Yoga Myths and Truths: Who Is Yoga For

Yoga Myths

There are plenty of yoga myths that prevent people from enjoying this beneficial practice.

I often feel like the western interpretation of yoga has turned into this if-statement practice. You can only be a yogi if you (insert condition here), and, if you fail to meet this condition, then you better go do something else.

But, before we get into these yoga myths, let me tell a story first.

A Chai Shop Encounter

It was early April 2015, in South India. I’d just completed my yoga teacher training, and, since was traveling on a budget, I had a few days left until the next most affordable flight back home.

It was around 10:30 am, but the weather was already scorching. I’d finished my morning Ashtanga practice and then I was at a local chai shop which served delicious samosas and banana bread.

I was having my favorite masala chai and reading a book when suddenly someone asked me: “Are you doing your teacher training?” I raised my head thinking: How on earth did you… Oh, right, the bag… (the power of brand merchandise, people).

“I just finished,” I responded.

“Congratulations! Mind if I sit here?” said an older lady in a British accent with a subtle hint of German.

I didn’t. So, we chatted for a while, and I learned that Gabriela was originally from Germany, but had lived in England for years. She came to India every spring to practice yoga, and, as a matter of fact, she was waiting for some people to go to a class. She invited me to join them the next day.

An Indian Master

Fast forward 24 hours. The teacher, AJ, was a man bun-sporting Indian clad in a white shalwar kameez and baggy pants, radiating positive energy. He lived in the jungle where he gave yoga classes, Ayurvedic massage, and consultations.

His yoga studio was very basic, with mosquito nets instead of walls. As we settled on our mats, I looked around and wondered what could have possibly assembled such a combination of people.

I estimated that Gabriella was around in her 60s, with a hip problem and a walking stick, who traveled to India every single year to specifically attend AJ’s classes. There was a bulky British gentleman with extremely limited flexibility and a Scottish couple in their late 30s.

And then there was a young yoga instructor who taught at a retreat at the beach and me.

Patnem

The class was a very slow and gentle Hatha flow, not what I’d usually go for, but it felt incredibly rejuvenating after the strenuous Ashtanga I’d been doing for over a month. There was no music, just the sounds of the jungle, birds, and screeching monkeys.

Afterward, everyone, including me, felt relaxed and satisfied. AJ had to run some errands in the village and accompanied us back to it. I asked him how he managed to attract such a variety of people.

“Yoga is for everyone,” he said, further explaining that yoga is so beneficial that it needs to be more accessible to people, especially nowadays as we have so much stress.

We parted ways at the chai shop and he wished me good luck with my yoga teaching career.

So, who is yoga for?

Yoga Is for Everyone

The purpose of yoga isn’t to gain six-pack abs or the ability to master splits and handstands.

It’s the union of body and mind, self-discovery, clarity of mind, peeling off layers of figurative masks we wear, and reconnecting with your true self. It is a way of life.

Should only certain people who meet certain conditions be able to reap such benefits? I don’t think so. True yoga is not elitist.

Yoga  class

Photo Credit: Cherie Ayman 

Common Yoga Myths

1. You Need to Be Flexible to Practice Yoga

How logical does it sound if I say that I won’t go to college because I don’t have a college degree or that I won’t go to a French class because I don’t speak any French?

Earning a degree is exactly why one goes to college because you don’t have one, and learning French is exactly why one goes to a French class, because you don’t already know French.

Needing to be flexible to be able to do yoga is one of the most common yoga myths. You go to a yoga class not because you are flexible, but because you want to become more flexible.

So, no, there is no need to be hyper-flexible to be able to attend a yoga class. Flexibility is one of the benefits of the physical practice. Remember my story. I was perhaps the person with the most flexibility in that class, but it didn’t mean that all the other people had no right to be there.

So what if you can’t lean forward without bending your knees. That’s why you are in yoga. That’s why the teachers are there: to explain and demonstrate the poses and to adjust you. And that’s why the props are there.

2. You Need to Be a Certain Body Type to Practice Yoga

Right now, in the west, having a thin body is generally considered to be beautiful, and it’s generally looked down on if you’re anything but that. Coming to a class filled with thin people may make someone who doesn’t fit the beauty standard feel like they’re out of place.

That’s totally understandable, though not necessarily how it should be.

Keep in mind that in yoga non-judgment and non-comparison are encouraged. You shouldn’t judge or compare yourself to anyone, and, in return, no one should be judging or comparing themselves to you.

Size also doesn’t determine how flexible or strong one can be.

Kids Yoga

3. Yoga Is for Young People

There is no age limit defining when you should start or stop practicing yoga. There are just socially inflicted norms that we accept as set-in-stone rules to guide our lives. No one said that they are correct; they’re just socially accepted.

There are different styles of practice and there is something out there for everyone, no matter whether you are a child, a teen, an adult or an elderly person. Choose the kind that best suits your, or your children’s, needs and preferences and roll with it, no matter what your age is.

And check out this lady here who shows that age is nothing but a number when it comes to being able to practice yoga.

4. You Need to Be Vegetarian or Vegan to Practice Yoga

Though plant-based eating is encouraged throughout the yoga community as an interpretation of ahimsa, no one will, or at least shouldn’t, slam the yoga studio door in your face if you like to indulge in some good quality rare Sirloin steak. Regardless of whether the image of it made you gag or got you hungry, you’re equally fit to try yoga.

Yes, there’s lots of cruelty in the animal industry. But you know what’s also cruel? Judging and criticizing others. It’s also hypocritical and against everything that true yoga is supposed to be about. And I’ve seen that happen in the yoga community way too many times.

Let’s face the truth, people won’t change their eating habits simply because one may throw terrifying statistics at them, and especially if they are heavily criticized and shamed for that.

Yoga is a personal journey of self-discovery. It’s not our place to tell others what to do and what to eat. We can only share our knowledge and personal experience and allow others to make their own choices. Some may choose to quit eating meat, some won’t. And that’s perfectly fine.

Wheel Pose

What’s more important than not eating animal products is looking at the bigger picture of all of your actions.

Are your fruits, nuts, and coffee gathered and produced in sustainable conditions with no violence involved? Do your food choices make you feel good? Do they suit your budget? Where and how are your clothes and electronics made? How do you treat other people and yourself?

There are a lot more things to consider than simply whether or not you should put meat on your plate.

5. Yoga Is for Women Only

While yoga has turned into what seems to be the thing for the ladies to do after work, and statistically over 80% of yoga practitioners in the US are female, it’s not a women’s only practice.

As a matter of fact, yoga used to be an exclusively manly thing up until the 20th century, when the first woman was fortunate enough to be allowed to study.

6. You Need to Practice Hinduism to Be a Yogi

Since yoga originated in India, people often throw it in the same basket with Hinduism. However, there is no worshipping of deities, prophets, or saviors. Yoga is a spiritual practice and a study of the self, but it does not make one religious.

Final Thoughts

Why some classes, like AJ’s, fill up with a variety of people, while others do not? It all comes down to attitude.

There’s an old adage: birds of a feather flock together.

You attract the people who respond to the sort of energy you emit. If a yoga instructor believes that yoga is for everyone, then they’re likely to end up around people of different shapes, ages, gender, and preferences. They will feel comfortable and satisfied with being around the teacher and fellow students.

If a teacher believes that only certain types of people should be in yoga and sends a judgmental glare in the direction of anyone who dares think differently, then that’s the tribe that they are going to create.

So, instead of allowing these yoga myths to prevent you from enjoying the practice, seek a teacher who’ll make sure they don’t matter.

yoga myths


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