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Yoga solutions: Ashtanga teacher Mary Kay West answers your burning yoga questions.

The following questions have been asked by my students and represent problems that are often encountered in the practice of yoga both at home and in the classroom. The answers presented have been helpful for most people most of the time but should by no means take the place of the advice of your doctor or alternative health practitioner. Also, seeking the advice of a qualified, professional yoga instructor in person is always the best solution!

Q. Performing standing poses like triangle pose causes pain along the inner side of the front knee (if performing the right side, the right knee). What can I do to relieve the discomfort?

--Joe Taft, Asheville, N.C.

A. Pain and discomfort along the medial side of the knee in triangle and related poses is common and often related to misalignment of the knee in relation to the hip and/or ankle, as well as overextension of the knee joint itself. The problem can be reduced or eliminated by checking your basic alignment of the front leg as follows: stand with your back about four inches away from a wall with your feet three to four feet apart. Turning the right foot directly forward until the outer edge of that foot is parallel to the wall, fold to the right into triangle pose. In correct alignment, the outer edge of the right foot, the right outer knee, and the right outer hip should all be the same distance away from the wall. Next, make sure that you keep a very small bend in the right knee, just enough to keep a sense of the back of that knee feeling "soft." Finally, creating a lift of the inner right arch and ankle will reduce stress along the inner knee. Let a qualified yoga teacher assess your pose and help you fine tune the alignment and action of this wonderful, chakra balancing asana. With correct practice, this pose brings strength and balance to the development of the legs, hips, and ankles. Spiritually, the pose brings a sense of grounding to the earth while developing connection to that which is greater than the individual self. Enjoy!

Q. Is it O.K. to practice with yoga video tapes at home instead of taking classes?

--Ed Baldson, SanDiego, CA

A. Your interest in yoga and your willingness to practice on your own will surely bring many benefits physically, mentally, and spiritually. However, while there are many expertly produced videos by yogis of world renown available for home practice, it is best to use them to compliment the instruction you receive from a qualified yoga teacher. The reasons are many, but a most important one is that each yoga posture (asana) must be practiced according to each individual's ability and limitations, strengths and weaknesses. These abilities and limitations are both physical and mental. The best course of your practice can only be assessed by a teacher in class where appropriate individualization of the postures can be made. Also, as your practice of yoga continues, the likelihood of injury may increase without the trained eye of a teacher to watch your progress, adjusting postures to your changing needs. With the guidance of an objective eye, your body/mind awareness will expand and deepen. Without it, you may tend to remain in comfortable patterns of movement and thought, limiting the potential benefits of yoga. If for some reason you are unable to leave home for classes there are many yoga teachers willing to conduct private lessens. Good luck!

Q. Is there anything in the chanting of OM in my yoga classes that would be offensive to my Christian beliefs?

--Judy McClung, Asheville, NC

A. No. Let's look at it this way ... it is certain that OM is the oldest mantra or sound of spiritual power known to the sages of India. While its origin is somewhat obscure, Vihari-Lala Mitra in the Yoga-Vasishtha has made a link between the word OM and Amen, and many scholars feel this connection to be philosophically valid. All agree that OM is the vocalization of an actual sound or vibration which pervades the entire universe and is audible to those in higher states of consciousness. In India, this is also known as "all this" which means that OM is the universe as a totality, not a conglomerate of individual parts as we experience in ordinary states of consciousness. OM is, then, the primordial sound that reveals itself to the "inner ear" of the practitioner who has controlled the mind and senses. Chanting OM elevates the consciousness of the chanter towards this sense of unification with the "all this", the "Absolute", God or Jesus of Christianity, or any other concept of that which is greater than our ego-based identity. Therefore, chanting OM is intended only to enhance your spiritual life however you choose to practice it. As the Rig-Veda (1.64.46) says, "There is a single Truth but the wise call it by different names."

Mary Kay West has been teaching yoga since 1991. She is certified by Integrative Yoga Therapy and is trained in both the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions. She currently owns and operates the Yoga Loft in Asheville, North Carolina. Submit questions for Yoga Solutions to Mary Kay West, 14 Brookwood Rd. Asheville, NC, 28804 or email questions to
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Author:West, Mary Kay
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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