But for first-timers, yoga can be absolutely intimidating. Those virtuoso yogis always seem to be balancing on their heads while playing a ukulele in one hand and writing poetry with the other. Or something like that.
Before you write off yoga as a practice for your artsy, flexible friends, take a moment to reconsider. You don't need to be able to do a headstand to reap the benefits of the ancient art. To equip you with the facts, we asked yoga instructors Vyda Bielkus, co-founder of Boston's Health Yoga Life, and Eva Norlyk Smith, managing editor for YogaU Online, to help debunk some common yoga myths. Discover some yoga truths below, then let us know why you like to get bendy in the comments section.
You Have To Be Flexible To Practice
Think you're not flexible enough to take a yoga class? "That's exactly why you should start," Bielkus explains. "Yoga can help you gain some flexibility quite quickly." Really -- don't sweat it if you can't touch your toes: There are subtle adjustments you can make to every pose so that you benefit from the movement but aren't in pain. Bielkus suggests taking a private lesson to learn how to make the modifications in future classes, or signing up for a smaller session that provides close, individual attention.
"It’s really not about what the posture looks like from the outside," adds Smith. So if your pose doesn't mirror your agile neighbor's, you needn't worry. "There is an important process that happens no matter where you are in the posture -- yoga is an exploration of what your body is capable of doing, and how you can transform your body over time." As Dr. Judith Lasater puts it, “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down.”
Yoga Is Expensive
You argue your wallet can't handle a $30/class yoga habit, and that's certainly fair. But paying out of pocket per class is not your only option. Both Smith and Bielkus mention community and donation-based classes that don't cost a thing. Many studios promote monthly packages and discounts: Once you find a class you love, you can take advantage of its special offers. Bielkus says her studio offers a volunteer program: Yogis can volunteer to clean, maintain or do administrative work in exchange for classes. If this option interests you, ask your teacher about the possibility after class.
You can even bring your practice home, once you get the basics down. "You don't have to go to a studio all the time," Bielkus says. "It's good to get a sense of what you're doing in a class," and revisit for a refresher every now and again.
Yoga Doesn't Count As Exercise
This simply is not so. Take the right kind of class and you'll leave covered in sweat. "There are some types that are as aerobic and challenging as any workout you can find," says Smith. Bielkus agrees: "Yoga definitely counts as exercise ... It works on all of the body systems, like the nervous system, the cardiovascular system -- it's a total body workout in that regard." There are more athletic styles -- like Vinyasa and power yoga -- where you'll experience an immediate increase in your heart rate, but even some breathing techniques, like kundalini, will have you sweating pretty quickly, Bielkus says.
But lest you think yoga needs flashy add-ons to keep it interesting, our yoga experts explain: The root of the practice is anything but boring. "Yoga is all about what happens inside," Smith says. "It is the constant exploration of the finer nuances in your body, and the reaction your body has to different postures." Yoga means you're always learning. Again, it's all about finding the class and instructor that gets you ticking. "If the teacher has an inspirational message that speaks to you, you'll keep coming back," Bielkus says.
You Have To Have A Spiritual Side
Does that opening chanting and om-ing discourage you from yoga? You're not alone, so luckily there are plenty of classes that do without any of these kinds of exercises. If your class does sneak in a hum or two, don't freak: Bielkus suggests viewing the chanting as an exercise in getting to know your own voice, or as a practice that connects you with your community.
And, while yoga developed from spiritual roots, there are endless class offerings that have nothing to do with religion. "I think that most people coming to yoga classes in America today are not coming for any spiritual intention," Bielkus says. Though the instructor suggests you might accidentally happen upon your spiritual side if you keep up with a practice. "I think that yoga can lead to being a little more inquisitive about your own journey through life -- maybe purpose and meaning will become more of a focus for you [since the practice often has you turning inward], but it really doesn't have to."
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