Yoga is for everyone. And I mean every person. If you’ve got a body, great! You can do yoga.
Yoga is not just physical asanas (physical postures). There are many different styles that cater to what your body needs. Many people come to yoga from an injury as it can be a milder form of exercise, but that’s only a portion of it. People come back over and over again to their mats because of the benefits of maintaining a consistent yoga practice can provide. I’m here to dispel some myths and explain why yoga is truly for everyone.
Myth 1: You need to be flexible or of a certain body type to practice yoga.
I know a lot of this is a mind-over-matter situation, and I get it, practicing yoga in the context of a public class can be intimidating. But saying the prerequisite for practicing yoga needing to be skinny, limber, extremely strong…those are all excuses. Whenever someone says that I like to counter with, “I’m too dirty to take a shower.” There’s no such thing.
As a teacher, it is my job to guide you safely through practice, and instruct with modifications if needed. From my experience as a (forever) student, there are some aspects of the physical practice I need a ton of help with (through the usage of props) but the key is being diligent and consistent with practice. Making it to your mat is the hard part but having the self-discipline to show up over and over again, no matter your physical ability, is what I think makes it especially challenging. It is there, through the discipline and perseverance, that I find the magic happens: you discover how resilient, how strong you are.
Myth 2: Yoga is full of chanting, hippies, people holding crystals …
Chanting used to be something not for me, but now I love it. It provides an emotional release just like singing in the shower or belting out your favorite song in the car does. It helps to invoke a sense that there is something else greater than yourself, which I think a lot of us can recognize and respect, if not believe. Oftentimes, we are wrapped up with all the concerns of ourselves when we could be thinking and seeing more holistically.
All of the other stereotypes of yoga are just that – stereotypes. Each practice looks different. From someone’s personal home practice to following an audio class, to attending a studio class, each and every practice is unique and that’s perfectly okay.
Myth 3: Yoga is just stretching.
That does comprise some of the asana practice, yes. But that’s not all of it. Depending on the style, it can be dynamic movement like in the Vinyasa context. Some of it can be more static, understanding muscle activation and alignment like in Hatha, or being supported by a bunch of blocks, blankets, straps, sandbags to relax in restorative yoga.
If you are an athlete and do not practice yoga or have any other mindful movement practice, yoga is an incredibly powerful cross-training. Joints have inherent mobility and stability, but they need exercise in both avenues. If you are consistently lifting weights, your joints will be incredibly stable, but they won’t have a lot of mobility. The same is true for someone who participates in something less strength-based like ballet; joints will be more mobile but not necessarily stable. Maintaining joint health also is the best way to prevent injury; oftentimes injuries arise from overextension with weight-bearing on a joint.
Some other points about yoga that are valuable:
—Yoga has incredibly rich philosophies. Similar to how Buddhism has the Noble Eightfold Path, yoga incorporates the Eight-Limbed Path. This includes social restraints, self-observances, breathwork, physical practice, sensory withdrawal, concentration, ultimate bliss, and meditation.
—Sometimes, the dogma isn’t for students when they first start out (that was the case for me), but two particular tenets under the yamas and niyamas (things not to do vs things to do) have stood out for me. The five yamas ask practitioners to avoid violence, lying, stealing, wasting energy, and possessiveness, while the five niyamas ask for everyone to embrace cleanliness and contentment, to have self-discipline, to continually study and observe our habits, and to surrender to something greater than ourselves. It helps to remind me to stay humble; that we all want the same things in life and just overall how to be a better person towards myself and others.
—The practice of yoga asana (physical practice) is often taught as a great way to de-stress. Why? Because it works. Like the Prison Yoga Project teaches, yoga is all about “interroception”. A portmanteau between interrogation and perception or proprioception, “interroception” occurs when the mind-body connection is very much at the forefront. It is the feeling of noticing yourself within your physical body – often something that gets lost whenever trauma, repetitive stress, or extreme duress occurs. This factor helped me with my depression and the confrontation of my traumas. When you are in a static posture with nothing but your breath, you begin to tap into your body and notice things that are easy to overlook on a day-to-day basis.
—If you are new to yoga and would like to start, the best thing to do is to just show up to class. It doesn’t matter whether you know your Anjaneyasana from your Virabhadrasana II because that can be learned over time. What matters is the self-discipline or tapas, to continue to show up as you are. I understand the intimidation factor and the feeling of being lost – that was me once! But the only way to go on with the practice is to do just that: practice.