I had an interesting meeting recently to consult on a cancer retreat program. The owner was adamant that yoga was not to be apart of the program. I was confused as to why. So I asked her what she wanted for the physical/emotional and stress release elements in its place. And she said - 'gentle movement, breathing and meditation'. I was still confused. All of these elements are apart of the FULL yoga system and stemmed from it. But somehow, somewhere in the last 20 years we've made yoga into gymnastics and lost the elements of what it is truly about.
So today I'm going to debunk the most common myths about yoga, help you understand how yoga really is for everyBODY and give you my upfront helpful guide to starting yoga to ensure you get the most out of your free beginners class.
Yoga is more about self acceptance than gymnastic moves.
I had no idea (most people don't) that yoga was more about the art of self acceptance than it is about the physical sometimes pretzel like postures. I had no idea that there was actually a book on yoga (the yoga sutras) which is like the yogic bible that will blow your mind (it's like the holy grail!) until I did my yoga training. I thought yoga was just physical moves of arms and legs going everywhere with strange names that were somehow supposed to calm us down. That was until yoga became the love of my life when it eradicated anxiety out of my life and I was thirsty to know more about it. Today I want to crack open the Real Yoga System and help you understand what a powerful tool for personal joy, change and fulfillment it can be in your life.
" Yoga is not about self improvement, it's about self acceptance " Gurmukh
The Top Myths About Yoga
1. Yoga Is For Flexible People
You will soon learn below that the physical postures are not the point of yoga. And that the shape of the pose doesn't matter. No one comes to yoga being flexible. We become flexible by learning to breathe into body and our nerves begin to let go and then we become more flexible one breath at a time. Flexibility is not about loose muscles. Muscles if stretched can be stretched for kilometres. Nerves however can not. Tight nerves need to be massaged by the breath and deep states of relaxation until they begin to soften. So think of yoga as a big fat massage for both your actual nerves and your nervous system.
2. Yoga is for Hippies
If you want to know more about the rise and rise of yoga in the west (including all types of attendees like corporates, every day joe's, men and seniors) in the last few decades then read this blog. Yoga is literally for anyone seeking more peace, a deeper relationship with themselves and time out. Yoga is for anyone seeking an activity that helps them connect to the body, strengthen the body, loosen the body, calm the mind and form a deeper spiritual bond with yourself (who you are beyond what you can do in your day to day life).
3. Yoga Is For Spiritual People or A Religion
I've never met anyone coming to my class for the first time that feels like they are a 'spiritual person'. For starters, all of us are spiritual people. We all contain the human spirit, energy and something this is beyond just a mind and a body. You only have to see a baby be born to be wowed by the human experience and in that moment feel wowed at how it is we can make that happen, we know we are part of something bigger than ourselves even if we don't know what the 'bigger' part is. Everyone has questions about where we come from, where we go and what it is we are made of. Some of us 'spiritual types' or even everyday people are just more interested in researching or seeking the answers to those questions. Not that anyone has ever really found the answers to those questions. But the seeking part is fun.
Yoga doesn't tell us to be more 'spiritual' or to look outside ourselves for our answers or to connect to a particular 'god'. It tells us that we are essentially our own god, connected to all living things and that there is a greater force than us that connects all living things. What's unique about the yoga system is that it guides you towards asking those questions through self enquiry and learning to work differently with the mind so that you can tap into the power and essence of who you are. There is equal focus on body and mind and spirit within the yogic system and anyone who only teaches the spirit part is not practicing true yoga.
4. Yoga Should Feel Good All The Time
Ha! My first few yoga classes were pure torture. I felt sick, it gave me headaches, my whole body felt painful, by breath was shallow/stuck/forced and sometimes I would cry for no reason and had no idea why. It's for this reason that people never go back. But if you fully understand how yoga works you will know that yoga is working on releasing a whole lot of tension locked in places in your body you didn't know existed. It's like medicine! For me I wanted to know why it had such a strong effect on me. It's why I became hooked. The more we breathe through the tension the more we release and then you start getting those fab yoga highs and the inner calm and your practice begins to carry into your day. And then you know that yoga is working its magic. But it does take time.
"The more we breathe through the tension the more tension we release & the happier we feel for no good reason"
5. Yoga Is For Healthy Happy People
Every single person coming to my yoga class or retreat for the first time is dealing with either of two things: they are unhappy or unhealthy or both. It's why they are there. They are looking to improve their mental health and find a gateway to inner calm and someone told them yoga or meditation helped and so there they are. Terrified sometimes and feeling really awkward but still giving it a red hot go. I've also had an alarming amount of clients dealing with chronic debilitating health issues, that have come to the self realisation their stress is apart of that disease, seek out yoga to improve their fitness but in a gentle way that doesn't involve flogging themselves on a treadmill with a TV in their face flashing pictures of skinny weight lifting types.
