If you are a yoga beginner, there can be a lot of information and misconceptions about yoga out there that may feel very confusing.
You’ll hear and read all sorts of information about yoga. Some may be more true than others. Hopefully, with time you will slowly get a good grasp of this practice, but there will inevitably be misinformation that will steer you away from reality.
The following are eleven misconceptions about yoga that you may come across in your research. Knowing the truth about these misconceptions may help you distinguish what is true from what is not.
As a side note, if you are interested in learning more about yoga misconceptions and myths, you will love Judith Hanson Lasater’s latest book ‘Yoga Myths: What You Need to Learn and Unlearn for a Safe and Healthy Yoga Practice‘.
1.You have to be flexible to do yoga
This is one of the most common misconceptions about yoga I have heard.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over 10 years and teaching yoga for 7 years and this very phrase is something most beginners tell me.
Interestingly, if I were to rewind just over 10 years, this is what I said to my sister’s yoga teacher:
“Oh I would love to do yoga but I’m not flexible enough”
Oh, the irony that several years later here I am as the yoga teacher having people tell me this very!
The truth is that yoga involves a variety of physical postures. And many of them do help us work on our strength and flexibility.
And so if I were to scroll through Instagram in particular and type in the work ‘yoga’ well then most if not all the photos will be of people demonstrating some very beautiful looking advanced yoga poses that require quite a bit of flexibility.
And so yes, that is now something that many people perceive yoga to be.
In a typical yoga class, we work on the breath and some poses that may help increase flexibility and starting. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. Some people may increase their flexibility quite a lot with yoga! Others may not.
However, the important thing is to start with the body we have, whether flexible or not. Perhaps more important is to have a more flexible mindset and be open to all the things this yoga journey may take us.
2. Yoga is only for women
Go to any yoga class around the world and chances are there will be more women than men in the class. I have practiced yoga all over the world and classes range from all-female to maybe a 40/60 ratio of men to women.
So given the predominance of women in any given yoga class, it really does make sense that many people think that yoga is only for women.
And yet interestingly, many years ago in India, yoga was actually only taught to men.
Things changed in the 1930s when two women were accepted to study yoga and both, in their own way, managed to push the gender barrier.
To find out more about yoga’s gender switch you may like my article: Do men practice yoga?
After yoga traveled to the West it underwent a transformation and developed a more female-focused portrayal. However, it is important to point out that yoga is for absolutely EVERYONE.
In fact, I’ve taught Ashtanga classes where I only had men! And so one factor that may influence the male to female ratio may be the type of yoga practiced.
3. Yoga is not a workout
Well on the one hand I agree with this statement. Yoga is not a workout when compared to going to the gym.
Yoga can ALSO be a workout.
Plus, there have been a variety of academic studies that have found that both types of yoga can help build strength. For example, one study carried out in the US in 2004 found that Ashtanga yoga may, in fact, be able to increase core and upper body strength.
The participants were split into two groups. One group practiced Hatha yoga while the other practiced Ashtanga yoga. Both groups did a 75-minute practice twice a week for 6 weeks.
The results showed that people in both groups showed an improvement in core and upper body strength. Perhaps not surprisingly, better results were seen with Ashtanga yoga, given that it is a more physically demanding practice.
And so yoga is not just a workout, but it can also be a workout!
4. Yoga is a religious practice
This is a bit of a controversial topic.
Over the years I’ve had quite a few yoga students ask me whether yoga is a religion. Some have even told me that they don’t tell their religious parents that they come to yoga so as not to upset them.
It is worth pointing out that in the West, some practicing Christians and Jews are concerned with whether yoga is part of an easter religion. And in turn, the concern is that by practicing yoga they may be undermining their own faith.
In his book The Deeper Dimensions Of Yoga, yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein points out that yoga can actually help deepen someone’s personal faith.
He supports this by adding that:
At the heart of all forms of Yoga is the assumption that we have not tapped into our full potential as human being. Yoga is first and foremost a practical spiritual discipline the emphasizes peronal experimentation and verification. In other words, direct personal experience or spiritual realization is considered senior to any theory or conceptual system.
He continues by saying that:
For this reason, Yoga can and in fact has been practiced by people with widely differing philosophies and beliefs. Some Yoga practitioners believe in a personal God who created the universe, other favor a metaphysics that regards the world as illusiory and the ultimate Reality as singular and formless. Accordingly, some Yoga practitioners are more religious than others. But Yoga itself is primarily a tool for exploring the depth of human nature, of plumeting the mysteries of the body and mind.
5. Yoga is all about doing just asanas
This is a misconception about yoga that actually has an element of truth.
If you are to search the term yoga on Instagram, yoga asanas are all you will see!
Yoga is asanas, but it’s not just that. In fact, the physical element of yoga is one-eight of what yoga actually is.
To get the bigger picture, let’s take a step back and look at a little yoga philosophy.
Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, more commonly known as The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali.
These are considered to be some of the foundational texts of classical yoga philosophy, which were written in Sanskrit, an estimated 2000 years ago.
The eight limbs are steps or guidelines for yoga practitioners to follow in order to progress to reach a state of Yoga or self-realization. The eight limbs are:
- Yamas – our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life
- Niyamas – self-discipline and spiritual observances
- Asana – the postures practiced in yoga
- Pranayama – breath control
- Pratyahara – withdrawal or sensory transcendence
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – state of ecstasy
And so as you can see, Asana (the postures practiced in yoga) are just one part of what makes yoga a whole.
