Hello, my name is Jennifer Kathleen and I have been teaching yoga since 2014.
Today I am here to answer 10 of your biggest questions about yoga, including the ones you are too embarrassed to ask. So let’s jump right in. . .
Can Yoga Help Me to Lose Weight?
Yes. A regular Yoga practice will help you to tone and balance your body. A daily flow styled practice, whether Gentle or Vigorous, of at least 30 minutes a day will definitely help you to burn calories and lose weight. Even Restorative Yoga, with little movement and little muscle work, can actually help you to lose weight by reducing the stress hormone, Cortisol, which is often to blame for increased belly fat.
Additionally, the mindfulness aspect of Yoga will support you in making healthier choices. Besides being great exercise, Yoga encourages you to look within and to pay attention to your habits. We all have habits, and some of those habits are not beneficial. Whether they are habits of action (such as overeating) or habits of thought, (such as degrading self-talk) Yoga can help you to uproot your negative, self defeating habits and replace them with positive habits. By practicing self-love for the person you are RIGHT NOW, you will make more loving choices for your body and mind.
Can Yoga Reduce Back Pain?
Absolutely! Most back pain is caused by imbalances in the body. Those imbalances may have come from bad posture, from injury, or from a sedentary lifestyle. The good news is that Yoga can definitely reduce, and possibly eliminate, your back pain. I am living proof of this truth. After sustaining multiple injuries to my low back, I suffered for years with low back pain and excruciating sciatic nerve pain. The type of Yoga I was doing was giving me short term relief but no long term solution. For many years I explored various options, searching for a cure but nothing gave significant help. Eventually I learned how to apply yoga in very specific ways - differently than I had been practicing - as a means of re-balancing the body. It was truly the miracle cure for which I had been searching. (shout out to Lee Albert, whose online course was a tremendous support for learning how to use Yoga to cure my chronic sciatic nerve pain. https://www.leealbert.com/ ) The “secret” was to do specific poses held for a specific length of time. It has been a total game changer. Therefore, if you are suffering from back pain, I want you to know that relief is possible, but I suggest that you follow the instructions and advice of a qualified and experienced Yoga Teacher to help guide you to improved back health.
Can Yoga Help Me Manage Stress & Anxiety?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yoga can definitely give you relief from the effects of stress and anxiety. Yoga is a practice of mindfulness and introspection. The practice of Yoga includes cultivating greater awareness of your body, breath and mind. Not only do you learn how to recognize tension in the body and the mind, but you also learn ways to release it.
Additionally there are yoga styles that especially focus on relaxation. Restorative yoga is a WONDERFUL practice to help you release pain, stress, and anxiety from the body and the mind. I highly recommend it to everyone. One word of caution though, I have seen over my many years of teaching that people who have very noisy and chaotic minds become VERY uncomfortable in the stillness and silence of restorative yoga classes. Therefore, if you know that you struggle in situations that require quiet and stillness, I suggest that you try a Gentle class first so you can ease your way slowly into a practice of greater stillness and silence. In Yoga Club we offer a class called “Slow Flow & Restore” which begins with a half hour of Gently flowing yoga and ends with a half hour of Restorative Yoga. If you struggle with stillness and silence, I suggest that you try a class like this first, with just 30 minutes of Restorative yoga instead of starting with a full hour - Because if that full hour is too much for you, and causes you to form a negative idea about Restorative yoga, it will be a big loss for you. Restorative Yoga is incredibly healing. On the flip side, if you are a person who enjoys quiet and stillness, Restorative Yoga is a HEAVENLY experience.
Do I Need to be Flexible to Practice Yoga?
I joke that asking this question is like asking, “Do I need to be clean to take a Shower?” But I understand why people ask this question often. You see photos and videos on the internet showing super fit and flexible bodies doing amazing yoga flows and poses that require tremendous flexibility & strength and perhaps you start thinking, “I am not that flexible. Maybe yoga isn’t for me.” I understand. But please recognize that all over the world, regular people with medium to low flexibility are doing yoga that is less extreme and much more accessible to the average person.
Start where you are and use modifications. Find a style of yoga that resonates with you - with where you are now and not where you WISH you were - and make sure that the instructor offers modifications to adapt the poses to your level of strength and flexibility. If you are VERY inflexible then you should begin with Restorative and Gentle Yoga practices so that you can safely increase your flexibility while learning basic poses and optimal alignment first before you push yourself further. Don’t jump into a high level vinyasa flow class just because you have a desire to be that strong and flexible. Honor where you are now and progress safely. If you develop muscles quickly but with poor alignment your practice will lead you to injury. And of course if you attempt to force yourself into poses and push beyond your current level of flexibility you will hurt yourself. It is far better to optimize your alignment first and increase your flexibility and strength in a mindful manner. That will assure that you are really getting the most from your practice. Yoga is a holistic practice of self awareness and refinement.
