The yoga world is so vast and varied these days, with so many teachers being certified so quickly and an $88 billion dollar industry projected to grow to over $200 billion by 2025. Yoga has reached every corner of the world from its Indian origins, and people have put their own spin on things, fusing the practice with other forms of movement and exercise, or even creating gimmicks like beer yoga or goat yoga to attract different kinds of people. There are now a million different ways to learn about and practice yoga, including completely on your own, without the need for a traditional teacher. So naturally, the landscape of yoga has evolved, been westernized and watered-down.
The plus side to this inevitable change is that yoga is now more accessible than ever to almost anyone around the globe - and I think ultimately that is what the ancient Yogi sages would have wanted. But one thing I'm sure would remain important to them as well is that yoga be known and experienced for what it truly is. So let's clear some of the air and bust some of the most common myths I hear about yoga:
Way too often when I tell people what I do, and ask them if they've practiced yoga before, they tell me, "I'm not good at yoga" or "I'm not flexible enough." This response drives me nuts because it validates the biggest misconception about yoga, which is that it is about twisting your body into a pretzel like we most commonly see on social media. While this contortionist, acrobatic yoga is what the internet leaves us to believe yoga is, it is actually not about touching your toes or balancing on your hands at all! In fact, the only requirement for yoga is to have a body.
The practice can, however, be about what working on these crazy and challenging poses teaches you - presence, balance, curiosity, listening to your body, and so much more. Yoga is a whole and complete mind, body, and soul technology for reaching your greatest potential and experiencing the true essence of yourself and your life. Sure, asana (postures) is a part of that, but your level of flexibility, strength, or anything else you can or can't do with your body does not determine how good or experienced of a yoga practitioner you are. Every human has different physical anatomy and ability, making some movements a piece of cake for one person and nearly impossible for another! (Trust me, I know from experience).
Additionally, yoga is where you can go to actually become more flexible (something I also know from my personal experience)! There is a modification for almost every yoga pose, as well as many accessible forms of yoga for all ages and ability types, including chair yoga, floor yoga, and wall yoga.
I must also add here that too much emphasis on "proper alignment" can be detrimental. Circling back to the first sentence, there's no "being good at yoga" or "doing it right." As long as you are respecting the practice, it is really about experiencing your own body and tuning into your sensations to reconnect with yourself. When the practice is less about physical ability or perfection, and more about exploration, awareness, and the fact that you are simply showing up to nourish yourself and connect on a deeper level is when the real benefits can be felt.
As a continuation of the first popular misbelief, let's get something straight, once and for all. The physical postures, also known as asana, is actually only one of the eight limbs of the whole yoga toolkit. So when you say "I do yoga," think to yourself if you actually mean to say, "I do asana." Ultimately, the whole purpose of the yoga postures is to connect and care for your physical body, build awareness, expand your capacity, get comfortable in the uncomfortable, and keep the body healthy and fit for the spiritual path. Asana is literally meant to exhaust the body so one can sit in meditation - essentially a stepping stone on the path to attaining Samadhi, or enlightenment. Only acknowledging yoga as a physical workout, and not taking the time to understand it more deeply actually misses the point of the practice completely, robs it (and yourself) of its richness, disrespects its roots, and waters down the true benefits this ancient gift can have on a personal and societal level.
Though getting a workout or a stretch is NOT the sole purpose of yoga, asana itself can be incredibly potent as a movement practice. Depending on the style chosen, it can be quite physically demanding or deeply therapeutic. There are gentler styles like restorative or yin yoga that stretch your fascia and muscles on a much deeper level than any normal stretching would. And contrary to popular belief, letting your muscles relax in this way increases the muscle elasticity, actually making them stronger. Yoga can help people correct physical imbalance and dysfunctional movement, increase mobility and longevity, and so much more.
In regards to "getting a real workout," I think what I said earlier is worth repeating: Asana is meant to exhaust the body in preparation for stillness. If you have ever been to a vinyasa class or practiced several rounds of sun salutations, you'll know that it can definitely replace your cardio workout! And have you ever witnessed the strength of the Ashtanga/Mysore yogis or tried a hot yoga class for yourself?! Even Hatha yoga, which is often regarded as beginner level, can be intense and highly strengthening with its longer holds. I dare you right now to try holding a Goddess/Temple pose or chair pose for eight deep breaths, and get back to me. I have had students not think my class was challenging enough, but the reality is that if you pay close attention to implementing all of the subtle cues and proper technique the instructor gives, yoga can make you feel parts of your body you never even knew existed. Yoga is the kind of workout that can be so strong when done with intention and focus, that not only does it train you physically, but it trains your mental willpower as well.
Is it just me, or do most yoga practitioners these days seem to be women? While traditionally it was only practiced by (and available to) men, over time the tides have shifted toward attracting predominantly women, especially in the West. But yoga does not discriminate. In fact, yoga seeks to help people be less attached to their ego identifications (such as gender, and sex) and realize their True Essence, beyond physical form - which is the divine soul (Atman) that is a part of the universal consciousness. (Make no mistake, this is not meant to bypass the true lived experienced of different bodies in any way). And since yoga is like a workout or therapy for the body, mind, AND soul, it is beneficial to everyone who has those things. And if more people realized yoga was for EVERY body, the world would be a better place. So invite your brother, trans cousin, or non-gender-conforming friend and let's decolonize the yoga industry.
