5 Yoga Myths You Might Still Believe
Do a quick Google search of “types of yoga.” On the first page of results, you’ll find links to dozens of different types of yoga and yogic traditions, each focusing on something different. Some focus on muscles, others focus on meditation. Some are rooted in ancient tradition, others are modern, Western adaptations. And yet, yoga is still often treated as a singular practice, and it’s surrounded by assumptions and myths about yoga itself and about those who practice it. Many of these myths are rooted in depictions of yoga and yogis in media, or are loosely based upon a few notable figures who practice yoga.
Sometimes these assumptions and myths get in the way of practicing, and keep people from coming into the studio. Prior to taking classes at Your Yoga Louisville, I even believed and was leery of some of these myths.
So let’s bust some myths, shall we?
Myth 1: You have to be flexible to practice yoga
This myth is a pretty common one. Throughout various forms of media, yogis are often depicted as being able to contort and bend into bizarre shapes, crossing their ankles behind their head and balancing on parts of their body that most people didn’t know could touch the ground. Social media often perpetuates this myth. When you look up “#yoga” on Instagram or Twitter, the top results are typically the people who can do amazing, unexpected things with their bodies and make it look easy.
The truth, however, is that these people are posting their pictures on social media after years of practice, and may have dangerously forced their body into a pose just long enough to take a picture. Virtually nobody starts out being incredibly flexible or having the muscle control to learn difficult postures quickly. Flexibility is like strength. Some people may be more naturally prone to being strong, but anybody who starts lifting weights regularly is going to get stronger. The same is true for flexibility. It’s something that you have to grow over time, and you become more flexible by practicing asanas and stretches that make you more flexibility. Can’t touch your toes while standing? That’s fine! If you start practicing reaching for your toes, someday you’ll be able to.
Yoga will make you more flexible over time, but you definitely don’t have to be flexible to start.
Myth 2: Yoga is for skinny people
Unfortunately, yoga and yoga equipment is often advertised the same way as much of the rest of the fitness industry. The people we see wearing yoga pants or carrying mats in advertisements are notably thin. And somehow they managed to get through a full yoga class without a single hair moving. In short, this myth is perpetuated by unrealistic standards used in much of advertising.
The truth is that yoga doesn’t require a specific body type. Whether you’re small, large, or somewhere in between, you’re able to practice yoga. Wherever you’re at and whatever your body looks like, yoga is a great way to care for and honor your body. Being larger or being smaller won’t make you more or less capable of practicing yoga. To echo Myth 1 a bit, you can start where you are, wherever that may be, and through practice you will improve– regardless of body shape.
Unfortunately, Western culture often perpetuates damaging notions about bodies and beauty, saying that only certain shapes, colors, and sizes can be considered beautiful. That makes yoga all the more important for everybody and every body. Through practicing yoga, you come to accept and celebrate your body for where it is at and where you are on your life journey.
Myth 3: Yogis have to be (fill in the blank- vegan, hippies, Buddhists, etc.)
Growing up in rural Kentucky, in a town with a grand total of zero yoga studios, I often heard yoga being discussed as a cult-like religious practice, where practitioners had to change their diet and adopt specific beliefs in order to participate.
Thankfully, what I learned growing up is wrong. Very wrong.
There are as many ways to practice yoga as there are people. Some traditions and practices encourage certain behaviors and actions, but it’s quite rare that you’ll encounter a yoga studio or teacher who makes lifestyle or belief demands of their students.
If a person chooses to live by Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, which does outline specific lifestyle guidelines pertaining to diet and actions, the choice is their own.
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it’s a path where you start wherever you are. If your path doesn’t include dietary restrictions or certain beliefs, that’s totally fine. If it does, that’s fine too! The instructors at Your Yoga Louisville are going to meet you wherever you’re at, and are never going to force any belief or lifestyle upon you.
Myth 4: Yoga is only for women
The portrayal we most often see of yogis and yoga in the United States is predominantly feminine. Many men feel that yoga studios are either too feminine of a space for them, or that they wouldn’t be welcome in a yoga studio.
False, false, and false. We’ve already published an article about how dad’s can benefit from a yoga practice, so this post won’t dwell too long on why this myth is incorrect. The short answer, however, is that it’s a relatively new phenomenon that yoga is practiced predominantly by women, and men can gain as much from a yoga practice as women.
Myth 5: You can’t practice yoga if you have pre-existing injuries or mobility issues
It’s understandable that someone with an injury would want to be careful about worsening or re-injuring their body. So, people who have injured themselves in sports or other activities often feel like yoga is off-limits.
Au contraire. Yoga requires you to listen to your body and respect it throughout your practice, never going past your edge and over-exerting yourself. The asanas can also be easily modified with props to relieve pressure and decrease strain as necessary. Especially for people with previous injuries, this helps, not harms. A body-honoring exercise like yoga is going to strengthen and realign injured parts of the body, which can help the healing process and prevent future injuries.
As long as you discuss injuries or trouble spots with your instructor and ask for their assistance with modifications, and have been cleared to exercise by a medical professional, yoga is one of the best ways to care for your body and exercise after an injury.
The list could go on
These five yoga myths may be the most common, but the list could go on. Perhaps there is another notion about yoga that you’ve heard that has been keeping you out of the studio. If that’s the case, feel free to contact the studio or leave a comment below! Maybe we can clear that up for you.
If you’ve been practicing for a while, share some of the misconceptions and myths you believed before starting your practice! We’d love to hear from you.