It’s fair to say that yoga has been around for a while and has come a long way since its hippie days of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I remember going to my first class when I was twelve years old. I went with my grandma and fell asleep. I thought yoga was for older ladies in leotards and didn’t take another class until after college. I had no idea the practice could be so dynamic and physical. Luckily, yoga has gained a lot more attention over the years, and many people now have a good idea of what it’s all about as well as its benefits. But still there are a few common misconceptions worth addressing. So here we go: debunking the top three yoga myths and reasons for not practicing.
YOGA MYTH #1: All Yoga Is Created Equal
At first glance it may seem that yoga is yoga is yoga, but take a second look and you’ll discover that there are many different styles of yoga being offered in the States — more than one hundred, according to the American Yoga Association. And while yoga is for everyone, not every style of yoga is. Meaning, the yoga offered at your gym might not be the best yoga for you.
This is why I wrote my book Pick Your Yoga Practice — to help newbies and experienced practitioners alike understand the sometimes subtle differences between styles of yoga. In the book you’ll find seven popular yoga styles explained in depth — including their teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion, and personal attention — as well as ten more styles covered in the “Best of the Rest” chapter.
You should also be aware that not all yoga teachers are created equal, either. Yoga’s popularity has grown at such an exponential rate here in the U.S. that yoga’s professional standards and governing bodies are just now catching up. Some current teachers completed their training over a weekend, while others have spent years studying to become a yoga teacher. Different styles of yoga have different requirements, expectations, and standards for certifying yoga teachers. Spend a short amount of time checking out the teacher’s bio and trainings before jumping into class, and only do what feels safe for your body.
YOGA MYTH #2: Yoga Is Only for Flexy-Bendy Types
Whenever I tell someone that I teach yoga, they either tell me they practice yoga and love it or share with me the reasons they don’t practice yoga, the most often being “I’m not flexible.”
While I understand that from the looks of it yoga is only for those blessed with the ability to fold themselves in half, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is meant to help you become more comfortable, gain strength, and increase range of motion in the body you have. The benefits are the same regardless of how far you can bend. Besides, you aren’t strong before you start strength training and you don’t have endurance before you start cardio workouts — does that mean you aren’t going to lift weights or go for a run, ever? Don’t be silly. When I started practicing yoga I couldn’t even touch my toes.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you’re at all uncomfortable with your inflexibility or intimidated by the class environment, you may want to think about taking a more compassionate style of yoga, like Kripalu yoga, or a beginners’ class where you’ll learn how to use props to modify the poses to compensate for tight hips, shoulders, and hamstrings. Many styles stress function over form, meaning that the shape of the yoga postures are modified to meet the needs of the individual. A skilled teacher will be able to show you, with the use of props, how to adjust yourself to make the poses more comfortable for your body.
I’ll also have you know that it is better to come to yoga with less flexibility and gain it gradually than to start practicing as a wet noodle. It’s the flexible people who are more likely to injure themselves. Yoga requires both flexibility and strength, and ideally you’ll balance the two over time. Flexibility without the strength to match is much more hazardous than strength without flexibility.
YOGA MYTH #3: Yoga Is Only for the Spiritual
Not true. Yoga is for anyone. The great thing about the practice is that you can take it as far as you want to go. You may just like the physical exercise combined with the breathing, and leave it at that. You may become a monk. Point being, yoga doesn’t care. The more people stretching, breathing, and moving their spine, the better! All are welcome.
What’s more, you don’t have to give up drinking wine or coffee or stop eating meat. I myself am not a vegetarian (another yoga myth: in order to do yoga you have to be a vegetarian). You can continue with the same lifestyle you have now and practice yoga. However, don’t be surprised if you start to opt for healthy lifestyle choices over unhealthy ones. Yoga has a way of working itself into your life off the mat. Yoga puts you more in touch with your body — the way you feel. By practicing yoga, you will start to notice what makes you feel your best and when you’re not feeling quite your best. Chances are, without forcing yourself, you’ll simply start making decisions that help you feel good all the way around.
The fantastic part about having so many styles of yoga available is that you have some choice as far as personal preference. If you want a more overtly spiritual yoga practice, then you can choose a style that incorporates more chanting and meditation; if you’re looking for a straightforward yet mindful workout, then take a class focused on producing sweat. There is of course a lot of crossover, and each style has much more to offer than what initially meets the eye, but with this many variations on the market you’re sure to find the right combination for you.
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is a Los Angeles–based yoga teacher and the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice
. She teaches at Equinox Sports Clubs, works one-on-one with some of the entertainment industry’s leading professionals, and holds workshops and retreats nationally and internationally.