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FAQ III - Yoga, Weight Loss And Other Health Issues

Is it safe to practice Yoga during menses or pregnancy? Can Yoga cure migraines, reduce weight, make me taller or control high blood pressure? Should I be a vegetarian? What makes Yoga different to normal exercise and plain stretching?

Is Yoga aerobic exercise?
Yes and... maybe.  Aerobic exercise is simply exercise that improves oxygenization of the blood through an increased heart rate and deeper breathing.  Yoga can do that, especially those styles such as Astanga Yoga that have a strong focus on the flow of one posture to another.
What's the difference between Yoga and just plain stretching and normal exercise?
Traditional exercise is goal oriented:  How many push ups can I do? Can I touch my toes? I'm going to do 10 more crunches today than I did yesterday.  Yoga, by contrast, is a process.  The idea is to focus your awareness on what you are doing and how you feel as you perform the postures.  In exercise, you fail if you miss your goal.  In Yoga, you succeed by trying.
There's also a difference on the physical level.  Weight training, for example, makes you stronger by breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue. It's this breaking down and rebuilding that results in the bulky muscle look.  Yoga increases strength by toning the muscles.  Yoga also works on a much deeper level by building awareness of the intelligence that exists in all parts of the body, in the muscles, bones, the skin and the connective tissue and integrates mind, body and spirit.
What is the most physically challenging form of Yoga?
Any one of the basic styles can be physically challenging.  It depends on what you do and how you approach it.  Some styles focus on holding postures for a long time, which can be very challenging, while others link a series of postures into a single flow, which results in physical workout. Ashtanga, Bikram's, Iyengar and Power Yoga are probably the most physically focused forms of Yoga.
Do I have to be a vegetarian to practice Yoga?
Although the traditional Yoga diet is vegetarian, you don't have to be a vegetarian to practice Yoga. In fact, in a recent survey by the Yoga Site only about one out of every three Yoga practitioners was a vegetarian.
How many times a week should I do Yoga and for how long?
Most schools teach a practice session that lasts 60-90 minutes.  If you can do that every day, that’s great.  If not, try and do that much a few days a week, including a class or two, and fill in with shorter sessions on days when you don't have as much time.  However, any Yoga is better than no Yoga, and 20 to 30 minutes a day is better than 90 minutes once a week.
Will Yoga help me lose weight and which style is best?

Yoga can make you look and feel better, regardless of your weight.  That said, Yoga can help you slim down in a couple of ways.  First, the exercises will help you burn calories.  In addition, they'll help tone your muscles and improve your posture.  Yoga is also about healthy living, which includes a healthy diet.  That doesn't mean you have to become a vegetarian, just that you should be conscious of the foods you eat, sticking with natural, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, etc. as much as possible while limiting your intake of junk food and foods high in fat, like red meat.
Any of the basic hatha styles will help.  The important thing is to practice daily (or at least 4-5 days a week). If possible, try and find a teacher. Books, videos and website can be a great help, but nothing beats a live instructor.
Is it okay to practice Yoga while pregnant?
It is okay to start doing yoga when you're pregnant, but it's much better to continue practicing Yoga while you are pregnant as long as you were practicing before conception.  Yoga is a great way to keep fit during pregnancy.  In particular it can help strengthen the pelvic area, normalize thyroid functioning and blood pressure, and help keep you calm and relaxed -- all of which is good for the baby, too.  In general, however, you want to avoid strain, compressing the belly or abdomen and inverted postures, especially in the later stages.  It is a good idea to work with a Yoga teacher with pre-natal Yoga experience especially if you are new to yoga.
Should women do Yoga during menses?

