5 Misconceptions About Yoga
Do you remember that time you were on the fence about rolling your mat out in the yoga studio when your intentions were to be lead to a healthier version of you? Now is the time to shed off any myths you may have heard, and step into the welcoming space of acceptance.
I am excited to share with you common misconceptions about the practice of Yoga in hopes to alleviate any doubts that may be breeding in your mind or are thinking about attending but may be unsure and looking for some insights. This was written in hopes to get more of you into the studio or at least on your mat more in your own home so you can still receive benefits from this practice.
So let’s dive in! I have what I believe to be the top five misconceptions about yoga that need to be debunked.
1) You need to be flexible
The good news is, you do not have to already be flexible to begin or resume your yoga practice. So, what is yoga? A popular way to translate this word is “to yoke” or “union”, so we need to take the exterior image out of our heads and remember that yoga is about bringing awareness through these physical and mental exercises. Flexibility in terms of yoga has become very misleading, and it is unfortunate that overtime, westernized yoga has tainted the image of what this ancient practice is truly about through these beautiful, picturesque, over-the-top glossy images of people in their deepest backbends or with their bodies thrown around in a pretzel.
This is not truly what yoga is all about, but a mere aesthetic appeal. Although it’s an art form and a beautiful way to express yourself, this is not at all what we do in a typical yoga class. I have yet to instruct someone into the full splits or standing dancer, natarajasana. These advanced postures are just not possible for the majority of us, and it is disheartening to hear that someone is afraid to go to their local studio because they feel they are not flexible enough.
I am here to tell you that yes, you WILL become more flexible and experience a broadened range of motion with consistent practice as the postures will cause your body to become opened, but that is not the end goal of yoga.
Saying you have to be flexible to practice the asanas is the same as believing you have to be clean to take a shower or already fit to begin working out. Flexibility is achieved through practice along with many other benefits. I want you to get this out of your head right now that you do not already have to be flexible OR thin. Yoga is designed for ALL body types. If you are feeling inflexible, and want to try attending classes here at the studio, but afraid of standing out, I promise that you are not alone, and I promise that you will not be the only person who is not yet able to touch your toes or the floor or enter a backbend. Your instructor will work with you and meet you where you are as you progress.
2) Yoga isn’t for men
Did you know yoga was originally practiced by males ONLY? Yoga traditionally was taught one-on-one between a teacher (or a guru), and his pupil which lead to a chain of teacher to student, teacher to student. Fast forward to later in history, a lady named Indra Devi who is known as the first woman to study yoga, living to the grand age of 102 helped bring yoga to America after opening her first studio here in the United States in 1947. So, it was pretty recent. She was fascinated with the teachings of yoga and approached a well-known yoga “master” named Sri Krishnamacharya who also taught the now famous B.K.S Iyengar, a male student. Devi approached this master, wanting to gain insights and knowledge yet he repeatedly refused her because she was a western woman. The master eventually gave in with enough persuasion and later wanted to help her become a yoga teacher.
Despite yoga originally serving as an all-inclusive practice for males, now you can walk into just about any studio and see the majority of women practicing, although yoga did not become ultra feminized for lack of a better term, until about a decade ago or more. Correct me if I am wrong, but it must have been pretty recent that society painted this picture of yoga being tailored towards just women. Through social media and the women empowerment movement are likely dominating factors that plays into this reversed role of gender.
Yoga is practiced among football players, firefighters, or any career that requires you to be physically fit, but we still need men back onto their mats. Men can benefit from practicing yoga pertaining to their natural anatomical structures to help even out their muscles as they increase flexibility, as the average male is generally less flexible than females. They can also benefit from stretching in order to prevent injuries, especially those who are active or into bodybuilding, requiring an exercise of a more Yin quality to counteract their demanding regimens. Let us move on to misconception number three,
3) Yoga is just stretching
While there are styles of yoga that focus merely on stretching (such as Yin which harnesses the moon energy) traditionally, yoga was designed to prepare the body for meditation. The monks would wake up bright and early in the morning before sunrise to perform a series of postures oftentimes for over one hour to prepare the body for rest in meditation.
Alongside meditation, yoga can also strengthen your body. Although it’s not aerobic and you are not lifting iron on your mat, you can still build and develop your muscles through strengthening postures. Take the Warrior II pose for example. It looks easy, but it requires both strength and stability to perform this posture. Try placing yourself in this position for two minutes and see how your quadriceps feel after. Look at crow, warrior III, even bridge among many others, and see the strength and stability required to achieve these asanas.
