What does yoga mean?
The word yoga stems from the Sanskrit word meaning “to union” or “to yolk” and it symbolizes the yogic union of the mind, body, and breath and its purpose to liberate oneself from worldly attachments. The yoga journey of enlightenment and self-discovery involves many different aspects of the yoga tradition including living principles, meditation, breathing exercises, and physical activity. In fact, the physical aspect of yoga or yoga asana is only one of the eight different areas of study and practice:
What does the word "Hatha" mean?
- Yama (the five "abstentions"): non-violence, non-lying, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, and non-possessiveness;
- Niyama (the five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender to a highest being;
- Asana: the physical practice;
- Pranayama (breath control): Prāna, breath, "āyāma", to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as the control of the life force;
- Pratyahara (abstraction): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects;
- Dharana (prolonged concentration): Fixing the attention on a single object;
- Dhyana (meditation): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation;
- Samādhi (liberation): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.
The word "hatha" comes from the Sanskrit terms "ha" meaning "sun" and "tha" meaning "moon” but when combined the meaning changes to “forceful” and it refers more specifically to the intense and prolonged effort that characterizes a dedicated yoga practice. Hatha Yoga is a particular system of yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama in its manual Hatha Yoga Pradipika dated 15th century CE. The system of Hatha Yoga focuses on the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind and of the vital energy or prana. The publication of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika marked the development of asanas into the full body postures and its many variations now in popular usage and of the particular style that many people associate with the word yoga today.
How do I decide which type of yoga is right for me?
In deciding which type of yoga to practice, you need to take several things into account: your likes, your dislikes, your personality, your schedule, your level of stress, and your overall physical condition. If you are brand new to yoga, you will want to start with beginner classes to learn fundamental poses and alignment principles and to avoid injuries. Finding a class and an instructor that best fits your wellness goals is key and one of our top priorities, so please feel free to use your “getting started class card” to try our weekly beginner classes, meet different instructors, and get exposed to various styles of teaching. Also, reading the program descriptions in the programs section of our website will provide you with further insight into the various yoga traditions we teach and practice at Castle Hill Yoga. If you have any questions or would like a class recommendation, please contact our Yoga Program Assistant at
Can I do yoga even though I am not flexible?
Absolutely! If you have tight muscles and joints, then you are the perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that flexibility is a prerequisite for practicing yoga. However, we think that is a little bit like assuming that you need to know how to swim in order to take swimming lessons. Just come join us for your first class and over time you will notice how yoga will help you increase both muscle and joint flexibility.
What do I need to begin to my first class?
All you need to begin your yoga journey is an open mind and the desire to experience something new. You do not have to bring your own mat or equipment. Many people prefer to bring their own mat for a variety of reasons, ranging from personal preference to a belief that the mat itself has stored the energy you have devoted to your practice, but if you are still deciding if yoga is right for you or happen to have left your mat at home, Castle Hill Yoga provides students yoga mats, blankets, blocks, straps, bolsters, and yoga chairs free of charge. All mats and props are regularly sanitized and washed for your health and safety.
Can I practice yoga if I have high blood pressure or a heart condition?
Yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease in both healthy individuals and individuals suffering from heart-related health conditions. Asana practice can add a gentle cardiovascular component to your exercise program that helps support and improve heart function. Yoga is also very effective in reducing stress, a proven cause of coronary disease. As with any initial venture into a new physical activity, if you know you are suffering from high blood pressure or a heart-related health condition, please check with your physician before taking your first yoga class, to make sure that asana practice is right for you. Also, when coming to your first class, please inform the instructor about your existing condition, as some poses are not recommended for student suffering from high blood pressure, coronary disease, and glaucoma of the eye, while other poses may need to be slightly modified to suit your health needs and goals.
Can I practice yoga if I am pregnant?
Many studies suggest that there are benefits to being active while pregnant, including the reduction of gestational diabetes and improved psychological functioning. Yoga provides an excellent, low impact form of exercise for expectant mothers. More specifically, yoga has been shown to help improve comfort during and after labor along with shortened delivery time. As with any other physical activity, yoga as part of your exercise program during pregnancy should be discussed with your physician. Whenever attending a yoga class, please make sure to inform the teacher about your pregnancy, as some poses or sequences may need to be modified in order to accommodate the specific needs of expectant mothers.