Mostly it's a matter of personal preference. Some women don't want to do Yoga while they have their period, many don't mind and continue to practice during menses.  For women who do choose to practice, it is suggested that they avoid inverted poses, abdominal strengtheners, extended holding of any pose, or energizing breaths (kapalabhati).  The issue is that these practices might interfere with the downward flow or cause discomfort.
Has it been "proved" that Yoga is good for you?
Yes.  Western science has been studying Yoga for nearly 50 years, and the evidence shows numerous physical and psychological benefits from Yoga.  Interestingly, there seems to be something about Yoga -- vs. exercise and controlled breathing -- that is beneficial.  For example, a recent study with heart patients showed that those who followed a stress reduction program that included many Yoga practices did better than patients who exercised or did nothing. Further, preliminary studies in the United States and India suggest that Yoga may be helpful for specific conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, anxiety, stress and others. 

Can Yoga control high blood pressure?
Sometimes.  Studies have shown that certain Yoga practices can help some patients control their high blood pressure. In general, Yoga promotes health, a sense of calm and relaxation.  In addition, it teaches you to be aware of your body and to listen to the signals it sends -- all of which can be very useful.
Certain Yoga postures should be avoided, however, if you have high blood pressure, including the shoulderstand, headstand and downward dog.  There are also a number of postures that you should approach with caution and not hold for extended periods of time (more than a few breaths).  These include Warrior I and II, Mountain, Triangle, Half Moon, Tree, Standing Squat and Symbol of Yoga.
Can Yoga help cure migraines?

Migraines are caused by the sudden constriction and then dilation of blood vessels to the brain.  No one knows what causes the blood vessels to behave this way.  It could be genetics, stress or a something else entirely.  Regular practice of Yoga, including postures, pranayama (breath exercises) and meditation can help relieve some of the suffering and make the condition more manageable.  Postures will help improve blood circulation and also relieve physical tension and stress, which may be a contributing factor to migraines.
Will Yoga make me taller?

If you are a fully grown adult, you won't grow as a result of Yoga.  However, a regular Yoga practice will improve your posture, which will have a similar effect.  A regular program of asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing) will do the trick.  The postures outlined on the Yoga Site's Posture page are good place to start.  You may find that one of the side effects of practicing Yoga is that you no longer care as much about your height.  If you are young and still growing, regular Yoga practice and a good diet will help you reach your full height.
Is there a Yoga program for tendinitis of the wrist?

Rest and relaxation are the best treatments.  If you can make slow gentle movements without causing pain, do those to help prevent the wrist from becoming stiff.  During the episode, relaxation, meditation and visualization may help ease the pain.  It is important to breathe diaphragmatically, i.e. belly breathing, to trigger the relaxation response.  Set aside some time to practice.  Like carpal tunnel, tendinitis is caused by repetitive stress.  Examine your work habits and see if there is a more ergonomic way to function.
I suffer from social anxiety, despite trying several kinds of medication, nothing really helps me. Can Yoga help?
In general, the combined practice of Yoga postures, meditation and pranayama breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety levels.  It also helps build feelings of confidence and well-being and creates stronger sense of self, all of which can help reduce levels of social anxiety.  In addition, some of the practices - such as Nadi Shodhana and other breathing techniques - can help alleviate the symptoms of an anxiety attack.  Yoga also teaches greater self awareness of mind and body.  With practice, you may begin to sense the conditions that lead up to an attack and deal with them before they get out of control. It's important to start and maintain a regular practice.  You should feel some immediate temporary relief, but it may take several months before you notice significant change.

Can Yoga get rid of varicose veins?
Varicose veins, the enlargement and discoloration of veins, cannot be cured (surgery and injection treatments can improve their appearance, though).  However, yoga can help alleviate the symptoms and mitigate complications.  The book "Yoga for Common Ailments" recommends a classic Yoga asana routine, especially inverted postures.  Also, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning a practice to make sure that there is no danger of blood clots.
The FAQ was supplied by the yogasite.com which you can find at www.yogasite.com as a valuable resource for further reading on yoga which has been modified by The Yoga Society of Hong Kong.

Courtesy of Ming Lee, the Chairman of the Yoga Society of Hong Kong

Keyword: Health, Jakartadoyoga, Yoga, Yoga Studio, Jakarta, Indonesia