11 Common Misconceptions About Yoga.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Nov 19, 2013
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Relephant reads:

The Truthier Truth About Yoga Teachers.

8 More Dazzling Truths of Yoga Schmoga.

The 10 Commandments of Teaching Yoga.

As with any popular movement, there are plenty of stereotypes around what yoga means and generalizations about what “yoga people” are like.

The truth is, the modern-day international yoga community is so huge and its practices, teachings and techniques so diverse that it is difficult to define what yoga actually is anymore.

It may be easier to describe what yoga is not. It is not a competition. It is not a beauty contest. It is not without a system of ethics.

Yoga isn’t just whatever we make of it. Yoga is a lot of things, but it’s not just anything.

Here are some common misconceptions about yoga that deserve a rethink.

1. Yoga is the devil’s work.

I’m pretty sure that not a whole lot of fundamentalists who believe this about yoga are reading elephant journal. But, just in case, rest assured: yoga (generally) tends to be much more angelic than satanic.

2. Yoga is not a religion.

Actually, it’s my religion. If spirituality is private and religion is the public expression of one’s spirituality, I bet a whole lot of people consider yoga as their religion.

Yoga is accessible to the practitioners of any or no religion. There are modern lineages of Jewish Yoga, Christian Yoga and (my personal favorite) Dharma Yoga.

Yoga is not Hinduism, nor it is Buddhism, but many of the teachings and ideas in all three systems overlap in various ways.

3. Yoga was designed to make us more physically fit and less stressed.

Although it can provide both of these lovely benefits, yoga was actually designed as a system for attaining straight up spiritual enlightenment.

4. Yoga is always a spiritual practice.

Would that it was. For many of us, it is. A daily, spiritual practice. A lifestyle.

However, there are plenty of things out there masquerading as yoga, which shouldn’t actually be called yoga.

5. It is never acceptable to sleep with one’s yoga teacher.

Always and never statements are almost never true. There are exceptions to every rule. (Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean you should sleep with your yoga teacher.)

Two of my all-time favorite yoga teachers are a couple, but they weren’t when I met them. She used to be married. Her ex-husband left her (a gorgeous, intelligent, compassionate yoga teacher) and eventually she got together with our yoga teacher.

One more thing about sex. Many prominent gurus and teachers have revealed themselves to be unethical sex maniacs over the course of the past few decades. Or maybe they are just humans who were erroneously elevated to some unreachable “guru” status?

6. You have to be [a certain something] to practice yoga.

Not flexible, not strong, not balanced, not skinny, not young. Not anything! It’s a practice, and regarding physical asana practice and mental meditation practice, practice makes perfect.

If you choose to practice asana and meditation as part of your yoga, there are modifications and mantras available for all levels, from brand-new beginner on up.

7. You have to go to a studio to practice.

You really don’t. Although there are plenty of lovely yoga studios out there, they are a luxury, not a necessity. You don’t even need to use a yoga mat, if you don’t want to. Do it right in the grass or on your floor or on the beach, if you can get there.

How to learn without a studio? Books. Videos. Private yoga lessons. Or, go to a studio occasionally but practice at home (or wherever you are) every day.

8. To do yoga, you have to do physical poses, breathing exercises and meditate.

Actually, the term yoga encompasses lots of things besides the most common practices we see in the media, including service (karma yoga), esoteric practices (tantra) and contemplation of yogic philosophy (jnana yoga)—just to name a few.

Although most yogis practice asana, pranayama and dhyana, none of the above are required.

9. Yoga is dangerous.

Yoga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people. Overzealous yoga teachers can hurt people with bad adjustments. Overzealous yoga practitioners can hurt ourselves by crossing the boundary of discomfort into the red zone of pain.

Know your body. Be gentle. What’s the rush? Where are you trying to get in your pose? Ego is dangerous. Yoga is safe.

10. Yoga is easy and girly.

Over the years, many men have admitted that they hold this belief. And then they come to my class and it kicks their ass. There is a spectrum of hatha yoga styles from the “easiest”, most passive and restorative to the most physically intense Ashtanga/Vinyasa flow that will have you sweating and shaking and loving it. If you think yoga is easy and girly, take Ashtanga.

11. Yoga people are all [insert adjective here].

Not all yoga people are vegetarians or vegans.
Not all yoga people are fit and healthy.
Not all yoga people are white and affluent.
Not all yoga people are hippies.
Not all yoga people are minimalists.
Not all yoga people are young and lithe.

