6 or so years ago if someone mentioned yoga, I’d think of a bunch of hippies twisting themselves up like pretzels while chanting “om”. After taking a few classes offered at my work, I discovered that my perception had been totally wrong, and since then, yoga has changed my life. I now practice daily, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Yoga gas improved my physical and mental health and introduced me to a whole new way of life. Because of yoga, I became interested in other holistic health practices like meditation and plant medicine; it literally changed the trajectory of my life.
Even though the benefits of yoga are apparent to me now, they certainly weren’t when I walked into my first class. I was nervous because I had never tried yoga before, and I half wondered if I was wasting my lunch break on a really long stretch session. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I really only went to that first class to support a coworker. I held assumptions about yoga, and I really wish someone had told me how much a consistent practice would improve my life; I would have started a lot sooner!
The misconceptions we have about unfamiliar things often keep us from beneficial experiences. The bottom line is that yoga is for anyone and everyone who has the intention to live a happier and healthier life. Yoga is accessible to all; there is a style of yoga to fit every level of physical ability, and everyone can benefit from a regular practice. In this post, we’ll bust three of the most common yoga myths that keep people from giving this life-changing practice a try.
Yoga Myth #1: You have to be flexible to do yoga.
This is by far the most common misconception about yoga. When I started doing yoga, I could not touch my toes and keep my legs straight; I got to maybe my ankle. And I’ll admit that I felt self-conscious in many of those early classes as I watched my neighbor, in the same stretch, bring her forehead all the way to her shin.
Very few people start out flexible. Yoga accesses muscles and joints in our bodies that are often neglected in other forms of exercise, and flexibility comes with consistent practice. The reason my fellow yogi was as bendy as Gumby was because she had been doing yoga for several years, and she was living the results.
After years of practice, I can now touch my toes with ease, and I’ve become more flexible than I ever thought possible. I don’t remember how long it took me to be able to do this, because by the time it happened, I no longer cared. Yoga quickly created mental space for me that I had been lacking, and my performance in asana, the postures of yoga, became much less important than my reason for coming to the mat in the first place.
Yoga Myth #2: Yoga isn’t exercise.
Back in the early 2000’s, there was a huge buzz around an at-home workout video collection (yes, we’re talking DVD’s here) called P90X. It consisted of a dozen or so videos of workouts for arms, legs, back, etc. and it was supposed to totally transform your body in a matter of months. The workouts were hard; you can’t promise life-changing results without challenging exercise. But the most difficult video in the whole set was the 90-minute yoga session. It was a very face-paced vinyasa flow class, consisting of more chaturangas than I could count.
There are many different styles of yoga, with varying levels of physicality. Someone who holds the misconception that yoga is not physical exercise has probably seen examples of Yin yoga, or restorative yoga, which consists of slow-paced, relaxing holds that are not likely to cause a participant to sweat. But there are also types of yoga that are very physical and can easily make one feel as if they’ve just run a marathon. That’s the style they were using in P90X, and it’s a style you can choose if you’re looking for an intense cardio workout with added spiritual benefits.
Yoga is a whole-body workout, and even the classes that don’t necessarily elevate your heart rate are beneficial to our physical health. Slower-paced classes focus more on internal healing, of the joints, muscles, organs, and facia. They are also relaxing and help facilitate mental clarity and peace. Classes that incorporate more flow and balance, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa, will be much more physically challenging, and feel more like a workout.
Yoga Myth #3: Yoga is for hippies.
Another very common misconception about yoga is that you have to be a certain type of person to do it. Yoga is often stereotyped as a practice for people who are super spiritual and talk nothing but peace and love, constantly aligning their chakras.
That stereotype has evolved drastically over the past several decades, as more and more people discover the holistic health benefits of a regular yoga practice. Yoga is no longer just for tree-huggers. It has been introduced to schools, the workplace, and even the medical field, as a tool that anyone can use to improve their physical and mental health.
People rarely walk into their first yoga class with any knowledge of yogic philosophy, or intention on incorporating it in their lives; I know it was certainly the case for me. Over time, I became curious about how yoga was making me feel so much better. When we hear the word yoga, we think of the physical postures. But yoga is an umbrella term used to describe the Eight Limb Path of Yoga, which is essentially the yogic philosophy of life. The path includes lessons on compassion for Self and others, meditation, breathing practices, and spiritual connection; the physical postures are only one of the limbs.
Practicing yoga regularly has a way of changing your perception of yourself, the world, and life itself. Yoga quiets the mind and helps us separate ourselves from the tornado of thoughts that typically take up our head space. From this new place of clarity, many people begin to change the way they live their lives, and therefore might appear more….hippie-ish. I’ll use myself as an example. Yoga lifted so many veils from in front of my eyes, I could barely keep up with it. I started eating differently, spending my free time differently, and thinking in a much more compassionate way.
Now that we’ve cleared up some misconceptions about yoga, come give one of our classes a try at Inspiring Actions! Our studios in Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin offer classes for all experience levels. For the total newbie looking to learn about yoga in a nonintimidating, welcoming atmosphere, we offer our Yoga 101 series, ideal for people who have never done yoga before or who have limited experience. Students will learn about the history of yoga, and its many benefits. For the yogi looking to deepen their practice, we offer teacher training. There is something for everyone at Inspiring Actions, and all are welcome here. Thanks for reading!