12 Yoga Myths to Stop Believing

If the ubiquity of yoga pants and associated gear hasn't already given it away, yoga is making its mark on American culture. In fact, according to a "Yoga in America" survey conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, as of 2016 there were approximately 36.7 million yoga practitioners in America, up from 20.4 million in 2012. That's growth of more than 50 percent in just four years.

But just because yoga has made its way into the collective American psyche, that doesn't mean all the information people have about the practice is true. In fact, numerous yoga myths abound—many of them seemingly conflicting—and it's time to set them straight. If you hold any of the following misconceptions about yoga, here's a more realistic explanation of the practice. 


You Have to Be Flexible to Do Yoga

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Saying you have to be flexible to do yoga is like saying you have to be in shape to go to the gym, or that you have to be clean to take a shower. There may be a relationship between yoga and flexibility, but being flexible isn't a prerequisite to do yoga.

"You don't have to touch your toes to practice yoga. If you want to touch your toes, bend your knees," says Kelly DiNardo, a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), owner of Past Tense yoga studio in Washington, DC, and the co-author of Living the Sutras. "Whether or not you're flexible should not dictate whether you practice. Over time, yoga can help you become more flexible—that's why we call it practice—but you don't have to be Gumby-like to start. Flexibility is a result of yoga, not a prerequisite."


Yoga Is for the Thin, Young, and Beautiful

The image of yoga in America is of thin, bendy, beautiful young women flocking to studios and beaches to complete pretzel-like body contortions that they then post to social media. The image is attractive, of course, and it's certainly helped inspire an interest in the practice of yoga, but it's a misleading representation of the true image (and intent) of yoga. 

"It pains me to think that people are intimidated to go to yoga based on what they see online," says Jenay Rose, a 500-hour RYT, online fitness coach and wellness influencer. "Yoga is for you, me, our sisters, brothers, nephews, grandparents. Yoga is for all. In fact, yoga means union."

According to the 2016 Yoga in America survey, only 19-percent of American practitioners fell into the 18-29 age bracket, with the vast majority of practitioners over age 30, and 38-percent of them falling into the "50+" category.

Regarding the "thin" misconception, it's just flat-out wrong. You do not have to be thin (or conventionally beautiful) to practice yoga—yoga is inclusive and welcoming, and as Rose pointed out, it's a practice for all. Just check out the rockin' Instagram pages of yogis like Jessamyn Stanley and Amber Karnes who prove yoga is accessible for anyone at any size in truly epic fashion. 


Yoga Is a Religion

For the uninitiated Westerner, there's a lot about yoga that may appear "religious," and certainly, there's a spiritual element to the practice, but it's important to understand that yoga itself is not a religion.

"I hear this myth a lot among Christians," says Brad Ormsby, of Freedom Genesis, a yoga and meditation blog. "This comes from yoga's Indian roots where mantras and chants have been used for many years. They're meant to bring focus and help you awaken internally, but they're not required to practice yoga." 

And even if you decide to join in with the mantras and chants, you're not "converting to yoga" as if you were converting to a new religion. "There's a spiritual element that encourages you to connect with a higher power, but it's non-denominational, so you can do yoga as a practitioner of any religion," says Christa Fairbrother, a 500-hour RYT and the owner of Bee Content Yoga.  


Only Vegetarian Hippies Do Yoga

It's true that yoga is a practice that encourages self-awareness, love, and connection with the world. As practitioners become more mindful and conscientious of their actions, many do make choices that seem "hippie-like" to the outside world.

According to the 2016 Yoga in America survey, half of yoga practitioners do say they "live green, eat sustainably, and donate time to their community"—all positive attributes, by the way—but that means half don't claim to do those things. So let the record state, there is no requirement for yogis to give up meat, join a commune, or stop using commercially-made deodorant. 


Yoga Is Only About Stretching

Believe it or not, yoga is not about stretching. Yes, when you go to a typical yoga class, you're taken through a series of asanas (poses) that look and feel a lot like stretching, but the physical element of yoga is just a piece of the bigger picture. 

"Yoga is about the breath," says Rose. "The true goal of yoga is to move your body, connect with your breath, and be in the present moment. The actual only 'goal' is to release excess energy so that you can sit and meditate, classically speaking." 

This is why yoga is considered a practice rather than a workout. Being a practitioner isn't just about what happens for sixty minutes on your yoga mat, it's about what you take from that 60-minute session to carry with you throughout the rest of your day. 


Yoga Is Too Easy

To be fair, there are some "easy" poses in yoga, that is, if you're defining "easy" as "not physically challenging." Savasana and child's pose both come to mind as poses that won't necessarily make you break a sweat.

If you're the type who likes to run hard, lift heavy weights, buzz through a high-intensity interval training session, and just generally get sweaty, you may look at yoga and think, "Ugh, that's way too slow and low-key for me." You may even think, "My workout time is precious, why would I waste it on something that's less effective than my usual routine?" 

"Yoga is not necessarily conventionally "hard," but it's a lot more challenging than many people think," says Kim Kirkpatrick-Thornton, MS, a YogaFit instructor and an Exercise and Sport Science Instructor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB). "Poses involve muscles that aren't frequently used or aren't typically held in a static or isometric contraction. Not to mention, yoga poses put your body in less-than-familiar positions." The result? Beginners are likely to walk out of class thinking, "Woah, that was harder than I expected." 

