In our new Realtalk Fitness series, we're sharing the realities of being a fitness instructor today. We know it takes a lot of effort to create a lasting career with a steady following, and we want to shed light on what it’s really like.
As a science-minded yoga and movement coach, one of my biggest frustrations with the yoga and fitness world is the constant barrage of misinformation based on pseudoscience. Teachers will tell people what they want to hear and usually sell them a product that might not deliver on its promises.
I feel particularly defeated by the poor quality of yoga teacher trainings and the lack of biomechanically accurate information about the body. As Derek Beres says in his poignant Realtalk Fitness article, “Instead of turning to researchers for answers, magical thinking persists in the yoga vocabulary.”
It drives me crazy when I hear yoga teachers say things like, “Twists cleanse your organs,” “Being upside down increases brain activity,” “Doing shoulder stand is good for the thyroid,” or “Belly breathing is the most beneficial way to breathe.”
Although these instructors have good intentions, some of the statements I hear in a typical class are not only misleading but dangerous as well! Here are five of the most common myths that I hear in the yoga community and the truth behind them:
1. The Myth: Yoga is the only kind of movement you need.
This could be true if all you had to do all day was practice yoga. Speaking from my experience, doing ONLY yoga does NOT give us the muscular adaptations needed to lift heavier things, run faster, jump higher, punch harder, throw farther, or endure long periods of physical demand.
Aside from this, yoga literally confines us to movement within our mat space, which unfortunately leaves little room for the three-dimensional movement we usually need in life. Yoga is a great supplement to other kinds of activity, but I recommend doing other forms of movement and exercise as well.
2. The Myth: Yoga builds long, lean muscle.
The way a person’s muscles look has less to do with the exercise and more to do with their body type and genetic makeup, which we unfortunately have very little control over. In terms of how long muscles are, the bony origin and insertion points of muscles determine their length. Unless the bones grow, it’s unlikely for the muscles to get longer.
As far as the “lean” part goes, yoga might not be the best solution for fat loss. When doing familiar movements regularly with the same amount of resistance (in this case, your body weight), your body will become more efficient and you will expend less energy doing them over time (fewer calories burned). This is why strength training works to promote fat loss in a way that doing ONLY yoga asana cannot.
3. The Myth: Yoga teachers are qualified to give hands-on physical adjustments to students and know what they’re doing when they push students deeper into poses.
We’ve seen photos and videos of “gurus” and established well-known yoga teachers giving adjustments that look downright violating and violent. We’ve also experienced these pushy adjustments from all kinds of teachers in group classes. Using brute force to push the body into a preconceived idea of how a pose should look is not okay.
In some states, personal trainers are not allowed to touch their clients. Massage therapists go through extensive training and then apply for a license before they are allowed to touch their patients. And yet, it is assumed that after completing a 200-hour training yoga teachers can give hands-on adjustments that are intended to bring the student “deeper” into the stretch.
4. The Myth: Hot yoga detoxifies the body and burns more calories.
We hear it all the time, “Hot yoga rids your body of toxins.” There is less real, scientific evidence that shows that doing yoga in excess heat will help eliminate these “toxins” than there is for proving that the tooth fairy exists. The truth is REAL toxic substances are handled by a large organ in your abdomen called your LIVER.
Now, what about hot yoga burning more calories? Despite claims you might hear, doing crow pose in 115 degrees doesn’t burn more fat or calories. The truth is that you lose more water. This is your body’s way of regulating temperature, not a detoxification system.
5. The Myth: Shoulder stand and headstand have a lot of benefits and should be a part of every yoga practice with long holds.
I’ve read in recent mainstream publications that shoulder stand can balance hormones, cure constipation and the common cold, strengthen the heart and respiratory system, decrease varicose veins, stimulate the root chakra, aid in sleep, and reduce wrinkles. These supposed benefits are completely unsupported by medical literature. Not only that, I believe these poses are inappropriate for most group yoga classes. In most cases, students’ neck muscles aren’t prepared to support the weight of their bodies in these inverted positions, especially with head forward posture being so prevalent these days.
Sadly, there are many who feel that a yoga practice is incomplete without including both of these poses. On the other hand, I believe that these poses put the neck at risk. From my perspective, bending the neck at this angle is uncomfortable, and staying in this position for long periods of time can decrease this natural, functional curvature, which can lead to bigger problems. Your yoga practice is perfectly complete without a headstand.
Read more of our Realtalk Fitness series:
- I'm A Yoga Teacher. Here's What I Hate About The Yoga "Community"
- What No One Tells You About Working In The Fitness Industry
- I Found Out I Had A Miscarriage — Then Had To Teach A Hip-Hop Yoga Class
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