In discussing yoga, which I often do because I teach vinyasa flow classes, I sometimes hear people express their fears in regards to attending a yoga class for the first time. Below I’ve written up many of the common concerns I hear, and my responses to those. If you have any other questions or would like to see a response to other myths you hear about yoga, write me a comment!
- I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible. I hear this one all the time, and it drives me nuts! You know how all those yogis you see online and on television got so flexible? By doing yoga! Sure, some of us are more naturally flexible than others, just like some of us are taller or shorter than others, but a regular asana (Sanskrit for the practice of physical yoga postures) practice can cultivate flexibility in many places we find to be naturally tight in our bodies, like our shoulders, hips, necks, and hamstrings.
A good yoga teacher will give you many options during a yoga class, suitable for more and less flexible yogis, so don’t expect to hear a teacher give the instruction, “Touch your toes,” so much as, “Fold forward over the legs and bend the knees as much as is comfortable.” And maybe you’ll never be able to jump into a full split or walk around on your hands, but that doesn’t mean your body won’t thank you for getting it moving and stretching on the regular.
- Yoga classes are for old people. I once heard this from a co-worker and was shocked! Apparently he’d been to a couple of the classes his gym offered, and they were full of old ladies doing breathing exercises (nothing wrong with that, might I add).
There are so many different styles of yoga for as many different types of people! Corepower yoga teaches vinyasa flow-style classes in a heated room, some with weights for added difficulty. Ashtanga is another very physically challenging style of physical yoga practice. Even though I enjoy a good workout as much as the next guy, some days the only yoga I want to practice is five minutes of sitting with my eyes closed, breathing deeply. Other days I feel like doing a slow-moving, hour-long yin practice in a quiet, candlelit room. As you can see, yoga is about balance in more ways than one!
- I don’t have time to do yoga. Tsk, tsk! We’re all much too busy to try anything new these days, aren’t we? Yes, your typical class at a yoga studio will run for 45-90 minutes, and it’s absolutely rude to leave early. So what are your options? Some yoga teachers have posted brief videos online designed to be a full practice in an of themselves, like this 7-minute sun salutation video by the Brooklyn Yoga School, or this 16-minute beginner’s flow by teacher Rodney Yee. You can also find instructional DVDs or videos for purchase at your local Target or Walmart, or online at Amazon.com (scroll to #7 below to read about more online yoga video options). If you’re more comfortable practicing yoga without a video, you can also buy or borrow some great instructional books that will recommend certain poses or exercises for different motivations, like stress, low energy, back pain, or headaches, which you can practice for as long as you’d like. One of my favorites is Kathryn Budig’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga.
- I’m not fit/healthy enough to do yoga. Your level of “fitness” is only relevant for certain types of yoga classes. If you’re new to yoga, it should go without saying that you probably shouldn’t show up to a class called “Advanced Yoga” or “Heated Vinyasa Flow Level II.” If you’re interested in attending a vinyasa flow, hot power, corepower, or any other physical-sounding yoga class, always check first with your doctor if you have any concerns (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, chronic pain, knee injury, recent surgery, etc.), as you would for beginning any other type of exercise regimen. That said, there are many options when it comes to a yoga practice for people who have disabilities and other health issues. There’s a whole genre of “chair yoga” for the elderly, disabled, and for those of us with less than stellar senses of balance. There are styles that require less physical stamina but are nonetheless challenging, like restorative or yin yoga, which are also great if you’re looking to balance out an already strenuous workout schedule.
Then there are other aspects of yoga that just barely touch on what we deem to be ‘exercise’ at all – you can take meditation classes, classes on yoga philosophy or mindfulness, or even schedule a yogic or ayurvedic massage. Yes, a book club reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love is just as much a yoga practice as is an hour of getting sweaty on your mat!
- I can’t do yoga because of my injury. Actually, physical therapists often prescribe variations on yoga when assisting healing patients. In fact, many professional athletes discover yoga while recovering from an injury. Olivia Hsu, whom I featured in my last post, stumbled upon ashtanga yoga while taking a break from rock climbing due to a finger injury; she’s now a yoga instructor as well as a professional climber. However, as I’ve said before in this post, if you have any medical concerns about practicing yoga, check first with your doctor before attending a yoga class. Importantly, if you’re suffering from any sort of injury, even if it’s an old one that’s flared up, avoid utilizing yoga videos, since the teacher can’t possibly know about your injury and make appropriate adjustments in that setting. Instead, I recommend attending a class in-person, taught by an experienced practitioner, and informing said teacher before class of your injury. That way the teacher can alter her class as needed, or can come by your mat during class and give you any additional instruction. In this instance, especially if you have multiple or severe injuries, hiring an experienced yoga teacher for a private lesson can also be very helpful. As always, keep in mind that though your yoga teacher in all likelihood has training, they are not medical professionals and absolutely cannot assist you in diagnosing or treating any medical conditions.
- Yoga is a religion. Yoga in itself is not a religion, but it can be seen and utilized as a spiritual teaching. Let me explain: one of the earliest ancient texts regarding yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, was actually completely secular. Some scholars argue it can function as a kind of philosophical bridge between Buddhism and Hinduism. The goal of the Yoga Sutras is to give the reader various paths to enlightenment. What is enlightenment? Buddha defined it, or the state of nirvana, as “the end of suffering.”
Patanjali says that the state of enlightenment is one in which we exist purely as the Perceiver of our feelings, emotions, circumstances, and surroundings, from one moment to the next. In this understanding, you are not your disease or affliction. You are not your failed marriage. You are not your credit card debt. You are not your eating disorder, or your sexual desires, or your depression, or your dead-end job, or your addiction. This is not meant to remove your responsibility from any given situation, but to remind you of your divinity, the source of you, that part of you which is eternal and special and beautiful and wise. There are some religious practices that disagree with this thinking, those which preach that at our core is not goodness or light but brokenness and helplessness. The way yoga approaches enlightenment is to say that this ability, this Perceiver quality, already lies accessible within you. This does not make yoga incompatible with religion; instead, it allows us to, ideally, intentionally approach each experience of life in our bodies honestly and without judgment or distraction. Yogis who claim those religions which preach brokenness sometimes like to interpret the teachings of yoga to mean they must make contact with the divinity that is their God within them, and that God is the ‘inherent’ goodness that abides. The practice of asana or meditation or any of the eight limbs of yoga brings many people great healing and peace, both with themselves and the world around them.
- Yoga classes are too expensive for me. It’s true that a typical 60-90-minute yoga class at a local studio can cost you anywhere from $10 to $25 a pop, which may not be sustainable for many of us. However, those are usually the “drop-in” rates, whereas if you sign up for a series of classes, or buy a pass for a certain number of classes, the price per class decreases dramatically. In addition, many studios and gyms offer discounts to certain groups of people, such as students, teachers, veterans or active-duty service members, firefighters, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for discount information at the front desk of a yoga studio. Another possibility, especially if you are new to an area or are just visiting, is free first-time classes or discounted new student passes. The majority of yoga studios allow first-time students to attend a class for free, and they often offer cheap introductory pricing, such as a one-month “new student” unlimited pass for the price of 4-5 normal classes at the drop-in rate. If those don’t work for you, there are even more options to investigate. Most studios host a class or two a week that is donation-based, meaning you pay as much as you can, or free altogether. Some gyms offer free yoga or other guided classes along with a membership or day pass fee. Lastly, websites like YogaGlo and GaiamTV offer access to a huge searchable database of recorded yoga instructional videos for less than $20/month, as well as a free initial trial.
I hope you have found this post enlightening (hehe!) or helpful, at the least. As always, feel free to leave me any comments with questions or suggestions or compliments (yes, please!) at the end of this post.
Love to all. #NAMASTE!