Yoga has seen a massive surge of popularity in the Western world over the last ten years. With a growing focus on health and wellness people are turning to a form of exercise that offers them more than a movement class by providing a holistic practice that appeals to different people for different reasons.
All that being said I am continually surprised when talking to people about yoga how many persistent myths about yoga still float around and I think it is time to set the record straight! I’ve picked the five most common misconceptions about yoga that people have regularly said to me in conversation – if you think any (or all!) of these are true then read on for the real facts……
Real men don’t do yoga
This myth has probably arise because of the way that yoga is portrayed in social media and on the wider internet. The majority of yoga pictures will be of young, thin, bendy women and in general the majority of yoga class attendees will be women…but none of this means that yoga is not for men! In fact when yoga was first born it was a practice exclusively undertaken by men, and many of the greatest yoga teachers of all time have been men.
All of the benefits that yoga has to offer (strength building, increased flexibility, stress reduction to name but a few) are as important for men as they are for women. Don’t believe me? Then maybe take a cue from these male celebrities who all practice yoga regularly; Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, Sting, Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Giggs.
Yoga is just stretching
Yes, I can’t lie, there is stretching involved in yoga but actually many of these “stretching” poses are actually used (often unknowingly) by many other sports and athletes during warm ups. However, that doesn’t mean that yoga is “just stretching”. Instead yoga combines alignment, strength and balance.
The physical practice of yoga focuses on combining strength training with flexibility which can be intense. Simple stretching does not need the same level of attention, focus and breathing that is needed when you practice yoga.
Let’s also not forget that when one muscle is stretching that will inevitably mean that another muscle is flexing. This relationship is known as “extensors and flexors”; when the extensor muscle relaxes, the flexor muscle strengthens.
It is important to remember that the physical element of yoga is also just a piece of the bigger picture. The fundamental aim of yoga is to move your body, connect to your breath and arrive into the present moment. The goal of the physical movement is to provide a focus on the body and the breath that in turn allows the mind to come to a state of “stillness” ready for meditation. It is for this reason that yoga is referred to as a ‘practice’ not a workout. Despite the physical benefits of yoga practicing yoga is not only about what happens for the time you spend on your yoga mat, it’s actually about what you take away from your session and it’s wider influence on your life.
You need hours to practice yoga
Most formal yoga classes are anywhere between 45 to 75 minutes long, but the myth that you need to commit to at least an hour of yoga to feel any benefits couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are lots of online and YouTube yoga videos and classes that can be just 5, 10 or 15 minutes long. You can practice some yoga movements sitting at your desk at work, you can practice yoga whilst brushing your teeth in the evening, you can even practice yoga while you unload the dishwasher in the morning! You can practice meditation while you take the dog for a walk and you can practice your yoga breathing sitting in the traffic jam on the way to work!
Make yoga a regular part of your day and you won’t resent having to set aside hours for your practice!
I’m not bendy, I can’t do yoga
Thinking that you need to be flexible to do yoga is like thinking that you have to be fit before you can go to the gym, or clean before you can get in the shower! The fact is that flexibility is a benefit of yoga, it is not a prerequisite for practicing it!
In fact, the word practice here is important. If you want to touch your toes then start by bending your knees and practice from there and eventually you may touch your toes whilst your legs are straight. It is also important to remember that every BODY is different and maybe you will never touch your toes with straight legs but that is not a reason to stop practicing!
I’m too old to start now
Social media may make it look otherwise but I promise, you can do yoga at any age -- really! It's just a matter of picking what type of yoga you do and working within your abilities. In fact the low-impact nature of yoga may even help you age better by keeping you flexible and building strength
Yoga is a great option for everyone because you do not need special equipment to practice it and you can do it anywhere. The most important thing is to listen to what your body needs. If you have arthritis, limited mobility or other health issues there is a modification for almost every yoga pose to accommodate your physical needs.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What are your preconceptions about yoga? Leave a comment below if you feel like sharing and let's see if we can "de-bunk" them!