Yoga, being a complete system for bringing about radical inner transformation, has its far share of followers and even devotees. However there are also many myths about yoga that grow from its detractors or sometimes over zealous practitioners. In the interests of clarity lets examine the following:
Myth 1 – Yoga is not as effective as going to the gym when it comes to weight loss.
Fact: Yoga has the potential to be very transformative on many levels, the physical body being a doorway to the more profound gifts of the practice of Yoga. In particular Vinyasa-style class, where movement and breath link poses together, can build heat and potentially result in greater calorie burn. This style of practice could supplement other aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, biking, or swimming. Weight loss will always be an equation of energy in and energy out, so awareness of this is important.
Myth 2 – Yoga is all about ‘acrobatics’ and intense stretching of the body in queer positions.
Fact: There are many yoga postures or asanas that are for advanced practitioners, equally yoga is a journey, it is not called ‘yoga practice’ for no reason! Most Western yoga classes teach a combination of asanas, breathing technique or Pranayama and relaxation. There are also styles of yoga that teach you how to move your body in new ways. Choosing one of these styles offers the benefit of being able to develop your flexibility, strength and balance.
Iyengar is a great alignment-based practice for those that are seeking to gain flexibility. Ashtanga may be a practice for those students that already come to yoga with a more flexible body type. Kundalini works with energy and focuses less on the physical aspects of yoga and more on the spiritual philosophies. Restorative is another type of yoga that is gentle and is meant to relax. Many forms of yoga regularly use props like blocks, straps, bolsters, sandbags, wedges, yoga walls and even partners to help yoga students of all flexibility levels.
It is key to remember you are not in competition with anyone in the class. Learning the basics such as the correct breathing, how to maintain balance, will lead to a confidence and ability to attempt the more ambitious stretches and asanas.
Myth 3 – Yoga is all about spiritually and meditation
Fact: Yoga is a systematic process of spiritual unfolding, it teaches us how to integrate and heal our personal existence, as well as harmonise our individual consciousness with the divine or God.
In doing standing postures, for example, you challenge your balance and in doing so you need to stay mentally and physically centered. With each posture you can synchronise your breath with your movement and observe the way your mind and body reacts to challenge and release. Practicing in this way will teach you to focus on each moment, allowing a release from letting your thoughts race ahead or replay the past. Reducing your mind’s tendency to criticise, wander, entertain fears or limitations, in turn strengthens your ability to concentrate. As well as the physicality of Yoga there are many other benefits apart from spirituality and meditation.
Myth 4 – There is no variety in yoga-it has the same old postures.
Fact: Yoga has evolved over thousands of years to embrace a wide range of styles and disciplines.
It is a popular activity for athletes, children, and seniors because of its variety and the way it can be modified to suit all levels of fitness.
Here are some of the different styles of yoga briefly explained:
Antigravity or Air: Fluid, acrobatic yoga in a hammock or with suspended supports.
Ashtanga: Athletic and vigorous practice of predefined asanas.
Bikram: Consistent poses in studio heated to approx. 40.6 degrees Celsius or 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hatha: A holistic yogic path, including disciplines, postures or asanas, cleansing practices gestures or mudras, breathing or pranayama, and meditation. The most popular expression of yoga in Western culture.
Iyengar: With a focus on structure, emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of asanas and pranayama. Blocks and straps are used for support.
Kundalini: Focused on meditation and breathing and kriyas or cleansing practices to awaken spiritual energy.
Vinyasa: Sequences of movements to interlink asanas into a continuous flow of both breath and yoga postures.
Pre- and Post-natal: Gentle Hatha yoga for pregnant women and new mums to help stretch, tone, relax and lower stress.
As well as these there are many other variations of these offering endless variety to practice.
Myth 5 – You have to be a vegetarian to practice yoga.
Fact: One of the most important aspects of Yoga is non-judgment giving the individual freedom to choose whatever type of food they wish to eat. With time and continuation of your Yoga practice vegetarianism may become a natural choice.
Myth 6 – Yoga does not help in building muscles
Fact: Yoga can be a form of strength-training exercise as well as meditation. During regular yoga practice, you use and suspend your own body weight to condition your muscles. Certain poses require both strength and endurance when you hold them for an extended period of time. Over time, these poses become easier because you have gained muscle condition. There are some poses that will help you build muscle in each part of your body with regular practice such as: Triangle Pose, Downward Dog, Shoulder Stand, Boat Pose and Bridge Pose.