FAQs: Yoga Edition

 

I’m involved in a lot of communities. I love meeting new people, learning more about the world around me, and sharing what I learn with others. That’s a big part of the reason why I started this blog. It’s always been my goal to use this space to showcase what’s important to me, and suddenly, I had the idea to share a little bit about each of my interests and pastimes in an FAQ series.

When I’m not working, writing, or watching TV, I’m usually practicing or teaching yoga. I love yoga for many reasons, most importantly how it’s taught me to appreciate my body. When I first started practicing on a regular basis, the opinions I held about my body started to shift. All of a sudden, I didn’t care so much what I looked like—I cared how my body performed. I love sharing yoga with others so they have a chance to experience what I’ve experienced, but sometimes, people are a little hesitant to jump in. If that’s you, keep reading for answers to some commonly asked questions about yoga. Maybe you’re curious about them, too!

Do I have to be flexible to practice yoga?

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Nope! This is one of the most common misconceptions about yoga asana. Sometimes when we see photos of yogis online—especially on Instagram—we see them bent into poses that look more like contortions, which can make it intimidating for the Average Joe to step into a class. You might be thinking, “I can barely touch my toes!” No worries, you don’t have to. Yoga requires less flexibility of the body than it does of the mind. All you have to do is show up, keep an open mind, and breathe.

What if I don’t understand the terms?

Hey, it’s all good—no one is expecting you to. Here’s the deal. Yoga is not just a physical practice. It’s a multi-limbed path toward enlightenment rooted in thousands of years of traditions and sacred texts. To help make yoga more accessible to those of us who don’t speak Sanskrit, the language many of those texts were written in, most poses have been rephrased in English. If you’re in class and don’t understand something, you can figure out how to move your body by mimicking others in the room. After class, you can ask your teacher for the 411.

Will there be chanting?

Not necessarily. There are tons of different types of yoga practiced by tons of different types of yogis. From Vinyasa to Hatha, Yin to Ashtanga, Restorative to Kundalini … it’s easy to be confused about what to expect. Some practices involve chanting and others do not. Most Western, Vinyasa yoga studios don’t chant in class, because they tend to focus more on physical yoga asana (movement) than spiritual practices. If you’re nervous about what to expect or where to go, do a little research online before stepping into a new studio.

What ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF YOGA?

I could write an entirely separate blog post—or better yet, a book—about all the different types of yoga, because there are so many (well, I couldn’t because I’m not an expert, but you get the idea). Each practice is rooted in the cultural and spiritual beliefs from which it derived, involving different understandings of breath, meditation, human anatomy, and physical movement.

Here in the West, most of the yoga studios you run into practice Vinyasa or Power Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative, or Kundalini Yoga. Each style of yoga is chock-full of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits. Depending how you feel and what your body needs on a particular day, you may want to choose a Vinyasa class over Yin, or vice versa. Here’s what to expect from each of these styles:

  • VINYASA is a flow of energy between movement and breath. This is the most popular style of yoga taught in the West, stringing together a sequence of poses and linking breath to movement to refocus your energy to certain parts of the body. POWER VINYASA is a faster-paced Vinyasa yoga, which you might practice in a heated studio (anywhere from 85°F to 100°F).

  • YIN. Yin is a deeply restorative practice in which passive floor poses are held for long periods of time (up to five minutes) to stretch deep fascia and open up the hips, pelvis, spine, and inner thighs. Although to beginners yin might look like a yoga slumber party, it’s actually a deeply introspective practice that requires a certain level of experience to dive into. When poses are held for long periods of time like they are in yin, deeply held emotions and frustrations tend to creep up. Steady breath can help us worth through these strong releases.

  • RESTORATIVE. We all need to slow down from time to time. Like yin, restorative yoga also involves passive stretches, each supported by a yoga block, bolster, or blanket. In restorative yoga, rather than testing the limits of of our muscles, we allow them to find rest.

  • KUNDALINI means snake. This practice is designed to streamline energy and send it shooting straight through your chakra system, piercing the seventh chakra and bringing you straight to enlightenment. Kundalini is less a physical asana practice than it is a spiritual practice. In a Kundalini class, energy moves so quickly and so powerfully that yogis often leave feeling light-headed, deeply emotional, or even in tears. It’s not a bad thing, just a release of energy, but it’s something to be prepared for. After a Kundalini practice, you’ll want to go home, drink tea, and take care of yourself—so don’t plan a Kundalini class before a wild Bachelorette party, okay?

isn’t yoga just for women?

