Yoga is popular and gaining more understanding, but there are still some persistent misconceptions about this wonderful practice.
Here are 7 of those yoga myths uncovered!
1. A true yogi is one who can do advanced postures .
Yoga is not about physical postures, and it's not a form of exercise. In fact, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika described only very few asanas, most of them seated.
Asana practice is only one small area of the eightfold path of yoga, and one yoga pose is not better or more advanced than the other. The advanced yoga practitioner knows what is good for his or her body, and practices yoga accordingly.
2. Yoga is mainly for young people.
One of my teachers is in his 70's, and I have never seen such grace and strength. Recently, my retired aunt who is 65 years old started talking to me about “Down Dog!” Turns out she took up yoga in her senior centre and feels so much more flexible because of it!
Yoga is for all ages, and it helps us grow older with strength and flexibility. No matter what your age, find a class that suits your needs, and enjoy your body!
3. Yogis shouldn't have sex
If this was true, yoga classes sure would be more spacious! Although abstinence from sex (Brahmacharya, or celibacy) may bring spiritual benefits for those who are up for it, it is not for everyone. It is said that celibacy frees up energy to devote into ones spiritual practice, and liberates us from the pursuit of sexual games and ego-boosters.
But we can learn from this without going celibate. It's true that we can hurt ourselves when we are too casual with our sexual energy. When we are not clear about the motives behind our actions, a lot can be at stake and we can end up hurting not only ourselves, but those around us. But when we let sexual experiences be what they can be at best–intimate expressions of love between two people–this is hardly hindering our spiritual journey.
4. Yogis don't eat meat.
Ahimsa, non-violence, is the first of the yama's, the first limb of the eightfold path of yoga. So is it wrong to enjoy a yoga class followed by a ham sandwich for lunch?
It's true that meat is often produced without ahimsa, but that does not necessarily mean one has to give up meat all together. What's more important is being aware of the environment we live in, the sources of our food, and our influence and effect on other beings on this planet. Again, the best policy is to find your own way, to be aware of your choices and motives, to do a bit of research, and to trust your path.
5. When you meditate, silence of mind should be automatic.
Meditation is not about silencing the mind, since there will always be thoughts and buzz going on. It's about learning to let the thoughts come and go. With meditation, we learn not get so attached to the chatter in our minds, and we can find a place beyond our thoughts and feelings.
The mind is like a muscle, it gets stronger when you train it! So never mind how it feels the first times, once you train more, you'll get stronger.
6. Yogis are ultra-spiritual.
Just because you are practicing or teaching yoga, does not mean that you forget your human form and levitate the rest of your days. We all have limitations, and our egos sometimes get the best of us.
Yoga gives us the tools to handle ourselves better, and to accept that being a human is being colorful, flaws and all. We should not compare ourselves to something unattainable, like forgetting negative feelings altogether. Instead, notice that maybe when you get angry/jealous next time, it doesn't last as long. Whereas before it would ruin your day, maybe now it ruins just ten minutes!
7. Yoga is a female thing .
Yoga guides us to find unity between the mind and the body, as well as between our individual self and the universal self. This is not a very gender specific activity.
Just because the majority of the students in today's yoga studios may be female, does not mean that yoga is a female thing. If your physical health and mobility is important to you, and you want to find the feeling of connectedness, yoga is for you.
What is yoga to you? Start exploring the meaning yoga has in your life, and see for yourself what happens when you are open for it!