If you're having doubts about doing yoga, or are trying to explain to someone that, “It's not what you think it is!” keep in mind that there are many, many myths about yoga floating around. Since its rise to popularity in the west in the past fifty years, it has exploded into mainstream culture. Given six degrees of separation, chances are that everyone knows someone who does yoga. But before you buy into any of the common images associated with yoga in pop culture, check out these mistaken myths and why they aren't true.
Yoga Isn't Real Exercise
Though this myth has faded in its credibility as yogis everywhere spring up with beautiful, healthy bodies, it is still circulating. Yoga is not only a great way to exercise, but it is also one of the safest due to its pace and non-impact motion. Yoga not only works as a cardio workout, particularly in styles like Bikram (where the room is heated), but also tones the entire body. Every yoga pose targets a different area, so as a whole, Yoga classes are a total body workout.
Yoga Is a Bunch of People Sitting in a Room Meditating
Probably the most widespread myth about Yoga today, the belief that it is comprised solely of chanting and meditation is entirely false. There are many different styles of yoga, some of which focus on the breath and emotional well being of the student, However, other styles eliminate this entirely and work only on the physical.
Chanting as a practice is seldom used, even in meditative and restorative yoga styles. If you're looking for a solely physical practice, there are styles of yoga which will accommodate that. However, the meditative aspect brings physical benefits as well, such as improved respiratory health and stress relief.
Yoga Is Only for Super Flexible People
Aside from people sitting cross-legged and meditating, the image most frequently associated with yoga is that of students contorting themselves into all kinds of impossible positions. As such, many believe that yoga is only designed for naturally flexible people, not those with tight muscles or previous injuries. This, however, couldn't be farther from the truth!
Yoga poses (asanas) are designed to fit every person's body, regardless of flexibility or strength. The poses range from simply lying down and letting the hips open all the way to advanced headstands and inversions.
However, keep in mind that they're taught successively; no one is expected to perform advanced asanas from the first class. Instead, you learn gradually, such that you're prepared slowly and challenged at your own pace. You may find that you become more flexible and stronger with regular practice and are able to move into advanced poses—this is great! But by no means will you ever be pressured to contort in ways that are unsafe for your body. The emphasis is on becoming strong and flexible in a safe way, based on what your body is ready to do. Your instructor can also give you modifications for poses so that you avoid stressing areas prone to injury.
Yoga Is Great--For Women
Since its rise in popularity in the west, yoga has been practiced mostly by women, for many reasons including its benefits during menstruation. However, yoga was actually created by men! Since its ancient inception, yoga has been practiced and mastered by mostly men in its native country, with many of the most famous yoga teachers and philosophers being male. As such, the belief that yoga is designed for women or should only be practiced by women is entirely false.
According to the 2008 Yoga In America Study (YIAS), 72.2% of American yoga students are female, and 27.8% male. This is a 4.8% increase in male participation from 2005, when only 23% of yoga students were male.
Additionally, many asanas in yoga are incredible strengtheners for men, such as handstands and headstands. The poses that emphasize flexibility can actually be more beneficial for men, as women are born with a greater amount of joint mobility (especially in the hips), while men must work to achieve it.
Yoga Will Instantly Get You in Perfect Shape
Although it's a myth that has some element of truth to it, this aspect of yoga is frequently misunderstood. With regular, safe, and focused practice, yoga can and will transform your body, making you stronger and more flexible.
However, it takes time and consistency to see results. While some may see a change in just a matter of a few classes, most yoga students must practice regularly for several months before seeing any noticeable results. Don't join yoga classes because you want an instant fix; Yoga is for those who are willing to practice regularly, with an expectation of gradual—not instant—results.
Overall, participation in yoga has increased drastically in the past decade, with tens of millions of Americans practicing yoga. This means that the belief in negative myths about it are dropping, which is great! If you still have doubts or know someone who does, go sit in on a class! Seeing yoga firsthand is the best way to personally dispel myths firsthand.