Today is the international day of yoga. An international event that aims at providing more attention to the benefits of yoga. A very nice development is that yoga is becoming more and more well known and that more and more people are experiencing the benefit from practicing yoga. Yet there are still quite a lot of misunderstandings about yoga. I will discuss a few of these. in this yoga blog.
Misunderstanding 1: yoga is only for flexible people
Yoga is for everyone. If you can breathe (so if you are alive) you can practice yoga. Though, you do become more flexible by practicing yoga. That is exactly how those flexible yogis have become flexible: by practicing.
By the way, did you know that it is physically just as important in yoga to build strength and flexibility to create more balance? It is beneficial to support flexibility with strength to create stability and mobility. Most people are naturally or somewhat stronger or flexible. One is no better or easier than the other. For example, people who are slightly more flexible by nature often have to work very hard to build up strength (which is also important to not get injured). The great thing is that you can use your strength to work on flexibility or vice versa. An example of this is that if you stretch your hamstrings, it helps to contract your thigh muscles. This way you create more space at the backside of your body.
The challenge is to be able to accept where you are at that moment; to focus on working on what supports you at that time the most. This work from a place of acceptance of the current reality. Step by step, breath by breath. Wherever you are in your yoga practice, yoga gives you benefits right from the start.
Have you not yet found the yoga style that suits you, but do you still feel attracted to yoga? Then try a different style. Different methods, styles and teachers are suitable for different types of people and different stages of your life. If it helps to calm the fluctuations of your mind, it is yoga, independent on the name of the style. Choose a style that helps you to stand on your yoga mat regularly. That is precisely when you get the most out of it.
Misunderstanding 2: yoga is only a physical practice (a sport)
Yes, yoga supports your health. And it is also a beautiful development that more and more people are discovering how yoga helps them to become physically healthier. However, yoga is so much more.
In the yoga philosophy (in the yoga sutra of Patanjali) yoga is described as an eightfold path:
- Yamas: a number of ethical principles that help you to live in connection with the world around you
- Niyamas: a number of ethical principles that help to make our inner experience more harmonious
- Asana: the practice of yoga postures (to physically create the comfort that supports the following steps)
- Pranayama: breathing exercises (which influences our emotions and the subtle energy flows in our body)
- Pratyahara: the interiorization and balancing of the senses (for example, we often use our sense to be able to see proportionally more than the other senses)
- Dharana: concentration or focus: learning to focus our mind on 1 point supports the attention needed for meditation
- Dhyana: meditation (as a state of being)
- Samadhi: a state of enlightenment and 'bliss' in which your individual consciousness merges with the universal consciousness
As you can see, practicing yoga postures is only 1 part (namely asana) of the eightfold path. However, practicing yoga postures often ensures that you also work on other paths. For example you also work on the yamas if you don't push yourself too far in your yoga postures so that you don't hurt yourself, if you dare to be honest where you are at the moment (by not doing too much but not too little either) and by using your energy in the 'right' way.
Misunderstanding 3: Yoga is for women only
It is actually not that long ago that women now also practice yoga. It used to be seen as something that was only reserved for men. Fortunately this is no longer the case. But this does not mean that it now turned into the opposite. Just like you are not too old, too late or too sick to start practicing yoga. You might have to search for a style that supports your current circumstances best, but whether you can practice yoga certainly not depend on whether you are able to put your body in a complicated physical demanding yoga posture. Yoga is for all people. Yoga is for everyone who is interested in this. For every body!
Misunderstanding 4: Yoga is too woolly
Okay, I get it. I just explained above that yoga is not just about putting your body in a certain form. But that doesn't mean it has to be woolly. On the contrary, if a situation of 'spiritual bypassing' arises, it is not really yoga. Yoga is actually a very pragmatic method.
It does not help to ignore the circumstances in your life where you are struggle with. You can, however, use them for your own transformation. That does not mean that suddenly life is easy. Though, it can help you to feel more satisfaction and gratitude in your life.
Nor does yoga say that you no longer should use your brain. However, it can help you a lot if your heart and mind start working together. Does this sound too woolly? How do you feel when you do something that makes you very excited? You can still do this with two feet on the floor and while using your brain. That's even preferable. ;-)
Did the end up in a yoga class that felt too woolly for you? Then maybe just try a different style or a yoga class from another teacher.
Misunderstanding 5: yoga is not physically challenging enough
There are many ways to practice yoga. And with that also a great diversity in the physical challenge. A number of styles that are physically intensive are for example bikram yoga, ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga and iyengar yoga.
You also learn to perform the postures more specifically over time. Because of this you learn, among other things, to use more and more muscles of your body. You will not be the first person to find out that one has muscles in places you have never felt them before.
Personally, I have been asked often whether I was or should also do a cardio sport besides my yoga practice. My experience with yoga is that it can be an amazing tool to train your heart muscle. Precisely because yoga asana increases the heart rate in one posture and decreases again in another. You also learn your heart to better work together with your lungs.
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