Yoga: a few common misconceptions

I recently started practising yoga more regularly again after a few years of letting it fall by the wayside and, in many ways, it feels a bit like a homecoming.

Since first finding out about it back in high school and begging my parents to order me a beginners video through ‘Leserskring’, yoga has always been my favourite form of exercise.

As I’ve grown older, it’s also proven to be the only consistent antidote to my sporadic bursts of insomnia, a trustworthy mood booster and the most effective tool for self-acceptance (and, eventually, even love) I’ve ever come across.

Being so central to my general wellbeing (and daily life), yoga tends to come up in conversations quite regularly, which in turn, often exposes misconceptions about this practice/form of exercise (because, to me, it’s both).

Here are 5 common ones:

Image: Lena Bell/StockSnap
  • It’s, like, super chilled

When I told my gran about my new yoga routine the other day, she said: “Oh yes, it’s that thing where you sit in Lotus position, right?”

I had to laugh, because, well, I’m not even close to doing full Lotus, which is actually one of the most advanced poses you can achieve.

Also, the style of yoga I currently practice is called Vinyasa and it comprises a constant, active and dance-like flow of positions performed in coordination with your breath. A 60-minute class normally has me breaking quite a sweat and feeling rather stiff the next day.

Speaking of sweat, the studio I go to also offers Power Yoga, which is basically heated Vinyasa, and practically turns you into a human river within the first 10 minutes. While I wouldn’t say either Vinyasa or Power are full-blown cardio, they sure do get your limbs moving and your blood pumping.

Of course, there are many different styles of yoga, including some that emphasise meditation and restoration.

  • It’s just a series of stretches

While increasing flexibility is a central component of most yoga styles, there’s actually a lot more to it.

Since Vinyasa is what I know best, I’ll focus on that and give you a little glimpse:

So, a class typically starts with a few relaxed stretches to warm up your body, focusing on areas that may carry a lot of tension – neck, shoulders and spine, specifically. You may move through a series of Cat-Cows, thread the needle and, of course, the dreaded (for me at least, because I have hamstrings of steel) Downward Dog.

Then at the end of class, you’ll wind down your practice with another set of stretches – Half Pigeon, Butterfly and seated forward bend are all common choices.

In between, however, you’re moving through a series of poses that build strength in your limbs, fire up your core and aid the relevant organs in the detoxification process.

Personally, strength is the biggest and most visible yoga benefit for me right now and hopefully flexibility will follow soon!

Watch this video of an absolutely beautiful morning Vinyasa flow.

Image: Matthew Henry/Burst
  • It’s ‘evil’

Speaking specifically from a Christian point of view, yoga has a history of evoking a measure of suspicion and resistance in the church. The fact that it is – essentially – a Hindu spiritual practice, seems to make some people uncomfortable.

Fortunately, as it’s become so normalised in our culture, this perception is way less prevalent these days than it was, say 10 years ago.

Since finding its way to the West, yoga has taken on a life of its own predominantly as exercise, but also as a form of active meditation that helps quiet our overloaded hearts and minds.

Frankly, considering all the good it’s brought to my life, I simply cannot entertain the idea that it’s secretly detrimental to the wellbeing of my soul. Anyone who might be battling with this can check out this site – it seems to cover quite a lot of ground.

Image: Paula Borowska/StockSnap
  • It’s only for girls/women

Although I’ve noticed more men attending (and instructing) yoga classes now than a year or two ago, the strong feminine association with this practice/exercise form still remains.

As Carolyn Gregoire points out in an article on Huffington Post, it’s hardly surprising, as the image of a yogi favoured by the West is very specific:

“[T]he yoga industry has long been using images of thin, statuesque, often white women to sell its products — and so, unsurprisingly, our wellness-obsessed culture has come to associate yoga with a certain ideal of female perfection,” she writes.

This is really unfortunate, as yoga is inclusive of everyone, offers a physical challenge to all and really carries no gender.

Here are two awesome videos of people breaking the Western yoga stereotype: one challenging the gender association and the other challenging the ‘thin, statuesque, often white’ representation.

And, lastly, if you think yoga is just for young people, meet 98-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch, who still practices daily.

Image: Unsplash
  • It’s pretentious 

Sure, there are a lot of pretentious people who do yoga and who – even worse – like to shove it down your throat all the time. In fact, if you find this particularly annoying and haven’t met JP Sears yet, please head on over to his hilarious YouTube channel.

But this isn’t a vice exclusive to yoga, is it? There are pretentious people who surf, skate, run, play chess, crochet… you name it.

When attending a class at any given studio, you’re bound to find people who match your description of pretentious. They’ll always be there. At the same time, you will find a surprising number of simple folk like you and me who aren’t there for any appearances, but just to enjoy a little peace, movement or relaxation at the beginning/end of their day.

So, there you go. Yoga is certainly not for everyone, but you shouldn’t knock it till you tried it, okay?

Featured image: Dominic Wycislo

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