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Nope! In fact, yoga was created for boys (shocker, I know). Ashtanga yoga, in particular, was created as a way to re-channel and use up 12-year-old boys’ energy so they could sit still for meditation. Many of the cues you may hear in class, like “square your hips to the front of the room,” derive from teaching these boys, whose hips actually could square up with the front of the room. Progressive yoga teachers understand that every body is different and still capable of practicing yoga. Even though you might find more leggings and tank tops in the women’s section of the clothing store doesn’t mean yoga isn’t great for men, too!

What equipment do I need?

You just need yourself! That’s probably my favorite thing about yoga—there’s no equipment required. Of course, using props can help make things a bit easier or more comfortable, sometimes. Consider stocking up on these items: a mat, bolster, strap, block, blanket, or towel.

What are ALL THE DIFFERENT PROPS FOR?

Like I mentioned above, some props are available to assist you in your yoga practice. Here’s a look at a few of them:

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  • A YOGA BLOCK is usually made of cork or foam and can be used to “bring the ground closer to you” and make some poses a little easier to hold. A yoga block works great as a seat, a headrest, or a prop to squeeze between your legs to activate the appropriate muscles.

  • STRAPS can assist in so many ways—from breaking up stiff energy at the bases of your feet to strengthening your Dancer pose or holding your head steady as you lie backward to stretch your legs and open your hips. If you want to explore different ways to stretch, strengthen, and support your body during class, grab a strap! Most studios will have them available for use.

  • BOLSTERS can also be used as a seat, headrest, or backrest … and I’ll tell you a secret: they’re even comfier than a foam block. Bolsters are basically pillows, but a little sturdier. They’re most commonly used in restorative yoga classes.

HOW MUCH DOES YOGA COST?

It depends. (Don’t you love that answer?) In Minneapolis, most drop-in yoga classes cost $17-25, and most monthly memberships hover between $60-120/month. In larger cities, drop-ins can cost closer to $35-45, with monthly membership fees costing upward of $250. The cost of your class all depends on where you live, what studio you to go to, and what type of yoga you practice.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, I recommend Greenway Yoga—a Minneapolis yoga studio offering drop-ins for $10. (And yes, I happen to work there, but this is my blog so I get to promote whatever I want.) Otherwise, get more bang for your buck (and by bang, I mean brew) by attending an Om Brewers event. Your $30 ticket pays for a 60-minute class led by an experienced teacher, a pint of your favorite craft beer at a local brewery, and a hand in helping a small, women-run business grow! Last but not least, try yoga and Crossfit-style fitness with a membership at Twin Town, where you can cool down after a workout with a juicy flow. Click here to find out when & where I’m teaching next.

What should I wear to class?

This, too, depends on what type of yoga you practice, but leggings and a tank top are always a safe bet. Most yoga studios keep the temperature in their studio between 72°F and 90°F. As you begin to move your body, you’ll probably warm up. If you’re in a hot studio, with temperatures between 85°F and 105°F, be sure to dress in sweat-proof fabrics … and bring water! For yin, restorative, and Kundalini yoga classes, layers are advised. Less movement means you likely won’t work up a sweat, and by the time you lie down for final savasana, you may even feel a little cold.

Why don’t YOGIS WEAR SHOES OR SOCKS?

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In restorative, yin, or Kundalini yoga classes, you might wear socks. But, for the most part, yoga is practiced barefoot—and that’s for a couple of reasons. Our feet are the most important part of our body to pay attention to in a yoga class. They create the foundation for every pose, so we want to be able to see and move them as freely as possible. And, frankly, going barefoot provides more grip on a mat. Especially on a sweaty mat. (You don’t want to slip and fall, do you?)

If you get cold easily, dislike being barefoot, or are uncomfortable with your feet, you can, of course, wear socks in class. Most teachers will invite you to take them off and get friendly with your feet. They’re so important! Let’s learn to love ’em!

Why is it called a YOGA practice?

Everyone has their own answer to this question—but I think the answer most widely accepted is simple: there is no “perfect” in yoga, there is only practice. The prize is in the process. It’s about the journey, not the destination. However you want to phrase it, yoga is a metaphor for life. It reminds us that sometimes, shit gets hard. But we set our gaze, focus, settle in, and breathe. There is no perfect score. There is no “arriving.” We just show up each day and keep doing the thing. We keep practicing and we keep giving it our best.

There is no destination in yoga. There is no “winning.” There is only breath. If you can breathe, I invite you to give yoga a try! (Seriously, that’s the only requirement.) If this post hasn’t helped alleviate your nerves, try yoga on your own, in your home. I learned a lot from my favorite YouTube yogi, Adriene Mishler. Her channel, Yoga With Adriene, is full of yoga practices for all experience levels and abilities. When you feel ready, grab a friend and check out a class with the Om Brewers or at Greenway Yoga or Twin Town Fitness. I’d love to see you there!