Thursday, July 17, 2014

3 Myths about Yoga

Yoga is for everybody
Yoga has grown so much over the past few years, that even your sweet Grandma may throw around the occasional Downward Dog or Lululemon reference. Yet yoga's overall image to outsiders has largely remained the same. I know that at least half of the time, when I offer a free intro to yoga class to a beginner, I'm met with apprehension and usually, a comment such as:

"I'm not flexible enough."

It's hard not to get frustrated with those who are not aware that yoga is NOT about being flexible. It's about cultivating a relationship with yourself, and your body. Fitness and flexibility is a by-product. As Mantra magazine writer Erica Mather says, "the point of yoga is not to excel; it's to experience." So, if you're tight in your hamstrings, she says, just enjoy the ride and they will eventually relax. That being said, I personally feel that Yoga media portrays a certain type of yogi, who is always uber-flexible and amazing at headstands. My mentor Denise Druce is the first to admit that some people are just built that way. "There are mobile bodies, and there are stable bodies," I recall her saying during my teacher training. Yoga is the balance of both qualities. Even though their yoga poses, like the splits, may appear perfect, a hyper-mobile (aka flexible) person may actually be straining their joints, and thus would benefit from strength poses that inspire stability. Then there is the hyper-stable (this was definitely me), whose body is sturdy and solid, but lacks some mobility, thus benefitting from stretches that give muscles a bigger range of motion. So that gal on the cover of Yoga Journal? All twisted in a long, elegant dancer pose? Don't bother with comparing yourself to her! She is likely simply hyper-mobile.

"Yoga is for a certain type of person."

The granola dude in Birkenstocks at Whole Foods. The thin mom you notice showing off bare arms while pushing a stroller around the the park. The nose-ringed college student with colorful leggings and a Chinese cherry blossom tattoo.  These are people who you might assume do yoga. Not the in-demand, working-mom news director of KUTV 2. Not the mayor of Salt lake City. Not the soccer mom down the road with a few pounds to lose. Actually - YES. All of the above are yogis. You don't have to look or live a certain way in order to be welcomed into a yoga class. Not all yogis are thin, not all yogis waste their money on a fancy yoga wardrobe, and not all yogis live like those hippies across the street with the Tibetan flags strung across the porch. Yoga is for everyone. It is at its core the all-accepting, uni-loving practice of oneness. And though some higher-end studios definitely have a certain clientele (I know there are a couple in town at which I feel kind of like a black sheep), you can rest assured most studios, and especially that community class, host every kind of person under the sun.

"Yoga is a religion."

It can definitely feel like a religion to a beginner, who has no idea what the heck "Ohm" is supposed to mean, and why it gets chanted as a group! The fact is though, Yoga is whatever you want it to be. It can definitely be spiritual, as it promotes the mind-body connection, and connection with others. It can be purely fitness-centric if you are just there to burn some calories. Or it can be purely relaxing, if you just want to enjoy taking time for yourself and quieting your mind. Or it can be everything! If you ever hear the word "God" in a yoga class, it usually is referencing the oneness of everything; how everything is connected. And if you don't like that, that's okay! You don't have to subscribe to everything to enjoy yoga. I had the same question about yoga as a religion, so I started studying its roots. I read  Patanjuli's Yoga Sutras, which at first, looked to me like the "commandments" of yoga, but after I contemplated them for a bit, I realized they are simply just ways you can live your best life, free of conflict with yourself or others. There is no black-and-white good and evil; no heaven or hell. Just ways to live in peace. Bottom line, if you show up to a yoga class, you will get out of it exactly what you want to get out of it. It's basically a blank canvas for you!

I hope the folks who really need to read this get a chance, because yoga is such a powerful way to change your life for the better. Once I started practicing, I noticed I was worrying less about my weight and more about how I can feed my body more healthfully. Over time, I became a generally less-stressed person who is no longer easily offended or angered. I focus less on material items, and more on the kind of experiences I want out of life. It's just a sweet way to live, and I would love you to live it with me.





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