most people, after trying a few classes, you will find a teacher or studio that just seems to suit you.  

What are the benefits of a yoga practice?  When will I start feeling them? There are many benefits to a yoga practice – here is a partial list: Improved flexibility / Better strength / Better posture / Stronger bones / Lower blood pressure / Improved mood, sense of wellbeing / Better balance / Better sleep / Reduced stress.
As to when you might start to feel these changes – great news! – you may start to feel some of these benefits after your first class.  Of course, as with any practice, the more you do the work, the sooner and more deeply you will feel the benefits.

How many classes do I need to take before I can do yoga on my own at home?  We encourage all our students to develop a yoga practice at home.  You can start anytime.  Find a quiet spot and unroll your mat.  At first, it may be difficult to know what to do.  It’s helpful to lie down, close your eyes, and start with a short relaxation to center yourself and soften your muscles.  Then do some easy warm-ups and move into a simple sequence as we might in class (i.e. child’s pose, table, cat/cow pose, downward dog).  A little bit of yoga every day or every few days will be very beneficial.  There are lots of interesting yoga books out there, and free yoga classes on the internet, and there is a great temptation to think, “I don’t need to leave the house and pay someone to teach me yoga – I can just do it myself.” And some people do this.  But our experience has been that if you sign up for one (or more) classes a week at a good yoga studio, you are much more likely to enjoy it and stick with it.  It’s more fun and you have an experienced teacher leading you through it.  You’re less likely to get bored or injure yourself if you go to a class, and you have the added benefit of meeting other people who may become friends.  When you’re at home, there is always the temptation to do it later or answer the phone, or put in a load of washing, or deal with family interruptions or untidiness.  

How long does it take to go from Beginner classes to Intermediate, and then Experienced? Quite often when we get new students, they would like to “move up” to the next level of class after one term of Beginner yoga, but our classes really don’t work that way.  You’ll notice that many of our classes don’t even have distinct levels listed in their description.  We’d like you to find the right class for you (teacher, level, day, time), and the teacher will try to keep challenging each student who attends, whether they are brand new to the studio or have been coming to the same class for two years.  Of course, you can try different classes, teachers, types of yoga, and levels, but in general, there is not the idea of progress measured by achieving higher and higher levels of class.  In fact, the whole idea of striving is discouraged in yoga.  Instead, you are invited to be attentive and put forth an honest effort in class; work with curiosity and respect for your body.  Be kind to yourself and have a sense of playfulness.  In our style of yoga, it’s important to release tension and work from softness.  And yoga will change your body and your mind, but it’s not the type of thing that you set a goal of attaining lotus position or headstand in six weeks and then push yourself beyond your limit in order to attain it.  This is a practice that you can work on and enjoy (even at a Beginner level) for your whole life because you are always changing and noticing something new.

What kinds of clothing and equipment do I need to do yoga? Clothing should be stretchy and comfortable.  Dress in layers because at the beginning of class you may need a light zip-up jacket or thin fleece to stay warm, but as the class goes on you will get warmer and you can take it off.  We do our yoga in bare feet but most people wear socks during the relaxation to stay warm.  Bring your own yoga mat if you have one, but you are also welcome to use ours.  We have blankets, blocks, straps, and bolsters for your use as well.  

written by Cheryl Smith

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