Many fitness-minded people regard yoga with wary disdain, critiquing the health benefits or its “girliness” or the unfamiliar spirituality behind it. As with everything that gains popularity, yoga has attracted a certain stereotype that may be influencing the way you think about yoga – and even preventing you from participating in an activity you could actually come to really enjoy.
Rant and rave all you want, but remember that love strikes in the oddest, most unpredictable moments. You, too, could fall in love with yoga before you know it. Yoga is a discipline that improves strength, flexibility, and relaxation. The benefits are vast, and participating in yoga classes may not actually look like you imagine.
I’m telling you – yoga could soon become the love of your life. Millions of Americans own yoga mats and make pilgrimages several times a week to their local yoga studio. Falling in love is not something most people have any control over, and you may be on the brink of caving no matter how much of a fight you put up.
Do you believe the myths? You shouldn’t.
It’s okay, it’s natural to showcase a little suspicion towards activities as stereotyped as yoga. But try and have an open mind. Many of the stereotypes are just that – stereotypes – and you may be surprised at the truth behind them.
- Yoga is a religion. Although stemming from Hindu-dominated India and incorporating principles like meditation and pranayama (breath work), yoga is not a religion. People do yoga for all kinds of reasons, and no yoga participant is forced to practice any of the spiritual parts of it. Yes, your yogi will say “Namaste” at the end of your practice, but you can ignore it and simply enjoy the health and fitness aspects of the activity.
- You have to be a Hindu to do yoga correctly. Again, don’t be silly –people with all kinds of beliefs take advantage of the extensive health benefits of yoga. Generically, yoga develops flexibility, strength, balance, and focus while reducing stress. Just as you can find yoga studios who emphasize the Hindu elements of the discipline, you can also find other religions that practice it. One example is the chain of Christian yoga centers, named “Holy Yoga,” a non-profit in the U.S.
- Yoga is for girls. In India, yoga actually began primarily as a male activity – it’s only been during the last century that girls have been allowed to practice there. Venture to a yoga studio and you’ll be surprised to see the numbers of men who participate.
- Yoga is boring and repetitive. There are actually dozens of varieties of yoga, from the popular Hatha yoga to Bikram (hot) yoga to Kundalini yoga. Each one involves its own focuses and nuances. In fact, over 900 asanas (yoga poses) have been identified. Those’ll keep you busy for a while!
- You have to be vegetarian to do yoga. Again, who are you talking to? I enjoy yoga and steak, and no one has ever approached me and asked me to give up my steak for yoga.
- Yoga is too time-consuming to be worthwhile. Many athletes do yoga to increase their flexibility, while others choose yoga forms for strength. Yoga serves whatever purpose you need it to, but you can combine it with your usual workout regimen of running, weight-lifting, or cardio. You don’t have to do an hour of yoga to see the benefits, either – 15 minutes a few times a week can get you results.
- Yoga will cause you to lose all your friends. Actually, going to a yoga class will probably help you make friends!
- Yoga instructors are all hippies. Just as yoga participants come in all shapes and sizes, so do the teachers. Each instructor will tailor their class according to their personality and preferences. If you don’t like one instructor, find another who works for you!
- If I can’t do the pose, they’ll kick me out. Often yoga instructors preface a pose by saying, “This may be a little advanced, so you are welcome to do whatever makes you comfortable.” Not everyone can perform all of the poses, and instructors are happy to show modified forms and will not be upset if you do something simpler. (In other words, don’t sweat the headstands.)
- Yoga doesn’t provide a vigorous workout. Although a yoga environment is gentle, quiet, and peaceful, it doesn’t mean the class isn’t sweating like crazy and burning calories like mad. Holding poses for a long time can prove very challenging. Ashtanga yoga or power yoga are typically more athletic and geared to target your whole body as well.
- I’m not flexible enough to do yoga. Relax – nobody starts out like a gymnast. Yoga instructors encourage you to take it slow and easy, and no one will look down on you if you can’t twist your body like a pretzel. As you progress, you will gain flexibility.
- You have to burn incense when you do yoga. Some classes integrate incense, candles, or soft music, but none of it is necessary. Incense can set a relaxing atmosphere and give the room a pleasant smell, but it’s not a requirement for a yoga class.
What do you think – are you one step closer to signing up for a yoga class? Whatever your reason for not trying yoga, the myths should not keep you from trying it. Give it a go and see how you like it – it might be way more fun than you ever imagined!
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Brooke McDonald is a writer and blogger for Minneapolis yoga and fitness studio Be Complete America. She enjoys writing about fitness and health-related topics.