There are many misconceptions about yoga which you need to stop believing.
Yoga is easily one of the most commonly discussed subjects. There are immense physical and mental health benefits of yoga. There are so many different conversations about it, all over the place. Naturally, not all of these conversations propagate the complete truth about yoga. From fitness clubs to corporate productivity trainers to wellness spas, everyone seems to pick up a narrative about yoga that suits their messaging goals and communication agenda. No wonder then, that there are a lot of misconceptions about yoga .
What is even worse is the fact that some of the most esteemed and well known practitioners of yoga have been responsible for disseminating misconceptions and establishing very lopsided perspectives about this ancient body of knowledge.
In this article we look at some of the more common yoga myths, one by one and also shed light on the respective truth about Yoga.
Myth #1: Yoga = Yoga Asanas. It Is Just A Form Of Exercise
Fact- Asanas are just one aspect of yoga.
Yoga asanas have certainly become the de-facto face of yoga these days. However, asanas are only a small aspect of the practice of yoga. As per Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and their classification of yoga, Asanas are one of the eight limbs of yoga.
The other seven limbs/aspects of yoga are – ‘Yama’ and ‘Niyama’, which are the habits of thought and behaviour which a yogi is recommended to follow, Pranayama, which are the breathing techniques to regulate your mental and physical energies/tendencies – and Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – which are the meditative practices of yoga, intended to observe and command the true nature of self.
Please remember this, if not anything else – yoga is far more than just a form of exercise. It is a tool for you to live an authentic, mindful life, transcend your limitations and realize your full potential.
The meditative aspects of yoga enable you to see reality without the hazy glasses of your perceptions and compulsions. It is surely easier said than done, though. Therefore, it requires training one’s physical and mental faculties such that we are able to perceive our own reality without prejudice or agenda.
Myth #2: Yoga Is A Religious Practice
Fact- Yoga And Religion Aren’t Interlinked. You May Practice Yoga Irrespective Of Your Faith And Philosophical Inclinations
Yoga might have its roots in Hinduism (which claims itself to be a way of life rather than a religion, in the first place) and yet, most aspects of yoga have nothing to do with any gods/deities. It is a strongly experiential way of life, one without a predominant philosophical or dogmatic aspect.
Anyone following the path of yoga is encouraged to experience the process themselves and can only reap its benefits from the actual practice of it, irrespective of how strongly they believe in it or not.
Mind, body and consciousness exist in all human beings, irrespective of their religion or faith. Practice of yoga intends to bring harmony within your physical, mental and emotional experiences without any assumptions or constraints on your religious faiths and philosophical beliefs. It only requires practice with true dedication and consistency.
The primary reason why people associate yoga with religion is it’s chants or Mantras. Yoga’s Indian roots involve a lot of mantras and chants that have been used for many years. But they are meant to bring focus and make you aware of yourself and your surroundings. Instead of those, you can also use any other tool to get your focus aligned.
If you decide to follow these mantras and chants while practicing yoga, know that you’re not “converting to yoga” for it isn’t a religion and these chants are non-denominational.
Myth #3: Only Flexible People And Those With A Certain Body Type Can Perform Yoga Asanas
Fact- Yoga is for everyone.
It is one of the most common yoga mistakes (of perception).
Suggesting that you have to be flexible to do yoga asanas is like expecting you to already be in a good shape in order to go to the gym, or you to be clean to take a shower. Being flexible is not a prerequisite to do asanas but is actually it’s result.
The image of yoga asanas is mostly of thin, bendy, beautiful young women flocking to studios and beaches to complete pretzel-like body contortions, thanks to social media and glamourization of health. This image, however attractive and inspirational, is a misleading depiction of the true intent of such asanas.
Please stop beating yourself up right now, if you haven’t been able to bend a certain way or to a certain extent. Asanas are intended to make you physically ready to engage yourself effectively in the meditative aspects of yoga.
It is Ok to feel awkward and incapable of doing a few or a lot of asanas to begin with. You start with whatever you are comfortable with and improve thereafter. Start with the ones that open your body up. With practice, asanas will improve your agility together with your strength, balance, mind-body coordination, oneness with your own breath and also keep your organs and body parts healthy and agile.
Don’t do yogasanas to look a certain way. Do it to FEEL and BE joyful, calm and healthy.
Myth #4: Older People Can’t Do Yoga
Fact: There is no perfect age for yoga or any type of yoga.
When people think of the twisting and curling involved in yoga asanas, this misconception does arise. But asanas are for everybody, regardless of age and gender. It just requires consistency and dedication.
It has been observed that even individuals who are aged more than 60 years are able to perform complex asanas such as Sarvangasana, Shirshasana etc with perfection and ease. It is only practice that makes you perfect and not your young age. More importantly, not every asana needs to be done by everyone. Neither it needs to be done like an accomplished yogi to reap its full benefits.
It is important to be comfortable when you begin with and listen to your body. You may surely get injured if you try to do complex twists and poses without caution and preparation. With the skillful guidance of a trained asana expert, enough time and regular practice – you may take up asanas which are beneficial for you but which you might not be able to perform comfortably when starting out initially.
Myth #5: Yoga Is Not For Youngsters
Fact: Yoga is likely the highest ROI investment you will ever make into yourself. Do it as early in life as possible.
Many people tend to think that yoga is a spiritual practice or a stretching exercise regime that is only suitable for later ages and not for the ‘work hard, party harder’ types.
Fact is that irrespective of your age and occupation, yoga can make you better at what you do. Yoga helps you sharpen your attention, manage your emotions better and become more discrete and in control of your own physical and mental tendencies. These are some serious capabilities which can provide handsome dividends if developed fairly early in life.
The sooner in life, you develop an obedient mind that is aligned with your values and true aspirations, the more you can create in life – whether in your personal life or professional. Yoga has immense benefits in developing a great emotional quotient which can help you create meaningful relationships in life and navigate them well.
From a physical perspective, it might actually be easier for you to adopt and start performing certain asanas given your body is more flexible and malleable at a younger age. There aren’t any doubts really, that yoga can easily outweigh all your investments into yourself over the course of your life.
Myth #6: Yoga Takes A Lot Of Time To Practice
Fact – Practicing yoga in its entirety might demand anywhere between a couple of minutes to maybe an hour or two daily. However, as little as 10 minutes might be sufficient to begin with and experience significant benefits.
Practicing yoga involves working your body, breath and your mind. Each of these have specific rituals – the asanas, pranayama and the meditative practices. Asanas and Pranayam are advised to be the initial aspects of yoga to train your attention and attitude towards the process.
Once you throw meditative practices in the mix, you might want to practice for longer periods of time.
To begin with you might want to focus on some specific types of asanas and pranayamas. Doing them 5-10 minutes each, alternating between different techniques across days might be sufficient to orient you to the process.
As you begin to experience the hints of benefits, you can and likely will gradually increase the time of practice. With practice, you will also realize that your default quality of presence in each moment will elevate. You will then ‘be in yoga’ without explicitly realizing and even as a part of mundane day to day activities.
Myth #7: You Can Experience The Yoga Benefits In Your Life By Understanding Yoga Completely
Fact- Yoga is a way of life. It must be practiced to reap its benefits.
Yoga is not an intellectual practice. It is completely experiential in nature. Every seeker in yoga, who seeks to understand their own reality better, needs to walk the path on their own. Unless you practice yoga, your own development on the path of yoga is only as much as someone who knows how to fly a plane after reading a book on aviation.
Yoga involves a systematic process that is to be learnt from an able guru or a guide and then practiced yourself. Can books be your guru? Sure! But reading or understanding the principles is just the start.
Myth #8: Yoga Is Physically Demanding
Fact- Yoga is for everyone. People with most health issues can benefit from yoga.
What a myth! Practicing yoga involves one or more physical postures, breathing exercises and meditative aspects, which are not all physically exerting. In fact, most of them are not.
Meditation essentially requires you to sit in a comfortable posture either on the floor cross-legged or even in a chair if that is more comfortable and keeping your spine erect. No physical activity other than sitting and supporting your own weight required, whatsoever.
Some yoga asanas can indeed be challenging if you have not yet developed the training, strength and flexibility to perform those but there are always asanas which will be suitable for you, irrespective of your state of practice. You should do only those asanas that are comfortable for you and slowly learn the ones which you are not able to do yet.
Finally, pranayama involves breathing exercises. Some of them will sweat you out and others will calm you down. But none of them are ‘demanding’ unless you suffer from any severe respiratory issues. You may always choose to do those that are more relaxed and do them only for comfortable durations of time.
Myth #9: Yoga Is Only For Women
Fact- Yoga is for both men and women.
Well, this one should probably not even make it to this list now. A 2012 (yes, it’s pretty old now) survey by Yoga journal estimated that only about 20% of practitioners of yoga were men. However, since then, awareness around this specific myth seems to have risen dramatically, thanks to social media.
Yoga was never gender specific. Never ever will you see a sign that says ”No boys allowed” on a yoga studio door or any advertisements of yoga. No aspect of yoga – asanas, pranayama or meditation – applies any differently to any gender. All aspects of yoga are for the benefit of everyone.
Myth #10: You Shouldn’t Do Yoga During Pregnancy
Fact: Some yoga asana, pranayama and meditation can (should) be practiced during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a blissful period with many physical and mental challenges for every woman. Many times you might have heard people saying that practicing yoga isn’t safe during pregnancy. It is one of many popular yoga myths. The truth is that many aspects of yoga including specific yoga asanas, meditative practices and pranayama are extremely beneficial for women and these exercises don’t put too much strain on the joints. Therefore, it is safe to practice them.
These yoga practices help reduce anxiety and make the mother feel restful during the tough days. Doing yoga during pregnancy can effectively improve sleep, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles that women need for childbirth. It can also relieve nausea, reduce lower back pain and headaches. Women can also practice different breathing exercises that can help them to be calmer during labor. It reduces stress hormones and promotes relaxation.
Precaution: Yoga practice during pregnancy should be carefully pieced together including the appropriate asanas, pranayama, etc. It is better to take guidance from a professional yoga teacher during pregnancy. It will help you notice the needs of your body and work on them carefully.
In addition to the common yoga myths above, the truth about yoga is sometimes distorted and misrepresented in some scenarios. A few of these common scenarios and questions are topics of intense debate and invite divided opinions are mentioned below. We provide the facts about the respective scenarios to clear the air by answering some frequently asked questions below.
Before answering any of these questions, one must be clear that yoga is not limited to yoga asanas. It also includes pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. However, the questions below relate more to the physical aspects of yoga. Therefore, only for the purpose of answering the questions below – the word yoga should be understood to mean yoga asanas and pranayama.
Hope these misconceptions about yoga will not be a blind spot for you any more. Yoga is a wonderful tool to transcend your limitations. It is not just about asanas. It is not even a religious practice. You can practice yoga and integrate it in your life irrespective of your race, religion, gender, age or ethnicity. It is a way of life to remain connected with your consciousness, realize the true reality of yourself, come face to face with your compulsions – the constant mental chatter and continually rising and falling cravings and aversions. It involves working in tandem with all the aspects of your being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The best part is, you do not need to take our word for it. Yoga is highly experiential. You can benefit from it only by practicing it and finding out the truth about yoga yourself.
For a more detailed account on what yoga is and how you can integrate it in your life for better overall well-being and joy, read here. You will be glad you did and we hope you embrace one or more aspects of yoga in your life to become a better version of yourself.
Is yoga more effective than gym?
These two are usually practiced for different purposes. The main difference between them is that yoga is a gentle practice which should be preferred for more holistic outcomes for your health and wellbeing. On the other hand, gymming involves more vigorous exercises which are more suitable if your primary aim is to have a muscular looking body and bruteforce stamina.
Immediately after a yoga practice session, you are likely to feel refreshed and energetic. Whereas, a gymming session is more likely to make you feel tired and spent. Both of them are beneficial in slightly different ways. You may mix the two in different proportions based on your goals and how much time you are willing to spend.
More elaborate answer
Yoga and gym exercises have many common benefits. Both of them are helpful in developing strength and stamina. Both of them also help in the release of feel good hormones in you and lift up your mood. However, their ways and objectives are different.
Let’s take a closer look at the nature of benefits from each of them one by one.
The primary aim of yoga is to attain a calm, focused and obedient mind. In this process, your body is an instrument. Yoga asanas surely strengthen and tone even the smallest of the muscles in your body but that is a happy side effect. Asanas help you align your body, breath and your mind. You will also feel more centered and in tune with yourself. With regular practice of pranayama and asanas, the health of most of your body’s vital organs and processes improves – digestion (gut health), respiration (lung health), circulation (heart and cardiovascular health), nervous system (brain and nervous system health), renal health (kidneys), endocrine system (hormonal balance) and lymphatic system (responsible for immunity and detoxification of your body). With regular practice of yoga asanas, you will develop a flexible, strong and well toned body in addition to the above benefits. Yet, you are unlikely to develop bulked up ripped muscles with yoga asanas.
