About Yoga: Frequently asked questions
1. Is yoga for me? What if I'm not ___ (flexible, thin, strong, etc.)?
Yes, yoga is for everyone, regardless of the shape of your body, color of your skin, brand of your clothing, whether or not you can touch your toes – if you even have toes. If you only judge yoga by what you see in media here in the US, you might think that yoga is only for the models you see demonstrating aspirational (sometimes contortionist) postures, which is unfortunate. The physical part of the practice is what gets photographed most often, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the robustness of a yoga practice. If you focus on the physical part, you may gain flexibility and mobility, but that is a happy side effect, not the primary goal in yoga. The practice is meant to re-introduce you to the part of you that is perfect, whole and connected, so if you have a mind and you are breathing, you can practice yoga.
3. Is yoga a religion? Does practicing yoga contradict my faith?
Yoga is not a religion. Yoga emerged as a collection of practices and philosophies from the Indus Valley Civilization (modern day Pakistan-India) over 2,500 years ago. The evolution and the history of this ancient practice is complex and traverses through the region over centuries, and is deeply rooted in spiritual meaning of uniting human with the Divine. Yoga is often associated with Hindu culture, which can then bring up fears from religious people who don’t understand the pluralist tradition of Hinduism. Hindus see the varieties of religions and philosophies as different ways to understand and relate to God. This philosophy leads to pluralism within Hinduism and outside of it. The core philosophy of Hinduism is the search for truth, not the specific path taken; so you can be Hindu and Christian, as the yogic practices are meant help you unite with your understanding of the Divine – whatever that may be, including atheism.
2. Is meditation for me? What if I can't ___ (sit still, quiet my mind, etc.)?
The short answer is yes, and… You may need to do some preliminary work in order to prepare yourself for meditation. One of the most commonly referenced yoga texts, Patanjali’s Yogasutra, there are 8 different “limbs” of yoga for us to study and 3 of those 8 limbs are dedicated to efforts related to meditation. In other words, meditation doesn’t come easily to most humans, so you’re not alone in asking this question. My first recommendation is to make sure you set yourself up for success: clear a space and time where you won’t be distracted, find a seated posture that is comfortable and sustainable and then give yourself a reasonable time limit – maybe just 5 minutes at first, extending that as you feel more at ease. If you notice your body is hurting or you’re in the middle of processing some strong feelings, try walking, exercising, practicing a physically demanding sequence, hum, chant or sing; these all help you shift your focus so that you can sustain that sitting practice. Once you have your seat, remember that you are not trying to stop your thoughts, you are trying to observe them without getting carried away by them. If you had no thoughts, that would be a very bad thing! Be patient, kind and steady with yourself, as if you are trying to train a puppy how to walk on a leash. To reframe Yoda’s words in Star Wars, there is no do in meditation, there is only try.
4. My loved one was just diagnosed with ___ (cancer, fibromyalgia, MS, etc.); what poses and practices do you recommend?
Proceed with caution! If your loved one has never practiced yoga before and they have just received a serious medical diagnosis, make sure that they are in contact with their medical team before starting any new practice. There is not a one-size-fits-all sequence of poses and practices that I recommend; instead I advise you to connect with a specialist to help your loved one understand what they need to look out for when practicing; this might be a yoga therapist or a movement specialist who has good understanding of yoga (not just the physical practice). Recall that yoga is more than just exercise, and this may be the perfect time to introduce your loved one to the less physically demanding aspects, like gentle breathing, concentration, meditation, relaxation, etc.
5. Can I practice yoga when I'm still healing from ___ (injury, surgery, medical treatment)?
Proceed with caution! If you are new to yoga before and are still healing from an injury, surgery or other medical treatment, make sure that you are in contact with your medical team before starting a yoga practice. There is not a one-size-fits-all sequence of poses and practices that I recommend; instead I advise you to connect with a specialist to help you understand what you need to look out for when practicing; this might be a yoga therapist or a movement specialist who has good understanding of yoga (not just the physical practice). Recall that yoga is more than just exercise, and this may be the perfect time to explore the less physically demanding aspects, like gentle breathing, concentration, meditation, relaxation, etc.
6. I want to know more about yoga for myself (not to teach it); what resources do you recommend?
Dancer, engineer, yoga therapist, author, qigong practitioner... Lorien has worn many different hats - all with the All of these experiences, plus the wisdom of her teachers, help inform her as she uses yoga to transform the lives of those suffering from pain and illness.
Lorien Neargarder has worked with cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers in hospital, studio and home settings throughout the San Francisco Bay Area of California and in Brevard county of Florida. She has several years experience teaching yoga in a pain management clinic as well as a psychiatric ward. She has been practicing yoga since 1999, began teaching in 2004, and continues to learn about mindful movement. She holds one 500-hour certification from Breathe Together Yoga and another from Prajna Yoga, as well as certificates from Therapeutic Yoga, Y4C (Yoga for Cancer), is a Cancer Exercise Specialist and has completed a 200-hour Qigong course with Triloka. Lorien has also received training from the integrative oncology departments of both MD Anderson and Memorial-Sloan Kettering. In 2016, Lorien earned the title of Certified Yoga Therapist from the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). And in 2018, Lorien co-founded Complementary Cancer Care, INC, a nonprofit that offers non-medical complementary therapies to people dealing with cancer, free of charge.