As a yoga instructor and long time practitioner I am often approached by curious would be yogis who have a number of burning questions about the practice. Since I put up my first yoga article here on Bodybuilding.com the case has been the same and I have received many e-mails with numerous yoga queries.
I have come to realize that most people have the same questions and doubts so I decided to start up this yoga column to get these answers out to everybody. I am going to be covering about six questions each month and promise to answer them to the best of my ability to help set you on the right path.
If you have any questions you would like answered please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be sure to include them in an upcoming edition. So without further a due and with big thanks to the wonderful crew here at Bodybuilding.com let's get started...
[ Q ] How Is Yoga Different To Pilates?
Yoga and Pilates are two of the most popular forms of body-mind exercise today and many people seem to have the impression that they are basically the same thing. Below I will give a brief explanation of both and point out a few of the main differences along with some of the similarities.
Yoga is a 5,000 year old philosophy with its roots in India, it teaches principles for physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth. The exercises (asana) as we know them today have only been around for a few hundred years and were originally developed by yoga practitioners to enable them to sit comfortably for long periods of time during meditation.
Pilates on the other hand was brought to us about 85 years ago by its founder Joseph Pilates. Pilates exercises are based around strengthening the body (especially the core) and many of the exercises were influenced by yoga postures.
Both yoga and pilates encourage mindful movement and incorporate effective breathing as an integral part of the exercise. In yoga breathing is done in and out through the nose whilst in pilates you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Both practices emphasize breathing from the core of the body but pilates seems to have a greater emphasis on this in the initial stages whereas in yoga these techniques are usually brought about after you are competent in the basic postures (depending on your teacher).
In yoga there are many different types of breathing patterns and related exercises (Pranayama) to be done during postures or as a separate practice.
In pilates there is only one type of breathing and it is always done with the exercise and never in isolation.
Yoga postures are generally static, meaning you get into the pose, hold it for several breath cycles and then you get out of the pose.
Pilates exercises, meanwhile, are constantly moving and you would usually perform five to 10 repetitions of an exercise before proceeding to the next. In a pilates class most of the work is done lying on the mat with the main emphasis on strengthening the core of the body with little regard to the limbs. Pilates classes can also incorporate elaborate apparatuses to enhance the exercises.
In yoga you are exposed to a wider range of movements creating an overall practice and conditioning routine. In some yoga classes you will occasionally use basic props to help assist you in some poses but these are not always common place (it depends on the teacher and style). Both yoga and pilates place an importance on strength and suppleness in the spine.
As you can see while both practices do have some similarities once you look past the surface it is apparent that they are two very different systems.
[ Q ] I Am Not Flexible, Can I Still Do Yoga?
Yes of course. Yoga will enhance your flexibility if you are lacking it and also help to increase your strength if you are overly flexible. Think back to when you started any new endeavor were you good at it to begin with? Probably not and that's why you started in the first place. You learn and get better as you go.
There are no physical pre-requisites in yoga; you just start with what you have got and work from there. The other important thing to remember is that yoga is not just about flexibility!
[ Q ] How Do I Get Started?
The best thing to do is try to find a class at a studio in your area. I always recommend a class at a yoga studio over a class at the gym because I generally find the instructors at a studio to be more understanding and more experienced. I am sure there are many wonderful gym yoga instructors but it seems that you are required to have fewer qualifications to enable you to work in a gym than to work in a studio.
Another benefit you get from going to the studio is the yoga environment; it is hard to create this ambiance and atmosphere in a gym. Look for a beginners' class and perhaps a studio that offers a free introductory lesson. Try to experiment with a few different teachers and styles of yoga before making any concrete decisions (it may take a while before you find a style and teacher that suits you so be sure to shop around).
Failing that the next best thing is a class at the gym, and some people do prefer these over the studio classes (especially the guys). Gym classes usually offer more of a physical focus without placing importance on the other aspects of yoga. All in all it is recommended to learn from a teacher at first so you can ensure you are using the proper techniques and are working the body in a safe way.
If you are a bit intimidated about the thought of bending and stretching in front of a room full of strangers and would prefer to try it out in the privacy of your own home, two books I would recommend are; "Real Men Do Yoga" by John Capouya and "Yoga the Iyengar Way" by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta.
There are also a million and one yoga tapes/DVDs out now for you to try. Get them from your local library first if you can to see if you enjoy them before making your purchase. Finding the right tape that suits your needs can be as much of a process as finding the right teacher and you will need to sift through a few different ones before you find the right one for you.
As the saying goes "there is no time like the present" so get out the phone book or do a search online find a few possible options and dare yourself to try one out!
[ Q ] How Long Till I See Results?
This is all going to depend on how often you practice and the amount of effort you put in. It is best to do yoga for a shorter period of time on a regular basis (say 30 minutes five days a week) as opposed to doing one big session every Friday for example.
Remember yoga is not just about the physical side, the more mindfulness and breathing you can add into your practice the more improvement you will see. In yoga, it is not the results are important, but the actual act of jumping on the mat and taking the time to practice is where the focus should lie.
Be where you are now and work with that, let go of expectations and enjoy your practice as it unfolds for you in the moment.
[ Q ] Do I Have To Be A Vegetarian To Do Yoga?
No you do not, there are many yogis who are vegetarian and there are also many who are not. Dietary preference is a personal choice and I believe you have to do what feels and works best for you. According to the yoga life institute:
"You do not have to become a vegetarian to practice yoga. Non-violence is a central theme of yoga and many people who practice yoga find that a vegetarian diet serves them better for a variety of reasons. Eating lower on the food chain is good for the earth and science shows that a plant-based diet lowers health risks. Others believe that killing animals is violent or that meat is not good for the health. A third issue from yoga is that foods influence one's mind. You may notice a lighter feeling in the mind when eating vegetarian."
If you do choose a Vegetarian diet make the transition slowly and get informed to make sure you are getting all the daily nutritional requirements your body needs.
[ Q ] Will Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?
Weight loss first and foremost comes from diet but yoga can offer many things that will assist in weight loss. There is the obvious factor that yoga can be a form of exercise and it has been shown that an increase in physical activity can lead to weight loss. Also by exercising you increase the amount of lean muscle mass in your body, which in turn burns more calories.
Many people eat as a response to stress or as a way of dealing with emotions, yoga offers an alternative way to decrease stress and deal with emotions, which may help to control emotional overeating.
Yoga also helps to put you in touch with you body and in doing so will steer you toward making healthier food choices. Yoga helps to create balance in the body so if excess weight is due to some kind of imbalance (either body or mind) this can certainly be assisted through a regular practice.
So the verdict is that while yoga is no cure all for weight loss it can help on many different levels.
So there we have it, edition number one! Looking forward to hearing from you soon.