When people hear the word yoga, many different things come to mind. I'm here to shed some light on five common misconceptions regarding yoga.
Misconception #1: Yoga is for Flexible People Only.
The most frequent comment I hear from potential and/or beginner students is, "I can't do yoga. I'm not flexible." Yoga is not about flexibility. Sure, the longer and more frequent you practice, certain muscles will begin to release, but you could also do yoga for years and still not be able to reach your toes. Everyone's body is different. Yoga is about connecting mind, body and soul. Flowing with the breath, and allowing your breath to create space within the body to move the prana (energy). Formal yoga postures or asanas came about because the ancient yogis believed that the way to calm the fluctuations of the mind and to eliminate suffering was through meditation. Constant sitting can be a challenge in and of itself, so asanas began to develop as a means of opening the body, refining the body, and moving the energy in the body in preparation for meditation.
Misconception #2: Yoga is a Religion.
Yoga is a science handed down from generation to generation for over 5000 years. Patanjali was the first known yogi to write down the principles of yoga. Written between 500 and 200 B.C., Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are threads of knowledge regarding the human mind, the illusions we create within the mind, and how to alleviate these illusions. While it is true that yoga was first practiced in the East, yoga is not a religion, but rather a code of ethical living and being.
Misconception #3: Yoga is a New Form of Fitness.
Whereas in the West, yoga has become a fitness craze, yoga is more than just the postures you practice. There are eight limbs of yoga, and the yogi disciple would have to master each limb before moving onto the next. Asana is the third limb of yoga. The other limbs are Yamas (moral restraints), Niyamas (observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath), Pratyahra (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (single focused concentration), Dhyana (steadfast meditation), and Samadhi (oneness or ineffable bliss). The limbs are like steps; once you master each step, then and only then, you can move onto the next step.
Misconception #4: Yoga is Only for Certain Body Types.
With the rise in popularity of yoga selfies posted on Facebook and Instagram, there sends a false message that yoga is only for a certain body type. The fact remains that yoga is everyone. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root "Yuj" which means to yoke. Yoga is the practice of uniting or yoking together your individual self (ego) with your true, higher Self. This is accomplished by turning inward and being the silent witness and observer of your thoughts and actions. Yoga is not a competition or comparison of the person next to you, but more about how you feel and breathe in each pose, tuning into your body and breath, and observing any sensations, limitations and/or judgments that arise.
Misconception #5: Yoga is Only Practiced on the Mat.
Yoga is a way of life, not just a series of postures you practice. Yes, the postures are important; however, it is not the end all. Yoga is truly practiced when off the mat. Meaning, how you respond to life and all its ebbs and flows. One thing is certain, nothing is permanent. We practice yoga when we let go of the need to control and flow through the ups and downs, knowing that nothing will last forever. How you conduct yourself, how you are towards others, this is the practice of yoga.