While yoga has become a tremendous sub-culture in the Western world, it truly is for everyone. When I talk to people about my yoga practice, I get a wide range of responses and reasons that keep them from trying a yoga class.
I find that many people have preconceptions about the kinds of experiences that they will have if they practice yoga. Here are some yoga myths that are just that -- a stigma that is attached to the practice of yoga.
1. Yoga Is For Flexible People
I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve heard people say this. “I’m too stiff for yoga” or “I can barely touch my toes.” While it is common to walk into a yoga studio and see a beautiful woman in full Wheel pose (a complete backbend), there are also people of all ages and levels of flexibility.
I have a metal rod in my spine and back bending was and always will be difficult for me. It’s amazing to me, however, how a few years of practice have made me more flexible. That was not the case when I first began. Yoga is more about alignment and focusing on where your body is in the present moment. Most instructors pay careful attention to our body’s alignment in a posture, rather than how far back one can bend or forward fold.
If form is correct and alignment is accurate, the benefit of a pose is still present. One does not need to be flexible to try or to practice yoga. People of all ages and abilities can be found rolling out their mat on a given day.
2. Yoga Is For “Spiritual” People
Whether you wear mala beads, read the Bhagavad Gita or simply just enjoy the practice - yoga is what we make of it and what we receive from the practice. While yoga can absolutely lead to a deeper curiosity about chakra clearing, energy blockages, and the ancient practice to prepare the body for meditation; it’s not a rule or a prerequisite for practicing yoga. You do not need to even know what a chakra is!
I have been to yoga classes where the instructor infuses spiritual teachings and thought-provoking ideologies in their instruction as we make an offering or set an intention before class. I have also been to classes where the instructor reminds me of my burly Italian brother; the instructions are precise and infused with a few jokes. I leave class feeling just as fulfilled and physically awakened as any other class I’ve taken.
One does not need to hold a certain set of spiritual beliefs to practice yoga. Finding a yoga class that feels right can have everything to do with spirituality or nothing at all. A side effect may be that we feel more stillness in difficult moments, or feel more focused in our daily lives, but a person does not have to feel “awakened” to any kind of spiritual belief system to practice yoga.
3. Yoga Is For The Young And Skinny
We are immersed in a very visual culture where the female form is (unfortunately) only celebrated in youth and optimal body weight, and the yoga culture is no exception. People see Instagram photos of beautifully built yogis in the perfect King Pigeon, and the cover of yoga magazines are adorned with gorgeous bodies in perfect alignment. This is NOT the case in a yoga studio on the daily.
You will find men and women of all ages and fitness levels at any given yoga class. I have practiced next to 75-year old men, as well as, 60-something grandmothers bursting with excitement about their new grandbabies. And yes, I’ve also practiced next to twenty-something yoga journal cover hopefuls. The beauty of the practice is that there are different ability levels, and different types of classes which are inclusive to people of all ages and body types.
Yoga is definitely not designated for just one kind of person. Actually, a lot people discover the physical benefits of this practice as they age because it helps ease the stiffness of aging joints and muscles. Yoga is a very inclusive practice and open to everyone.
4. Yoga Is A “Chick Thing”
Another HUGE Western myth is that yoga is a female practice. While yes, a large number of yogis are female, there are many male practitioners in every class that I attend. Some of the best instructors I’ve ever had have been male. Yoga practice is a combination of strength and flexibility, so while women may be naturally more flexible, men are stronger and possess the upper body strength necessary for many arm balances that most women find challenging.
Yoga is certainly NOT geared only for the female form. Try holding side plank for 5 yoga breaths, or regular plank for that matter…let me know if you feel you’re in a “girly” class after that, boys! Yoga is an ancient Indian practice where the gurus and master teachers were men who possessed the great physical strength necessary for an advanced practice.
5. Yoga Isn’t Really Exercise
Many people express an interest in yoga, but feel they really want to begin a fitness regime, not just one of “stretching.” I always giggle to myself because, while there is restorative yoga and very gentle types of hatha offered in the yoga community, yoga can be a very challenging practice.
There are no weights in yoga. You know what your weights are in a yoga class? Your entire body weight. If you want to master headstand, you must use your core muscles to get your body weight up into a controlled movement and eventually your body is upside down. Then, you hold yourself steady for 10 yoga breaths. There are no cardio machines in the yoga studio. Do you know what a yogi uses instead? Their breath.
After a few Sun Salutations, followed by 5 or 6 vinyasas, the more challenging poses begin. This will leave anyone gasping to catch their breath. In yoga, we are taught breathing techniques to control our breath in order to breathe through any discomfort, while continuing to move in time with the rest of the class. Yoga is not just stretching (unless you want it to be), but is a cardiovascular workout.
Whether you want to practice yoga as a spiritually aligned moving meditation, a gentle restorative flow to bring peace into your life, a vigorous fitness regime, or if you simply enjoy how it leaves your body feeling - yoga is for everyone! Don’t let stereotypes or myths keep you from trying out a yoga class. Go for it! You fit in.