For those of you who still feel skeptical about "wasting" precious workout time on yoga, consider the following:

  1. Yoga isn't intended to be a workout in the traditional sense, but you can make it as hard or easy as you like. For athletes who don't appreciate the basic downward dogs and child's poses, there are a slew of yoga poses, like crow, or scorpion, that offer an incredible challenge. 
  2. Yoga offers many health benefits aside from calorie-burn that many athletes would benefit from. Balance, coordination, static strength, flexibility, and mindfulness are all benefits of practicing yoga, and they're also considered skill-related components of fitness that can improve overall performance in your chosen sport or activity. 
  3. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Yoga is often a struggle for athletes because it forces them to work in ways they don't typically work. Just because something looks easy, doesn't mean it is. 

Yoga Is Too Hard

Kirkpatrick-Thornton points out the other big myth she hears is seemingly opposite of the first—that yoga is too hard, or more specifically, "beyond my capability." 

"Yoga may seem unfamiliar to someone who hasn't done it," says Kirkpatrick-Thornton, and many people are scared to step out of their comfort zones to try something new. They may be afraid they can't do the poses, that they won't be able to follow along, or in the case of athletes, that they'll feel inept when they typically feel confident taking on physical challenges. 

Kirkpatrick-Thornton emphasizes that if fear is holding you back, it's an indicator you might want to try yoga, anyway. "Some of the greatest lessons I've learned through yoga are to listen to my body, progress at my own pace, and to let go of judgment and criticism, both of myself and others," she says. "Plus, there are a variety of positions and modifications for poses that allow for individual differences and ability levels." 


You Shouldn't Do Yoga During Pregnancy

While it can feel difficult at times, exercise is good for a healthy pregnancy, and yoga is considered a safe and low-impact option for moms-to-be, as long as you practice safely.

"Yes, you should do yoga during pregnancy, but with caution," says Simone Tucker, MS, a 200-hour RYT and Exercise and Sport Science Instructor at UMHB. "During pregnancy, and to a lesser extent during menstruation, the female body produces the hormone relaxin. Relaxin's function is to prepare the body for the upcoming delivery by relaxing, or making your muscles, connective tissue, and joints more flexible. While this leads to a greater range of motion, it also makes it easier for expecting mothers to overreach during yoga practice, possibly leading to injury." 

Tucker emphasizes that more experienced yogis should listen closely to their bodies and stay within their pre-pregnancy limits during each practice. New yogis should take a more proactive approach to safety, as they may not know what their limits are. Tucker says they should work with a qualified yoga instructor and may want to attend specific prenatal yoga classes.


You Need Expensive Tools and Apparel to Do Yoga

Sure, you can head to lululemon and stock up on name-brand yoga apparel, gear, and accessories, spending hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars, but there's absolutely no reason to go broke to start a practice.

"You do not have to have the right look or clothes to go to yoga. That's absurd," says Val Minos, a 200-hour RYT and the creator of Alt-Yoga Vibe. "Yoga isn't about the look, it's about moving the breath through the body and finding a deeper connection with self."

To be clear, you can do that while wearing anything you want, whether it's comfy pajamas or the athletic gear you already have on hand. Not to mention, most yoga studios have mats you can rent and props you can borrow, so there's really nothing for you to spend money on before your first class. 


Doing Yoga Poses Is Embarrassing

If sticking your glutes high up in the air feels a little uncomfortable in a class filled with other students, you're not alone. "Students often tell me that they're afraid of the class environment as they don't want to be 'watched,'" says Calli De La Haye, a 500-hour RYT and the co-founder of Kalimukti Yoga. "I wish they knew that most of the practitioners are so in the 'zone' they hardly notice what people around them are doing." 

While you may feel a little self-conscious performing certain poses, if you're paying attention to your breath and trying to perfect your alignment, you won't have time to think about the people around you. And that should tell you something—if you're too engrossed to check out the rear ends of your fellow yogis, then they're too engrossed to check out yours.


Real Men Don't Do Yoga

"I've never seen a 'No Boys Allowed' sign on a studio door," says DiNardo. "In fact, yoga was started by men. Historically, some of the greatest yoga teachers have been men. And today, more and more men, including LeBron James, Evan Longoria, and Tom Brady, practice yoga. 

If you're still not convinced yoga is a "manly" enough activity for you, take a cue from a 6'6", 240-pound, former division 1 football-player and check out Gaiam's Athletic Yoga DVD. It features Kevin Love, a professional basketball player, doing the flow. Seeing Love wobble through the practice may give you the confidence you need to keep working on your own skills.


Yoga Takes Too Much Time

Lots of formal yoga classes are 30, 60, or 90 minutes long, but the idea that you have to commit yourself to an hour of yoga to reap its benefits is far from reality.

"Anyone can go online these days and find a yoga class that's 5, 10, or 15 minutes long," Minos says. "Making the excuse of time being the key factor in not doing something for yourself is something I wish people would rethink. If you have 10 minutes to watch TV or get on the computer, you have time for yoga!" 

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  1. Yoga Alliance. 2016 Yoga in America Study Conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance Reveals Growth and Benefits of the Practice.

  2. Gothe NP, McAuley E. Yoga Is as Good as Stretching-Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016;71(3):406–411. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv127