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Questions from a newbie…

Laura Gilmore answers all the questions...

  1. Why do we say ‘Om’ sometimes, not all the time? Why chant it all together? What do the other words such as shanti mean that are also sometimes chanted?

The chant of “Om” represents the vibration made by the universe, the primordial sound or energy. When we chant it together, we acknowledge our interconnectedness with each other and with the vast universe all united by prana or life force.

Shanti means peace, so Om shanti sends a message and a vibration of peace out across this planet and the wider universe.

  1. I think it was Ali, in class she chimed a bowl as well at the end, which seemed to add to the general feeling but what is the significance of it?

The chiming of a bowl, or even different bowls with different sounds can be felt within the body as well as by the ears, so that we feel ourselves vibrate, bringing a deep and potentially healing awareness to body and mind.

  1. Does Yoga originate from a religion such as Hindu/Buddhism?

There are interconnections between Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga, all paths weave their way through India history, crossing at various points. But the philosophy underlying yoga is also somewhat distinct from either. Some ideas permeate all three practices, but essentially yoga is a way to discover the truth through discipline of body and mind, and so can be thought of as a science or an art, more than a religion.

  1. It seems to have been a very male orientated practice in India, but now in western countries very female dominated, just an observation, I wonder why?

Some yoga historians believe Parvati (the Goddess) was the first yogini who taught the practices to Shiva, and there is evidence that India, in the Indua valley region would have been a matriarchal and Goddess worshipping society, in which the initial ideas of yoga developed. But the India culture is currently a patricarchal culture, with men guardians of the yoga heritage, religion and more. Yoga practices have evolved and morphed through ages as India came into contact with different cultures. The 20thcentury has seen much more focus on the physical asana practice, and even a militarization of the practices. In the west where yoga is often most strongly associated with flexibility, women feel more drawn to the practices. The movement practice is really a way to focus the mind, to discipline the senses, so that we can live with a greater sense of freedom.  So this is in reality as relevant to women as men.

  1. We are taught to breath into the belly, then ribs, then up to collarbones etc, what is the thinking on this and not the reverse? In Heart of Yoga it covered this subject and believed breathing into the chest and then the belly actually helped the spine align and lock in properly?

This is to help those with shallow breath- often with stress the breath becomes short, and only the upper area of the lungs is accessed. So by focusing the breath firstly into the lower lobes of the lungs, we can start to breath in a more full, healthy manner.

Breathing is the basis of all of the biological and physiological processes- digestion, thinking, metabolism etc. and a restricted breath, leading to a tight diaphragm (or vice versa) would have all sorts of repercussions on e.g. the pelvic floor muscles, which could then pull on the tailbone ie spine, potentially leading to back problems.

  1. Is there Asanas that we should/could be doing at home to help us progress more in class? Or even just some simple stretching and rolling

Yes! The ideal is to do a little practice often, and then expand your practice from there. Depending on what you most need to release can be a good way to work out what to practice. Or just starting with a simple breath exercise and then seeing how the body wants to move. Or if you find it easiest to do some sun salutations this will include a good range of movements. Generally it is advised to open and close the practice with breath awareness or shavasana (rest).