Yoga myths are prevalent, despite a Harvard Study finding three out of four Americans believe yoga is good for you. That same survey, however, found that many people will not even try yoga. The reason? They believe yoga is only for young women who are flexible, athletic and spiritual.
September is National Yoga Month, a great time to let people know that yoga is for everybody – and every body type!
Here are three common yoga myths:
Yoga Myth 1: You need to be flexible and athletic
You do not need to be flexible to practice yoga. You start doing yoga to gain flexibility. Most people cannot touch their toes or be all bendy, and that is fine! That is NOT what yoga is all about. The goal of yoga is to build strength and flexibility in your body so you can have a pleasant mind/body experience and clear mind. It is about balance and taking care of yourself physically and mentally.
Yoga poses (asanas) are only one small part of a larger practice that includes ethics, breathwork and mindfulness. The eight limbs of yoga were written about 2,500 years ago by a sage desiring to make them the goal of humans. Today, these limbs can be thought of as guiding principles to cleanse our physical bodies and mind. By practicing these principles, we can gain a greater understanding of our senses and work towards becoming free from worldly illusions.
Practicing postures with conscious breathing improves flexibility, strength and balance. They also evoke a relaxation response.
Practicing yoga helps build a strong, flexible body and it is called a “yoga practice” for a reason. It takes time, effort and repetition to practice strengthening and flexibility of both the mind and body.
Yoga Myth 2: Yoga is a religion
Yoga evolved in the context of spiritual and religious traditions of India, but yoga is not a belief system. Instead, it is a science of trying to understand the mind-body relationship. For some, yoga is a spiritual journey that can support any religion, to others, it is not.
Yoga is a practical philosophy that teaches us to take responsibility for our actions. The goal of yoga is to make the best use of the resources we have received to reach our highest human potential.
Religious belief and yoga exist in harmony. Religion and yoga can benefit from each other, but one is not required for the other. The only requirement of yoga is to uphold the values of ethics and inner peacefulness.
Yoga Myth 3: All yoga is the same
People practicing yoga are as varied as yoga practices. Those practices include Power Yoga which involves vigorous poses to create heat, energy flow and a good workout, or gentler, more meditative practices like Yoga Nidra or iRest. Some people focus on understanding the muscular and skeletal alignment of poses. Others emphasize a specific order of poses. Yin yoga includes holding poses for several minutes to stretch the connective tissue around joints. Meanwhile, restorative yoga also holds poses longer but makes the body comfortable to focus on the meditative qualities. Integrative yoga therapy is for medical settings to treat specific health issues. Even athletes are discovering yoga for balanced, injury-free muscles and spines.
Hatha yoga is a physical discipline that focuses mainly on postures and breathwork. Often, teachers will blend some of the practices within a class.
Yoga for you at Vibe Yoga
At Vibe Yoga, we offer Yoga for seniors, yoga for kids, yoga for beginners, trauma-informed yoga, yoga for sleep, yoga for mental health, chair yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga, stand-up paddleboard yoga, yoga for teens and expecting mothers, private classes and more.
According to the National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence shows that yoga supports stress management, mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating, weight loss and quality sleep.
Yoga has also been found to boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease and stress eating. Studies show that those who practice yoga experience greater joy, energy and quality of life. All of those factors provide the ability to better manage stress.
John Hopkins Medicine details nine benefits from head to toe of yoga including:
· Improving strength, balance and flexibility. Yoga is a gentle way to regain flexibility. Yoga also challenges your muscles to support your body weight, exercising the muscles you do not use every day. Balance is practiced and improved with yoga.
· Providing back pain relief by stretching, strengthening and stabilizing muscles that support the back and spine.
· Easing arthritis symptoms through gentle exercises that reduce tension and improve joint flexibility.
· Benefitting heart health by reducing stress and body-wide inflammation.
· Promoting better sleep by reducing stress and improving mental health.
· Increasing energy and elevating moods by increasing the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that helps regulate nerve activity.
· Managing stress by promoting relaxation and benefiting mind, body and breathing.
· Creating a supportive community for people to meet and bond with people.
· Promoting better self-care by addressing both physical and mental wellness as well as self-awareness and respect.
With its restorative power to calm the mind and strengthen the body through all types of yoga, yoga instructors and yoga practices, there’s a yoga practice for everyone, whether young or old, inflexible or fit.
Lindsay Smith is a 500-hour E-RYT and founder of Vibe Yoga in Fort Myers, vibeyogaswfl.com. Smith is certified in Trauma-Informed Yoga, SUP Yoga, Children’s Yoga, and is one of few instructors south of Tampa certified by Warriors at Ease to lead trauma-informed sessions, which are free Service Members, Veterans, First Responders and their spouses.