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I’m ashamed to admit it, but there was a point in my life where I thought yoga was for weenies. At that time, I thought yoga was merely a stretching practice. In my mind, it was easily mastered, and not something I needed to waste my time doing.
I kept several popular myths about yoga at the forefront of my mind, which I later learned were entirely false. In hindsight, I am grateful, for it’s from these misconceptions that I learned what yoga truly is. Today I’m sharing these myths about yoga and the truth behind them. My only hope is that it allows someone else to step into the light of yoga sooner.
Myth: You already need to be flexible to practice yoga
Truth: People who have been practicing yoga for years make it look easy. To me, watching someone do yoga was like watching someone golf. It seems easy on the surface, but the second you get out there and try to swing that club yourself, you realize just how challenging the sport truly is. It’s probably best left to the professionals.
What I came to understand is, from young children to the elderly, star athletes to couch potatoes, yoga is truly a practice that can be done by any person at any time. You don’t need to be flexible to start, for this is what your body gradually learns throughout your time practicing. Being inflexible to start is how I noticed that my yoga practice was working. I went from not being able to touch my toes to having my nose touch my knees when I bend over.
Myth: Yoga can only be done in an overpriced studio with an instructor
Truth: Funny enough, this misconception is one of the primary reasons why I didn’t start a yoga practice sooner. Once I decided I wanted to try yoga, I felt awkward about being in a room full of people I was convinced would be laughing at me if I fell. I thought I couldn’t practice without going to a class, but going to a class would inevitably result in humiliation.
That’s why I decided to learn the ropes by doing videos at home. My thinking was that this in turn would prepare me to go to an in-person class. That was years ago, and I’m still doing yoga in my living room three days a week. There are several fantastic yoga apps, not to mention free content available online. If you have a mat, a towel, or a surface beneath you, you can do yoga.
Pro Tip: I am a huge fan of The Yoga Collective for at-home yoga videos. If you purchase through Groupon, you get access for a full year for $15. That means that even if you only use it one time in the entire year, you’re getting your money’s worth.
Myth: You can’t do yoga and lift weights
Truth: Are you starting to see how narrow my mindset used to be? I thought that if you did yoga, you could only do yoga. I hadn’t yet grasped the importance of yoga as just one piece of a well-rounded fitness puzzle. Not only can you do yoga and lift weights, participate in HIIT training, or run long distances, but you should supplement any of those practices with yoga. A yoga practice will elevate any other training you do.
One of the most beneficial outcomes of yoga is an increase in core strength. A strong core is especially important in keeping good posture during heavy lifts as well as during running or performing CrossFit movements. (Not to mention we would all probably enjoy out tummies feeling a bit more muscular at the beach this year.)
Myth: If you can’t do a pose perfectly the first time, you shouldn’t try
Truth: Like so many other things in life, growth and progress are a few of the major goals of yoga. Everything can and should be scaled back because let’s face it; most of us are not going to be doing a headstand on day one. It’s perfectly acceptable to fall out of tree pose while you build up your leg strength and balance, or tumble over forwards the first time you try to get into crow pose.
The most important thing is that you listen to your body and scale the poses accordingly. In an app like The Yoga Collective, there are different levels, 1 through 3, which scale down poses for beginners. I have found this to be a valuable tool, and even in my second year with the app, I still find myself hovering in level 2 range. The instructors are also fantastic about providing scaled versions during the session as well.
Myth: You have to be deeply spiritual to practice yoga
Truth: Yoga is essentially a moving meditation, and sometimes breathwork becomes more important than the positions you’ll find your body in. It’s impressive to see the change over time and how you come to rely on your breath to get you through more challenging poses. It’s a great practice in mental strength, and it easily carries over to other aspects of your life.
As such, you may find that you become more mindful as a result of your yoga practice. Meditation is a part of the yoga practice that typically happens after yoga movements are complete. You can also practice meditation independently of a yoga practice to receive the same feelings of stability offered by a deep breathing practice.
Getting started with yoga
If you’ve made it through the myths and think you might want to give yoga a try, here are a few tips to make starting a practice a breeze.
- Get the right equipment. All you need to start a yoga practice is a basic yoga mat*. Beginners would also do well with a set of blocks* and a strap* to help you scale back more challenging poses.
- Find a way to practice. This might be a class at the local yoga studio, the gym, or like me, a collection of videos from your home. There are many fantastic online resources out there. As I’ve mentioned, The Yoga Collective is a favorite, but there is plenty of amazing free content on YouTube (like this list of the best yoga videos on YouTube).
- A little bit is better than nothing. Even if you can only hit your mat for five minutes a day, or one 30-minute session a week, you’re benefiting. Consistency is much better than the length of time you practice. As with any other workout, generally, once you get on your mat, you’ll want to keep going longer than you first thought you would.
- Watch your breathing. At first, it may be challenging to hold inhales and exhales for as long as instructed, especially as your heart rate starts to rise. Try to focus on moving with your breath, but just do the best you can. Remember that each time you do yoga, it’s a practice, so be kind to yourself as you learn.
The truth is that yoga is not all beautiful poses and glamour shots you see on Instagram. It is challenging, demanding, strenuous, and difficult. But it’s also energizing, inspiring, and beautiful. It’s a practice which means it’s ever-evolving, and you’re continually learning. So give yourself grace as you start the journey into yoga and accept your body and your ability at every level.
Do you have a yoga myth that needs busting? Tell me about it in the comments.