Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Like many topics, there is a lot of misinformation circulating out there about yoga. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I would love to set the record straight. So, here are 5 myths, and the corresponding facts, about yoga.
MYTH: You have to be flexible to do yoga.
FACT: It simply is NOT true that you have to be flexible to practice yoga. Yoga is a practice that involves linking your breath with your body and mind, often through movement. There is no flexibility requirement to be able to practice yoga. Yoga is about discovering, and accepting, what YOUR body can and cannot do, based on your own biomechanics and physiology. Everyone's joints have a unique range that they can move based on bone structure, genetics, and muscle characteristics. Some people cannot move a joint past a certain degree of motion simply because the joint physically does not move that far (e.g. bone-on-bone compression). While it is true that some movements in the body can be limited by increased tightness in muscles (and hence, reduced flexibility), that is not a reason to avoid yoga. Yoga can help to release some of the muscle tension, restoring more movement in your muscles.
2. MYTH: You have to be physically fit to do yoga.
FACT: You do NOT have to be physically fit to practice yoga. While some forms of yoga (e.g. power yoga, vinyasa flow, hot yoga) are more physically demanding, many types of yoga (e.g. gentle, restorative) have low physical demands. Gentle yoga classes are slower-paced, with gentle movements linked to breath. Gentle yoga classes often include meditation as well. Restorative yoga classes are sort of like "spa yoga." In a restorative yoga class, the student sits or lies in various positions, supported by a lot of props, such as bolsters (a yoga pillow), blankets, sandbags, and blocks. Once your body gets into the restorative pose, the goal is for your body to completely relax and let go. There is very little physical demand in a restorative yoga class. And if you want to try a more physically demanding yoga class (like an all-levels flow), it is totally fine if your body is still developing fitness. Yoga is an excellent way to improve strength, mobility, and flexibility in your body.
3. MYTH: Yoga is a religious practice.
FACT: Yoga is NOT a religious practice. Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago in India, so many people associate yoga with Hinduism. However, this is not an accurate association. People from all religious or secular backgrounds practice yoga. Yoga is a mind-body practice, focused on connecting the breath with body and mind. While some yoga students might use yoga to deepen their current religious practice, yoga in and of itself is NOT associated with any religion. Some yoga classes use Sanskrit names for yoga poses, but Sanskrit is simply an ancient Indo-European language that is historically used in old yoga texts.
4. MYTH: Yoga poses have to look a certain way.
FACT: There is no "right" or "wrong" way to embody an asana, or yoga pose. A yoga pose is really a container for experiencing the body, mind, and breath. The most important thing to consider in a yoga pose is how YOUR body feels. If you feel pain, that is your body's way of telling you to adjust your alignment or back out of the pose. Feeling strong and steady is of utmost importance in a yoga pose. While some yoga poses have some basic alignment requirements for joint and muscle safety, most yoga poses should be a unique expression of your body, mind, and breath on a given day.
5. MYTH: Yoga is all about stretching.
FACT: Yoga is NOT all about stretching. Just like any form of exercise, yoga classes often involve some type of stretching, usually aimed at "opening up" muscles that will be used, or helping to release tension in muscles that were used during class. Unless you take yin yoga class, in which stretching is usually the emphasis, stretching takes up a small percentage of a typical yoga class.
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT