“Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.” - David Williams
When something so beautiful and so life-changing as Yoga goes misunderstood, it’s like watching a person miss a train that could have taken them right to the destination of their dreams … I know that train will take them there, but they pass up on the chance for a free ride to a life-altering vacation; the train revs up its engine and moves away from them, and there’s nothing I can do to prove to them that a beautiful vacation destination had awaited them. As a Yoga instructor and an avid Yoga practitioner for all of my adult life, I think I’ve heard most of the excuses, reasons, myths, and confusions surrounding Yoga.
If I can open just one person’s eyes to the possibility of Yoga through this writing, then I will consider my success as a Yoga teacher achieved for today …
Myth #1: I’m not flexible or thin or young enough to do Yoga.
Yoga is a practice, not a sport. The beauty of Yoga as a physical exercise is that the practice itself will gently and eventually lull your body into becoming more flexible and healthy. No matter how old we are, we all start Yoga as stiff, tight, un-flexible people. But the practice itself is what eventually creates space and fluidity between our cells, muscles, and bones – no matter what our body-type or age. When we practice over and over, we start to become the limber person we never knew we could be, and moving through life becomes a more supple, graceful experience, even if we’re 500 pounds and 100 years old. Most of us start Yoga as stiff, unhealthy individuals; it’s the practice itself that eventually makes us limber and radiant.
Myth #2: Yoga is a new age-y religious practice or it contradicts my religion.
Yoga can deeply impact a person’s spiritual experience if that’s what they are hoping for, but Yoga actually requires no religion, no God, no holy book, no prayer, no moral contradictions to any of the world’s major religions. It can be practiced as a physical exercise that happens to leave you feeling incredibly serene and grounded, and intimately connected to your self in a new way; it can be practiced as a purely spiritual ritual; or it can be practiced as all three. The misperception that Yoga contradicts some religions may stem from the fact that it was invented by and originally practiced by Hindus. The first practitioners happened to be Hindu, and while Yoga is an element of Hinduism, that does not make it a Hindu practice. So, the incredible sense of peacefulness you might experience when you practice Yoga can spark a deeper connection to your religious or spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be … and if you don’t have a spiritual belief system, it can simply leave you feeling really good, no religion attached.
Myth #3: Yoga is for Girls.
The inventors of Yoga were men. The original students of Yoga were men. The folks who brought Yoga to the U.S. were men. And the greatest athletes of today, more than half of whom are men, do Yoga because it helps their physical performance and mental concentration.
Yoga is a practice with so many branches and different ways to do it. There are forms of Yoga that are more westernized and body-focused (Power Yoga, for example), forms of Yoga that are fast-moving but spiritually-focused (Vinyasa Yoga, for example), or schools of Yoga that are gentle and introspective (Kripalu Yoga, for example). And like anything in the world, there are great Yoga classes and instructors, and not-so-good ones. So, if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of being in a Yoga class that was unpleasant, chalk it up to having found the wrong class for you, and try out a different type.
Yoga can save your life, change your life, and improve your life … no matter your size, physical ability, gender, or spiritual beliefs.