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.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise