Yoga F.A.Q.

Over my years of experience practicing and teaching Yoga, I have heard many inquiries on the tradition. This page will answer some of the frequently asked questions (F.A.Q.) from my perspective. If you are interested in sharing any wording on this page, please ask for permission first, all questions answers are by Nicholas D. Auger. If you have any additional questions I may have missed, please send me directly here.

Q: What is Yoga?
A: Depends on who you ask. From my experience and knowledge of the sacred texts (namely from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a.k.a. Raja Yoga), Yoga is to restrain thought and by doing so the body and mind become still and we enter into union with all energy (cosmic or primal energy, eternity, etc.). By understanding this we can begin to see that each Yoga pose (a.k.a. asana) is a meditative posture so that we may experience this union.

Q: What is meditation?
A: This is also subjective depending on who you ask. I would say that meditation is a state of absolute presence within the mind and body. The simplest meditation according to my perspective, gathered from the sacred knowledge, is to fully concentrate on your breathing. If your full awareness is on each breath (example, following the breath as it enters the body, moving with the breath as it fills you, and following in the breath out, all sensations and sounds involved, etc.) then you have no time for other thinking. Another perspective is to bring all of your attention to one single point or thought. Now here is an example of not meditating... You are washing the dishes and thinking about what you are going to eat tomorrow. The meditation here would be that you are fully present in washing the dishes, you feel the water, smell the soap, all of the sensations are intact at that moment in the task. You can literally meditate anywhere once you understand the concept.

Q: How long should I meditate for?
A: At the beginning of this practice, you may want to give yourself a set period of time with no distractions. 5, 10, 15, 30, even 60 minutes will be adequate and it may be progressive, avoid making this a 'task' yet be serious in your efforts and they will pay off. If it becomes daunting, you will not enjoy your solitude, so be established in this sacred endeavor.

Q: Do I have to be 'fit' or flexible to practice Yoga?
A: No. Try your best with the practice and you will know what you are capable of soon enough. Heavier set people tend to be more flexible. Is the goal to become flexible? No, only if that is what you wish. You need not think of Yoga as 'touching your toes'. Instead look into the other aspects of the practice, the meditation and breathing techniques, which can be utilized by all forms of life and surely for any aspiring Yogi.

Q: What equipment or clothing should I wear or have while practicing Yoga?
A: Nothing is needed. If you attend a studio class you will need a yoga mat, maybe some water, perhaps a prop (such as a support block or a strap), and any non-restrictive clothing. As for your own sake, be comfortable. Practicing at home requires nothing. If you do look for a special mat (which may be encouraging to stay steady with your practice) I would recommend a jute fiber mat or any non-toxic mat (beware of cheap mats, certain chemicals are toxic to the skin and you will be making plenty of contact with the material).

Q: When is the best time to eat or drink before or after my Yoga practice?
A: I always aim to eat at least one hour before my session. Any food ingested within one hour of practice may cause uneasiness and flatulence (which may be embarrassing if you are a first-timer to a class)! Additionally, some postures are not recommended with food in the stomach, such as inversions. After practice, I would say wait at least 30 minutes and avoid any heavy foods. Hydration is important so don't hold back on the water, make sure you empty your bladder just before class. Rehydrating after class is crucial, I say this is a must before any food is ingested.

Q: What is a proper diet for a Yogi?
A: A true Yogi is a strict vegetarian or better yet a vegan ('plants only' diet). I will add more perspective to this later on its own page (very important for furthering your practice). A Yogi does not eat that which has consciousness. If it has eyes, it should be left alone for all life wants to live. Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals stated: “If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men…"

Q: Should I practice Yoga postures before or after my workout?
A: Either way is fine. You will find out what is best for you once you become a steady practitioner. As for me, I say before and after is fine, just depends on which postures you partake and for how long. Example, If you go for a run you may want to lightly stretch before and thoroughly stretch right after. Same with weight training. If you know that you will be sore, it is best to release as much tension as you can immediately following your exercises.

Q: Can I practice Yoga every day?
A: Yes. Again refer to the meaning of Yoga at the top of this list. You can practice meditation all day while holding any posture. As for advanced asana, judge for yourself, but I still say you can practice every day. If your joints are clicking too often or there is any pain in the muscles or joints then I would recommend skipping those poses or at least don't go so far or fast into or out of the poses. 'Restorative' or simple postures are almost always helpful in a daily routine.

Q: What duration should my Yoga practice be?
A: Depends on your goal. Personally, I release as much physical and mental tension as I can at any given time throughout the day. In the beginning, you may want to have a set duration for your asana and meditation but once you understand the goal of each physical and mental pose then you can practice anytime you like. As for absolute beginners, I would recommend attending classes with a teacher you like until you understand how to practice while on your own.

Q: Where should I practice Yoga and at what time?
A: Anywhere that is convenient for you. To have the most efficient practice you will want to be comfortable in your location and for whatever time works best in your daily routine. Stop by a park on the way home from work, join a studio or gym, or make a specific place in your home for your practice. I prefer to practice in the early morning 4-6am and at night 6-9pm. it depends on how you are feeling that day and what you are up to do. You can even practice on your lunch break.

Q: What does 'Namaste' mean and should I say it?
A: Namaste is a Sanskrit greeting which may be on par with a word such as 'Aloha'. Namaste encompasses many signs of respect into one and the easiest way to explain this is that it means 'the light in me is the light in you' accompanied with a bow while holding one's hands in the prayer position. Do no fear saying this word. When you enter India, in the airport there are signs to welcome you saying 'Namaskara' which is similar but is referring to a more general sign of respect, Namaste is a more individual greeting, person to person. To keep tradition I always say this after class with my hands at my heart and I look at each person while I bow. this is the highest form of respect, essentially saying, we are the same at our source, the energy that animates me is the same energy that animates you, and I respect your light and life.

