21 Yoga Myths Busted. Read on for Yoga facts, some interesting, some fun!
Yoga is a constant practice of examining our strongly held beliefs. Here are some of the Yoga myths I have held throughout my roundabout journey of coming back home to Yoga.
My perspective on Yoga facts come from my upbringing and training in India under Indian Yogis. I am an ambassador to Yoga based on the first-ever such program led by India’s AYUSH Health ministry.
I live in California, one of America’s most liberal states and all kinds of Yoga is everywhere here, facepalm! Here is a list of myths and interesting Yoga facts that need to be shared more.
Myth 1: I practice Yoga to calm myself
Yoga Fact: When done from a stressed state, Yoga cannot be done correctly.
In a stressed state, nadis would be blocked and prana flow constricted. This is supported by the texts, read on.
I believed in this myth for the longest time. I went to Yoga with my mind running crazy with the to-do list and I arrived declaring I needed to find my peace.
A good class was when the practice alchemized my pain and left me feeling love for all.
Based on the sutras from the Shiva Swarodaya, Shiva’s educational instructions on Yoga to his beloved Goddess Parvati, Yoga must be approached only when the mind is already still.
When the mind is relaxed breath is drawn from the left nostril and the Ida Nadi is active.
The Ida nadi correlates to the right hemisphere of the brain and the body is in rest and digest mode. Ida nadi signals a state of calm serenity, a state of surrender and openness.
Check your breath before you step on the mat if you are breathing from the right nostril, and in the modern world we mostly are, the Pingala or the Sun energy is active in the body.
Based on Dr. B.R. Sharma’s translations of Shiva Swarodaya, this is an excellent time to ride a horse, take a bath, eat a meal, engage in competitive sports, shimmy up a mountain or board a plane but not a good time for Yoga.
Fun fact, for a man sun energy or left hemisphere activation and right nostril breathing is an ideal state for making love, for a woman the right hemisphere, moon energy, and a relaxed left nostril breathing is more satisfying.
Myth 2: Yoga is to arrive at an Instagram worthy body pretzel
Yoga Fact: One does not have to be any kind of body size to enjoy the benefits of yoga.
We are all guilty of wanting to become double-jointed like the Yogis on Instagram, no one celebrates a well done Tadasana or Savasana.
The gymnasts and ballet dancer yogis on Instagram leave many wondering, do you have to be this skinny to do yoga? My Kundalini Yoga Guru would say if flexibility was the goal of Yoga then the Mongolian contortionists should be the most spiritual human beings.
What happens to your body when you start doing yoga? The true goal of Yoga is to squeeze and soak the right muscles, massage the internal organs, bear weight on the right bones, balance the right and left hemisphere, stoke the pitta energy and then bring it into the Sushumna to activate the intuitive intelligence of the chakra centers.
Each body will hold a pose differently due to variations of the skeletal and muscular makeup. However regular practice will improve muscle tone, range of motion in joints, and establish a deep sense of wellbeing and interconnectedness. As the practice progresses so does the architectural integrity of the body.
Those who have perfected flexibility must then practice for spiritual attunement of the unique energetic bhava expression of each pose.
For a maestro, there is not a single frivolous musical note, for a Yogi, each asana is a key to a secret inner garden.
Myth 3: I need to be a Hindu to be a serious Yogi
Yoga Fact: Yoga offers the foundation to practice Yoga successfully to its ultimate goal, nothing more is required of the practitioner.
I see so many new practitioners adopt Hindu ways of being to fit into the Yoga scene. This has to be the most widely believed underground misconception about Yoga.
No doubt, many Hindu rituals are charming and capture our imaginations however not all Hindus float quaint leaf lamps in the river at dawn and dusk. Some Hindus are abstruse and philosophical, others are deeply devotional going into ecstasies over kirtans and extravagant floral offerings to the Gods.
I did not grow up with an altar overflowing with Gods and Goddesses. There is not a single altar in my grandparent’s home. Instead, there are tall granite snake lamps in the forest on our land. We are snake worshippers and protectors of the forests.
My grandparents chanted mantras and practiced dhyana meditation at dawn and dusk. Hinduism allows for a wide interpretation of God’s worship.
The truth about Yoga is that all manners of devotees are taken in the fold of legitimate Hinduism, from the dreaded Dark Kali blood sacrificing sects to those following a strict Brahmanical code of untouchability and extreme saucha, purity as a service to humanity.
