9 Misconceptions About Yoga
Don’t let fallacies about yoga discourage you from trying it.
Do you think you have to be flexible to practice yoga? That yoga is a religion? That it’s just for thin white women? These are some of the most common fallacies about the centuries-old practice. “There are many misconceptions around the practice of yoga that I’ve heard firsthand,” says Ashleigh Sergeant, head of yoga content at Gaia.com, a streaming yoga service. “Unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions around yoga have discouraged some people from exploring the practice.” Here are nine common – but false – beliefs about yoga:
You have to be flexible to do yoga.
“I hear it all the time: ‘I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible,’” says Steffany Moonaz, director of clinical and academic research at Maryland University Integrative Health. Whether your body has Gumby-like flexibility or is as stiff as Frankenstein, there’s a yoga practice for you, Moonaz says. “Eventually you may touch your toes, but that’s not the point,” she says. “People who aren’t particularly flexible shouldn’t be discouraged about doing yoga.” She notes that some people with arthritis and other physical challenges do gentle yoga, which can be practiced with foam wedges to support their wrists and ankles to support certain poses.
All yoga is the same.
“There are many different styles and levels of yoga, so no matter your experience and goals, there is a vast array of options for you to choose from,” Sergeant says. For example, Ashtanga yoga is fast-paced and rigorous; Yin yoga is slower and involves holding poses for longer periods of time than other forms of yoga. Restorative yoga, which aims to achieve relaxation with the help of props such as blocks and straps, can be good for digestive issues, she says. And research has shown that alignment-based yoga, such as Iyengar yoga, is good for back pain.
You’ll know what kind of yoga is right for you after one practice.
With so many different types of yoga, you may need to try several before deciding which works for you, Sergeant says. For example, Ashtanga yoga might be perfect if you don’t mind working up a sweat, and Iyengar yoga may be helpful for people with arthritis or other physical challenges, she says. “Yoga is a very personal experience, and it often takes several practices with different teachers to find a fit,” Sergeant says. “It is important to explore various styles and create an open dialogue with instructors to discuss your intentions for practicing.”
Yoga is a religion.
Because meditating is integral to yoga and is also part of Buddhism and Hinduism, some people erroneously believe it’s a religion, Moonaz says. Adding to the confusion is the fact that yoga’s origins trace back to India – same as Buddhism and Hinduism. “Some of the features of yoga and Buddhism and Hinduism – such as meditation – overlap,” Moonaz says. But unlike those and other religions, yoga has no theology, churches or temples. However, practicing yoga can be a spiritual exercise, she says. “It’s the stillness and the quiet that can make yoga a spiritual experience,” Moonaz says. “It does not make it a religion.
Yoga can replace other forms of fitness.
While yoga is a form of physical activity, that’s not all it is, Sergeant says. “Yoga as a form of fitness is a very Western concept that came about only in the last 100 years,” she says. “The traditional concept of yoga, however, is a way to restore, heal and nourish the body rather than just being a form of fitness. Yoga should really aim to connect the body, mind and soul to create a state of mindfulness. Each person’s body has unique needs. Some people may require other types of cardio-based workouts, such as running, biking or hiking in order to stay ‘fit.’”
Yoga should always be done at a yoga studio.
You can practice yoga at home with the help of online classes, DVDs, apps and websites, Sergeant says. “An at-home practice gives you the ability to explore yoga on your own and get what you need out of your own unique practice,” she says. “Practicing at home gives you the freedom to experiment with various poses, hold the poses that feel good longer and change up a sequence.” Some people feel comfortable beginning their yoga practice at home, then connecting with a teacher, Sergeant says. For others, it’s better to begin their yoga practice with an instructor who provides guidance on form and safe poses before initiating a home practice, Moonaz says.
Yoga is too expensive.
Yoga classes can be pricey for people of modest means. In more expensive urban areas, they generally range from about $16 to $23 per class, compared to $9 to $23 per class in less pricey areas, according to yogabaron.com. Many studios offer packages of six to 10 classes in which the price per session is lower. But some studios are donation-based, and many community centers and local recreational facilities offer yoga classes, Moonaz advises. You can practice at home, and you don’t need fancy workout gear. Online classes are an inexpensive option.
Yoga teachers are great sources of health advice.
Some people regard yoga instructors as experts on subjects like whether herbal supplements are helpful, Moonaz says. But yoga students shouldn’t necessarily expect their yogis to be experts on an array of health issues. “I work with people with arthritis,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about arthritis, but I can’t take the place of a rheumatologist or answer questions about arthritis that should be directed to a doctor. I can help you modify your practice in a way that can help you with your symptoms. That’s different from providing health information.
Yoga is only for thin white women.
“Historically, yoga was initially practiced by old Indian men,” Moonaz says. “It certainly didn’t start with thin young white women. But as it was adopted in the West as a fitness movement, that stereotype has proliferated though mass media and popular culture. It’s unfortunate because it makes some people who aren’t thin young white women feel like they don’t belong. It’s really the job of yoga professionals to change the face of yoga and reach out to people from all walks of life.” In reality, yoga is for people of all ages, of different body types and from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, she says.
By Ruben Castaneda