Think you have to twist your body into a pretzel to get the most out of yoga? Think again. Believing that the practice requires you to be a contortionist (or flexible at all!) is one of many yoga myths that have developed over the years. Misconceptions about yoga not only hold seasoned yogis back from developing a deeper, more mindful practice—they prevent some people from ever stepping on the mat to begin with.
Let’s get to the truth behind this practice. Here are 13 yoga myths that you should stop believing right now.
Myth: You have to be flexible to do yoga.
Myth: Yoga is not a workout.
Fact: “The physical aspect yoga was created to exhaust the body and mind so that it can be free and clear for meditation. These watered down stretching classes that some people call yoga are not the be all end all of yoga, they are simply representative of one style that someone created and many followed. Everything evolves, and many people have created many different styles that all coexist under the broad umbrella of yoga,” said Heidi Kristoffer, yoga teacher and creator of CrossFlowX.
Myth: All yoga teachers have the same training.
Fact: “The problem with current yoga teacher training is that it’s broken down by hours. Two hundred hours is the equivalent of a month of training—that’s it. Not all yoga training programs are created equal, either. Some have a heavy focus on just the physical postures, while others focus on the philosophy. Yet, yoga students expect their teacher to be an expert in their craft. Do your homework. Interview the prospective teacher like you would any other professional,” said Cheryl Albright, an occupational therapist, yoga therapist and yoga teacher in Bradenton, Florida. She’s also the founder of Soul to Soul Yoga.
Myth: Yoga is only about your physical ability.
Fact: “Many people think yoga is about being able to touch your toes or put your ankle behind your head, but yoga is about breathing deeply and having a desire to quiet your mind, calm your nervous system and work through any issues preventing you from being at peace. It’s about knowing yourself and sometimes it’s about rewiring your system so you can find ease—both physically and mentally,” said Ally Hamilton, yoga teacher, founder of Yogis Anonymous and author of “Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth and Peace.”
Myth: Yoga will automatically make you happy.
Fact: “One of the biggest myths people have about doing yoga is that it will make you calmer and more happy. While this can be true, it’s not true for everyone. In fact, the odds are it’ll make you feel emotionally worse before better. Yoga helps people overcome mental and emotional negativity by rewiring the mind. Any process of change takes work and effort, and makes the mind unhappy in the process because it doesn’t want to change and it’ll put up resistance. If you are really transforming through yoga, you’ll experience a lot of ups and downs on your journey. It’s not smooth sailing, and that’s a clear sign it’s working for you,” said Jaya Jaya Myra, yoga teacher, TEDx speaker and author of “Vibrational Healing: Attain Balance & Wholeness.”
Myth: Yoga is nothing more than stretching.
Fact: “Saying yoga is just stretching is like saying professional bodybuilding is just throwing weight around. At first glance, that’s what it might look like, but it’s actually not that at all. With an experienced teacher, yoga is incredibly functional and therapeutic because it can be very corrective when it comes to muscle dysfunction. It doesn’t replace medical care, but it’s highly effective for addressing imbalances. You’ll gain strength, decrease tension and increase range of motion, so not only can it help restore optimal alignment, but it can also prevent injury down the road,” said Erin Motz, yoga teacher and co-founder of Bad Yogi.
Myth: You have to be young to do yoga.
Fact: “I often hear people say, ‘I’m too old to do yoga.’ I specialize in teaching chair yoga and fall prevention to seniors. Recently, I had a very sprightly 95-year-old lady in class for the first time. She is now a regular attendee. Just last week, I had two sisters in their late 70s join my online classes. They enjoyed being able to move with the support of a chair and were delighted that they could ‘do’ yoga. Yoga really is beneficial for all ages,” said Rachel Baer, yoga teacher and founder of Yoga-Keeps-Me-Fit.
Myth: Yoga is just for women, not men.
Fact: “While yoga is predominantly practiced by women, that paradigm has shifted dramatically over the last 10 years. Around 25% to 35% of yoga practitioners in the U.S. are men, and that number grows every year. Out of the 720,000 yogis that follow me on Instagram, 41% are men,” said Dylan Werner, yoga teacher at Alo Moves who has led hundreds of workshops, conferences and trainings in more than 60 countries.
Myth: Yoga is just another type of exercise.
Fact: “Yoga is the union of body, mind and spirit. Practicing asana (postures) with conscious breathing improves flexibility, strength, balance and evokes the relaxation response. Yoga philosophy connects us to our true selves, guides us to clarity, releases us from suffering and afflictions (ego wanting, fear and rejection) and enables us to realize self-acceptance. Yogic philosophy is a guide that enables us to live well, to care for self and spirit, to go within and accept what is,” said Maya Breuer, yoga teacher, vice president of cross-cultural advancement at Yoga Alliance and co-founder and emeritus president of the national Black Yoga Teachers Alliance.
Myth: Doing more advanced poses means you’re better at yoga.
Fact: “As a yoga newbie, I was so taken with the practice that I mistakenly believed my ability to go deeper in backbends, further in forward bends or balance longer in handstands were signs of spiritual superiority. I even made breathwork competitive! After 20-plus years of practicing and teaching, I’ve come to realize that less is definitely more in yoga. Try a gentler, simpler and softer approach to practice, and you’ll discover joy and wellbeing that’ll change your experience of everyday life more profoundly than any fancy arm balance you’ve ever done on a yoga mat,” said Kerry Maiorca, yoga teacher, founder of Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago and chair of the board for Yoga Alliance.
Myth: All yoga is the same.
Fact: “One of the biggest myths in modern yoga is that yoga is a unitary practice, and that every yogi’s practice can and must be the same. The reality is that yoga is not a singular practice at all, but rather a multiplicity of movement. Some of the wonderful diversity in yoga comes in the form of accessibility through the use of props, safety through the use trauma-informed practice and joy through the use of narratives and language that speak uniquely to different yogic populations. The goal is to find ways to make the practice fit the yogi, not the other way around,” said Justine Mastin, yoga teacher and creator of YogaQuest.