Yoga is for everyone who strives to be mindful, present and compassionate.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Image: Flickr.}


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


18 Responses to “11 Common Misconceptions About Yoga.”

  1. sherry says:

    Great post and I agree! People come in with so many pre-conceived notions and are surprised to find out that they may not be right.

  2. Michelle says:

    Love this!

  3. Jacquelyn says:

    Your article was great! I’ve been teaching yoga for almost 15 years now and have addressed all these misconceptions at one time or another. Thank you for writing this and providing more clarity.

  4. Jakar says:

    Here we go again, "It is never acceptable to sleep with one’s yoga teacher." Is this really a problem in the world? Do women write articles like this out of suppressed desire or misandry (man hating). It feels to me like a control issue for women yoga teachers by encouraging the idea in yoga circles that men are all potentially perverts. Are there really serial sex pest teachers destroying classes around the world? If this happens once to people you know, does it mean it is a specific yoga problem?
    I can't see why what a yoga teacher or anybody else does in private, who they are attracted to, ask out, make a pass at etc, is any of anybody else's business. They must live by the consequences of their action.

    "Many prominent gurus and teachers have revealed themselves to be unethical sex maniacs over the course of the past few decades. " Have they really? How many 3, 5 or 200. And how do you define an 'unethical sex maniac'? Are these people you are talking about teaching classes in gyms and sports halls up and down the land, I don't think so.

  5. gdr23 says:

    I don't agree with you on #2. The accepted definition of a religion contains many elements that yoga does not have: a codifying belief system ( as you said, people can take yoga or leave it as a spiritual practice), there is no " head of yoga", many traditions, many gurus and teachers, but no one figure of authority. I belong to a religious community (Unitarian Universalist), but my spiritual practice includes the 8 Fold path of yoga. I think that in saying yoga is a religion, you aren't accurate and you may be alienating alot of folks.

  6. saddha123 says:

    I guess according to you yoga is Hatha Yoga. Having been a former practitioner of Hatha Yoga and now Buddhism, I must say Buddhist practices are far more effective in terms of balancing mind, body and speech. It also brings about a greaterlevel of stillness and concentration since you are not focusing on poses. Buddhism is gentle yet powerful, Hatha Yoga means “force”. It is violence on the body if not used just as a warm up with gentle stretching. It’s like doing brain surgery to cure a simple headache.

    PS Dharma Yoga is Buddhism. We tune ourselves through Dharma.

  7. 11. Yoga people are all [insert adjective here].

    Not all yoga people are vegetarians or vegans.
    Not all yoga people are fit and healthy.
    Not all yoga people are white and affluent.
    Not all yoga people are hippies.
    Not all yoga people are minimalists.
    Not all yoga people are young and lithe."

    Thank you.

    Oh, but I AM a minimalist—and, if involuntarily, still proud of it. Don't have the money to be anything else. 🙂

  8. Sue Kenney says:

    Not all yoga people are barefooters outside of the studio…but I am.

  9. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Sherry! Namaste, Michelle

  10. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Namaste, Michelle

  11. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Jacquelyn! Namaste, Michelle

  12. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm a minimalist too! Namaste, Michelle

  13. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Sue! Here's to being barefoot! Namaste, Michelle

  14. Yotopia says:

    People have so many misconceptions about yoga which definitely deserves a rethink. A very well written article clearly talking about how people think wrong about yoga. I would love to add one more to this list; yoga is still dominated by women even though it is beneficial for both women as well as men.

    Men: Think yoga is only for women? Think again. This is one more misconception about yoga that most of the guys have. Thanks for sharing Elephant Journal.

  15. Michelle says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting. So true! Yoga is for guys too. Namaste.

  16. Nikki says:

    Brilliant and enjoyable read. Fits with everything perfectly right now. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Namaste.

  17. laportama says:

    Clever and up-to-date. Thanks.

    Now, Re: religion.
    Yoga — yoking — is not A religion, although it may seem so as a way of life.
    Yoga IS religion. Re-back, ligio-tie
    Yoga is consistent with every faith and denomination and excludes no-one.

  18. Kirstie says:

    ‘Not all yoga people are:’ I wish I’d have known years ago! I wouldn’t have put off my first class for so long! Great article.