Written by Lauren Weaver
Yoga has gained a lot of traction in the Western world in recent years. Though it is an ancient practice, it is new to our culture and there are many misconceptions about it. If you ask five different self-identifying yogis to define yoga, you may very well get five different responses. In this article, let’s evaluate some common myths about yoga.
You have to wear yoga pants if you go to a yoga class. Yoga pants, which come in fun colors and patterns, are stretchy and allow movement. So do sweatpants, most gym clothing, pajamas and many other pants. The hype around yoga pants and other yoga apparel is misleading. If you want to wear yoga pants, go for it! If you don’t want to wear yoga pants, no need. It is important to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically, in what you are wearing. If you are practicing asana or physical body exercises, choose clothing that will let your body move freely to get the most from your practice. Layers that are easy to put on and remove can be really helpful when the room temperature and your body temperature vary. What works for you?
Yoga is just for improving flexibility. A yoga class can improve your flexibility, build muscular strength, improve breathing, calm your mind and so much more. Classes range greatly from a challenging ashtanga class with specific poses and sequences to a calming restorative class. There are also many ways to practice yoga. The most well-known form is to practice the body exercises you would find in a yoga class, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg. The Yoga Sutras define eight components of Yoga:
- Yama = attitudes toward our environment
- Niyama = attitudes toward ourselves
- Asana = body exercises
- Pranayama = breathing exercises
- Pratyahara = restraint of senses
- Dharana = direction of mind
- Dhyana = deep meditation
- Samadhi = enlightenment
It is important to be in great physical shape to practice yoga. Yoga practice can be good for anyone regardless of their fitness or energy level on any given day. We can use yoga to smooth pregnancy, during recovery from injuries and much more. It is important to find a style or class that works well for you. Be sure to consult your doctor to know what is appropriate for you.
A common misconception is that you must be down on the floor on a yoga mat to practice yoga. If that isn’t comfortable for you or you are working in an office, try using a chair. In the book Chair Yoga, Edeltraud Rohnfeld provides numerous activities you can do with a chair, ranging from seated exercises to standing exercises with chair balance support for all areas of your body and even your brain.
There is only one right way to do a yoga pose. While there are certainly wrong things to do that can cause pain or injure your body through time, there is not a single right way to do a pose. There are as many body types as there are fingerprints. One person’s hips may be oriented so that her upper leg bones point in different directions. The structure of the knees is such that our feet point naturally in different directions. What feels fine for the person next to you may be totally illogical in your body.
One way to practice yoga is to practice santosha, which is translated as contentment. If you feel someone is judging you or you notice you are judging yourself, consider whether that judgment is appropriate. Then gift yourself a mantra by repeating one of these phrases from Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater:
- I commit to just being myself.
- No pain, no pain.
- Perfection is an illusion.
- I am perfect just as I am.
- I am choosing to let go of my self-judgment now.
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