Anyone Can Do Yoga: The Truth Behind Some Common Yoga Myths
Since it was first brought to the West from the shores of exotic India, yoga has aroused contradictory opinions. Those who enjoy yoga, love it and believe wholeheartedly in the health benefits it provides. Others are reluctant, disinterested, or even fearful to try it. For the latter, their feelings are largely due to misinformation, or misguided assumptions.
Following are a number of common yoga myths I have encountered during more than ten years of personal practice and teaching, and I'd like to debunk them. Yoga is personal and versatile, and everyone can do it. Hopefully, unravelling some of the common misconceptions will provide a dash of courage and a splash of confidence to give it a try.
Myth #1 - You have to be flexible to do yoga
Many people avoid yoga because they are not flexible. In fact, it is the ideal practice for increasing flexibility, for helping the joints to stay loose and encouraging the muscles to lengthen. Many students attending yoga are there precisely for this reason.
Myth #2 - Yoga is just stretching
Yoga aims to recreate balance in the body, and every class should have elements of both strengthening and stretching. Yoga strengthens by eccentrically loading the muscles (they are strengthened in a lengthened position), resulting in the lean physique also seen in dancers and martial arts participants. Regular practitioners develop incredible full body strength with a strong core focus, and the holding of positions develops physical stamina.
Myth #3 - Yoga is only for women
Nonsense! In fact, originally, yoga was only practiced by men. The most impressive yoga practitioners are usually male, in large part due to a natural predisposition to greater upper body strength than women, making many of the postures far more attainable. Baron Baptiste, a famous American yoga teacher, provides regular yoga training to NFL teams and the United States Army.
Myth #4 - Yoga is only for relaxation
Relaxation is one of the possible effects of yoga. Depending on what your body needs, or what you'd like to get out of it, each yoga class can be as easy and relaxing or as difficult and challenging as you decide. You have complete control of how far you push yourself in each posture, and the upside is, even if you give it your all, you will probably still find relaxation by the end of a session.
Myth #5 - Yoga doesn't really do anything, you just sit there
You have the control within each posture to make it incredibly dynamic by contracting and engaging more muscles, by increasing their load, and by challenging them to push a little bit further. Holding positions, as happens in yoga, develops muscle stamina, and is much harder than moving repeatedly into and out of positions. Additionally, there are many styles of yoga, some more dynamic than others, so find a style that suits you.
Myth #6 - Yoga is boring
Yes, yoga is not as fast-paced as some are used to. The fast-paced are often the people who most benefit from regular practice because yoga teaches you how to slow down. Remember, yoga benefits both our mental and physical health, and the ability to stop, breathe, and sit with the body as experienced in yoga, has far-reaching effects.
Myth #7 - Yoga is not for older people
It may surprise you, then, that people in their 70's, 80's and 90's are still doing yoga. Yoga keeps the joints flexible, keeps the muscles strong, improves balance, and improves posture, all things that tend to decline in older age. If you don't use it you will lose it, and yoga lets you use it in a gentle way, and can even be performed sitting in a chair.
Myth #8 - Yoga is a religion
Yoga is nothing more than a philosophy that offers some lifestyle suggestions. It originated in India as an exercise for body, mind and spirit, but it is not, and has never been a religion. People of all religions and creeds enjoy the benefits of yoga.
Myth #9 - I like eating meat and drinking beer, so I can't do yoga
No matter what your lifestyle choices are, you can still enjoy the benefits of yoga. There are no lifestyle prerequisites for attending classes.
Myth#10 - You can't do yoga with arthritis / a bad back / knee problems etc.
Everyone that does yoga has a unique body with a unique history. In yoga, you work only within your own limits. Yoga looks to recreate balance in the body's muscles, and to facilitate muscle functioning and joint mobility, therefore it is an ally in most musculoskeletal conditions.
Myth #11 - Yoga is injurious
If yoga is practiced safely, under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher, injury seldom occurs. Injuries that do occur during yoga generally do so because the student is trying to do something that is too advanced for their level, is pushing too hard and not listening to their body's warning signals, or they have not informed the teacher of past or present injuries.
Myth #12 - Yoga has to be practiced in tight clothing
The truth: yoga has to be practiced in clothing that is comfortable. Because it requires some stretching, movability is important, but there are many varieties of loose fitting clothing that allow for this.
Yoga is a journey of self-discovery, of practice, and of experience. There are no prerequisites to embark on your own exploration, and there are many aspects and styles of yoga out there, so don't give up after trying just one style, class, or teacher. Yoga can benefit the elderly, the disadvantaged, the sporty, the sedentary, the working, the studying, the healthy and the ill. Yoga does not judge and is adaptable to suit everyone's needs and every body, so why not give it a try, and as you do so, remember to keep breathing.
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