General yoga questions
Pregnancy-related questions
General yoga questions
How should I prepare for class?

Arrive on time – Life is busy and ordinary delays are to be expected. However, if you arrive once a class has begun, please prepare yourself outside of the studio. Enter the class quietly with your mat ready to be unrolled. If the instructor is leading a centering in preparation for class, wait til s/he is done.

Before Coming To Class – In order to deepen your practice and receive its maximum benefits, refrain from eating 2-3 hours before class. Always be sure to adequately hydrate before and after practice. Please refrain from coming to class if you are ill. Also, please avoid applying perfumes, colognes, or scented lotions before class and be mindful of your personal hygiene in order to insure a clean environment for practice.

Quiet Environment – Please be conscious of your noise level before, during, and after class. Also, cell phones are prohibited in our studio. If you must bring your cell phone, please make sure that it is switched off or on silent before class begins.

Respect for All – Always acknowledge your body’s limits and do what feels comfortable for you. If you have any injuries or medical conditions that may affect your practice, please inform the instructor.

Savasana – The final relaxation is an integral part of yoga practice. Please incorporate time into your schedule to include Savasana. If you must leave early, please be mindful of your classmates and be prepared to step out quietly before the relaxation portion of the class begins.

What is yoga? 
Yoga is a way of life, a life philosophy. For most of us, it is a holistic practice that stretches, strengthens and cleanses our bodies and gives us a sense of inner calm and wellbeing. The most down-to-earth definition I've heard is by Nikki Myers: "Yoga is an ancient art and science of self-development that teaches people the fine art of balancing our multi-dimensional lives while living in a complex world."

Yoga was first systematized into a formal philosophy by Patanjali in early centuries CE in 196 sutras (threads). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali remain the most important text of Yoga. Patanjali outlines the eightfold path, or eight limbs of yoga, that act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature. While the West predominantly focuses on the "asanas" or postures, the 7 other limbs are equally important. To read more about the eight limbs, click here.

Is yoga a religion?
It is not a religion, but rather a philosophy or way of life. Its origins lie in India, a country that was, and still is, predominantly Hindu. You will therefore find references and devotional chants to Hindu Gods and Goddesses
. Lord Siva is believed to have been the first yogi and first guru; his wife Parvati his first student. The four main paths of yoga (Bhakti Yoga - path of devotion, Karma Yoga - path of selfless service, Jnana Yoga - path of knowledge, Raja Yoga - path of transcending thoughts) are explained in the Bhagavad Gita (a 700-verse scripture that is part of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata) in a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna.

Why do we chant "Om" at the beginning of class?
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean?
Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell. Chanting om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.                                 

What are "asanas"?
People may be surprised to learn that the well-known physical aspect of yoga, the "asanas", is a relatively recent development. The Sanskrit word "asana" derives from the verbal root meaning "to sit" or "to be present" and in the context of the Yoga tradition "asanas" means "to be established in a particular posture".

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, asanas are only mentioned in three sutras, the most commonly cited one being 2.46 "The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable (sthira sukham asanam).

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1400 CE) describes over a dozen asanas, with information on how to perform them, and the ideal external conditions for practicing Yoga. First translated into English in 1800 and discovered in mid-1980s, the "Sritattvanidhi" includes instructions for 122 yoga poses, illustrated by stylized drawings of an Indian man in a topknot and loincloth. Most of these poses—which include handstands, backbends, foot-behind-the-head poses, Lotus variations, and rope exercises—are familiar to modern practitioners. This book available now in a annotated version is the first known yogic text devoted entirely to asana practice—a prototypical "yoga workout." For more on the history of asanas, read here.

A beautiful quote to remember: "The poses are more about connection that perfection, more about exploration than expectation."

What is "pranayama"?
"Prana" in Sanskrit means life force or vital energy, "Yama" means restraint or control. Pranayama therefore, means "breath control", control of life force. Contrary to breath awareness where we simply watch our breath without attempting to modify it, pranayama consists of a series of specific breathing exercises. As you know from experience, our breath and emotions are tightly linked: when we're angry or scared we stop breathing or hyperventilate, when we're relaxed we take longer deeper breaths. Instead of being at the mercy of our emotions, we can use pranayama to consciously induce a state of calmness and equanimity. The different pranayama practices are best learned under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
What is "savasana" and why is it important?
Savasana translates as corpse pose which is the complete and total stillness of the physical body while staying in the present moment completely aware. Savasana is practiced at the end of class and lasts anywhere between 5-15min. It is said to be the most important part of the yoga practice: on a physical level, even the deepest muscles have the opportunity to let go and shed their regular habits; the nervous system that has been fed a host of new neuromuscluar information has a chance to process it; mentally, we practice sense withdrawal and become aware of the breath and of the state of the mind itself. Or, more poetically: "an energetic and physical ‘death’ through deep absorption that reinvigorates and enlivens the yogi to continue living".
What does "namaste" mean?
Pressing the hands together in front of the heart is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another: "The divine in me greets the divine in you", or as Ram Dass says: I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. If you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.
How often should I practice yoga?
Daily! Realistically: 3 times a week would be great. Remember that shorter more frequent practices are better than longer infrequent ones! If you lack the discipline, knowledge or motivation to do a home practice, go to a studio. The more you go, the better the deal gets (monthly class cards are the way to go!). The benefits you derive from yoga comes from a consistent practice. My first yoga teacher, Emily XYZ, once told me: put yoga first and everything in your life will fall into place.
I have (fill in the blank) - can I do yoga?
"If you can breathe, you can do yoga" is a phrase I often tell my seniors. There are very few conditions that would keep you from practicing yoga. Granted, not everyone may be able to do headstand, but everyone can reap the rewards of a yoga practice, even if it needs to be modified to suit your needs. It is important the you mention your condition to your teacher so that s/he can assist you in the modifications. I've
specifically specialized in restorative yoga, chair yoga and pranayama exercises to be able to reach out to people who'd otherwise be shut out of mainstream yoga. In yoga therapy, an experienced Yoga teacher assists a person to overcome the discomforts or imbalances resulting from specific conditions, or generally improve physical, mental and spiritual health on a 'one on one' basis, using tools and providing advice based on yogic principles.
Does yoga help with stress-related illnesses?
Yoga can definitively help people suffering from any stress-related symptoms and illnesses (including anxiety, depression, tension, hostility, anger, fatigue). Learning to breath properly calms the mind, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The practice of asanas balances the endocrine system (in particular, it increases the amino-acid GABA which helps fight off depression) and nervous system
. Yoga teaches people how to relax which is associated with a calmer and less traumatic mental and emotional response to stress. Read more about yoga and mental health here.