Gym on the other hand is more suitable if your goal is to have large muscles and you are planning to track fat percentage in your body as a metric to assess your health. Mixed with cardiovascular exercises, gymming definitely also has many beneficial effects on the body. It helps you lose weight, develop strength and help increase heart rate and blood circulation. Gym might not benefit your internal organs directly and you should also take care to include flexibility exercises in your circuit, else you risk limiting the range of your muscle movements due to all the bulking up.
While these two practices are performed for different motives, they can still complement each other. But first, it is important to understand your goals deeply.
Can yoga and aerobics be done together? Can one replace the other?
Both aerobic exercise and yoga improve blood circulation, blood pressure and physical wellness. Yet, they impact your body in different ways. Aerobic exercises demand more effort and are strenuous in nature. On the other hand, yoga is more gentle on the body and can still make you sweat, without increasing your heart rate to the levels the aerobic exercises do.
If you are wondering what is the need for one vs. the other, it is important to understand how each of them works.
Your lungs and heart function in tandem. When you do pranayama, deep breathing exercises or aerobics, your lungs get a larger than usual respiratory dose of fresh air filled with oxygen and your heart gives a large amount of blood into your lungs. Blood receives a lot of this oxygen which is supplied to various parts of your body.
The oxygen from your blood vessels (capillaries) get transported to body cells and tissues through a process of diffusion which is a passive process and happens simply because the level of oxygen in the blood is higher than the oxygen level in the cellular space. Similarly, the reverse flow of lymphatic fluid, which removes the cellular waste, toxins and any germs from the bloodstream also starts with a diffusive process. These two diffusive processes are critical for cellular function, health and detoxification of the body.
Strenuous exercises over time make your muscles stiff which might restrict the two diffusive processes and reduce the efficiency of detoxification. Another factor that leads to an uneven distribution of oxygen during heavy aerobics is that the specific muscles involved in the aerobics (e.g. leg muscles when running) are provisioned more blood supply, temporarily taking it away from other vital organs (fat cells, bone marrow, glands, internal organs etc.). Finally, aerobic exercises carry a higher risk of joint and muscle injury due to a higher level of aggressive activity. These are also the reasons why moderate aerobic exercises like swimming and brisk walking are recommended by health experts over running and other intensive cardio for long duration.
On the other hand, during yoga, your body tends to relax and energize. There is motion, sometimes even swift but it tends to be non-jerky and uniform. Thus, it does not cause excessive strain on any muscles allowing the detox process to occur in every part of your body. However, you might end up burning fewer calories.
As you collect, balance is the key. If weight loss is on your mind, it might be a wise choice to include aerobics in moderation, not more than 10-15 minutes of high intensity exercises. Club it with a longer yoga session and wise dietary choices for the most healthy outcomes for yourself.
Can I perform yoga asanas involving inversions during menstruation?
According to yogic philosophy and ayurveda, it is said that asanas involving inversions interfere with apana or the downward flowing energy that is responsible for both healthy elimination of urine and other secretions and reproductive cycles like menstruation. During your monthly cycle, apana vayu becomes especially active and inversions are likely to oppose or impede your body’s natural movement during such an important time of detoxification.
However, the scientific evidence is currently mixed regarding this claim. Biologically, it appears that the “downward” flow within the body’s tracts is not affected by the body’s orientation to the ground. This is the reason why people in space still do menstruate and people who are bedridden and are laid in the horizontal position, can still urinate. At the same time, astronauts have been found to develop ‘puffy face syndrome’ in which the upward movement of body fluids in the absence of gravity leads to swollen faces in astronauts who automatically recover once they are on earth.
Therefore, it can be concluded that everybody is unique and so it’s important to track how inversions make you feel. If you experience adverse effects like cramping or jitters, swap them for supported vertical leg extension or connect to your inner self in meditation, until your period ends. From an orthogonal perspective, why be hell-bent on performing inversions during a small time window when you could rest to avoid discomfort and let the body do its thing.
What is yoga not?
Yoga is not just body bending. It is not an escape method. True yoga (yoga means “joining” or “connection”) is about finding your true self, transcending the limitations of your physicality and mental boundaries, and striving to be in harmony with the universe. Yoga follows the 8-fold path for the ultimate liberation and achieving bliss, asanas (poses) are one part of it.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion but is associated with Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. All in all, it is a spiritual practice that involves the 8 steps in order to reach the final 8th step of liberation and pure bliss. You can practice physical poses and meditation techniques to excel in every part of your life by learning mindfulness with yoga.