What is yoga?

It’s no small task to articulate what yoga is. Just like finding the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”  any answer will inevitably yield more questions and discussion. (But for Douglas Adams’ fans out there, it’s “42”.)

Yoga includes many things and has many descriptions. The classical–and most succinct–definition  is by Patanjali from Sutra 1.2, “yogas citta vrtti nirodha“, which loosely translates to: “yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind”. This is, of course, just an intellectual statement. Over time, with patience and perseverance, yoga is meant to be lived and experienced.

My personal definition of what yoga is not: it’s not what other people can do with their bodies. What it is, it’s that it helps make life juicier.

What does 200-Hour and 500-Hour Certification mean?

The 200-Hour and 500-Hour Certifications are standards set by the Yoga Alliance, an organization overseeing individual yoga teachers and yoga teacher training programs. Since Yoga currently does not have something akin to the Bar exams for lawyers, the Yoga Alliance standards are the closest thing we have to qualify yoga teachers.

It is important to recognize that a yoga teacher may have a certification from a Registered Yoga School (RYS), but may not be registered with the Yoga Alliance as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). Having received the certification from a RYS means that the yoga teacher has completed a curriculum approved by the Yoga Alliance.  Here are the charts outlining the standards for a 200-Hour and 500-Hour Certification.

Do you teach Hot Yoga?

In my mind here are two kinds of Hot Yoga: one is any type of yoga done in a heated room, and the other is the unfranchised name for Bikram Yoga.  I do not teach Bikram Yoga. I will teach in a room that’s gently heated, but not so much that it is a distraction.

I do believe that heat has its place, but if overdone, it can encourage the overstretching of your muscles, leading to injuries. The heat may also evoke your sympathetic nervous system, bringing out the flight-or-fight response, making you more competitive and push your body to do more than it should.

Extreme heat and humidity can also increase the risk of dehydration and heart attacks, and not suitable for people with conditions such as MS, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, and pregnant woman.

”Heat increases one’s metabolic rate, and by warming you up, it allows you to stretch more,” said Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. ”But once you stretch a muscle beyond 20 or 25 percent of its resting length, you begin to damage a muscle.”

For more information about the Bikram Yoga lawsuit and controversy, please visit the Open Source Yoga Unity.

“The whole process, to me, is never about proving something, but about sharing something” Yo-Yo Ma, cellist

Do I have to be thin and flexible to do yoga?

In short, absolutely not! It is unfortunate that pictures on magazines and advertisement have perpetuated the myth that you have to look a certain way or be in a certain shape to do yoga. In fact, it is people who are extremely flexible that are more at risk for injuries because they lack the strength for a controlled stretch, which can damage their ligaments.

“Yoga is all about balance. Many people have the impression that the physical practice of yoga is about being flexible, but physical flexility is not the primary goal of asana practice, balance is. What the practice of yoga does is challenge you wherever you need it, transforming liabilities into strengths, making you a more balanced person.” – Timothy McCall, M.D. Yoga as Medicine.

What is Pacific Yoga?

Pacific Yoga is a  Teacher Training and Advanced Study Program in Seattle, co-directed by Theresa Elliott and Kathryn Payne. Theresa is an Iyengar-trained teacher who also incoporates new learnings from Physical Therapy research and studies in her approach to movement and yoga postures. Theresa is the owner and director of Taj Yoga in Seattle.

Kathryn Payne is an American Sanskrit Institute teacher who teaches Pranayama, Sanskrit, and Yogic Philosophy, including study of ancient texts, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and Bhagavad Gita. She established and teaches at Island Yoga Center on Vashon Island.

The Anatomy portion of the Teacher Training is taught by Paul Bubak, a retired surgeon who came to yoga after too many running injuries and hunching over… well, operating. It’s no surprise that Paul’s focus is on injury prevention in asana.

The program also includes teachers presenting related topics such as Ayurvedic principles and specialized care, including Yoga for MS and Cancer. A complete list of bios is on the Pacific Yoga web site.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.