Yoga teaches us that stress is not what happens to us in life but how we respond to what happens to us in life. While we do our practice we repeat to ourselves: it doesn't matter if my head can touch my leg in a yoga pose. What matters is that I accept with love where I am right now in my life and that I feel compassionate toward myself.
I can highly recommend "Yoga for Depression" by Amy Weintraub and "The Healing Path of Yoga" by Nishala Joy Devi.

What are some yoga books/magazines you recommend?
As a book lover (and hoarder), that questions makes me laugh! Where to begin? A great general book covering most aspects of yoga is "The Complete Illustrated Guide to Yoga" or "The Sivananda Companion to Yoga" by Swami Vishnu-devananda. For more detailed explanation of asanas, "Light on Yoga" by BKS Iyengar is a classic. For inspiration: "Yoga" by Linda Sparrowe. 

Then there are the traditional books for those who want to delve deeper: "The Hatha Yoga Pradipika", "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali", "The Bhagavad Gita".

As for magazines: in Australia, there are two worth mentioning: "Australian Yoga Life" and "Yoga Journal" that you can commonly find at news agencies.

Pregnancy-related questions
When can I start a pregnancy yoga class?
Classes are gentle enough that you could start from the moment you know that you are pregnant. However, assuming you're new to yoga, it is generally recommended that you start after your first trimester - when you've recovered from nauseousness, dizziness and tiredness. Also, miscarriages are most common during the first trimester. While a miscarriage is not the result of pregnancy yoga classes, women may carry a negative opinion of yoga or suspect it could have been the cause.

What yoga poses should I refrain from doing during my pregnancy?
There is a general rule for anyone practicing yoga: Yoga shouldn't hurt! If something doesn't feel right, come out of the posture immediately. Many women do not listen to, or have lost touch with, their intuition. Pregnancy yoga classes will help you get back in touch with it and learn to trust yourself and what you feel.
 
That said, there are several poses that shouldn't be done:
* Poses lying on your belly
* Strong stretches
* Backbends (including cow tilts), headstands or shoulderstands (unless you're an experienced yogini!)
* Lying on your back during the third trimester (presssure on the vena cava)
* Abdominal crunches or other strong abdominal exercises

* Anything that doesn't feel right!
Will yoga hurt my baby?
Pregnancy yoga is designed with pregnant women in mind. As long as you remain mindful and aware of your practice, and come out of a posture if it doesn't feel right, you can't hurt your baby. If anything, pregnancy yoga provides time for mum to connect with her baby and relax; the baby will pick up on her positive mood and be relaxed as well.
What is a incompetent cervix?
An incompetent cervix is a cervix that no longer support the growing weight of your baby. The woman's cervix begins to dilate (widen) and efface (thin) before her pregnancy has reached term. As a result, the pressure causes the placenta to rupture and the mother goes into premature labour. This usually results in a miscarriage or preterm birth.
What is a prolapsed uterus?
A prolapsed uterus is a uterus that has collapsed into the vaginal canal due to weakness in the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that usually hold the uterus in place.
What is a lotus birth?
I first heard about lotus birth during my pregnany yoga training and am fascinated by it.
Lotus birth, or umbilical nonseverance, is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord attached to both the baby and the placenta following birth, without clamping or severing, and allowing the cord the time to detach from the baby naturally. In this way the baby, cord and placenta are treated as a single unit until detachment occurs, generally two to three days after birth. The main benefits of doing this seem to be the importance of letting things take their own course (stressing the importance of non-interference) while respecting the baby’s own timing to disconnect from her placenta and be of this world. Might not be your cup of tea, but worth reading up on!
Why would you eat your placenta?
Grossed out? I urge you to read on.
This practice is found in animals and in many cultures. It doesn't need to be as messy as you think. You send the placenta away, it gets dried and encapsulated. You take one capsule per day. The placenta is rich in nutrients
that will assist the mother to recover from childbirth and help with milk supply, but most importantly is rich in chemicals that help mitigate fluctuations in hormones believed to cause postnatal depression*.

* Beacock 2012. Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits?
British Journal of Midwifery 20(7):464-469.  Selander et al. 2013. Human maternal placentophagy: A survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 52(2):93-115.
  "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can" -- Arthur Ashe