Recently, I got a job teaching yoga at a local gym. After I was hired the owner asked me what kind of yoga I taught and I replied, "hatha yoga." She then told me that it really didn't matter because "all yoga is the same." After my first night teaching there she was ready to critique and asked that I make the class "more of a workout." This is when it dawned on me that yoga is misunderstood in our society and that it is a mission for me to educate and bring people together around a more well rounded understanding of what yoga is and what it is not.
Myth 1: Yoga is only for young, skinny females. Yoga is for everyone. When we limit who yoga is for, so many people lose out on its benefits. People of all genders, races, and ages should be developing personal yoga practices for inner peace and longevity. And there is no rule on how thin you need to be in order to practice yoga. Curvy women have just as much of a birth right to access yoga and although society bombards us with the opposite messsage, we know this is true. It is always refreshing to see men practicing yoga, as well. Unfortunately, too often, men are pressured by society to steer clear of yoga, a trend we must change. Certainly, the baby boomers and the elderly are in the greatest and most immediate need of yoga. So, we need to be encouraging our mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts to start a practice.
Myth 2: Yoga is a passing fad. Yoga has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years worldwide. Although yoga has only become popular in the U.S. since the 1960s, it has steadily increased in poplularity ever since. It would be rare for someone to claim they've never heard of yoga. It is also amazing how many medical doctors are suggesting that their patients develop a yoga practice to help with stress and mobility. Even public schools are using yoga with their students and teachers to manage stress, to increase focus, and for emotional regulation. If western medicine and public education are buying in, you know it is here to stay. Read more about the rise of yoga here.
Myth 3: All yoga is the same. There is an endless variety of types of yoga. There are Vinyasa classes designed to get you moving when you are feeling lethargic, and Hatha classes to ground and center you when you are feeling scattered and anxious. There are Yin classes that have the goal of stretching your connective tissue by holding poses for extended periods of time. There are Restorative classes that focus on building depleted vitality through deep relaxation. Some classes rely heavily on props like bolsters, blocks, straps, and chairs. Some are foundational and teach basics to beginners and help the experienced refine their practice. Some classes are advanced and do require established balance and strength as well as knowledge of classical postures. For some guidance on how to find a studio that "fits" your needs read my previous post on Buffalo yoga studios.
Myth 4: I can't do yoga Everyone can practice yoga. Of course, it is wise to consult your doctor if you have had injuries, but you will be surprised at how much yoga you can do. If you can sit in a chair and focus on your breath, you are doing yoga. If you can lay on your back and follow guided relaxation, you are doing yoga. If you can stand and very gently stretch your neck, shoulders, torso, and legs, you are doing yoga. The benefits of a simple foundational practice like the ones described can add years to your life. You don't have to do crazy yoga postures like standing on your head or balancing on one leg to do yoga. Yoga does not need to be a hard workout that leaves you feeling depleted.
If we come to terms with the idea that millions of people have been swearing by yoga for thousands of years to help them feel healthy and happy, then maybe we will be inspired to start our own practice. It's simple: forget the stereotypes of what type of person can do yoga and claim your right to practice and enjoy the benefits. Do some research and find the best type of yoga for your needs, then get out there and try it. It's very likely that you will fall in love with the practice you cultivate - I surely did!