Stereotypes abound in the world of yoga. If you’re new to yoga – or even if you have been practicing for a while – you may already have some specific notions about what yoga is and who can practice it.
Below is a quick primer on some of the most common myths about yoga – and the facts you should keep in mind. If you have any questions about any of these, let me know in the comments and I’ll answer them.
Myth #1: Yoga is a style of exercise.
This has to be the most common misconception about yoga. The fact is, yoga is a way of life. The movement part – or asana – is just ONE out of EIGHT components that make up authentic yoga practice. These are known as the Eight Limbs of yoga. The goal of asana is to prepare the body for stillness. The ancients used this strategy to be able to comfortably sit for long periods in meditation. A variety of different styles of asana have emerged over the years as yoga grew in popularity here in the west. The consistent marketing of yoga and the emphasis on body posture and alignment have created this notion that yoga is just another form of exercise to get fit. The good news is that myth is slowly disappearing as more yogis are choosing to share the philosophy that is the foundation of yogic practice. If that’s something you’d like to know more about, stick around. I’ll be getting into all that good stuff right here.
Myth #2: You have to be flexible to do yoga.
I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve heard this. It’s kind of understandable when all you see associated with yoga are images of people in pretzel poses. This misguided belief keeps a lot of people away from practicing. Don’t get it twisted (pun intended): physical flexibility is not required to practice yoga. consistently practicing yoga postures can actually increase your flexibility. You don’t need to be super flexible to begin. The key things you need when you come to the mat are a willingness to be present, an open mind, and a focus on your breath. And if you don’t have a mat, no problem. But I’ll discuss that one more later.
Myth #3: You need a certain body type.
This one is similar to myth #2. It’s a totally fictional concept that has held so many back from truly diving into yoga and exploring all of its benefits – both on and off the mat. Again, I point to skewed marketing for this. So in case you may have bought into this erroneous notion, let me be clear: yoga is for everybody. Every age, gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and yes, every body type too. Thankfully there are internet stars and social media influencers like Jessamyn Stanley and @edynloveslife who are helping to change the narrative and champion inclusivity and body positivity in the yoga space.
Myth #4: You need lots of props and equipment.
Now, to be fair, yoga props like blocks, straps and bolsters can all be supportive and helpful when bending, stretching, and deepening into your practice. But do you need them? Not really. If you don’t have a yoga mat, practice on a carpet or on the floor. The goal is to have some traction so you avoid slipping. Don’t have blocks? That’s ok, just go where your body invites you and don’t over-effort. In fact, relying on special props and clothing can put too much focus on the body – a distraction from the goal of turning inward and being fully present.
If you don’t have all the props and designer yoga clothes, you can still practice yoga. In the east, a T-shirt and shorts are the norm. Just be comfortable and able to move easily using whatever you have.
Myth #5: Yoga is a religion.
I believe yoga is a way of life, but it is not a religion. There is a lot of confusion about this rooted in misinformation. While yoga is commonly thought of as a practice that originated with Hindus in India, yoga in fact has no religious affiliations. At its core, yoga is a set of 8 principles that, when practiced consistently, build on each other towards the goal of enlightenment (or dissolving of the self). Sitting cross-legged with your palms together at your heart, breathing deeply and chanting OM, does not automatically make yoga a religion. There is no God being worshiped. There is no ceremony or consequences for not being devout. There is the opportunity to access deeper consciousness and self-awareness that can positively impact your own life and your interactions with others. Mantras and chants are tools that help us center ourselves and support our physical healing. They can create calm and help with focus. Other than that, yoga practice is ultimately about the union of mind, body and spirit. It embraces and welcomes all who want to practice and benefit from greater inner peace.
Any other myths you’ve heard about yoga? Post them in the comments and I’ll offer my perspectives. Always, with love.