12 Facts You Should Know About Yoga

If the ubiquity of yoga pants and associated gear hasn't already given it away, yoga is making its mark on American culture. 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 a growth of more than 50 percent in just four years.

You may have had some preconceived notions about yoga that are keeping you from getting started. If that's the case, it's time to set the record straight. Here's a realistic explanation of the practice. 

1

You Don't 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."

2

Yoga Is for Everybody

Anybody can do yoga, regardless of age, body size, gender, ethnicity, or fitness level. Social media may have perpetuated the image of yoga in America to be thin, bendy, young women flocking to studios and beaches to complete pretzel-like body contortions. But the true image (and intent) of yoga goes beyond that.

"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."

You do not have to be thin or fit into a particular aesthetic 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. 

And you don't have to fit within a certain age bracket, either. According to the 2016 Yoga in America survey, only 19-percent of American practitioners fell into the 18-29 age bracket. The vast majority of practitioners over age 30 and 38-percent of them fell into the "50+" category. All ages—from kids to older adults—can reap the benefits of yoga.

3

Yoga Is Not a Religion

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

"This comes from yoga's Indian roots where mantras and chants have been used for many years," says Brad Ormsby of Freedom Genesis, a yoga and meditation blog. "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.  

4

You Don't Have to Be a Hippie to Practice Yoga

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. But you won't be shunned if you don't fit into the hippie lifestyle.

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 that yogis have no requirement to give up meat, join a commune, or stop using commercially-made deodorant. 

5

Yoga Is About More Than Stretching

When you go to a typical yoga class, you go 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." 

These are some of the reasons 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. 

6

Yoga Can Be As Easy or Challenging As You Make It

"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." 

If you're the type who likes to run hard, lift heavy weights, buzz through a high-intensity interval training session, and 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 less effective than my usual routine?" 

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 dog and child's pose, 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. 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. 
7

Yoga Is Modifiable

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, won't be able to follow along, or will feel inept when they typically feel confident taking on physical challenges. However, yoga isn't meant to be one-size-fits-all. The practice is actually quite customizable.

If certain yoga poses or sequences seem challenging, you can modify them to fit your body, ability, and needs. Yoga teachers often even provide modifications for more advanced poses to make them more accessible, so you shouldn't let fear hold m

"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," Kirkpatrick-Thornton says. "Plus, there are a variety of positions and modifications for poses that allow for individual differences and ability levels." 

8

You Can Do Yoga Even If You're Pregnant

While it can feel challenging 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 their limits. Tucker says they should work with a qualified yoga instructor and attend specific prenatal yoga classes.

9

You Don't 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. 

10

You Don't Have to Feel Self-Conscious in Class

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 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.

11

Yoga Is Gender-Neutral

It's probably no surprise to hear that yoga classes are likely to have more women in attendance than men. But that doesn't mean men can't join in on the benefits that this practice has to offer.

"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. 

12

Yoga Can Fit Into Your Schedule

Your yoga practice can take as much time as you prefer. Some formal yoga classes are 45, 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 TrialJ Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016;71(3):406–411. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv127