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June 6, 2011

Asanas Aren’t Spiritual (and Other Yoga Misconceptions). ~ Brandi Reynolds

As a newly minted yoga teacher and certified yoga therapist, I still have a lot to learn about this practice we all call yoga.

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

After all, I haven’t even begun to delve into the nuances of teacher/student relationships, nor how I’ll manage a larger class versus a smaller one. I’m still figuring out my style of teaching, but thanks to my wonderful teachers and training experience—along with years of personal practice—I’ve discovered some common misconceptions about the practice I love so much that I’d like to clear up here, once and for all!

1. You can’t get hurt doing yoga.

Oh, yeah you can. Yoga may be low impact, but you are still working your muscles, joints and connective tissue. This means that if you twist a little further than you ought to, come out of a pose too quickly or just miss a landing when attempting an arm balance, you can hurt yourself. The rule of thumb I’ve always been given is that discomfort (ex: your muscles working) is a good thing; pain is not. If you feel pain, especially anything sharp or searing, come out of the pose.

Photo: Lisa Picard

2. Doing asanas (yoga poses) is spiritual.

Saying what I’m about to say may make me a yoga rebel, but I don’t think there is anything inherently spiritual about doing a yoga pose. It’s just moving your body into a form and holding it there. The spirituality comes from you—from your intention and mindset, from meditating and breathing, from your attention.

3. Yoga is just doing poses.

Furthering the point above, yoga is a way of life. It is a system of philosophy and ethics that can become a path to wholeness. Asanas are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Other limbs include meditation, breath control and development of personal ethics.

Photo: Ron Sombilon

4. Doing yoga is beneficial if you have an injury.

I was assisting in a Vinyasa (breath synchronized movement) class during my teacher training and noticed a student who seemed to be forcing herself into the poses. One of the first rules of assisting and adjusting is not to pick on people, so I made what I hoped were a few helpful suggestions and adjustments but otherwise backed off and just kept my eye on the student.

Our teacher told us after the class that the student was recovering from shoulder surgery and insisted on doing the class as part of her recovery process. I winced upon hearing this.

Yoga can be immensely beneficial in the recovery process from an injury or surgery, but only if it’s the right kind of yoga. Gentle, adaptive (chair assisted) and restorative practices are all great forms of yoga to help your body heal. Pushing through pain is still pushing through pain, even in a yoga class, and you can end up hurting yourself even worse. This leads me to our next misconception…

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

5. A yoga class is a yoga class is a yoga class.

Nope. Adaptive yoga is all about gentle movements done in a chair. A power yoga class is all about strength, endurance and crazy arm balances. And there are a myriad of types of classes in between. So if you try a yoga class and it doesn’t work for you, don’t be discouraged! There is a style of yoga out there for everyone.

6. You’ll lose a crap ton of weight doing yoga.

Maybe. It all depends on the class. A Bikram class that is full of strenuous poses in a heated room? Heck yes you’ll lose some weight! Adaptive or gentle? Not so much. What I’ve learned in my nine or so years of practicing is that each type of class provides unique benefits to my body and mind. After a restorative class, I feel like I’ve gotten a massage. And after a power class, I feel cleansed and strong. I highly recommend a mix of styles so you can experience a variety of the benefits you get from each class.

Photo: Sean Hagwell

7. The one who does the most complicated arm balance wins.

Wins what? Where’s my yoga prize? I believe that ultimately, what a person wins is more confidence in themselves, a better understanding of who they are and more inner peace. More importantly, I think those benefits can be achieved without ever nailing crow pose.  Again, it’s all about intention and what you bring to the practice.

How can I sum this all up? By saying that a yoga practice is what you make it and that if you’re open to it, that’s all there is to it. And I so hope you’ll be open to it.

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Brandi Reynolds is a certified yoga instructor that encourages authentic living and joyful movement that connects body, mind and spirit. She shares her life with a cute guy she met in a bar and three rescued furry souls that drive her nuts half the time in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. You can visit her on her blog, send her electronic kisses or Facebook friend her.

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