Frequently asked questions
What is "Yoga"?
While many Western people may believe that yoga is a religion; that you need to be as flexible as Gumby to practice; you need to wear the best name-brand clothes and be a fit, in-shape supermodel to practice yoga, or whatever other fear or excuse people will through at me, they are all incorrect. In the words of my mentor and teacher, Teri Honeysuckle, “Yoga is not a religion. Yoga does not presuppose that you are bad, wrong, or need to be fixed or changed in any way. Yoga is a philosophy designed to help you remember your perfection and wholeness, as well as the perfection of all that is.” Any frequent practitioner of yoga will inform you that no one’s life is not perfect by any means- we all have our problems. But something magical and phenomenal happens when we let go of all preconceived notions about whom or what we are, everyone around us, and everything we have ever known. To many beginner and advanced yogis, letting go IS the hardest asana.ASANA (pronounced: AH-sah-nah) What is asana? Asana are the physical postures and positions that you move through and put your body into on your mat. The definition and meaning of the word “asana” comes from the ancient yogic language Sanskrit, meaning ‘a comfortable, relaxed position where you can breathe.’ No matter what posture you are entering, from a more restorative Child’s Pose to a stronger, more intensifying pose like Warrior II, the goal is to find a place where your mind is quiet enough to listen to what your body is telling you. Many times, we begin to feel a burning in our muscles, a sign that biological processes are happening within our body. As the burning gets stronger and the sweat starts to drip from our bodies, our mind oftentimes will get louder and louder, screaming and yelling at you to, “GET OUT NOW!” When you experience this on your mat, do you run away and give into the mind? OR do you stay with your breath and breathe through whatever bodily sensations may be happening? This is one of the most noticeable changes that occur on the yoga mat. Inner guidance. Our inner voice, known as our Intuition, shines forth and gives us the strength to let go of the mind-stuff. Letting go can be the hardest thing to do sometimes.At YogaGypsy Studio, we practice a style of yoga known as Vinyasa, which simply means ‘flow’. As you move and breathe on your mat, you begin to stop thinking and start moving. Any decent yoga instructor can help guide you into this rhythmic breathing, called Ujjayi. This form of breathing is often referred to as “the ocean breath” because your breathing will sounds like ocean waves crashing on shore. Breathing in Ujjayi requires you to force the breath out the back of your throat, constricting throat muscles, and continuing to push the breath out through the nostrils. If possible the entire yoga practice can and should be done breathing in and out of your nose. The breath becomes an extremely important tool within a yoga practice because without deep, strong breath the entire physical practice becomes pointless.Another goal of yoga is to relinquish (another word for letting go) judgement. Take a moment right now, go look in the mirror for just 10 deeps breaths….. notice all of the thoughts beginning to swirl within your mind as you stare at your reflection. You notice the negative: creases, wrinkles, freckles, stretch marks, unwanted hair, etc., all the things you want to change about yourself. You also may notice the positive: flowing hair, toned muscles, clear skin, mysterious eyes, great smile- all of the things that you love and want others to notice about you. Now, stand in the mirror again…. This time allow your thoughts to be like passing clouds. Be the one who watches your Self think and place judgement upon yourself. Become completely aware of every thought and judgement swirling around inside you; if you can stand in the mirror for 10 breaths noticing everything going on within your mind, you are practicing yoga. This is an incredibly useful tool known as mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are completely aware of everything we do and think. By creating and cultivating an asana practice, we can purposefully practice mindfulness on our mats. Quieting the inner roommate, the voice that is consistently going and going and going and going…. This will eliminate suffering and end inner turmoil.Yoga is an ancient practice that was designed 5,000 years ago in India to help people learn how to find happiness. Happiness is not something that we put inside of us… happiness is already there. Yoga helps us remove the obstacles that stand in our way of recognizing our true Self, the part of us that is connected to God, to Love, to the Divine, to Allah; it does not matter what word you use because it is all the same. When we strip away the judgement, there is room for love to enter our lives. When we live a life free of judgment, we are living a life from love. We are living Yoga.
Is yoga a religion?
While many Western people may believe that yoga is a religion, this is not particularly true. In the words of YogaGypsy founder, Teri Honeysuckle, “Yoga is not a religion. Yoga does not presuppose that you are bad, wrong, or need to be fixed or changed in any way. Yoga is a philosophy designed to help you remember your perfection and wholeness, as well as the perfection of all that is.” Any frequent practitioner of yoga will inform you that no one’s life is perfect by any means- we all have our problems. But something magical and phenomenal happens when we let go of all preconceived notions about whom or what we are, everyone around us, and everything we have ever known. To many beginner and advanced yogis, letting go IS the hardest part of cultivating a yoga practice.
