As a yoga teacher I often hear, “I could never do yoga, I can’t touch my toes.”
I nearly chuckle at the very thought. Touching your toes? Who said there was a prerequisite for yoga that involved touching your toes? It makes me wonder where these rumors began; these yoga myths that everyone perpetuates and speaks of as truth.
This summer, I completed my 200-hour certification to become a yoga teacher. And I must admit that even I had my preconceived notions. Thoughts and doubts were flooding my mind: What does a yoga teacher look like? I should hide my belly — yoga teachers are supposed to be fit. What will the other students think of me? I hope I don’t drop out.
I had resisted yoga teacher training for a long time because I didn’t think I was strong or fit enough. I said to myself, “I can’t do it.”
But after weekend one of my 10-week intensive, I learned that “can’t” is just a word we say to ourselves that holds us back. Being strong, fit, or able to touch your toes, is not a prerequisite to learning or practicing yoga. It’s just part of the rumor mill.
Here are 5 common myths about yoga, and how to break them.
1. I’m can’t do yoga, I’m not skinny enough.
While teaching privately to women across South Florida, women opened up to me. “I would go to a studio," they'd say, "but I’m not skinny enough."
This makes me so sad to hear and even sadder when I think about just how many women are not practicing yoga because they don’t think they’re skinny enough. Yoga is not for the skinny or the tall, the athletic or the flexible. It is truly a practice that does not discriminate.
As you practice the asanas, you may find in time that as you get to know your body, you may feel leaner or stronger. But if you are truly practicing yoga — which is so much more than just the postures — you will find something even more profound. You will find yourself. In the quiet moments of meditation, or as you sweat in a pose, or as you lay in Savasana, you might catch a glimmer of your true self — the authentic, inner soul that resides within. The soul is not skinny or fat, or tall or short. It's just YOU. The real you, practicing yoga to your heart's delight.
Break the myth: Instead of telling yourself you “CAN'T,” start telling yourself you “CAN.”
2. Yoga is just for girls.
In recent years as yoga has exploded all across the west, yoga has taken on a strong female following. So I can understand where the myth arises that only women practice yoga. But actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For many, many years, yoga was a male-only practice in India, where it originated over 5,000 years ago.
It wasn’t until Tirumalai Krishnamacharya — the modern grandfather of yoga — came along, that women were even allowed in the circle.
He taught the ancient practice to his first female student, Indra Devi — the mother of western yoga — and said, “I think that if we do not encourage women, the great Indian traditions will die because men are not following the Vedic rules and regulations. They are all becoming business people.” And from that single female yoga student, the floodgates opened for women and the rest is history.
Break the myth: If you're a man, get yourself some yoga shorts and get on the mat.
3. I can’t do yoga, it’s not part of my religion.
There’s a common misconception that yoga is a religion. But it’s not a religion or a cult, nor will you suddenly turn your back on your own belief system. Although yoga is highly connected to Hinduism, with roots in the Bhagavad Gita, it is more of a philosophy of life rather than a religion.
To be a yogi, you follow as best you can, the 8 limbs of yoga — ethics, self-discipline, movement or asanas, breathing, and inward concentration to reach a higher state.
The elements of religion may be added to a yoga class from teacher to teacher, but at its core, yoga is no religion. As Sadhguru says, “Yoga is Hindu just the way gravity is Christian. Just because the law of gravity was propounded by Isaac Newton, who lived in a Christian culture, does it make gravity Christian? Yoga is a technology. Anybody who is willing to make use of it, can make use of it.”
Break the myth: Think of yoga as a pretty cool Philosophy 101 class for your body, mind, and spirit, rather than as a religion.
4. Yoga will give me a nice, tight booty.
One of my yogi friends admitted to me, “I joined yoga teacher training because I thought it would give me a tight booty, but then I realized it was so much more.”
We all walk into yoga classes with our own thoughts and expectations, but if you think yoga will instantaneously give you six-pack abs and a tight booty, you might be disappointed. The truth is like any activity, it will take lots of practice to get your body toned and trimmed. But the main point is to practice as much as you can, and as you get stronger and fitter, that tight booty or six-pack abs might just be an awesome side effect.
A female student once asked me, “How often should I come to yoga class so I can lose weight?” I told her to commit to once a week and said, “If you can commit to consistently coming once a week, you can build it up from there, but if you come every day and wear your body out, then you won’t come back for several months and all of that effort will be in vain.”
You should go into yoga removing all thoughts of that hot body you want, or the weight you are trying to lose. Instead, you should come to class to just be, and feel comfortable in your own skin. And after a while, you’ll look in the mirror and realize your real beauty has nothing to do with your size or shape.
Break the myth: Instead of looking for a tight ass, work on an awesome asana.
5. Yoga is too slow and boring.
I hear people say that yoga is “slow and boring,” all the time. On the contrary, there are so many different styles of yoga to try that there is just no way you could exhaust each one enough to become bored.
And yes, Yin or gentle flow yoga, will move slower than others. Some classes will be slow and restorative while others, invigorating. Other styles are fast and hot, and will really make you sweat. So if you found the last yoga class you went to slow and boring, why not check out other styles of yoga to see what you might be missing.
However it is also true that have probably had a horrible experience with a yoga teacher you did not connect with. But don’t worry, this happens to the best of us. I remember taking a class once where the teacher had us stand up and sit back down until my neck started to hurt. But don’t judge the 5,000 year old practice of yoga by one bad class! There are plenty of amazing teachers in your area and all over the world.
Break the myth: Finding your perfect yoga studio, class and teacher, will help you find your perfect Self. Try as many classes as you can — no matter how boring or slow they seem — until you find the right fit.