As a yoga teacher I have to constantly remind myself to drop the expectations aside. Indeed, in this image-based society we live in, where our social media life becomes so important for many; it is easy to loose track of what yoga is really about.
Please find below a few rectified misconceptions about yoga.
Yoga isn’t about being physically flexible
I can no longer count how many times I’ve heard people telling me “Oh no, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible”. Well, let me tell you that if this reason is holding you back from practicing yoga then you actually need yoga more than anyone else! Yoga is NOT for the flexible ones only. Yoga will definitely challenge your physical flexibility but also your mind flexibility by learning how to detach from such assumption.
In your asana practice, before “I am flexible” should come “I am aligned”. Indeed finding the correct alignments in your poses is more important than how far and deep you can go in that same pose. Working with the correct alignments by placing your joints and limbs in the proper positions for your body, will prevent you from injuries as well as optimize your efficiency.
The depth you get in any given position is not a criterion for measuring your yogic skills. Yoga isn’t a split competition; it is a spiritual path you have to experience from within. Therefore a non-flexible yogi showing up to this comprehensive practice on a regular basis will prove as much inner growth as those flexible yogis also showing up to their practice. The quality of your practice is not based on your physical ability (“Yay, I can touch my knees with my forehead”) but more so on your intentions and commitment to it.
Whether you scroll through Instagram accounts, Facebook pages, Youtube channels or simply do a quick search on Google, most of the feeds which will pop-up for a yoga related inquiry will expose contortionist and gymnast type of yogis. Don’t let those images intimidate you but remind yourself that the reality of yoga is not about the poses but more so about the approach you have while facing, doing and leaving those poses.
Meditation isn’t about levitation
Let’s demystify meditation a bit here. People tend to shy away from meditation because they aren’t a holy flying monk. Well, let me tell you that you do not need to levitate to meditate. And if you can’t stop your thoughts from spinning around in your head, that’s ok too! Regulating your mind isn’t easy; as we do not have an ON/OFF switch available on demand. Practice and all is coming.
A second misconception about meditation is to think that it aims for a deep relaxation. While meditating will definitely help you relax, it is not its end goal. According to yogic philosophy, meditation is tool to help you master concentration in order to gain freedom and a higher state of awareness (samadhi).
When a toddler is learning how to walk, it is a long process of trials, will and concentration before one day he is able to stand on his feet for a couple of second maybe before falling on all fours again. Learning to meditate can be compared to this process. It is a journey of trials and constant reminder not to engage with any coming thoughts, which requires will and concentration. Sometime you’ll experience a state meditation for a couple of seconds only before your mind kicks back in. Don’t be discourage by the power of your mind, you defeated the power of gravity as a toddler, remember that!
Practicing yoga isn’t necessarily being spiritual
Another way to say this is: it’s not because you practice yoga and meditate that you’ll become enlighten nor even someone spiritual. Do not confuse "being someone spiritual" with "being a spiritual being", because we are all spiritual beings (multidimensional beings). However, practicing a form of spirituality is a choice, which can lead you the reality of your being. To me, spirituality is the expansion of our consciousness or bringing the unconscious to the conscious. Therefore, being spiritual means you’re on a path towards a higher state of awareness. But don’t take my understanding and definition of spirituality for fact; it is up to you to create your own version of it. Spirituality is something personal and you’ll have to find your own path with it. That being said “hiding” behind a fancy lotus pose doesn’t make you spiritual. It is not about the image of yourself you’re sending out to the world, it is more about your purpose and intentions. The essence of yoga is a spiritual path, it is about the inner journey. However, there are as many reasons to practice yoga as there are practitioners, so ask yourself, why do you practice yoga? There is no right or wrong answer but there might be spiritual and non-spiritual ones.
Yoga isn’t an easy practice
This is another interesting pre-conceived idea about yoga. Indeed, how many of you thought yoga was just a relaxation technique, or that yoga was for the non-fit ones / elderly / passive folks, or even that yoga had to be easy to meet its purpose ?!
I can assure you than regardless of who you are and what’s your background, you’ll find yoga challenging. In my opinion, yoga has to challenge you in order for you to grow and experience transformation; whether that challenge is found in remain still during savasana, balancing on one leg in garudasana, finding the strength to lower down to chaturanga, or breathing deeply through your nostrils in Anuloma Viloma, yoga isn’t something I’d describe as easy. Do not confuse a gentle practice with an easy practice. Yoga is often described as a training ground for life, indeed the discomfort you can experience on your mat will help you manage your life’s ups and downs with more ease. Yoga offers a bunch of tools to be better, feel better and live better but it isn’t a cure-all type of practice unless you’re willing to do the work it requires.
Not all yogis are vegan
Let’s go back to the roots of yoga: yoga is a philosophy of life before being a physical practice. One of the core teachings of this philosophy is non-violence (ahimsa), this non-violence should be applied to a yogi’s life by not being violent towards each others but also towards animals, plants and all things. Not being violent also means not sabotaging our own life with constant insulting thoughts towards yourself (such as “I’m disgusting”, “I’m so fat”, “I am ugly”, “I am incompetent”, “I am stupid”, “I’m a bad mum/dad/spouse”, etc.). In this non-violent day-to-day practice lays a cruelty-free behavior, hence many yogis being vegetarian or even completely vegan. I am not talking about health here, nor about the pros and cons of having a specific diet over another one, I am only referring to this principle of non-violence which can also be applied to how you eat. I think it’s important for everyone to inform him/herself and listen to their hearts in order to find out what is right for them. To do so, you can start with a journaling exercise: what is a sign of violence in my eating habit? Is it the fact that I am eating animal flesh? Or the meat industry? Or my behavior / lack of gratitude towards the food I eat? Or the environmental constraints linked to what I eat? Or none of those? Or maybe all of those? Or maybe something else? This is a very good exercise in order to see how you want to apply this yogic principle of non-violence to your plates and perhaps trigger new patterns as a consumer.
A yoga class doesn’t fit in any specific box
How many times have I heard hasty comparisons of what yoga is and what it isn't ?! There are way too many different styles of yoga and/or hybridizations, probably hundreds of them, for someone to know them all. To name a few popular ones you have Hatha yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Yoga Nidra, Yin yoga, yoga Therapy, Forest yoga, Rocket yoga, Sivananda yoga, Kundalini yoga, Iyengar yoga, Acro yoga, etc; which are all different from one another. Further, there can be many techniques and disciplines within each style, which you might or not do within a class, such as breathing exercises (pranayama), singing mantras (kirtan), practicing cleansing techniques (kriya), meditating, attending lecture (satsang), etc. Last but not least, in addition to the styles and the various techniques used in yoga classes there also are thousands of different teachers of all shapes and origins bringing their very own experience to their teachings. When combining all those variables, one should realize how each yoga class can be very unique, hence not fitting into any box. Be open and do not judge someone’s practice if different from yours. One isn’t necessarily more yogic than the other. Find what resonate with you and stick to it. No matter how long a specific teacher has been teaching yoga or which style he/she has been practicing, what he/she has to share will give a whole new spin to your definition of yoga.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your practice.