Most importantly, USE THE PROPS!! For the love of all that is good in the world, please use your blocks!!! - and your blanket and your strap and whatever else your teacher advises - They are NOT training wheels or crutches that you hope to abandon one day or that you are embarrassed to use. The props are TOOLS to achieve various results. Just like an artist uses different paintbrushes and a woodworker uses different carving tools, we use the props for specific purposes. Your body is the work of art that you are shaping and molding into the best version of yourself.
For several years, from around 2015 to 2020, I taught yoga in a large gym. I had full classes several times a week which meant that I was seeing over 50 students a week who were regular attendees throughout these years. Because I was teaching during the day, most of my students here were of retirement age. Several of those regular students were very resistant to using the blocks. Even if I came over to their mat and set the blocks right beside them, and even if I clearly explained the benefits of using the blocks, they would still refuse to use them. My honest observation was that the students who willingly and regularly used the blocks made beautiful progress in those years. Their flexibility increased, their strength increased and most importantly their body awareness increased which also contributed to their poses becoming beautifully aligned. (Optimal alignment = maximum health benefit.) The folks who refused to use the blocks made no noticeable improvement over these YEARS despite attending classes regularly. Their lunge never got stronger or longer, their forward folds never got easier and their balance didn’t improve either. This was my real life honest experience of seeing the clear difference between students who learned how to use the blocks and those who continuously refused to incorporate them in their practice.
What If I Can’t Do All The Poses?
Yoga is NOT about forcing or coercing your body into specific poses. Yoga is a practice of inviting a pose into your body and observing how your body responds. A good teacher will show you how to modify the poses so that you can enjoy many of the benefits of the pose even if you are not able to do the full, or classical, expression of the pose. Be sure to start with Gentle Classes that move slowly because the teacher will have time to offer and demonstrate the modifications. Do NOT show up to a fast flowing advanced level class and expect the teacher to be able to accommodate you with modifications for every pose. Additionally, you may want to consider a private yoga session before you begin classes so that the teacher can address your particular limitations before class. You can learn how to modify poses, and you can also learn how to substitute similar poses. For example, I have clients who are not able to kneel on their mat due to issues with their knees, therefore, when the class comes into Child’s Pose, instead of being on their knees they know to turn over onto their back and hug their knees up to their chest. This gives them a very similar stretch but without putting any weight on their knees.
And also, in total honesty, most of us who have been practicing yoga for a lifetime still have those couple of poses that we just can’t do the full version of yet, and you know what? - That is OK!!
Is Yoga a Religion?
No, Yoga is not a religion. While Yoga may share some commonalities with other religions, such as the practice of meditation, Yoga is actually not a religion. However, the 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga are considered to be a complete path to enlightenment, although still not a religion in itself. Perhaps you associate the idea of enlightenment with Eastern religions, but again, Yoga is not a religion. Within the 8 limbs of Classical Yoga the actual yoga poses (Asana) are only one of those limbs, but perhaps the most well known to Western practitioners. Therefore, what is often referred to as “Yoga” is actually just one limb of the 8 limbed yogic path to enlightenment. Additionally, none of those 8 limbs are “religious” in nature.
Which is “The Best” Type of Yoga?
There are many different styles of yoga and each with their own, often foreign sounding, name. So which is the best one? The better question to ask is; “Which is the best type of yoga for me?” To answer that question requires you to know your intentions for starting a yoga practice. Are you looking for vigorous exercise or techniques to reduce stress? Are you looking for yoga to compliment your spiritual practice or to round out your athletic training? Once you are clear about your goals, a quick online search, such as “Yoga for relaxation” will give you a list of possible options to explore further.
