As a yoga teacher I know I have a bit of a bias when I say that every oneshould try yoga. While celebrities have helped to make yoga fashionable, most people know at least one person who swears by it. From lean muscles to peace of mind, yoga offers people a way to be more present in their lives while having beautifully tone arms. Why not?
When people find out I’m a yoga instructor I often hear about their odd misperceptions of yoga, like; it’s only for women; the men who go wear spandex and/or are gay; people spend the whole class passing gas; the chanting and Om thing are weird; or it’s just for hippies or liberals.
While there might occasionally be a class with only one or two men in it, I don’t hear those men complaining about being in a room full of women. I can only report seeing two men in spandex in the 14 years I’ve been practicing and it wasn’t anything impressive. And while I haven’t taken a formal survey, from what I can ascertain, there are as many straight men as gay men sweating on their mats.
The comment about gas always makes me giggle and seems to be the most amusing misperception. Do they imagine a room full of people just letting them rip? I would never put myself in that position on a regular basis regardless of getting paid or not. When it does happen, which is rare, it is usually mortifying for the person that “slipped one out”∗ and the other people in the room are just relieved it didn’t happen to them.
As for chanting and the classic Om sound, not every class includes this part of yoga. For those classes that do, you can just sit and listen to the pretty or sometimes no so pretty sound depending on how well the group harmonizes. Finally, while there are a lot of liberals and hippies who do yoga, not all hippies are yogis and not all yogis are hippies. It doesn’t cause some one to become more liberal, but it has been known to make people more kind. That’s not such a bad thing for conservatives or liberals or members of the green party.
Funny misperceptions aside, some people still think yoga is just not for them. It is to them I offer the following responses to the Top 5 Reasons People Haven’t Tried Yoga.
Yoga is too slow and boring
There are as many styles of yoga as there are personalities. In some classes you might only do 2-3 poses for 90-minutes, while others move so quickly your head will spin. Of course, there are classes in between these two extremes, but the point is there is a class just right for every type-A, average Joe or couch potato disposition.
That being said, one of the benefits of yoga is in getting you to slow down! Most of us are flying through our lives with so much to do, say, see, taste, etc. … that we’re exhausted at the end of the day, only to lay restlessly in our beds at night and get up to do it all over again the next day. Let’s face it … we’re stressed out! And our strategy to move quicker to be able to get more done is not working and worse, is making us sick.
A slower pace might be uncomfortable at first, but once you settle in, it often feels like a huge relief as you realize the world isn’t falling apart by your taking a few minutes to catch your breath.
As for finding the class that’s right for you, check with your friends for classes they like or talk to some one at the front desk of the yoga studio. They should be able to guide you to a few classes. If for some reason the first class didn’t work for you, try another one. Sometimes the teacher, the music or the style just wasn’t it, but there is bound to be one that is.
I’m not flexible
I totally understand this one. The yoga images most people see in advertisements these days look like an extreme game of Twister gone wrong. They even leave me feeling inadequately built for this practice. One of the points of yoga is to help people increase their flexibility. Flexibility is not a pre-requisite for yoga; it’s a benefit from practicing.
So, why is flexibility even important? Increasing your flexibility helps your body perform at its optimal level. If your joints don’t have their full rage of motion, they also lose their efficiency and strength. Think about if you pull a rubber band back only half way to it’s possible length and then snap it compared to the force of pulling it all the way back (My older brother taught me this lesson growing up. Ouch!) Flexibility can also help to relieve a lot of the aches and stiffness that come from being stuck in the same position for prolonged periods of time; like sitting at a desk or in your car all day or being on your feet for a whole shift. Flexibility is not just for show or party tricks, it is essential for the health of your body.
Yoga is against my religion
This is a tricky one to tackle because religion is so personal and close to people’s hearts it’s easy to offend people, so I’ll do my best to be gentle. While there are some styles of yoga that are devotional in their nature, most of the styles offered in the West are more scientific in their approach. The essence of the yoga practiced here is directed toward cultivating a healthy body and a peaceful mind; both of which support people of all faiths to live longer and happier lives. I have met yoga teachers and students from many different religions and overwhelmingly they have shared that their yoga practice has helped them to deepen their discipline, connection and affection for their own religion.
If you are still concerned about yoga contradicting your religion, I encourage you to find a teacher that shares your devotional views so you, too, can experience the full benefits of the practice, including delving deeper into your own faith. And if you still aren’t convinced, that’s okay too.
I will look ridiculous
Yes, you probably will. Just as with trying anything new, the first few times you try yoga you might feel (and even look) clumsy and awkward. But dare I say, “ Who cares?” One of the other benefits of yoga, if you stick with it past the awkward and clumsy phase, is that it will help you develop greater body awareness: this will not only make you more graceful in general, but it will also help you be able to pick up other physical skills more quickly and help you detect illnesses and diseases earlier on.
Most of us seem to have an adversarial relationship with our bodies as we try to force our will on it, only to have it eventually and often harshly remind us who’s really the boss. Unfortunately, this means we often ignore the subtle signs of an approaching illness instead of handling things when they are more handle-able. Learning to listen to your body might also lead to healthier food choices, smaller portions, and more sleep… in other words, better health. So, what’s the big deal with a few dorky moments?
I don’t know what to wear
It’s amazing that this one actually stops people from trying yoga, but it has stopped me from heading out for a fun night on the town, so I get it. Thus, the best things to wear for yoga are clothes you can easily move in and don’t mind sweating in. It seems to be a toss up between tight stretchy clothes and really baggy clothes, so really there is room for anything in between. I find tank tops better than sleeved shirts: people seem to fight with their sleeves whenever they take their arms over-head. It’s also a good idea to tuck your shirt in or wear one that is snug around your waist. Some of the poses will have you upside down or folding forward which will leave you swallowed up by your shirt climbing down over your head. And my favorite part, yoga is practiced barefoot… let your feet be free!
Most yoga studios will have all the other supplies you will need for your first few sessions, but once you get hooked it’s a good idea to buy your own yoga mat and any other props you discover you like.
So that’s it… yoga is not a big scary thing; it’s not a fad; and it’s not any of the other misperceptions you may have had. Although there might be styles you don’t like, or teachers you’re not into and even the occasional odd person practicing on the mat next to you; the majority of the people who have tried yoga love it. They love it for how it makes them feel; how it makes them look; and how it changes their lives for the better. Maybe it’s time you check it out now, too.