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7 Misconceptions About Yoga, as Learned from a Yogi in Training

gwyneth-made-me-do-it-logophotoAt the beginning of the year, I was offered a free one-month membership to a not-so-local yoga studio by my fellow blogging buddy Sarah. Even though the studio was a good 35 minutes from my house, something told me I should accept this unexpected gift and give it a go. It had been years since I had practiced yoga on any sort of consistent basis, and even when I was attending a studio in my late twenties, it was a hardcore Bikram yoga studio, which emphasized hard work and lots of sweat. Since leaving a regular practice 10 years ago, I had tried an occasional class here and there, usually at my local gym, and was quite frankly bored to death. Lying in the final resting pose of savasana, my mind would race with all the very important things I had to get to. Then I would usually leave class with the feeling that I needed to run five miles to actually get a “real workout” in. Yoga was clearly not for me.

But despite my previous reservations and preconceived notions, when I got the offer to try out that far away studio, something inside of me knew I was ready to try again. Just two months after enjoying a very inspiring, beautiful, and HARD month of classes at that studio, I am hooked to yoga. I’ve found a studio I enjoy and is much closer to home, I’ve purchased the unlimited class pass, and today, I begin a 30-day yoga challenge where I will commit to practicing every day for the next month. I am ridiculously excited, and as I type away at this article, I am giddily looking forward to my noon time class.

So how did I go from hating to loving yoga in such a short amount of time? And what have I grown to love so much about it? For starters, I feel amazing for days afterwards. During my third pregnancy, I started to get horrible backaches, which have just seemed to worsen over time. Some days the pain is so distracting I can barely work or sleep, tossing and turning throughout the night. Yoga makes it feel better than a chiropractic adjustment and has worked more quickly than any amount or type of core strength training I’ve ever done. I immediately feel the benefits of a good yoga practice, which continue on for two to three days at a time. Beyond just giving me a good stretch, it has also built strength in my arms I didn’t even think was achievable, and I have the guns to prove it. And plain and simple, practicing yoga just makes me feel happy. In general, if you find a good studio, no matter how deeply or lightly rooted it may be in spiritual teachings, yoga teachers are trained to say the right things during your practice. They are a happy, encouraging, positive group of folks, and it’s almost impossible to not pick up on their lovely energy when you take a class. No one is yelling at you or making it a competition, but the practice of yoga, while often done in crowded sweaty rooms, is very much a personal experience and journey, and one which should never be compared.

As I share my burgeoning love for yoga more and more, I’ve been met with skeptical questions and sideways glances from friends who find it a bit hard to believe that someone like me would fall in love with yoga. It seems a lot of people have preconceived notions about the practice of yoga, myself included, so I thought I’d lay some of those notions to rest. Clearly yoga doesn’t need me as a pro-yoga spokesperson, as it is one of the oldest and most widely practiced forms of exercise out there. However, any extra PR for the practice I’ve fallen head over heels in love with is never a bad thing.

Here are 7 Common Misconceptions About Yoga…

1. Yoga Is Easy

Before I really tried yoga, I always thought it was too easy, and I’d never get a real workout in practicing yoga. After my very first real class at a studio, as I left shaking and both exhausted and energized, I knew I clearly had never taken the right type of yoga class. From Ashtanga to Iyengar to Vinyasa, there are a number of types of yoga practice that focus on strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance in a challenging and sometimes exhausting way. Chances are, if you’re not feeling challenged during your practice, you’re taking the wrong type of class for your end goals. As my sweaty clothes prove after an intense 70-minute Iyengar practice, yoga is anything but easy.

2. It Is Too Spiritual

Not necessarily so. While some studios focus very heavily on the spiritual side of yoga, a form of exercise that is rooted in Hinduism and has been practiced for 5,000+ years, there are plenty of studios and gyms that focus purely on the physical benefits of it, with some instructors falling somewhere in between. I’ve taken classes from teachers who were all business, and walked around to each student, making adjustments to our poses which pushed our bodies further than we thought possible, and I’ve been in classes which included guided chanting. For me personally, I prefer sticking to the more physical side of it and take the light spiritual talk with a grain of salt. To clarify though, there is no rule that says in order to successfully practice yoga, one must believe in Buddha.

3. Yoga Is Boring

Again, if you’re taking something gently like a restorative yoga class which focuses on lots of slow steady stretching and even some meditation, yes, yoga can be a bit of a bore. I hear you. But if you keep your mind open and are willing to try different studios, classes, and teachers, you will undoubtedly find a class where you will be exhilarated and enthused to keep going back to. I’ve taken classes with powerful loud music or even modern alternative music, and I’ve had teachers joke with us through postures. Finding the right class for you may require some time and patience, and most definitely an open mind, but because there are so many unique styles of yoga practices, eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.

4, You Have to Be Flexible

To be a show-off in class, you should be flexible (kidding!), but if you’re totally inflexible, like me, yoga is the perfect thing for you since it continually focuses on stretching and lengthening your muscles and ligaments. I’ve never been able to do the splits, even when I was a little girl, and yoga is helping me get closer and closer to my goal of pulling off a split, with each class I take.

5. You Have to Have Great Balance

One of my most favorite yoga teachers always says that falling (out of balance poses) is always part of the process in yoga, and encourages us to see the beauty in the fall because it means we’re testing and pushing our limits. I love looking at it this way, especially since balance can be such a tricky thing to achieve on a consistent basis. The days I’m tired, my balance suffers, but the days where balance is on point, I feel amazingly inspired.

6. You Don’t Get a Real Workout

Ha! Come with me to heated flow yoga, and tell me if you still think that. My arms have never been so toned, especially my biceps, and I’ve never been able to hold a plank the way I can now after just three months of consistent yoga practice. I have done almost every workout under the sun, including running, kickboxing, Pilates, barre fitness, boot camp, and spin class, and yoga is just as good, if not better, of a workout as some of the mentioned forms of exercise. This is not to say that your body won’t or shouldn’t benefit by switching up your workout routine with different forms of exercise, but rest assured that if you find the right yoga class, you will most certainly get a good workout.

7. Yoga Is Great Because You Can Let Your Mind Wander

I naively thought I’d be able to mentally draft to-do lists, grocery lists, and write entire blog posts in my head during yoga. Other forms of practice are so dizzying busy you can barely think, but yoga is calm and slow, so I can really let my mind wander during my practice. Right? Wrong! Yoga requires a lot of mental presence and focus, and without that focus, you lose your breath and fall out of postures. Yoga has done amazing things for my body, but what it does for my mind during that hour may just be the biggest benefit. In an age where some of us (guilty as charged) are used to constantly checking in on our mobile devices or sitting in front of a computer screen for hours at a time, yoga has made me slow down, focus, concentrate, and pay attention to the presence. At least while I am in class. I still have a ways to go in learning to live a life less distracted, but it’s a damn good start.

I’ve pleaded my case and I hope I’ve at least inspired some of you who doubt to give yoga a try. Many years ago, I don’t think I was ready for yoga — mentally or physically. I turned 38 last week though, and the good thing that often comes with aging is the accumulation of wisdom. I’m at the point in my life where I am more in tune to what my body needs, and what my mind needs, and most importantly, I’m more open to listening and paying attention, instead of foolishly pushing that inner voice aside. But many times, that inner voice is the one that knows you best.

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