If there's one thing I've learned about yoga, it's that there are no absolutes in this practice. What works for one person might not work for someone else. What works for you today, might not work tomorrow. It's an incredibly versatile practice that can be modified to suit almost any need or taste. So it bugs the heck out of me when I hear people make generalizations or put labels on the practice of yoga. Here are just a few of the most common misconceptions I've heard--and why I don't buy them!
1. Yoga is just for _____ people. You can fill in the blank. I've heard it all. "I'm not flexible enough. I'm not thin enough. I'm not young enough." Yoga accepts you wherever you are. There are no rules, no expectations, and no judgments. Anyone (and I mean ANYone!) can benefit from the practice of yoga as long as she or he is patient and approaches the practice with an open mind.
2. Yoga is easy, gentle stretching. There's a great deal of value in gentle yoga, but there are many styles and schools of yoga that are incredibly physically challenging. It takes strength, stamina, and flexibility. There's a class out there that will meet your needs--whether you're a dancer, triathlete, or tired grandma.
3. The purpose of yoga is physical fitness. A lot of people put yoga in the same category as a Zumba class because of its health benefits. But one of the reasons that asana practice is so great for you is that it mixes awareness and concentration with movement. In other words, yoga is a moving meditation! That's SO different from other fitness classes!
4. It conflicts with my religion. It's true that in some yoga studios, you might see a statue of the Hindu deity Shiva and hear some chanting. The first time I went to a studio like this, I was surprised. It seemed so foreign and different from anything I'd ever seen. I think of the Hindu references as tradition passed down from teacher to teacher, not a religious practice. No one has ever pushed any religion on me during a yoga class.
5. You have to become a health food nut, stop drinking alcohol, and give up all your material belongings. I sure hope this isn't true, because if it is I might be the worst yogi ever to walk the face of this earth. I think most tofu is yucky. I like junk food on occasion. I enjoy a good glass of wine. And I have a bit of an obsession with clothing--yoga clothing in particular. Is it wrong? Maybe. But my practice makes me more mindful of how I live in this world. Some day maybe I'll be a health nut or renunciate, but probably not ... and because of my yoga practice, I'm OK with that.