Assumptions and misconceptions about yoga led me to avoid it for years, and prevented me from getting the full benefits of the practice when I did finally gather the courage to give it a try. After years of practice, I now know that many of the ideas I had about yoga in the beginning were completely wrong!
Here are five things I got wrong that everyone should know:
Yoga is NOT about flexibility
Almost every time I ask someone who’s never tried yoga to do a class with me, they tell me some version of the following: “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” My answer is also always the same: “Yes, you are.” Yoga does NOT require flexibility. Every pose can be adapted for students who are more or less bendy.
Oh yeah, and if you do feel stiff, tight, or inflexible, you are actually the perfect candidate for yoga, as you will likely get way more physical benefits from the practice than someone who can already twist themselves into a pretzel.
You do not need to change anything about yourself to practice!
You do not need to lose weight, be stronger, be more flexible, have special clothes, quit smoking, give up meat, or change anything else about yourself to practice. There are no lifestyle, ethical, or physical prerequisites for starting a yoga practice.
Classes at different levels are widely available, as are yoga therapy classes focused on conditions as diverse as asthma, anxiety and depression, and back, hip, or knee pain. Can you breathe? Yes? Then you’re good to go.
But your body—and you—will change with practice
I repeat: you are already perfect, right now, at this very moment—but a regular yoga practice will, undoubtedly, change you. Beyond the anticipated effects, like increased flexibility and strength, many people find that yoga has a “balancing” effect on their bodies.
I was underweight when I started practicing, and after about six months found that I had gained about ten pounds, which was healthy for me. The vast majority of people, on the other hand, report that yoga helped them to lose weight or maintain an already healthy weight.
And the physical benefits of yoga go far beyond finding a healthy weight. After weeks or months of yoga, you may discover that your body has become less stiff and achy, your breath has become longer and deeper, and daily tasks like squatting down to play with your kids and reaching down your back to zip up your own dress are suddenly no problem. You might find that the difficulty breathing you experience during practice is enough to make you smoke less, or that you’re in touch enough with your body to know that processed, junk food item you used to crave only brings you down.
Yoga is good for your mind as well
A constantly growing number of studies suggest that yoga can benefit psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, as well as lower stress levels and improve moods, and this was definitely true for me! Although I first started practicing because it seemed like a gentle way to return to exercise after a history of sports injuries, I was shocked to find that my anxiety and stress levels, which have been a lifelong struggle for me, lowered after just one class.
I understand how the nonstop barrage of yoga poses on social media and health and fitness publications may have led you to believe that yoga is all about the postures.
But really, there are other aspects of yoga, including ethical observations, focus on the breath, concentration, and meditation, which are just as—if not more—important within the practice of traditional yoga.
Different yoga styles focus on different aspects of yoga, so don’t worry if meditation or deep-breathing is more your thing (or not), there will be a class out there that’s right for you! You may just need to try a few different teachers, styles, or studios until you find a good fit.
I hope that if any of these misconceptions are keeping you from trying yoga, or from getting the most from your practice, you’ll reconsider giving it a try or re-engage with the practice you already have.
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga instructor currently studying in Sri Lanka. She has over 600 hours of yoga teacher training in Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, and Yoga Therapy. She believes sleep, self-love, and the breath are the keys to health and joy.