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If yoga has taught me anything about fear, it’s that the reality is usually not as scary as what I’ve made it out to be in my mind. The more often I practice Handstand, for example, the less afraid I am of it. I think the same is true for the practice as a whole—the more we confront the things that might scare us, the more we’ll see it for what it really is: a highly individual practice that can be modified to help people from all walks of life.
Here are the five scariest things I can think of about practicing yoga (and my musings as to why they’re not so scary after all).
1. Yoga injuries
Injuring yourself doing something that is supposed to be healing is pretty scary. The threat of injury in yoga is very real—both students and teachers make mistakes—but if you weigh the myriad benefits of the practice, it’s well worth the risk. Finding a knowledgeable teacher reduces the risk of injury. Committing to honoring your own body and not pushing yourself into positions that don’t feel safe is even more important. For me, NOT practicing and instead dealing with the stress, physical discomfort, and monkey mind that accompany that are a lot scarier.
2. Power-hungry “gurus”
I hate hearing stories about yoga teachers who take advantage of their relationships with students. As a student, you can choose to follow someone who professes to be a guru or you can simply find a good teacher who you trust to guide you through poses and offer some insights along the way. Either way, you should never be afraid to say “Nope. That doesn’t seem like a good idea for me, teacher.”
3. Misunderstanding yoga
I’ll never forget the time I brought a friend with me to a yoga class. We unrolled our mats in a crowded San Francisco studio and I saw my friends eyes widen as she pointed to the Shiva statue at the front of the room. “What is THAT!?” she asked. When I told her it was just a statue, she said, “Well, I’m not going to worship it.” Okay. Neither am I. Yoga can certainly be a religious or spiritual experience if you want it to be, but it is also being present in your body and your thoughts.
It’s true. Yoga teachers are out to get your money—that’s how they pay their bills. In fact, yoga has become such a big business that it sometimes feels that someone is trying to sell us something everywhere we turn. Expensive yoga retreats, yoga leggings, yoga doodads. How do you know what you really need? Here’s a clue: You don’t NEED any of it. Unfortunately, commercialism can shift the focus of the practice to things that don’t matter. But you don’t have to buy into that. Focus on your practice—tune out the bells and whistles.
5. Not fitting in
It can be scary to walk into a room and feel like you stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, there are teachers who are working diligently to make the practice more accessible are debunking the perception that you have to look a certain way or align with a certain stereotype to practice. Yoga is for every body, no matter what your shape, size, age, or gender.
This article has been updated. Originally published October 23, 2012.
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