I also want to clear up that all yogi's are a vegan myth. For starters I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian. I high five all my vegan friends (most of which don't even practice yoga) and in my heart I am all for the concepts of veganism, it's just that my body totally doesn't agree with it. So let's get rid of the idea that all yogi's are vegan. Or healthy for that matter. I was watching a very well known senior international yoga teacher the other day smash a nutella pancake for breakfast! So not all yogi's are steadfast health nuts. Sometimes we like our wine and cheese too!
6. Yoga Is Just A Bunch Of Physical Postures & Strange Language
The full 8 limbs (like branches on a tree) of the yogic system looks like this:
1. Yamas (moral codes including things like practicing nonviolence and compassion, truthfulness, non stealing/taking, self preservation and learning to restrict our desires, not being greedy and much more).
2. Niyamas (acts of self discipline that include cleanliness including detox and pride in environment, contentment, self study or observing our own behavior and nature, learning to utilise effort but also mastering the grace of surrendering to something higher than ourselves).
3. Asana (the set of physical postures designed to cleanse, strengthen and soften the entire body taugtht in a magical order to have the most profound effects)
4. Pranyama (utilising the power of breath as a life force energy to reduce tension and build energy)
5. Pratyahara (learning to withdraw your senses away from the world in order to have 'you time' or focus within)
6. Dharana (learning to direct our concentration in order to find relaxation or better known really as mindfulness)
7. Dhyana (a single focus of the mind, to contemplate on the moment or better known as meditation)
8. Samadhi (bliss, enlightenment, transcendence).
Think of the yoga system like a tree. Swing from any branch you want to give you what you need.
Just like the limbs on a tree the branches are both spread and entwined. Think of yourself as the trunk and the roots are your life (past and present). The branches are all the opportunities we have to find freedom and reach for the sky. We can pick and choose which to focus on, each having an interactive effect on the growth of the others. All of which filters down to you and your life.
"Yoga is not just about the physical postures, it is a whole lot more than that. It is a careful art and science that when looked at closely is both wise, intelligent and kind of amazing."
My Tips For How To Approach Yoga
1. Forget About The Shape Of The Pose
In my beginners yoga class that I have for you today I'd like you to close your eyes as often as you can and forget about what you look like. If your body doesn't bend the way you want it to don't force it, simply focus on knowing your own limits today and listen to the needs of your body. If you stumble and fall and feel awkward who cares right! Just do your best.
2. Focus Solely On Your Breath
I totally did not get the full experience of yoga until I moved my attention away from the shape of the pose and started to learn how to expand and utilise my breath. This class I have for you today is focused solely on breath for a reason. It is the underbelly of your practice and what will help your physical body open and loosen, your mind calm and the magical release and high happens. Focus on long breaths that are even and marry your movement to your breath.
3. Treat Yourself With Compassion
If you berate yourself or have nasty thoughts or call yourself names or say you are not doing it right this is not yoga. Listen to your body and treat yourself with compassion at all times on a yoga mat. It is the first step of the first limb and its a powerful one both on and off the mat. Be mindful of your thoughts towards yourself and others when practicing and learn to utilise breath as the focal point when your mind starts to chatter. Your breath is your anchor and you will learn to watch it and become it. This will steer you away from thought and towards your inner self.
4. Use The Practice As Special You Time
Set yourself up to have this special time with yourself. I never force myself to practice but I make a point to do it as often as I can (as often as you can is different for everyone). I don't look at it as exercise, I see it as me time. There is nothing in the Yoga system that says you must be guilted into practicing everyday like it's a chore. This is your time to get to know yourself, to iron out the kinks physical and mentally and to train the monkey mind into a space of calm and surrender. Time to just be alone and with your body and SELF. Make it special and it will become your savior.
5. Stick With It
I have days where I can't wait to leave the mat. I want to back out of each pose before it has even started. Those are the days you know you need to continue. Those are the days it is your medicine. If it's uncomfortable in the beginning I urge you to continue and surrender. Nothing good comes without a little hard work in the beginning and challenging our zones of discomfort. It's what makes the end results so damn worth it.
So today I have a little treat for you.
Your Free Yoga Class
This class is suitable for all levels.
To access head to my FREE YOGA CLASSES page.
Please share you comments about your experience trying out this class below. I'd love to hear from you.
Have a wonderful day.