Is yoga a religion? No, yoga is not a religion. Most people think of asana (poses) when they think of yoga. Yoga has many aspects to it, including the physical poses and breathwork designed to increase flexibility and strength. Yoga literally means “union”, and we use many techniques to bring the body, mind, and spirit together as one. As a philosophical system, yoga can complement any belief system or religious practice, but it is not a religion in itself.
But what about chanting? Some teachers choose to chant “Om” or specific mantras in class, and others do not. If chanting feels uncomfortable to you, it is not a required part of class. If you are curious about the specific meaning of a mantra, just ask your teacher to explain it to you before deciding whether or not you feel comfortable with it. If you don’t feel comfortable chanting, feel free to say a silent prayer of your own.
So what does “Om” mean? Om is basically the sound all life makes. Notice the sound of bees, a cat’s purr, even the sound a leaf blower or lawn mower makes! When we chant “Om”, we are surrounding ourselves with the vibration of life. Many studies have been done on the healing power of humming “Om”, and it is very calming to your nervous system.
What should I wear? You should wear clothes that are comfortable to move in. Generally, tighter fitting clothing makes it easier for your teacher to see your body and make sure your bones are aligned properly. Please refrain from wearing perfumes, scented lotions, or essential oils to class as some people are sensitive to these things.
Do I have to be flexible? I’m really out of shape! Yoga is for every body! As you practice the poses, you will automatically become stronger and more flexible! It’s important to remember that your practice is only for you, and it doesn’t matter what other people are doing in each pose. It’s not a contest! Ask yourself, “Am I challenging my body to become stronger? Can I feel more freedom in my body as I stretch the muscles?” Yoga, however, does require consistent practice and patience. If you are looking for a quick fix, yoga may not be the answer for you.