Yoga is a subtle way to strengthen your body and enhance your daily performances. If you work hard enough on your mat and enter the postures with intention, you can, in fact, become stronger. Additionally, this practice teaches us to breathe the correct way which will in turn gift you with strength considering the breath – that prana is “life force” which gives us energy to sustain through our day to day lives. Referring back to number one, a flexible person usually needs to be stronger. A person that is not flexible may be strong, which is great, but they still need to work on flexibility to create that balance. Yoga is absolutely for everyone and can be individualized to suit your needs.
4) Yoga is religious
Yoga is universal and practiced by many different cultures, races, religions worldwide. Anyone of any religion can benefit from this practice. The origins of yoga are Vedic and have roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, but that does not mean you should shy away from this practice, as there are SEVERAL dimensions to this ancient practice. Yoga is not secular, yet has the ability to deepen your faith depending on how far you want to enter with your spirituality. You are and should never feel obliged to believe this way or that way to practice or participate in a yoga setting.
With that being said, as a teacher, I will never ask you to do anything that will potentially make you feel uncomfortable. A good yoga teacher should give you space to be with your own beliefs, and give you that space. If a teacher or studio is making you feel you need to conform to their beliefs to be a part of their class, then this is a telltale sign you should walk out. This is not likely to happen today, but true Yoga is a respecter of all beliefs and cultures.
5) Yoga is just for younger people
Too often comments are expressed from middle-aged and older individuals saying they are TOO OLD for yoga. This is not true! In fact, if you are in your mid-40s, 50s, 60s, and so on, I want you to know that you have a right to practice just like as any other generation, and what a better time to resume or begin your practice than NOW. This applies to kids as well.
If you are older, the good thing is, you do not HAVE to be down on your mat to practice, you can be sitting in a chair and still receive the same benefits, or standing against a wall for some of these postures. If you live near a YMCA or a studio that offers chair yoga, I definitely recommend you checking those style of classes out to suit your needs.
I also want to add the importance of props in your practice, and this goes for all ages. Some of us may have a knee injury or wrists that are not yet strong enough to hold our bodies up in plank or even on an all-fours position for long periods of time. This is when you want to incorporate props into your practice to both enhance your performance and protect the areas of your body that needs more padding. You do not have to leave your house to find props. Use pillows, blankets, towels, really anything to give you the cushion you need.
Also keep in mind if you are older or anyone for this matter, and just beginning your practice, you can start with just 10 to 15 minutes daily, and still receive the benefits you need. You may also want to consider taking a few free classes online where you can find different types tailored to your needs in your lifetime right now. So, definitely take advantage of this free information that is offered online.
It’s very important for those individuals who are crawling up the middle age ladder or already there to keep a daily or weekly yoga practice, and why? To strengthen the bones, protect the joints, and keep your mind clear and sharp. One thing you can do is sit in your chair and rest your hands atop your knees and do a few rounds of cat/cow; or sitting nice and tall as you perform alternate leg lifts. There are a plethora of postures you can perform and know that there is always something available to you.
Moving onto the opposite spectrum of the age range, kids! Yes, yoga is also for kids! If you are a parent or someone thinking about starting a family or know someone who has kids, we know exactly how important it is that they find their focus. We know attention disorders have become commonly present among many children, and by giving them the space to release their what seems to be an infinite amount of energy, they will learn to be responsive in a more focused manner. Also, this is a great way for them to continue learning!
A Kids Yoga Class often involves games, storytelling, and asanas that often become animals. Your child’s yoga class may be a place to play charades and have fun while also learning about their own bodies through anatomy, nutrition, ecology, and even life lessons interwoven throughout the class. Again, there are tons of classes online if an in-person kids yoga is not accessible to you. I personally found some good ones on YouTube when I used to work in a Daycare and surprisingly they worked!
Yoga is something they can benefit from doing after school or on a weekend as this is a great way to teach them to wind down, while also giving them a feeling of accomplishment. They will learn so much wisdom from an early age that they will hopefully bring forth into their adulthood. This can apply to adolescents or teens too, as they are at the age where they are under a lot of pressure because they are still learning to find that balance between obtaining good self-esteem while letting their ego subside. This practice is a great way to teach them that they are loved and they are cared about and hopefully this can give them the space to clear their heads.
Think about it. They are sitting in the classroom most of the day moving from one class to another all in one day. So by practicing yoga, this can help with any information and emotional overload.
Yoga is for ALL ages. Not just for young 20 to 30-year-olds, but everyone.
I hope some of these tips and debunked misconceptions were helpful in getting more of you onto your mat and into your practice and that you find what fits you or works for you. By coming to your mat, you are going to have and develop a sense of self-worth, healthy self-esteem, and this sense of goodness that no one else can take away from you.
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