Ever since I can remember there always seems to have been two commonly held myths about practicing yoga. The first being:
Yoga myth 1) “Surely you have to be thin to be able to practice yoga?”
There is a misconception that you somehow have to look like something out of a fashion magazine in order to be able to achieve yoga postures. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is suitable for every type of body, small, large, rounder or thinner and the benefits can be enjoyed by all. It can be practiced by the very young, right up to old age, by those with a larger body or those who are slim, by those who are pregnant and even by those who may have sustained an injury.
In our culture, it is wrongly assumed that a bigger body is either inflexible or unhealthy or both. In reality, nothing can be presumed from just looking at someone’s size or stature. In reality, a person’s size, weight or BMI is not a reflection of how physically fit someone is or how frequently they exercise or the level to which they practice yoga. Yoga is a wonderful way of using the body positively and becoming happy in our own skin, through releasing the idea that we have to look like an unobtainable perfection that the media falsely peddles to us daily.
Yoga helps us to realise that our bodies are a gift. Bigger bodies in reality can also do the most incredible things, and as with any type of fitness activity or exercise, creating a regular, safe practice enables our bodies to develop positively. Regular yoga practice helps us in creating a healthy lifestyle and tap into mind, body co-ordination and balance. It enables us to take back our personal power, bringing us in harmony with ourselves. This is a personal journey, rather than a competition. There is no need to compare ourselves to others as we are all different and understanding and embracing this is where the real freedom of yoga lies. Every individual body is unique, so not every posture works for everybody. The most important thing is to focus inward and listen to your own body and know what is right for you.
Yoga myth 2) “You have to be flexible to be able to do yoga”
This statement assumes that if you are flexible, you will, in turn be better at yoga. In reality, whilst the more flexible may be able to easily touch their toes in a forward fold or reach their feet in head to knee pose, extreme flexibility can actually be quite problematic. The very bendy body (the hypermobile) have an increased risk of sustaining injury, unless the individual is mindful of their practice. This can also be an issue during pregnancy, as the ligaments are more relaxed. Greater care is required if this is the case.
When considering this mis-conception, we need to remember that the goal of yoga in itself is not merely to become more flexible. Whilst flexibility most certainly improves with regular practice, and is desirable to obtain, there are a wealth of other benefits to be gained as well. Flexibility alone, we must remember, is not the only factor in achieving different yoga postures. Physical strength also has an important part to play. Yoga postures (asanas) help us to build our strength, as well as our flexibility. Balance too is a very fundamental part of any yoga practice. Whilst one person may be able to put their hands flat on the floor in a forward fold (uttansana), they may equally lack in the balance department. It is important to remember we are all different and as with anything in life, there are things that some may find harder that come to others with ease.
Yoga is not something that’s just for the young, thin and flexible; it is an ancient practise that really can be of great benefit to anyone who’s open to the possibilities. Yoga can be adapted to anyone and everybody. It’s not about being good at something, it’s about being good to yourself!
Yoga postures give us the ability to focus on being present within our physical bodies, accepting ourselves in this moment, exactly as we are. This enables us to have control over our thoughts, keeping them positive and uplifting. Sometimes the trickiest thing can be releasing the constant stream of negativity that we hold within ourselves, which undermines us, removing our confidence and self-worth. Often, it almost seems as if we are at war with our own bodies. It can be demanding, but with a regular practice we can quickly reap great rewards, including improved strength, flexibility and balance, a greater sense of inner peace, calm and control and perhaps most importantly self-acceptance.
Yoga is one of the best available tools to overcome the viscous cycle of self-deprecation and help us to learn to embrace our minds and our bodies as they are today.