6. Yoga is nothing more than stretching
Yoga can involve a great deal of stretching!
And so it’s no surprise that this is something I get told a lot when I tell people I teach yoga.
And yet, yoga is SO much more than just stretching.
The physical practice of yoga does involve a great deal of stretching, which means that in the long term you will most likely see an improvement in your flexibility. However, this is just a small part, or more correctly, just a small advantage of what yoga can really offer.
The elements that can help make up a more ‘complete’ yoga class are:
If you would like to find out more, then you may like my article: Is Yoga Just Stretching?
7. You have to be young to do yoga
This is a misconception about yoga I love to prove wrong! I have taught yoga classes where the average age was 50. And what a beautiful class it was!
You can start yoga at any age and you can practice yoga at any age.
The older we get, perhaps the more grounding practiced our bodies may be searching for. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be young to do yoga.
And if you want a little more inspiration, then have a look at this interview with Tao Porchon-Lynch, who was known as the world’s oldest known yoga teacher.
8. You have to be thin to do yoga
I still remember the day. I was at my studio tidying up after a class and in walks a young woman.
She stayed near the door so I walked closer to her.
In a shy voice, she asked me if she could do yoga.
I said of course!
She then said, even for a person like me?
She was referring to her weight.
My heart sank.
After a brief conversation, she decided to give yoga a try.
Watching her come to class day in, day out, and with time watching her build strength and flexibility and more importantly, confidence, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever got to witness as a yoga teacher.
If you would like some inspiration, have a look at a beginner yoga class by the beautiful and ever so inspiring Jessamyn Stanley.
9. The more advanced the poses the better you are at yoga
This is quite a commonly held yoga belief, especially held by beginners t yoga.
And to be fair, it makes sense.
As a complete yoga beginner, perhaps you haven’t really worked out in a while, or even, ever!
You walk into a yoga studio, perhaps you’re feeling a bit self-conscious?
You look around and you take a peek into the class that’s on. It’s an Ashtanga Mysore class where there are people that may have been practicing yoga for over a decade.
You see them doing headstands, backbends, jump backs, you even see some of them put their leg behind their head!
And you think that they are so much better at yoga than you.
“Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just circus.”Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
And I’m only writing this because I had this very experience.
I went to practice with my teacher in India and the first time I looked into the class all I see was a sea of advanced yogis doing the most amazing things with their bodues.
It was only after a while I began to spot the advanced yogis.
It was then whose bodies could do the most incredible things.
It was those that throughout the practice their breath seemed steady and their face was as calm as I’m sure it is when they’re reading a book whilst sipping a warm cup of tea.
And that was my eureka moment.
10. All yoga is the same
When you enter the yoga world you very quickly find out that there are actually quite a few choices of yoga out there.
Indeed, the is most likely going to be, or two, or more that appeal to most people.
Each yoga type may vary regarding how dynamic it is, how gentle it is, who it is geared to, and what the physical benefits may be.
Regardless of the type you so choose, you will leave the class feeling more energized and relaxed.
Each different type of yoga has its benefits and so when choosing the type of yoga you want to practice, take your time, and try them all out. You will quickly come to realize the differences and you will most likely find the type of yoga that resonates with you.
The most commonly practiced yoga in most studios nowadays are:
- Hatha – A typical Hatha class is an ideal starting point for most yoga beginners. The teacher guides the class in a slow paced fashion, and this gives the students to have enough time to move in and out of postures in a safe manner.
- Vinyasa – A Vinyasa class can be seen as a more fast paced Hatha yoga class. In this type of class students flow in and out fo postures in synch with the breath. Vinyasa classes can be fun and also quite physically challenging.
- Ashtanga – Ashtanga can be seen an a more structured Vinyasa class. The same set of postures are practiced in each class and these become progressively harder as our practice evolves. There is also a stong emphasis on focusing on the breath, the posture and the specific gazing point of each posture. And in turn, this makes Ashtanga an ideal practice for anyone who may be dealing with too many thoughts as it helps us clear our minds.
- Yin yoga – This is rather different to the previous practices. Is is very grounding and slow paced. We may stay in each pose for several minutes and the aim here is to stertch out the connective tissue. This makes Yin yoga a great practice for anyone who may want to wok on flexibility and releasing any built up tension.
- Restorative yoga – This is a more calming approach to yin yoga. We make use of yoga props (bolsters, blankets, clocks and eye pillows). In this practice the aim is to totally relax and so we say in each pose for up to 20 minutes!
If you would like more of an explanation into each of these, then check out my video:
11. Everyone will judge me in the yoga class
This is more of a fear than a misconception about yoga in my opinion.
And it’s one that I hear quite a lot from people who tell me they’d like to start yoga but would rather do private lessons.
And what I tell them is this:
Most people are so consumed in their own experience during a yoga class that they may not even notice you!
Think about it!
In any given yoga class we come face to face with all the amazing things our body can do, all the limitations and potential injuries we’re experiencing, and everything in between!
And all the while we’re perhaps having a conversation which our inflated or bruised ego. Or simply we’re working on calming our mind and focusing on the breath after our very stressful day at work.
And so is there time to notice the person next to me? Oh yes, there’s a new person here.
Is there time to judge? Most likely no.