Do I need to be flexible to do yoga? Is yoga a religion? Yoga makes you flexible but what about strength? Can you get fit by doing yoga? You have probably read about the health benefits of yoga, but are some of the yoga myths stopping you from going to your first-ever yoga class?
Myth: You need to be flexible to start yoga
To think that you have to be flexible to start yoga is a bit like thinking that you have to be fluent in Italian to start a beginner course in the Italian language. A regular yoga practice will improve flexibility and the more often you practice, the more your flexibility increases. Flexibility is only a small part of yoga anyway. If you go to a beginner class, or join a beginner course in yoga, you will notice that nobody in the class is very flexible. If you stick to the practice, though, you may surprise yourself over a few months.
Myth: You need to be young and fit to do yoga
Yoga is for everyone regardless of age, gender, fitness level, skin color or religious beliefs. If you think you need to be fit, flexible or young to start yoga, here is a little video that went viral in the yoga world recently. This disabled Gulf War veteran in his 40s was told by his doctors that he would never walk unassisted again. Then he started yoga:
Myth: Yoga doesn’t make you strong
There may be some yoga classes that focus on relaxation, breathing and gentle stretching, but try ashtanga yoga for a year and take another look at your strength. The physical yoga postures (asana) build up flexibility but also strength, stamina, balance, endurance and – if done in a dynamic sequence such as the sequences in ashtanga yoga – also aerobic fitness. There is a lot more to yoga than postures, but if you are looking to build up strength and flexibility equally, yoga is the ideal solution.
Myth: Yoga is a religion
Yoga is a spiritual practice, not a religion. The physical postures are only a small part of yoga anyway and, in my humble opinion, if you are simply practicing the physical poses, you are not actually practicing yoga. You’re practicing yoga postures. You’re exercising your body and maybe learning to breathe.
Many people go to yoga classes simply to become fitter and healthier or to relieve pain. Whatever your personal belief system, you can still enjoy the health benefits from the physical practice: increased flexibility, strength, balance, mobility, coordination, focus, stamina; pain relief, improved circulation, improved lymph flow, an ability to breathe deeper and to bring more oxygen into the body; and the relaxation, concentration, mental clarity and stress relief that deep breathing brings.