As a bonus myth for this one, some instructors have perpetuated the old tale that women should not practice yoga, or more specifically do inversions, while on their bleed. While this belief is rooted in Ayurveda (ancient Indian science), it's important to note that there is currently no credible evidence to back this up. So you don't need to worry too much about your period going retrograde or anything like that. In fact, there are many yoga practices that can actually help relieve your symptoms. However, I will say this - it will probably feel best to practice more gentle and restorative yoga during your menstrual phase, since this is a time when the body is going through its own cleansing process and hormones naturally tend to make women feel more inward and lower energy. Ultimately, your own unique body will hold the wisdom on what is nourishing for you or not.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a Hindu religious practice. Yoga has connection with Hinduism because they both grew out of the same culture and context, but practicing yoga does not mean you are religious, and one can simultaneously hold another religion or none at all while practicing yoga. That's not to say that yoga can't be a "religious experience" for some people, as a spiritual technology certainly has the ability to make you feel that way. But ultimately yoga is a holistic way of life, and has no direct ties to any religion.
Secondly, there are so many different types of yoga, lineages, and styles that were born and passed down from different Indian yoga masters. So you will most likely get a pretty unique experience from any one teacher to the next. It is important to find a yoga teacher that you resonate with and who makes you feel good about yourself and your abilities, as well as a practice and style that suits your needs and desires. Everyone's yoga practice is going to look different depending on your particular body and abilities, and that's a beautiful thing that I hope you'll embrace. Yoga is here to help you grow and prosper, and it should be something that you adapt to yourself as needed rather than a rigid box you fit into.
Let me stop you right there! Stop. making. excuses. Like I said above, all you need to practice yoga is a body. There are so many different aspects of yoga that you can practice which don't involve props at all, or which you could easily use makeshift household items for props! In fact, you could only practice the philosophical aspects of yoga or meditate and still be considered a yoga practitioner.
And don't even get me started about the yoga clothes industry. There is nothing wrong with liking brand name yoga clothes or cute yoga pants, leggings, and sports bras (heck, they are comfortable!), but please realize that this ultimately has nothing to do with yoga and does not determine your status as a yogi. Having comfortable, stretchy clothes to move in is important, but this can just as well be loose fitting, flowy clothes (as long as they don't get in your way). I often practice asana in my pajamas! Yoga teachers often where tight-fitting clothes for the purpose of students being able to see the shapes and subtle adjustments we make as we explain postures.
As far as time goes, there is no minimum amount of time you need for yoga. Even practicing a couple of asanas or sitting for 5 minutes of meditation can make a huge difference in your day. While it is a wonderful gift to yourself to do a full practice or stay til the end of class, don't let your time limitations become an excuse for not showing up for yourself. Anything is better than nothing. Life is crazy busy for everyone these days - we gotta have grace with ourselves and just do what we can!
The truth is, to become certified as a yoga instructor, all you need is a few thousand dollars and 200 hours to spare. While this basic training typically just opens the door to a lifelong journey of thousands of hours of yoga education, courses, and certifications for many teachers, the reality is that this is all you need to be called a yoga teacher. Not to minimize or discredit the rigorous education myself and every other instructor has gone through (it is one of the most intense physical, mental, and emotional journeys one can go on!), but trust me when I say, this just scratches the surface of what yoga offers.
In addition, the yoga industry is not properly regulated, so many schools and programs teach yoga differently and emphasize different parts of the practice. Out of the 200 hour training, the minimum requirement of anatomy and physiology education is 20 hours. So please don't think that your yoga teacher is a replacement for your doctor or physical therapist. Many teachers, including myself, have dedicated hours to studying anatomy since initial training so that we can better understand it and lead our students through a safe and effective practice, but this does not make me an expert.
What I can do is give you recommendations for stretches and exercises that might help you feel better and heal mentally and physically, and most importantly, help you build awareness of what is going on in your body. These tools are extremely important in their own right, as so much of typical Western medicine completely glosses over the mind-body connection and the deeper layers of pain and illness which go beyond the physical.
It is also important to point out that yoga, just like any movement technique, can cause more harm than good if you are misusing your body and ignoring its cues. This is why in my classes, I emphasize connecting with your inner wisdom and finding what feels good for YOU, regardless of what I as the teacher am guiding you to do. You are the wisest expert when it comes to your body, no matter how much training your teacher has.
This is my favorite one, because it is the quintessential image of the zen yogi surrounded by sunshine and rainbows all the time that pops in your head when you know someone is a dedicated yoga practitioner, amiright? Well this is one of the biggest myths of all because truly practicing a holistic yoga will most likely be one of the biggest and most confronting personal growth experiences you'll ever have in your life. Like any personal development work, yoga trains you to become more self aware, which isn't very easy since many of us suppress or hide from parts of ourselves all our lives. And people often don't realize how interconnected the body is with the mind, and that emotional traumas and stress experienced in our lifetime always manifest physically in some form or another. So not only can certain poses trigger emotions to arise because of the way the body memorizes and stores information, but the lessons learned on the mat can also lead to the total breakdown of your ego before you are reminded who you truly are. Every rainbow had its rain.
And if you think meditation, literally sitting in silence with your own thoughts and being, no distractions, is going to suddenly make you a more peaceful being, then you must have never tried it! Yoga can bring you face to face with your demons and teach you how to conversate with them like a humble warrior. You may even experience more ups and downs in the first years of your yoga journey as you uncover the layers of yourself and do the deep healing work. One of my yoga mentors Rachel Scott says it best - "I used to think yoga would make me happier and more calm, but then I learned that it really doesn't do any of those things... rather, it makes me more aware and expands my capacity to experience the fullness of human existence." So yes, yoga can transform you, but it's not a one way street. Yoga will help you slow down, see things more clearly, and approach them more thoughtfully. But it's how you respond to your new level of awareness that makes the difference.
So which of these myths have you gotten caught up in believing? DM me to let me know or tell me when you share on facebook (don't forget to tag me @elanaloveyoga!) If you'd like to practice with me, please check out my offerings here. Much love. 🙏🏼