Yoga is not a religion. Yoga does, however contain the ability to deepen anyone’s faith. Aspects of yoga have been incorporated into many groups and various organizations, including religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, for thousands of years. However, the practice of yoga itself is not a religion, nor do you have to be religious to practice yoga. Some have used the physical practice of yoga, meditation, and times of stillness to reflect on self-enlightenment. Or rather, a journey towards to manifestation and recognition of oneself in the highest form, aka: God, Love, the Divine, Allah, the Universe, Our Highest Level of Existence, etc. No matter what you name you call it, it is essentially all the same.
According to Yoga Faith, “There is a myth that one must be Hindu or Buddhist to practice yoga. The truth is that yoga predates many of the religions that have incorporated yoga techniques. In the Middle Ages (500- 1500 BC), numerous variations and practices stemmed from the common Hatha yoga practice. Bhakti yoga is one stem. It focuses on surrendering to God. Unlike other types of yoga, Bhakti is a spiritual journey and a devotion to the divine. This often confuses followers of Christ, and makes them question practicing yoga. Hindus incorporated Bhakti yoga and other yoga techniques into their religious practices. Other religions have done the same thing. However, because Hinduism is the most popular religious group to incorporate and use yoga, many believe that yoga is Hinduism, and that you have to worship other gods or believe other philosophies in order to practice yoga. This would be like saying you can’t read the Bible if you are not a Christian. Of course, the Word of God and Jesus is inclusive and for everyone, just like the practice of yoga.
How a practitioner or a group chooses to use yoga is their business. It certainly is not up to others to judge how or why one practices. The reality of our world is that we are so quick to judge one another or throw stones at something we don’t quite understand or have never experienced for ourselves. Our job as human beings is to honor, respect and edify one another and learn to put aside all judgments.”
From Yoga Jounal:
"To answer this question, I look to the roots of yoga. Traditionally, yoga is the science of the Self. Yoga seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include meditation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct. If by religion we mean the religious experience of transcendence, the loss of fear of death, and the emergence of platonic qualities such as truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, and evolution, then yes, yoga can give us a religious experience. It is not religion in the form of ideology, dogma, belief systems, or compliance; it’s a spiritual experience that gives us access to a universal domain of reality."
—Deepak Chopra, MD, Founder of The Chopra Foundation, author, public speaker, physician, La Jolla, California
"Yoga, though not a religion in the traditional sense, was adopted and utilized by every religious tradition that emerged from Vedic India, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Yoga lays out the means to overcome suffering and achieve self-realization. For those with a theological orientation, that could be rephrased as, 'To overcome suffering and achieve God-realization.'"
—Gary Kraftsow, Founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute in Oakland, California
"We have been born. We will die. In the meantime, what do we do with this life? Yoga offers us a darshana: a view or approach to engaging this question with our whole self, body, breath, and mind. Yoga teaches us that we can live in intimate relationship with all that is, and it provides practices to help us recognize and eliminate the obstacles to doing that. Religion? Maybe. For sure, yoga is goodness and beauty."
—Cyndi Lee, Author of Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, Lynchburg, Virginia
"My practice doesn’t frame yoga as a religion, as I think that invites a bias that belies the great possibilities of yoga: liberation from dogma and from entrenched ideas about the Self and the world. But is the practice of yoga spiritual? For me, absolutely—it’s the ground from which I cultivate wonder and generosity. And the ritualistic aspect can guide us into intimacy with ourselves and others that we might not otherwise find."
—Sarah Trelease, Yoga Journal reader and co-director of Practice and Presence: Integrated Yoga Teacher Trainings in Portland, Oregon
"There is something irreplaceable about the group dynamic with yoga, something I think organized religion provides at its very best. It is this sense of community that gives yoga a religious element, but one that is not bogged down in the rules of how you must follow it."
—Doug Schnitzspahn, Yoga Journal reader and editor of Elevation Outdoors, Boulder, Colorado
Do I have to be flexible to do yoga?
The word ‘yoga’ itself comes from the ancient Sanskrit language, meaning ‘yoke’. We think about this as the center of an egg, the yoke, the unborn baby bird; the essence of life itself. Yoga itself means we yoke together to become whole. In order to become whole, we must establish a mind-body connection. This means that there is a balance between the mind and body, neither is greater than the other, and neither is more important, useful, better, worse, etc. The body and the mind are equals, important tools that were given to us to utilize for our benefit- or for our suffering. Unfortunately, we oftentimes slip into this realm of suffering, negativity, and chaos of the world around us. Our mind spirals out of control and we begin to judge our self, our body, our words, people around us-- everything! When this happens, our mind begins to shut down and close. We become fearful and feeling as if our life is being threatened, slipping into panic, anxiety, maybe even depression. Fortunately… there is a remedy.
In order to understand what it means to become truly flexible, we have to first understand the mind-body connection. Recognizing our suffering is the first step towards gaining flexibility because without flexibility within our mind, the body will never open for us. Purposefully putting our self into binds, twists, folds, and constricting positions on our yoga mats can cause the mind to panic. A HUGE part of cultivating and building upon flexibility is patience; slowing down your mind and body in order to find your breath. The breath is another important tool to help your flexibility because your breath is the link between fostering the connection of mind and body.
For any beginner yogi, or even someone who practices every day, you will notice the body any time you step onto your mat. Some days your body will feel amazing, relieved to be up and moving, other days quite tight and tense. With regular, consistent practice over time, you will feel your muscles begin to retain memory of the poses, stretches, and sensations. The entire practice itself will start to feel more natural, as your body begins to open on its own and you learn how to listen to what it is saying.
To answer the question of: Do I have to be flexible to do yoga? It is quite simple… No, one does not need flexibility to do yoga; Yoga builds, creates, and inspires flexibility of not only the body, but also the mind. Once the mind learns how to remain open- free of judgement and chaotic thoughts, we can focus in on our breath, and the body will open for us. Flexibility will enter into our mind and body, generating a cycle of wholeness and happiness into our lives.
What do I need to begin?
We will keep this answer short and sweet. In order to begin a yoga practice at YogaGypsy Studio, you will need a yoga mat, a towel, water, and comfortable clothes that allow you to move around in. If you are a beginner, the most important thing you will need is an open mind. Try not to have any expectations for your first time in the hot yoga room; you will get sweaty, but so will everyone else. Drop all preconceived notions of what anyone else has told you or anything your mind is telling you, just focus on being your most authentic self!
How do you meditate?
In order to meditate you will need a quiet place to sit or lie down comfortably. For beginners, it is recommended to sit instead of lying down. This is because there is a greater tendency to fall asleep during a meditation session when you are lying on your back. The ‘goal’ of meditation is not to fall asleep; however, it is quite common for people to fall asleep during a final meditation at the end of a yoga class or during a home meditation session as well. Do not get discouraged if this happens, simply note that you became relaxed enough to slip into a subconscious state.
When meditating, there is no right or wrong way to be feeling. Your only job during meditation is to rest in stillness and begin to notice how you feel- be honest with your Self. Notice your body; notice any urges to move, itch, scratch, etc.; notice thoughts, memories, images, colors, shapes, judgements, any mental and/or physical sensations, anxieties, doubts, fears… EVERYTHING! Some common reactions before a meditation session include: achy, distracted, grumpy, anxious, doubtful. Common reactions after: calm, thankful, clear, annoyed, anxious, energetic. Just remember that regardless of what you are feeling inside, you are doing exactly what you need; and if you feel any adversary or resistance within the meditative process, it typically means you should do to more frequently.
For many people of faith, meditation can be compared to prayer. Except during meditation, we want to get out all of the mental word vomit, allow your brain to exercise all of the thoughts and brain waves it needs to within your first 10 breaths of your practice. Then, turn it off. Tell your mind, “NO MORE!” and begin to enter a state of stillness within your body and mind. At YogaGypsy, we recommend beginning with a 5 minute meditation session, and then gradually add on more and more time. At first, 5 minutes may seems like an eternity. Just know that this is OK. No matter what know that you are OK. After meditating, we also recommend keeping a journal log of your experience; this is a great way to compare and contrast your journey into meditation. Drawing or writing about any images, messages, or experiences during your time in stillness is a healthy way to begin to heal.
We have stated this a few times now, but always remember there is no right or wrong way to be feeling when beginning or continuing a meditation and mindfulness practice (See FAQ: What is mindfulness?). The path to healing and becoming whole is not linear; there are many distractions, short cuts, and detours along the way. If we can stay in a constant state of openness of both body and mind, then we truly gain an opportunity to get curious about who we really are. Happy meditating, gypsies!