Coming from very humble roots in Northern India, approximately 5,000 years ago, the practice of yoga has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon. Some two billion people practice around the globe today. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to yoke' or ‘to unite’. The philosophy of yoga is that through the uptake of a yogic lifestyle one finds consciousness and unity within their own body, mind, and spirit; and in turn find consciousness and unity with the universe.
While it is without a doubt a wonderful thing that so many people today have taken up this ancient practice. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way from India to the West lines have been blurred. The ubiquity of yoga pants as fashion and the proliferation of slender figures in pretzel postures have led to some misunderstandings about yoga.
Here are some of the biggest, most common myths about yoga and just why they are so wrong.
1. You Have to be Flexible to Do Yoga
If we had a dollar for every time we heard this, well, our classes would be free because those who say "I'm not flexible enough" would be paying our bills. While there is no shortage of slender figures folding themselves into contortionist position the myth that everyone who practices yoga must be willing and able to bend in half is just wrong. Sure, there are some very advanced postures in yoga asana scripts that fit with the pretzel theme, but the key here is that these are advanced. It can, and frankly should take many years of practice to get your body into these wacky positions. Too soon and you'll only end up hurting yourself.
So if these pretzel positions do exist in advanced yoga, it begs the question, 'what about beginner yoga?'. Beginner yoga is far more concerned with teaching you proper alignment than making you touch your nose with your toe. If becoming a pretzel is a goal of yours, then by all means, work on your flexibility, but not being able to fold sideways thrice will not diminish the benefits of yoga.
2. Yoga Is Just a Trend for Hippies
The idea that only hippy-dippy, tree-hugging hippies who are more interested in balancing their chakras than their checkbooks, is frankly insulting to the history of yoga, it's scientifically proven health benefits and anybody who wishes to live a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the notion of finding self-awareness is a bit confronting if to those who have never thought about how their actions impact themselves, others and the environment around them. And it is true that practicing yoga does encourage this sense of awareness, that may influence people to take more 'greenie' actions. However, there is no prerequisite to become a vegan, give up driving a car, or join a commune. Anyone who is even mildly interested in living a healthy life should remember that yoga asanas are an exercise, a full-body work-out if you will, with proven benefits like; lowering blood pressure, increasing muscle strength and flexibility, and improved concentration and brain cognition.
3. Yoga is a Woman's Activity
Yoga was created by men, for men, and for a very, very long time, was strictly a male-only practice. It wasn't until circa 1937, just a casual few thousand years, give or take, after the creation of the Yoga Sutras, that the first woman Indra Devi was accepted to learn under Sri Krishnamacharya.
The popular myth that yoga is a woman's activity and the creation of 'broga' classes just for men is rather ironic. For any man who thinks yoga isn't 'manly' enough, we've got news for you, 'real' mean do yoga, some of the greatest athletes, the most famous, 'successful' and financially wealthy men on this planet practice yoga. Take LeBron James for example, this man is over 2m tall, an incredible athlete, he's not turning himself into a pretzel anytime soon, but he actively practices yoga to help improve his on-court performance, concentration, and general mental health.
4. Yoga is a Religion
To quote internationally renowned speaker and bestselling author, Sadhguru, "Yoga is Hindu just the way gravity is Christian. Just because the law of gravity was propounded by Isaac Newton, who lived in a Christian culture, does it make gravity Christian? Yoga is a technology. Anybody who is willing to make use of it can make use of it."
Yoga, fundamentally, is not about outer worship, it is about your own unique inner exploration, for which yoga is a tool. While there are some aspects such as mantras or chanting that seem spiritual from the outside, but these are merely tools to help you connect with yourself and your world on a higher level. They do not command you to worship a god, you are not 'converting' to yoga as you would another religion, the mantras, the chants, and the practice of yoga are non-denominational.
5. Yoga is Only for Young People
Our founder, Paul, has this wonderful story of practicing yoga in Bali with a woman well into her seventies, during the three-hour class, in humid Bali, full of young yogis she was one of the very few to continue without pause from start to finish. Yoga is one of the most gentle and restorative forms of exercise we can give ourselves, which makes it perfect for all ages.
Now we squashed some of the biggest myths that people hold about yoga, it's time to share your new knowledge, share the article or help people re-learn what they think of yoga in your conversation. And above all else, come to yoga, bring your friends to yoga, show yourself and those around you just how wonderful yoga is. We look forward to seeing you in class.