It’s a new year and lots of people may be thinking about trying Yoga. Yoga is for everyone, but it can definitely be intimidating to someone who has never practiced or taken a class. There are plenty of assumptions and expectations about Yoga and the people who practice it, so here are five common misconceptions to provide a little more understanding.
1. You have to be flexible to practice Yoga. The development of props and instruction on modifications from knowledgeable teachers have made it possible for people with all types of bodies to practice Yoga in the same room together. Yoga will increase your flexibility with regular practice and if you do not start working on and saving your flexibility now, you will continue to tighten up. It’s kind of like saying “I can’t lift weights because I’m not strong” or “ I can’t do cardio because I run out of breath quickly”.
2. Everyone will be looking at me in class. The only person who will be looking at you is the teacher and his or her role is to make sure you are safe with proper alignment in the postures. We benefit from practicing with other people by enjoying the positive, focused energy floating around the room, but our mats become our entire little world during a practice. We are all intensely focused on what is going on in our bodies and minds. If you are taking class in an honorable space, there will be no judgment, only wishes for health and happiness.
3. You have to be a calm person to practice Yoga. Most people in our society are stressed and anxious and have a hard time relaxing because they have been taught that achievement is success and multi-tasking is a virtue. Those who need Yoga the most are those who have a hard time finding stillness. Yoga can lower blood pressure and heart rate with attention to slowing down the breath and becoming present in the moment. Stress is caused by regret or holding onto the past and anticipation or worry about the future. Simply learning to know when you are breathing in and breathing out can change how it feels to live in your body and mind.
4. All Yogis are skinny. When I say Yoga is for everyone, I mean everyone. There is no particular body type that is viewed as most desirable in Yoga. Most people find that they become more comfortable in the body they have through their practice, but they also want to treat their body with more honor by considering what is put in it and how much abuse it is given. You may find that you lose weight from Yoga because it adds strength to the body and helps to curb stress-eating. But even if you do not lose weight, you will find a new love and respect for what you have right now.
5. Yoga is not Hinduism or Buddhism. Yoga began thousands of years ago in India, so there are influences of the religions and cultural habits that were predominantly practiced at that time and place. In America in the 21st century, we teach from a place of respect for Yoga’s roots and gratitude for progress and all we have learned.