Whenever I invite non-yogi friends to join me for a class, their usual response is ‘Oh but I’m not flexible enough’. It seems that many people believe that they already need to be flexible/slim/spiritual before they can even try yoga, but being ‘perfect’ at yoga is entirely the opposite of what yoga is all about. Even some of the best teachers still fall out of poses in their own practice.
Which is why I want to clear up some of the misconceptions about what yoga is and isn’t…
YOGA IS FOR GIRLS – wrong! Yoga was traditionally a male practice. Bikram Choudhury, B.K.S Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois are all male, and are all founders of three of the most commonly practiced forms of yoga in the West: Bikram, Iyengar and (my personal favourite), Ashtanga Vinyasa. So whilst when we think of a ‘yogi’ we might conjure up images of athletic young women in funky yoga shorts and cropped tops, the practice is a fantastic workout for both men and women.
YOGA IS JUST STRETCHING AND BREATHING – Wrong! Whilst it’s true that ‘the breath’ is one of the most important aspects of the practice and stretching out those tired limbs is great for increasing your flexibility and cooling down effectively, yoga is a tough workout!
Where do you think all these yogis get toned arms and flat abs from? It isn’t from flexing down at the gym. No, yogis build their muscles slowly, transitioning from high plank to low plank to upward facing dog, working every core muscle as they flow. Add to that a 30-40 degree heated studio and you’ve got yourself quite a workout.
YOGA IS FOR SLIM, FLEXIBLE PEOPLE WITH DANCER-LIKE BODIES – Wrong again! Yoga is for men, women, tall people, short people, curvy bodies, slim bodies and everything in between. Whilst the physical benefits of yoga will no doubt help to slim you down and tone you up, it’s the psychological benefits that will really have an impact on your day to day life. As I mentioned in ‘my yoga journey’ post, it was yoga that helped me to change my attitude and turn me into a more positive and grateful person.
YOGA IS ALL ABOUT HEADSTANDS AND HOW FAR YOU CAN BEND – nope.
Now I myself have been known to be a little competitive, but I like to think this is in a positive sense. For example, along with my yoga practice, I attend a fitness bootcamp on Clapham Common. Initially, when I first joined the camp, I was one of the fastest runners, especially amongst the girls. So, in order to push myself I would often race with one of the boys. Now, the camp is fuller and many of my friends are faster and stronger than me. But rather than seeing this as a negative thing, I think it’s a brilliant opportunity to push myself to train harder and run faster. Sometimes my friends win the race, sometimes I do, but it doesn’t matter because we all get fitter in the process.
And it’s the same with yoga. I often practice with my friend Charlotte. She is super tall with legs up to her armpits whilst I’m a petite 5”3. So when it comes to our practice, what we can do is vastly different. Whilst she can get into a trikanasana (triangle)no problem, my short legs coupled with an ongoing lower back injury make it one of the most difficult postures for me. But, it’s much easier for me to walk my little legs up into a head stand whilst her long legs can sometimes get in the way. That’s the beauty of yoga though. It doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, how bendy or non-flexible you are, the practice is all about YOU. Improve yourself and let others work on themselves.
So, whether you’ve never thought of practising yoga before or have secretly always wanted to give it a try, go for it! I promise you won’t regret it.