5 Myths About Yoga: Forget Flexibility, Spirituality

Afraid to try yoga because you think that you don’t fit the mold? Maybe you haven’t picked up the practice because you don’t believe it’s a good workout. Before you discredit the power of a downward dog pose, familiarize yourself with these five myths about yoga. 

1. You need to be flexible. 

It’s crazy how often I hear this one: “Oh, I can’t do yoga — I can’t even touch my toes!” Well, how do you think people get to the point where they can touch their toes? PRACTICE. Whenever people tell me this, I reassure them that I couldn’t touch my toes either when I began my yoga practice six years ago. And the journey to greater flexibility definitely came with a lot of frustrations. The truth is, if you are willing to commit to giving your body more mobility, strength, and yes flexibility, then yoga is a fantastic way to do this. You will also likely gain much more than just the ability to bend over easily.

2. You need to be spiritual.

 For some people, yoga feels intimidating and “too religious” because of what we associate with the practice: burning incense, Buddha statues and an “om” or two during class. Yes, there are plenty of spiritual factors to practicing yoga, but whether or not you engage in these is your choice. No yoga teacher should create an environment where beliefs feel rammed down your throat, but they also have the liberty of creating the class experience they choose — which may include some candles or a Ganesh statue. If this doesn’t vibe with you, it doesn’t mean you should discount yoga in its entirety. Find a studio or class that lets you practice at your comfort level, and keeps it focused mainly on the physical practice. Remember that just because there are spiritual elements present, it doesn’t mean you need to believe or buy into anything you don’t connect with.

Fernanda Barcelo is a certified vinyasa yoga teacher.

Fernanda Barcelo is a certified vinyasa yoga teacher.

3. It’s not an actual workout.

My reply whenever someone says this is usually to laugh. It almost always comes from someone who hasn’t even tried a yoga class! Or maybe they dabbled in some restorative yoga (which can be an intense mental workout, if you ask me). If what you’re looking for is a sweaty, physically challenging practice, try classes like Bikram, vinyasa, or power yoga, all of which base their classes around more rigorous sequences. If you don’t come out of one of these classes drenched in sweat and feeling sore in muscles you never even knew existed, then I’ll gladly eat my yoga mat.

4. Yoga is only for fit or thin people.

Social media has sadly perpetuated this belief — 99 percent of the yogis you see online are thin, beautiful and ultra flexible, but walk into any regular studio and you will see people of every shape, size, creed and color. As a teacher, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone who wouldn’t be considered to have a “yoga body” walk into class. I acknowledge they are trying something that is likely challenging for them, but more importantly, I am witnessing someone overcoming their fears. They have the courage to say screw societal judgment! Don’t let your body be a barrier to possibly experiencing a beautiful practice. If you are scared to start because you are brand new to yoga, take a beginners class or let the teacher know you’re new to the practice or if you have any limitations in your body. A good teacher will accommodate to your needs and offer modifications to help make the practice as accessible and fulfilling to you as it is to anyone else in the class, regardless of size, shape or disability.

5. Yoga is only rewarding once you’ve mastered the advanced poses.

I can sit here and curse the fact that I still can’t master a handstand, even after a good three years of trying, but what good will that do me, my body or my continuing practice? Yoga can reward you with so much, even if you spend half the class in child’s pose. The simplest poses can offer relief, peace and restoration. The harder poses will challenge your capacity to be patient and self-compassionate. Approach your practice with acceptance. Yoga isn’t defined by the mastering of hard poses — it’s the ability to try again when you’ve fallen out of a pose one hundred times. It’s the capacity to love yourself whether you nailed scorpion pose that day, or could barely hold downward dog. It’s the appreciation of where you are today, and knowing that this place is exactly where you should be. Remember that the journey is what will give you the most, not the end result.