Q: What does 'Asana' mean?
A: Asana is a Sanskrit word that means posture or pose. Every position in the physical yoga practice is referred to as asana. This includes all postures, downward facing dog, seated lotus, 'savasana', handstand, etc. The West typically thinks of Yoga as this, a physical practice or exercise only. Asana is such a small part of the practice that you will find in the end it becomes a distraction to the advanced practitioner. Asana in the ancient practice was used to release stress in the body so that one could meditate for longer without discomfort. The West is obsessed with this and a Yoga class with only this is for beginners, doesn't matter how many sun salutations you can complete, it's amateur unless meditation is discussed and practiced as well.

Q: What does 'Pranayama' mean?
Pranayama is intentional breathing (of the life force). 'Prana' is the primal energy that animates all life and with intention we breathe this energy in and hold it within us before releasing it, thus energizing the body. There are many different techniques that I may not later one such as 'alternate nostril breath' (Anuloma Viloma in Sanskrit) and victorious breath to name a few. Please see my blog entry for the Denver YMCA to learn more about my perspective: A Number One Tip for Wellness? Focus on Your Breathing

Q: How should I be breathing during Yoga Asana?
There are many different schools of thought on this topic. Mostly the ancient texts suggest to breathe in and out of the nose. I say, take a full breath any way you can, I truly mean a deep breath each time. Do not get caught on this detail, just breathe.

Q: Is Yoga a religion and can I still have my own beliefs while practicing?
A: Yoga is not a religion and it predates any known religion. You can have your own beliefs and religion and still practice Yoga. Fear not, you are not worshiping anyone or thing during Yoga practice. You are quite simply returning to your inner Self.

Q: What does 'guru' mean?
Guru is a Sanskrit word which means teacher. I only consider great souls in my life to be my guru's, anyone who helps me discover an aspect of my path through example. In certain sacred texts, it is stated that everyone has a true guru within, their inner voice or higher Self. I have also experienced gurus through books of enlightened beings. It has been said many times that 'when the student is ready the teacher will show up'.

Q: What should I do with my hands during my Yoga practice?
Regarding Yoga asana, holding the hands in a certain position is called a mudra (Sanskrit). This is important, to complete any posture we must be fully present, including the presence in the hands. I prefer to practice almost every pose while holding 'chin mudra' which means the index fingers and thumbs touch while the other fingers extend out. This will help stabilize the mind in each asana so that we may hold onto our meditative state.

Q: Where should I be looking during my Yoga practice?
Drishti means gazing in Sanskrit. This practice involves gazing or staring at one fixed point. which again, holds the mind steady. This is especially important while performing standing or balancing asana. Every posture will have a specific point of gaze and will come naturally once the practice becomes regular. The head follows the direction of the spine and the eyes will find a natural point to take from there. Also notable, some texts say that one may look at the third eye or at the tip of the nose (during meditation). During meditation and certain postures with the eyes closed, gaze back into your Self.

Q: What position should my tongue be in during my Yoga practice?
A: Funny question but still significant. Some sacred texts say that the tip of the tongue should press into the upper pallet or just behind the upper teeth.

Q: What type of Yoga do you practice and teach?
A: Hatha Yoga is the physical practice and Raja Yoga is the meditative practice, I rely on different lessons from both branches. Additionally, outside of class, I teach Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action 'being the example' (a.k.a. 'let my walk do the talking').

Q: What are the different types of Yoga?
All physical Yoga practiced is considered Hatha Yoga, which involves purification practices for the body and mind (basically, to balance our energies through various techniques). This includes (and is not limited to) asana, pranayama, and meditation, which also encompasses ancient practices such as nasal cleansing and tongue scraping (which is typically not taught in a regular 'studio' Yoga class). All other branded forms of Yoga, which I will not mention, are also Hatha Yoga. Even the most popular form of Yoga in America, 'Vinyasa' (continuous movement linked with the breath, ex: 'Sun Salutations'), is still Hatha Yoga.

Q: What type of Yoga should I practice?
Hatha (purification of the body through postures and other techniques)and Raja (the mental practice) Yoga in their traditional respects. The goal is the liberation of the Self through perfecting stillness both physically and mentally (known as Samadhi is Sanskrit). To truly practice Yoga one must read the sacred texts, such as the Yoga Sutras, and practice purifying the body through movement and lifestyle choices (such as diet and routine). Do not get caught up in the labeling of your session, instead reflect on your Self and the quality of your practice.

Q: Am I too old to begin practicing Yoga?
A: There is no age limit to this practice. Begin now and you forget what is behind you. This practice is ancient and it is for all of humanity. This truly is the most important practice we can participate in. When we practice Yoga, we are respecting ourselves.

Q: What is the meaning or purpose of life according to the Yogi?
A: I bow to you for making it this far down the list and so I gift you with the greatest question with my answer for perspective. The meaning or purpose of life for the Yogi is to attain realization of your true Self (a.k.a. your higher Self, your soul, your spirit, whatever 'word' you would prefer to call this essence that animates you). This is why Yoga is the most profound practice I have found on earth. We are redirecting all of our attention and awareness back into ourselves so that we can understand our highest or most pure Self (which has layers upon layers of misidentification atop). When one attains Self-realization (and this can happen anyway really, but the key is to experience this and not just to have the knowledge or an intellectual understanding of it, and no one can do this for you) there is an end to suffering, violence, and attachment. When one grasps this, the realization is first within, we notice our primal energy, then and only then, we can understand that all life has the same energy and that we continually borrow and return this force through many lives until we attain the highest understanding, which cannot be typed, only experienced, it is beyond words and our intellect.

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