Despite the ever-increasing popularity of yoga, there is still a lot of misinformation on what yoga is all about, who it’s for, and what it can do for you.
I’ve laid out five of the most common yoga myths and have done my best to debunk them. Read them below and let me know what you think!
1. You have to be flexible to do yoga
“I’m not very good at yoga because I’m not flexible.”
You wouldn’t believe how often I hear this statement from my students in class. I’ve come to believe that lack of flexibility is a huge deterrent for people when it comes to to yoga.
But here’s the thing—flexibility is not a prerequisite for doing yoga or even coming to a yoga class. Flexibility is a byproduct of yoga—something that happens naturally over time the more you do it. The desire to be more flexible is often one of the main reasons people seek yoga in the first place, so why would you expect yourself to already be that which you’re trying to achieve?
Sure, people have varying abilities of natural flexibility, and you’ll see that if you go to a yoga class. It doesn’t mean one person is better at yoga than the other, it just is what it is. It’s a practice and like anything else in life, improving your flexibility takes dedication and effort.
2. Yoga is just stretching
It’s true that yoga incorporates many postures that aim to open, lengthen, and stretch the body. That said, if you’ve been to an active yoga class, you know that there is much more to yoga than passive stretching.
So, if it’s not just stretching, what else is it?
In my opinion, yoga—and vinyasa yoga, particularly—is a series of postures linked together mindfully and intelligently. In vinyasa yoga, you flow from one posture to the next with dynamic transitions and an emphasis on the breath. The postures encourage the release of tension by opening, lengthening, and relaxing the muscles and tissues in the body, but also encourage improved strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health.
We often view stretching as a slow, passive, cool-down practice—something we might only do after a long run or a hard workout. In yoga, stretching is approached with a more integrative mindset. In a good class, every pose and stretch is connected to a larger, guiding intention from a functional and holistic perspective.
… and that’s just counting the physical aspects of yoga! Asana.
Classically, there are seven other limbs of yoga to consider (eight limbs total), including pranayama (control of the breath), meditation, and a few others that maybe we’ll dive into in a later post.
3. Yoga is a religion
I can see why yoga is often mistaken for a religion. It’s an ancient practice that in a lot of ways, can be very ceremonious. It’s rooted in philosophy and sometimes incorporates elements like chanting, mantra repetition, and iconography (like the symbol for OM or a carved figure of a Hindu deity).
I know, I know … it’s kind of sounding like a religion, right? But in order for yoga to be a religion, there would have to be a unified God figure that all yogis worshipped and praised.
The word “yoga”, in English, means “union.” For me, yoga is a practice of uniting all the different parts of myself—body, mind, and soul. Rather than seeking something outside of myself for guidance, direction, and purpose, yoga provides a pathway for diving inward. It provides a framework for connecting to all the lightness and darkness that resides within.
Here’s another view to consider … a quick Google search on this topic will show you that many people categorize yoga as a science.
I don’t disagree with that. In fact, I’m incredibly curious about the more scientific sides of yoga like anatomy, physiology, and using yoga as a therapy for trauma and disease. I believe that as more and more people experience the healing power of yoga, we’ll start seeing more and more yoga integrated into modern, western healthcare.
On that same note, a quick Google search will also show you just how messy this topic is. It begs questions like, what defines a religion, anyway? What does it mean to worship? Or even the big one … who or what is God?!
I certainly don’t claim to have any answers here. What I do know is that in the face of these questions—no matter how you feel about any of them—yoga meets you where you are. You can practice yoga in any way that works for you, free from judgement, expectation, or dogma.
4. You have to be fit and toned to practice yoga
Scroll through any yoga hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see photo after photo of long, lean muscles bending and twisting into shapes that can seem, well, impossible. While I believe these photos, and the people in them, are striking and have purpose in the greater scheme of bringing yoga to the masses, they don’t always tell the whole story:
Yoga is for EVERY BODY.
I feel we have lot of work to do in the yoga industry around making yoga more accessible and inclusive for people of all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, genders, religious backgrounds, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Too often at studios, we see the same demographic walking through the doors—white, female, upper-middle class (hi, that’s me). I’m not sure what the solutions are, but I am sure that it’s something we need to start talking about.
I think it’s important for people like me—teachers and students of yoga—to work to dispel the belief that there might be physical prerequisites to the practice of yoga.
Sure, if you just had surgery or are working with a medical issue or injury, your practice is going to look a lot different than someone’s whose not dealing with those same challenges. But in terms of your physique? Come as you are. Yoga doesn’t care what you look like. It will embrace you no matter what.
5. Yoga is too easy
*Cue evil laugh track*
Kidding … kind of.
It’s true that the physical aspects of yoga are low-impact compared to other high-intensity workouts. The “give it 110%” philosophy doesn’t really hold up in yoga, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an incredibly challenging practice physically, mentally, and if you’re up for it, spiritually and emotionally.
Yoga will challenge you to use and activate muscles that have maybe been dormant in your body for quite some time. It will challenge your strength, your balance, your focus, your flexibility, and your tolerance for discomfort.
There is nothing easy about yoga, but in my mind, there’s nothing hard about it either. Hard and challenging are too different things. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward.
What do you think? Have any of these myths been holding you back from starting a yoga practice? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks so much for reading,