- You Have to Be Flexible to Do Yoga
Saying you have to be flexible to do yoga is like saying you have to be in shape to go to the gym, or that you have to be clean to take a shower. There may be a relationship between yoga and flexibility, but being flexible isn’t a prerequisite to do yoga.
“You don’t have to touch your toes to practice yoga. If you want to touch your toes, bend your knees,” says Kelly DiNardo, a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), owner of Past Tense yoga studio in Washington, DC, and the co-author of Living the Sutras. “Whether or not you’re flexible should not dictate whether you practice. Over time, yoga can help you become more flexible—that’s why we call it practice—but you don’t have to be Gumby-like to start. Flexibility is a result of yoga, not a prerequisite.”
- Yoga Is for the Thin, Young, and Beautiful
The image of yoga in America is of thin, bendy, beautiful young women flocking to studios and beaches to complete pretzel-like body contortions that they then post to social media. The image is attractive, of course, and it’s certainly helped inspire an interest in the practice of yoga, but it’s a misleading representation of the true image (and intent) of yoga.
“It pains me to think that people are intimidated to go to yoga based on what they see online,” says Jenay Rose, a 500-hour RYT, online fitness coach and wellness influencer. “Yoga is for you, me, our sisters, brothers, nephews, grandparents. Yoga is for all. In fact, yoga means union.”
According to the 2016 Yoga in America survey, only 19-percent of American practitioners fell into the 18-29 age bracket, with the vast majority of practitioners over age 30, and 38-percent of them falling into the “50+” category. 1
Regarding the “thin” misconception, it’s just flat-out wrong. You do not have to be thin (or conventionally beautiful) to practice yoga—yoga is inclusive and welcoming, and as Rose pointed out, it’s a practice for all.
· Yoga Is a Religion
For the uninitiated Westerner, there’s a lot about yoga that may appear “religious,” and certainly, there’s a spiritual element to the practice, but it’s important to understand that yoga itself is not a religion.
“I hear this myth a lot among Christians,” says Brad Ormsby, of Freedom Genesis, a yoga and meditation blog. “This comes from yoga’s Indian roots where mantras and chants have been used for many years. They’re meant to bring focus and help you awaken internally, but they’re not required to practice yoga.”
And even if you decide to join in with the mantras and chants, you’re not “converting to yoga” as if you were converting to a new religion. “There’s a spiritual element that encourages you to connect with a higher power, but it’s non-denominational, so you can do yoga as a practitioner of any religion,” says Christa Fairbrother, a 500-hour RYT and the owner of Bee Content Yoga.
- Only Vegetarian Hippies Do Yoga
It’s true that yoga is a practice that encourages self-awareness, love, and connection with the world. As practitioners become more mindful and conscientious of their actions, many do make choices that seem “hippie-like” to the outside world.
According to the 2016 Yoga in America survey, half of yoga practitioners do say they “live green, eat sustainably, and donate time to their community”1—all positive attributes, by the way—but that means half don’t claim to do those things. So let the record state, there is no requirement for yogis to give up meat, join a commune, or stop using commercially-made deodorant.
- Yoga Is Only About Stretching
Believe it or not, yoga is not about stretching. Yes, when you go to a typical yoga class, you’re taken through a series of asanas (poses) that look and feel a lot like stretching, but the physical element of yoga is just a piece of the bigger picture.
“Yoga is about the breath,” says Rose. “The true goal of yoga is to move your body, connect with your breath, and be in the present moment. The actual only ‘goal’ is to release excess energy so that you can sit and meditate, classically speaking.”
This is why yoga is considered a practice rather than a workout. Being a practitioner isn’t just about what happens for sixty minutes on your yoga mat, it’s about what you take from that 60-minute session to carry with you throughout the rest of your day.