I’ve been practicing yoga since a time when the only classes available were through my local community center. The teacher was an eccentric, gray-haired woman in Tootsie-era glasses, who would demonstrate poses while loudly farting. Yes, you read that right. She’d assure us (and herself) that passing gas while in poses is totally normal.
I was horrified, yes — but I returned, like a moth to a flame. This was a time when there such thing as yoga pants, and mala beads were not worn as a fashion accessory. Not to mention, “Namaste” would have been met with a “What’d you just call me?” response.
But years later as classes have rapidly multiplied all over the country and yoga teachers are a dime a dozen, misunderstandings and stereotypes about yoga in general are strong as ever. Some of them are funny, like thinking I must practice yoga all the time because I’m a teacher — ha! And some are just plain mean — like assuming yoga teachers are dirty hippies. Stranger still, are misconceptions that yogis love to practice nude... don't think about Crow Pose, don't think about Crow Pose...
So if you ever wonder what gets under a yoga teacher’s coconut-oiled skin and makes their third eye roll, here are five things you might want to avoid saying:
1. I can’t practice yoga — I’m not flexible enough.
Some people are born with rubber bands for muscles and bones, and they seem destined for lives as yogis, gymnasts, dancers, or the traveling circus. But to assume a preternatural flexibility, minimizes the effort that the person has applied toward his or her practice. Most of us wouldn’t just sit at a piano and expect to play Moonlight Sonata without practicing.
So what if you can’t touch your toes right now. Keep practicing. Maybe you’ll touch your toes one day or maybe you won’t, but at least if you’ll have given it a shot.
2. I like yoga, but I don’t like all that breathing stuff.
OK, yes, that pesky rhythmic thing that keeps us alive can be so boring. Blah blah, breathe in, blah blah, breathe out, etc. With high-speed everything these days, it’s really hard to slow down and watch your breath. This is precisely why we do it. We focus on our breath to keep us safe in poses, calm the nervous system, focus our thoughts and practice meditation. All of these reasons are at odds with our super-charged lifestyles that burn us out.
3. I can’t practice yoga — I’m a Christian.
If I had an ‘amen’ for each time I’ve heard this, I’d be a saved woman for sure! Westernized yoga is not a religion, as much as it is a physical and mental practice that enhances one’s life. Meditation does not equate to Buddhism and practicing yoga does not make you Hindu. It’s true that in any given yoga class you may hear about Hindu deities, however the yoga poses are not necessarily reflections of those beliefs. Yoga fosters respect, compassion, discipline, meditation and prayer. A yoga practice can simply serve as a meaningful complement to ANY faith.
4. I’m going to take it easy in class today.
While yoga instructors may be easy going, they nonetheless are very intense when it comes to the physical and mental discipline of really showing up on the mat. Because of this, they can be highly intolerant of lethargy in others. It’s important to listen to ourselves and not overextend, but it’s equally important to persevere and to challenge ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We have to challenge our bodies to change our bodies.
5. I tried yoga once but it was so boring!
One time in South Dakota I ordered spaghetti and I am certain it had ketchup in place of marinara sauce. To call it bland would be generous! Nasty though as this was, I do not assume all spaghetti dishes are as tasteless. Sure, some teachers and some classes may be more ketchup than Arrabiata — but to generalize the whole shebang as boring is a bit of a stretch (pardon the pun).
So whether you’re a practicing yogi or a curious — but reluctant — bystander, consider this list. After all, it may be the difference between a teacher’s sweet smile and a dirty drishti. Nonetheless your teacher will always accept you, just the same.