Does yoga help people suffering from depression, insomnia, or chronic fatigue?
Recently conducted studies have found that the practice of yoga combats depression by releasing an amino acid called GABA which aids the calming of the body. Low GABA levels are often displayed in those suffering from depression and various other anxiety related issues. Yoga was shown to release more of the amino acid than other physical activities such as walking, or even other perceived relaxing activities like reading.
Depending on the cause of someone’s insomnia, yoga can help alleviate the impact from this frustrating condition. Many chronic sufferers of insomnia show high levels of cognitive and physiological arousal. It has already been proven that relaxation and meditation has positive results on these arousal levels. Because of its controlled breathing and meditative properties, yoga has been shown to have the same effects and help improve sleep efficiency and increase total sleep time.
Yoga is also an attractive form of physical exercise for people suffering from chronic fatigue. A recent study conducted at the University of Iowa has shown that yoga substantially improves the symptoms of patients suffering from chronic fatigue in nearly a fourth of the people participating in the study and that yoga is more effective than other remedies being such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements. These benefits are thought to be a result of stretching muscles and joints, which in turns increases blood flow through the body, improving oxygenation and increasing energy. The meditative side of yoga decreases mental and physical stress, which could also be contributing to the fatigue.
At Castle Hill Yoga, we offer a Restorative Yoga class that is particularly beneficial for students suffering from depression, insomnia, chronic fatigue, and chronic injuries. As with any other concerns, if you suffer from any of these conditions, please inform your teacher so that she or he can modify your practice according to your personal health needs and goals.
Will yoga help me lose weight?
Maybe. Will it change your relationship with your body? Most likely. And probably for the better, as engaging in physical activity through asana practice can reduce stress and foster a renewed sense of control over our lives, a quality that sometimes diminishes as one’s weight refuses to budge. On a physiological level, certain styles of yoga are more appropriate for students who have weight loss as a primary goal. AVinyasa Yoga or an Ashtanga Yoga class, where movement and breath link poses together, builds heat and results in greater calorie burn. Additionally, these dynamic styles of practice can supplement other aerobic forms of exercise, such as walking, running, biking, or swimming. No matter what type of yoga you choose to practice to assist with your weight loss program, remember to progress slowly and to listen to your body. Yoga has the potential to be very transformative on many levels, with the physical body being a doorway to the more profound gifts of the practice.
Will yoga improve my athletic performance?
Absolutely! Yoga is a great cross-training activity for any sport because it lessens post workout soreness and improves lung capacity, strength, flexibility, mental concentration, and as a result helps to reduce injuries. Yoga is a full body workout that engages muscles throughout the body and keeps them supple. This effect prevents lesser-used muscles from becoming rigid and more easily injured.
Do I need to alter my practice during menstruation?
There have not been any conclusive studies to suggest whether one’s practice should be changed during menstruation and even amongst yogis there are conflicting ideas on the subject. Some feel that menstruation is a downward flow of energy and also a time that drains much of the energy from a woman’s body. On the other hand, some yogis feel that menstruation can bring about an excess of downward energy flow that needs to be counteracted. As with all of yoga, practitioners need to be present and always aware of how their body is reacting to each pose. So, the important part to remember is that although there is no need to miss class entirely, pose modifications may be necessary in order to make your practice more comfortable during a not so comfortable time. Please make sure to inform your teacher about your period so you can work together to modify and make your practice more enjoyable and more conducive to an overall sense of well-being.
Do classes at Castle Hill Yoga include chanting or meditation?
Traditionally, chants or mantras are used to open and close a practice, salute the teacher, as well as evoke divine power. Meditation is also used to focus and quiet the mind and as such it represents an integral aspect of a traditional yoga practice. While some classes at Castle Hill Yoga do include the practice of chanting an opening and closing invocation, students should feel comfortable to either participate or to refrain. Free meditation classes are offered twice a week and they are open to both beginner and experienced students.
How does meditation differ from yoga?
Traditionally, meditation and the physical practice of asanas are but two aspects of the study and practice of yoga. As such, they are completely different and separate and have different benefits to the practitioner. The asana practice purifies the body and the mind, thereby preparing the practitioner for meditation. Meditation helps the practitioner to detach from worldly possessions and reach a higher state of consciousness or samadhi.