My biggest piece of advice regarding which type of yoga to practice is to diversify! Regardless of your MAIN intention, the benefits of yoga will multiply for you when you take a variety of classes. If you are always going to the sweaty, flowing, vigorous classes, try a slower paced class occasionally so that your mind can also reap the benefits of learning to be comfortable in stillness. If you tend towards the more slow paced, meditative styles of yoga, try a more challenging and flowing class sometimes. You may be surprised to discover that yoga can firm and tone your body just as well as other exercise classes. I recommend taking several different styles of classes a week. In Yoga Club we have a large library of recorded classes of varying styles and also lengths. In our live online classes, of which we have 5 a week, we offer the spectrum from Restorative Yoga all the way up to a Moderately challenging class. The wide variety makes it easy for you to tailor your week of yoga classes precisely to your needs. Perhaps you use gentle yoga as a cool down stretch after a vigorous run on one day. Another day is your “rest” day so you attend a Restorative class. The next day it rains so you decide to skip your run and attend a vigorous yoga class instead. This is just an example of how the variety of classes offered on Yoga Club can be used for the best possible results, and hopefully prevent you from getting stuck in a “fitness rut.”
I am Out of Shape. What if I Don’t Fit In? What If Everyone Else is Fit & Flexible Except Me?
Again I will say, start where you ARE and not where you WISH you were. So, if you start in beginner classes, and/or gentle classes, you will most likely see other students with a similar fitness level. There will always be a range of levels, even in a Gentle class, because some advanced practitioners will take Gentle classes on their “rest days” when they still want a good stretch but also want to take a break from their more vigorous practice. Avoid comparing yourself to others. In yoga we say to keep your body, and your mind, on your own mat. Don’t worry about what anybody else is doing. We ALL have limitations. Yoga teaches us to honor those limitations. In my classes the poses could look slightly different for almost every student. One woman with a shoulder issue never lifts her left arm in Warrior poses. Other students who have bad arthritis in their hands have to be on their elbows in poses that are usually done on the hands. Very often when working on balance poses, some students will move their position to be close to a wall for extra support while others are comfortable staying on their mat not using a wall. Yoga classes should be welcoming and inviting. If you ever attend a class where you are made to feel “less than” or to feel like an outcast because of your limitations, PLEASE KEEP LOOKING! Yoga is everywhere. So find a place that honors differences and welcomes you warmly regardless of your experience or abilities.
How Long Until I See Results?
You will see results immediately in regards to your mental well-being. So many times I have witnessed students coming to class feeling tired, or stressed or discouraged. They walk in as if they were carrying a heavy weight. But when class is over they walk out as light as a feather with a smile on their face and peace in their heart. It is beautiful to see. But if you want to know how long until you see and feel changes in your body, that depends on how often you intend to practice yoga each week. One class a week will give you limited results. Three to five classes a week, depending on the type of classes you are taking, will give you visible results in 6 to 8 weeks.
What if I Pass Gas During Class?
I have literally been told by many people over the years that fear of passing gas in class has prevented them from taking public yoga classes. So, let’s talk about it. First of all, flatulence is a normal bodily function. Additionally, several yoga poses actually stimulate digestion and help you to cleanse your body internally, therefore flatulence is a common side effect of your yoga practice. And yes, I have been in class MANY TIMES as a teacher and a student, where somebody let out a tremendously loud expulsion of gas, and everyone just ignores it. We all hope it never happens to us, sure, but when it happens to someone else there is no shame, no laughter, and no pointing either. As I mentioned previously, in yoga we keep our body and our mind on our own mat and stay focused on what is happening with our own practice and not on the other students.
That being said, if you still have a paralyzing fear of letting some air slip out during yoga class, I recommend you consider online classes. In Yoga Club the students all put their microphones on mute during class.
Furthermore, some students are also more comfortable keeping their cameras off too, or on but pointed away from their mat. You might wonder how I can teach a class without seeing all the students. That is a valid question. I am ok with cameras being off for two reasons. First of all, I know all my students. Many of them have been with me for years. I know their abilities and their limitations and I have already instructed them on alignment and modifications to such a degree that I am fully confident that no one will be injuring themselves by coming into the poses wrongly.
Secondly, I give very precise and detailed cues. If someone is listening and watching me during class, they will have all that they need to move through their practice safely. Additionally there is a LARGE library of recorded resources in Yoga Club including tutorials on specific poses and even a Beginner Yoga series too.
You might wonder how we can cultivate a supportive community with an online format where participants also have the option of turning their cameras off during class - well let me tell you, we have a GREAT community. It has been amazing seeing the friendships develop over the years between fellow students. I open every class 10 minutes before the start time for folks who want to socialize before class. I also leave time after class for questions about the practice, for specific modification suggestions or very often for a little more socializing. So, if you are looking for a supportive online yoga community, I sincerely welcome you to join Yoga Club. Follow this link to learn more; https://beautiful-souls-academy.teachable.com/p/yoga-club
Do you have questions about yoga that I didn’t answer here? Feel free to leave your question in the comment section, and I will address it directly, or perhaps do a Part 2 with your yoga questions.