1.) You have to be flexible
2.) It’s a type of religion or a cult
3.) It’s only for athletic and young people
4.) It’s weird
5.) It’s boring
I have been practicing yoga for nearly 30 years and I assure you that all of these and none of these are true. Let’s break it down….
1. You do have to be flexible but only just flexible enough to be open to what yoga might offer. This type of flexibility has nothing to do with your physical body. Mental or psychological flexibility is underrated! Flexibility in body, mind, and spirit supports inner resilience so that you don’t get “bent out of shape” by the little things and you can better handle the big things.
2. Yoga is distinctly not a religion. Some people are so enamored with it that they treat it, at best, like a religion, and at worst, like a cult, but it was not designed in this way. As with any industry or group endeavor, there is always the possibility of people with authority taking advantage of their students/learners or those who are vulnerable. Yoga is a system of principles and practices to help the learner see life more clearly, be less reactionary, and create a strong inner foundation from which to operate.
3. Nearly every image you see advertising yoga (still) promotes the idea that yoga
is predominantly for white women between ages 20-40 wearing Prana or Lululemon yoga gear and doing aspirational poses like deep backbends or arm balances. Other yoga practices like adaptive, restorative, yin, devotional, do not get the same air time. There are so many different types of yoga for different bodies, stages of life, and interests that this short article could turn into an entire book. Yoga is for everyone but it's imperative to find the right “type” and sometimes the right teacher to make the connection.
4. Yoga can definitely be weird. Especially if you are not accustomed to inner-examination, yoga can seem very weird and possibly a little scary. There are weird phrases to help students make body-mind connections. Some teachers use the Sanskrit terminology when referring to poses. There may be chanting. The breathing practices could also seem weird. What’s not weird about a practice that ends with death (corpse pose)? More often than not, it’s the good kind of weird.
5. Years ago I remember teaching an evening class, which was a bit slower and quieter to prepare for rest, and a new woman to the class seemed to struggle throughout. She appeared restless and annoyed. Afterwards when I chatted with her she said she found it “boring” and that it just made her tired. It occurred to me that she wasn’t accustomed to connecting to her internal experience (and if she had trauma there is good reason why she wouldn’t want to) so all of the instructions to access subtler internal experiences didn’t land with her. If you feel safe enough to go inside of yourself, you will find that there is no way to be bored with the many subtle layers to discover. As you learn more about yourself and start to listen on deeper levels, you will find yourself making new choices naturally that lead towards more alignment and beneficial experiences. Your choices around your priorities and daily routine will start to change.
Ultimately, finding the right teacher is essential. There are many “right” teachers just as there are many teachers who won’t be a good fit. The right teacher will....
help you feel comfortable and at ease in class
help you feel safe and included
find out a little about you before you start and offer modifications
help settle your nervous system through their pacing
teach to the needs of the class and not their personal physical skill
work to find the balance of being open and vulnerable and not sharing too much (TMI)
In the end, the practices of yoga are to help you see clearly, build inner resources, and have agency in your own health and life. It’s good to be able to do it on your own and it’s good to have a community to practice with.