We’ve all heard (or read) about what yoga supposedly is; that it’s more than the poses, it’s a part of a religion, you have to be flexible to do it, it takes a lot of time, you’ll become a vegetarian, there’s a lot of chanting, and I’m sure there are several more. While all of those can be true, if that’s what you want your yoga practice to be, none of those are requirements.
Yoga, the physical and the non-physical part of it (yes that part is true), can be whatever you want it to be for you. While there is the traditional practice of it that is practiced a certain way, we no longer live in the same society that existed when yoga was created. Now, we have different needs for yoga that can vary greatly from person to person. The word ‘yoga’ means to yoke or join, if taken further (closet word nerd here) it can also mean to subjugate or control. But let’s take this in context and compare it to horse training; you’re not going to expect every horse to be the same. There are differences in their talents, how they work, what cues will elicit the desired response, and so on. Most of all, you are seeking a union or partnership with the horse, where to individual beings work as one.
And there it is, the ultimate goal of yoga, to unite you with the universe or whatever you believe in. It goes beyond the uniting of breath and movement or the mind and body, while those are both part of it, they are not the whole.
Just like horse riding or training, how you get there- to that union of self and others (horse or universe)- can look many different ways, it’s not a clearly marked yellow brick road from point A to Z.
And just like riding a horse, you get to choose the way that works best for you. Whether that is a super disciplined approach- where you are working through the levels similar to dressage or a more laid back “take what works, leave the rest” trail ride through the yoga world, it’s all up to you. Yoga gurus and horse trainers will all tell you they know the best way there (and they know the way that has worked for them and their clients), but their way isn’t the only way and you can most definitely ride off on your own if it isn’t working for you.
The 7 yoga myths
- You have to be flexible to do it.
No to this right out of the gate, just no. As a matter of fact, if you are super flexible- go pick up some weights or develop an Ashtanga/power yoga practice and build the strength you need for stability to prevent injury.
For the rest of us, we get to build flexibility by practicing yoga and doing the poses (asanas). Not only in the physical sense but also in the rest of our lives, while yoga can be just about what happens on the mat, it does tend to bleed over to the rest of our lives (just like horses). You might find yourself approaching situations differently, without the rigidity of ‘my way or the highway’. Your horse will thank you, as well as your family and friends I’m sure.
- It’s just for girls.
So, while I may seem to market to mostly women, I’m going to do a hard eye roll at this one. Most of the ‘gurus’ (people who are talked about the most in the yoga world) are men. Yoga has just been portrayed as a ‘girly’ exercise since it doesn’t involve chucking weights around or other typical masculine activities.
Just like the horse world, where gender doesn’t matter as long as the job gets done, social perception of an exercise is irrelevant if it helps your riding. After all, we go to the store after riding covered in hay and smelling like horses…do we really care what others think?
- Yoga takes a long time.
Totally understandable how this can be seen as a thing, since most classes are an hour long and that’s not including the drive time to and from the studio. But your practice can be as long or as short as you want and done wherever it suits you- from your house to the barn. Developing an at home practice will give you more time and the consistency will pay off- whether you practice for 5 minutes or 60. Since driving to the barn is your priority, not wanting to add an extra commute is understandable, instead- take your yoga practice with you.
- It’s expensive.
Just like horses, it can be. Yes, there are costs involved if you go the traditional studio route of membership and those can be expensive, just like boarding a horse. However, you can start an at home practice that doesn’t cost you much at all, depending on what you want. Think of it as pasture board for your horse or an a la carte package of trainer sessions. And, yoga doesn’t really require specialty or expensive clothes, you can practice in your breeches if you want! Besides, if a hobby isn’t expensive…is it really worth it?
- You must follow a specific way or you’re doing it ‘wrong’.
This one can be true, if you choose a yoga style that follows these principles as some are very exacting and disciplined, which works for certain people. If that doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Your yoga practice can be whatever you want it to be. Whether that is a daily practice, a couple times a week, or anything in between and for however long you want to be on your mat. The focus can be on the physical, so your body feels better, and you get stronger, more flexible, in better shape, and don’t hurt so much. Or it can be the mental, where you are able to calm yourself both in the saddle and out of it. Think of all the styles of horse riding and ways of training, yoga is like that- pick the flavor that fits you. The only ‘right’ way to do yoga is the way you get on your mat and practice.
- It’s just stretching.
Not at all. While it does help your flexibility, it’s not just stretching. Yoga also builds strength, improves mobility (different from flexibility), and helps with your breathing. That’s why I write sequences that have a different emphasis- cardio, strength, mobility, flexibility, and add in breathwork, meditation/mindset, and extras like foam rolling but they can all be put together into a cohesive program. Besides, just stretching won’t completely release a muscle (more on that later!).
***Side note, if you do have some flexibility goals, you need to focus on strength for stability and mobility for joint health so you don’t injure yourself***
- Yoga is a religion/cult/whatever you want to call it.
While there is more to yoga than just the poses and there can be a spiritual/religious aspect to it, yoga in and of itself isn’t a religion. This is a common misconception as it’s usually associated with Hinduism in the media. That side of it isn’t necessary to practice yoga at all though. You can keep whatever religious or spiritual practice you have and still get your yoga on.
Horse riding isn’t a religion, although most of us are just as devoted to it as if it were, and we still go to the barn as much as we can or want to. Treat yoga the same way.
Start now, see where it takes you.
One of these gets mentioned to me almost weekly from people who have wanted to try yoga but haven’t yet because they have heard a variation of any of these yoga myths. But you can have a yoga practice, that works for you and doesn’t require anything besides the commitment to get on your mat. Just like horses, you can ride at the level you want and in the way that suits you.
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Have you heard any of these myths? Or a different one? I’d love to know your experience!