Misconceptions about yoga

Misconceptions about yoga

Mindfulness | Tuesday 3rd April 2018
CyrièleBy Cyrièle

I'm an extrovert. I love communicating and sharing, especially about topics I'm passionate about. Since I started practicing yoga, I have to admit that I have tended to recommend this practice to... pretty much everybody! Because I'm convinced that everyone can find something positive in it.

When I talk about yoga to people around me - mainly people who've never tried it - I always face the same reactions. Many people seem to be willing to give it a go - as it's public knowledge that yoga is beneficial one way or another - but most people still believe that yoga is not for them. Dear yoga-sceptical people, here is for you the list of 4 common misconceptions about yoga, as well as my modest tentative to prove them wrong.

1. One has to be flexible to do yoga (and I'm not)

Let me ask you something. Does one have to be clean to have a shower? Sounds stupid, right? Well, that's the same with yoga. Practicing seriously and regularly any type of activity, with the intention to get better will lead to an improvement. Not being flexible isn't immutable!

It's actually more difficult to practice yoga when one is already "naturally" flexible (because one tends to rely on their flexibility rather than their strength, and that's how you get injuries. It's all about balance between both). Yoga allows - amongst other things - to improve one's flexibility as the physical practice aims at stretching and creating space in one's body. Practicing regularly allows as well to understand how one's body works.

Believe me, I took danse classes from the age of 12 to the age of 19, and I NEVER managed to touch the floor with straight legs. Never. I simply thought that my body was just unable to fold that way. And my danse teacher wasn't really good at explaining... More than 10 years later, after only 3 months of practicing yoga, I could touch my feet.

What changed in 10 years? I've certainly not got more flexible by being sat on a chair 8 hours a day! I've simply understood how my body works and I worked with what I had available. I understood that it's not about reaching your toes at all cost, but it's more about finding that tilt in your pelvis. Unlike common beliefs, it's about creating space in your lower back. It's not about folding forward until you can reach your toes or ankles. I spent months working hard to get a few millimeters. I was staying up straight whereas others seemed to be comfortable enough to fall asleep on their knees.

I had no expectation whatsoever as I was still convinced that I'd never really get there. I had nothing to lose! Then those millimeters became centimeters, and one day, as the teacher was encouraging us not to compare to each others - to "the very flexible people in the room" - I realised that she was talking about me. I had become "the very flexible people". It still surprises me when they refer to me like this!

2. Yoga? It's for lazy people

I have to admit, I was the first to think like this. I'm very competitive and I love breaking my own records (relatively speaking). I've also been raised in a family where we praise performance. Whatever it costs, you have to be the best at everything and all the time. I'll certainly write more about this later.

Anyhow, to me before I gave it a go, yoga was a joke. Staying sat and folding yourself in every directions was everything but a performance, didn't burn any calories, and was basically no more than a waste of time. I think it's fair to say that I really didn't get the point of yoga!

The first mistake is to believe that yoga is a sport. It's not, it's both a physical and mental practice. It's actually through the physical practice that you can channel your energy and get to the mental part of the practice. It's not a competition. It's not about performance, it's about well-being, and it makes all the difference. All these amazing postures that look unattainable that you can see on Instagram are only just a static image captured at a certain point in time. It doesn't show all the hard work and the evolution of the yogi and their practice. It's actually a real shame as it's the most interesting part. 

Today, when I meet people who believe that yoga is dull and boring, I invite them to come with me to a rocket yoga class. It's usually when they play the "I'm not flexible" card. So I tell them that it's not an issue as yoga teachers always give variations for each postures.

Usually this one is the easiest misconception to clear out, as all it takes is to try one dynamic flow once. Of course it doesn't mean that all types of yoga are intense and dynamic, but if the reason why you don't want to try is because you're scared of getting bored or not to find it challenging enough, know that there are so many different styles of yoga - some very static and meditative, and some other are utterly dynamic - you won't get bored!

3. You know, those OM and stuff... I don't believe in this

Although there's indeed an ongoing debate regarding whether or not yoga is a religion, what the occident calls yoga (Hatha yoga) covers mainly the physical practice. Unless you look for a specific class with an emphasis on spirituality, rest assured that your Sunday morning class won't be like an office at a church. Also, even if practicing yoga may include chants and mantras dedicated to Hindu gods, is it really a religion if the yogi's intention isn't to pray or celebrate any god as they practice?

Yoga as it's taught in occident is more like an approach to life, a philosophy. Having said that, I've already faced a situation whereby, as I was looking for a location to organise a yoga retreat, the owners of the place (a christian association) rejected my request because they considered yoga as a religion. 

As my mum would say "things are as important as we want them to be", and having an intention is fundamental when you practice, but this intention doesn't have to be divine. Some practices include chanting and saying mantras out loud. Feel free not to attend those classes. Or feel free not to participate in the chanting part. Nobody will blame you: what would be the point of forcing people to repeat words they don't understand or they don't agree with?

4. I'm gonna be the only guy

I won't lie to you: this is very likely to be the case. But is it an issue, really? Having said that, I've noticed that more and more men attend the classes I go to. I've personally introduced some male friends to yoga and most of them loved it (although they were very sceptical at first). Some still practice today without me asking them to come with me.

I've noticed that there's usually more men attending hot yoga, bikram yoga or Power yoga classes. Maybe because those types of yoga seem to be less about flexibility? Anyway, yoga is for everybody; whatever sex, gender or sexual orientation. There's no age discrimination, size, shape... My yoga teachers come from different countries, have different lifestyles, some are younger, some are older. The main thing they have in common is kindness and the will to share it.


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Katy | Sunday 25th November 2018

Very inspiring

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