yoga myths [for future-yogis]

I know that yoga can be intimidating. I've been there. That moment of apprehension before stepping into your first yoga class, you might feel worried about doing the poses "correctly," worried what others are thinking, or just not knowing what to expect. The good news is: a lot of common stereotypes about yoga are inaccurate and if you're patient, you can find a class, atmosphere and an instructor that work for you.

Take a look at the following list and let go of these yoga myths:

1.) Yoga is for pretzel people: Becoming more flexible is only one very small goal of yoga. More important aspects you will discover are tuning in to your body, letting go of ego, calming the mind and cultivating a steady, even breath. Ask your yoga instructor for modifications in any poses that ever make you uncomfortable.

2.) Yoga is for women: This is a huge, irritating and unfortunate misconception in much of our Western culture. A Yoga Journal study recently found that as many as 4 out of 5 yoga practitioners in the United States are women, yet historically, yoga was practiced and studied almost exclusively by men!  Whether it's sociological or psychological, many men in our society are unwilling to try, intimidated by or uninterested in yoga. Thankfully, there are also many dedicated, focused and accomplished male practitioners and teachers who are helping to break this stereotype and welcome more men into the studio.

3.) Yoga is dangerous: Thanks to some recent media hysteria including controversial articles such as this one from the New York Times, some people have wrongfully deemed yoga as unsafe. (Naturally, any happily practicing yogi or informed instructor will defend the benefits of yoga with vehemence, so perhaps I'm biased.) I understand that being unprepared for Bikram yoga or hot yoga can be dangerous for beginners, or that outside of the watchful eye of an experienced instructor one might not properly cater to their limitations. But the fact of the matter is: yoga is about connecting and paying attention to your body. It is not a sport and it is never meant to be painful. Not only that, but there are literally dozens of different types and forms of yoga, many of which do not even include physical postures or asanas, so they're no more hazardous than breathing. :)

4.) Yoga is a religious practice: It's true that yoga is linked to Hinduism and Buddhism and is an integral part of those religions, however, yoga in and of itself, is not a religion and need not be associated with any particular faith. Depending on what type of yoga class you attend, the spiritual aspect may be played up or played down. If you're uncomfortable with either style, be sure to check with the instructor or studio beforehand. Yoga also often includes some time for personal meditation that can be used however you choose. (Read more about savasana here.) Many yogiis simply view this as a time to quiet the mind and connect with the breath.

5.) Yoga has no cardio benefit: Running, swimming or biking are activities that people usually associate with cardio workouts. But cardiovascular exercise, or cardio for short, is loosely defined as any physical activity which raises the heart rate, strengthens the heart and increases lung capacity. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, "Deep yoga breathing helps to condition the heart and lungs and makes them stronger." Again, acknowledging the many types of yoga that are available, you may or may not be achieving a sustained cardiovascular-stimulating state, but let's just say, if you are, you'll know it. :)

6.) If you already workout, you don't need yoga: If you already workout regularly in other ways, that's great! But don't be fooled into thinking that yoga isn't good enough or important to include in your schedule. Not only is it great cross-training for whatever you already do, but yoga helps to keep muscles throughout the body and the spinal column aligned and symmetrical. Another little-known fact is that yoga is isometric (opposing muscles contract and cause movement with no change in resistance) and isotonic (muscle-building contractions against resistance). Lastly, yoga is therapeutic, helps heal and prevent injuries, improves chronic conditions and illnesses, and balances mental stress.

7.) Yoga is for Prius-driving hipsters: This is just another naive stereotype. Yogis come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. Being mindful, peaceful or awesome is not a prerequisite for yoga and no one is judging you or your style. [I suppose do wish I drove a Prius, but that is just a coincidence and has nothing to do with my yoga practice. ;) ]  

I know that these lists have been done before and I realize that many of these myths will prevail, but if any of this information has been even slightly encouraging for just one nervous future-yogi, then this post has served it's purpose. Pass this along to those who need to hear it! :) Namaste!