Even though yoga has arrived in the mainstream nowadays, there are still some people who turn up their nose at the word. They have wrong, clichéd perceptions about the practice and therefore don’t want anything to do with it. On the other hand, there are people who are interested in yoga and would like to try it, but they don’t dare to do it – because of wrong perceptions and fears as well. It’s time to clarify some of the biggest yoga myths.
1. “I have to be flexible to do yoga.”
Let’s start this list with the absolute classic. I think, everyone who practices yoga and tells someone about it, has already heard the phrase “I would love to try it, but I’m just not flexible enough.” Do you feel found out? Then I have a little question for you: Would you ever say “I’m too hungry to eat” or “I would take a shower, but I’m just too dirty”? Let me put that straight: The thought of not being flexible enough for yoga is only rooted in the fear of not being good enough. When someone voices this concern, the translation is “I don’t want to be the only person in the room to not reach the toes in forward folds.”
Newsflash: Nobody cares.
There shouldn’t be any competition on the mat. Everyone should focus on themselves and not pay attention to what the others are doing. Of course, it doesn’t always work like that, but in general, the yoga studio should be free of competition. Being flexible is just a byproduct of practicing, not a requirement! Tipp: Start with a class for absolute beginners, not in an open class for all levels. Amongst the beginners, it’s likely to be with people who share your concerns, so that you can relax.
2. “I have to be sporty to do yoga.”
Number 2 is a close relative of number one. Often, people also say the opposite, that yoga has nothing to do with sports and is just relaxation. Whoever tells these legends was probably only in a yin yoga class or in a demanding ashtanga class. Here’s good news for you: there are yoga styles for people who are neither sporty nor flexible (just ask the 90-year-old lady in my senior class!), but there are also perfect methods to turn your practice into a workout and leave the mat sweaty and satisfied.
3. “I betray my religion if I do yoga.”
It’s true that yoga is linked with Hinduism, but it’s not a part of it. Teachings from Buddhism are also widely spread in the yoga scene. But it’s not a part of that either. Yoga is a philosophy system, not a religion. There is no god to pray to or stuff like that. If you still feel uncomfortable about the spiritual side of yoga, look for a studio which focuses on the physical aspect.
4. “Yoga is only for bearded old Indians…”
5. “… or pretty girls on Instagram.”
There’s a pretty big spectrum between these two extremes, don’t you think? Yes, yoga used to be a male domain and women weren’t even allowed at ashrams for a long time. But if you enter a yoga studio nowadays, you will see clearly that the tables have turned. Instagram is an example for that: It’s full of flexible young women. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to fit into this cliché to practice. Let me quote Krishnamacharya, one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century: “As long as you can breathe, you can do yoga.” There is nothing further to add.
6. “All Yogis are weirdos.”
Yogis are just as versatile as the practice itself. This is why there are surely some “weirdos” amongst them. But also young girls with colorful leggings, 96-year-old down-to-earth seniors, fitness fans with a thing for handstands and many many more. I can imagine, though, where the cliché is coming from: Yogis care about the environment and their own health. Therefore, they are often vegetarian or vegan, choose organic products or stay away from alcohol – things that might look weird in a society focused on enjoyment. Facing the climate crisis, hopefully some routines like separating garbage or reducing the consumption of meat will become normal. Maybe this will also change the way yogis are being perceived.
7. “I have to give up meat if I want to start yoga.”
Setting topics like ethic or environment protection aside, which are not the focus of this article, the answer is: “No, you don’t have to.”
It is true, though, that the first rule of yoga is “Ahimsa”, which is Sanskrit for “non-violence”. Of course, killing animals just for the taste of meat goes against this rule. But: yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, is neither completely vegetarian nor vegan. Even though it is mainly recommended to consume little to no meat, it is also recognized that there may be conditions, ailments or needs (and no, I’m not talking about steak cravings here!) where eating meat might be good for you. If, for example, you found yourself in a position where it would be good for your health to eat meat, but you would still not eat it, then you would be disrespecting Ahimsa towards yourself. I am well aware that there are many theories out there nowadays, some of them claiming that there aren’t any conditions that would make eating meat necessary, others claiming that you might have a lack of nutrients if you don’t. As I am neither a doctor nor a nutrition expert, I am not qualified to contribute to that discussion. However, it’s a fact that you don’t need to change any habits in order to start a yoga practice, not in your everyday life and not on your plate. If you delve deeper into the practice and the corresponding philosophy, the wish to change certain habits often comes naturally.
8. “I have no time to practice.”
Yes, we are all super busy. There is an old Zen saying which states “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are very busy – then you should meditate for an hour.” What does that mean? Especially when you are very stressed, yoga and meditation are very helpful. Even ten minutes a day could work wonders. And let’s be honest, we all have ten minutes, don’t we?
9. “Ashram life is like being in a cult.”
I have to confess, I can see where this myth is coming from. Rituals, chanting, the concept of an altar… all of this can be off-putting. Also, the word “Guru” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. In Sanskrit, however, it simply means “spiritual teacher” – harmless, right? Moreover, cults are based on obedience and enforcement. You will find none of these in the yoga world. You are free to voice your opinion without having to fear any punishments. Even if you want to leave a class early – as long as you’re not disturbing anybody, no one will care.
10. “Yoga is dogmatic.”
In yoga classes, there are numerous tips, recommendations and teachings which are oftentimes seen as strict rules. Probably that’s the root of myth 10. The beautiful thing about yoga, however, is that there is no “one size fits all” solution for everybody. Instead, you are invited to be mindful, to play around and feel what feels good for you personally. Pretty undogmatic, isn’t it? Besides: if you are looking for a change in your body or your life, you should know that you cannot continue doing exactly what you are already doing. You wouldn’t expect to lose weight, master an instrument or a sport without adding a few new habits or ditching some old ones. So, be open to your teacher’s recommendations and try which ones make sense for you personally.
Do you know some other yoga myths? Maybe some you believed in yourself so that maybe they even kept you from trying yoga yourself? Share your experience with me!