However, it is a fact about Yoga that it did develop within Hinduism. Spirituality and mysticism are central to Yoga.
Myth 4: To be a good Yogi I must keep taking Yoga courses
Yoga Fact – Yoga is the teacher and the practice unravels the path to greater mastery.
A true Guru lays the foundation of the right posture, the right attitude, and knowledge, allowing for the practice to gradually replace the Guru.
After the foundation is strengthened, after the practitioner has found treasures in the practice, the Guru lets go. Often this is a painful separation yet it is another test of the Yogic principle of detachment, pratyahara, and aparigraha.
Yoga is a complete way of life that offers absolute freedom. Yoga is designed to teach itself.
However, I do enjoy taking lessons from Yogis I meet, who doesn’t like a good back rub? Who doesn’t love to let someone else lead? Each one of us can only dive in for so many wisdom pearls in the vast oceanic depths of Yoga!
It is a wonderful way to widen my perspective on Yoga, improve my understanding of Yoga, and let go and just be by surrendering to other teachers, no matter what their level of proficiency is.
If I see a familiar spark, I gratefully show up for a class.
Myth 5: Doing Yoga will elevate me spiritually
Yoga Fact: To elevate spiritually one must practice all 8 limbs of yoga, practice self-inquiry, and have a few honest friends.
If this myth was true, millions of Indian school children would grow up to be saintly Yogis. I grew up doing Yoga during PE. We did Yoga in the blazing Indian sun, sweat pouring down our backs. It was common for children to faint from dehydration.
All I remember from the daily sessions is the PE instructor who made you do a rooster pose as punishment or pulled you up by the ears till your face was blue.
True spiritual transformation arrived in my life when I began to practice the eight-limbed path of self-inquiry, Ishvara pranidhana, ahimsa, satya, asteya, and the asanas, meditation, and pranayama.
This took years of painful observation of my internal dialogue, the mean ego and it’s non-stop commentary to finally make peace with its role in my growth and its service to me.
Myth 6: I am flexible, Yoga is so easy
Yoga Fact: Asanas are only one-eighth of Yoga.
The eight-limbed path is equally focused on the qualities a Yogi must possess. Focusing on these creates the serenity of mind to align to the highest self and to come to the right frame of mind.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra offers these five niyamas or rules of Yoga, a practitioner is ever mindful of, on the mat and off the mat.
Saucha, purity of body, mind, thought, action and speech
Santhosha, happiness and serene contentment
Tapas, discipline to push through discomfort
Svadhyaya self Inquiry at all times
Isvara-pranidhana Surrender to the Divine’s will as superior to the ego-self
The five yamas, or codes of behavior, refine these qualities in a Yogi:
Ahimsa, developing compassion for all beings and self.
Sathya, eliminating untruth from speech and behavior
Astheya, not coveting what is neither self nor belongs to the self
Brahmacharya, focusing the energy upwards to the higher chakras and not wasting them through feeding the lower chakras of manipura, swadishthana and mooladhara
Aparigraha, literally non-grabbing, letting go
Apart from the yamas and niyamas, yoga practice is a revolving door of pranayama, asana, and meditation, each building into the other, taking the Yogi higher and higher into the realm of Siddhis or extraordinary abilities that come along with various stages of spiritual evolution.
One of them is the power to manifest any spoken command with a thatha asthu, so be it!
Try achieving this tall order.
Myth 7: I am inflexible, I can’t do Yoga
Yoga Fact: The only requirement is to have a body, even half a body will do.
The yogi first works with the body’s limitations, using the thoughts of judgment and shame that come up as fodder for self-inquiry.
As this becomes second nature with regular sessions, the body becomes strong raising confidence In the ability to hold poses. The Yogi then begins to notice her emotional, psychological, and mental states as life happens.
This foundational state of witnessing becomes a habit, as the Yogi experiences her energy body. She becomes increasingly familiar with her psychic body. Spontaneous insights arise, intuition becomes strong, serendipity becomes a way of life.
For all this to blossom, a rigid hamstring is hardly an obstacle.
Myth 8: I am a man, Yoga is too girly for me
Yoga Fact: Yoga as practiced and instructed by ancient Indian Yogis aims to dissolve any identification with the body.
Yoga instills awareness of the highest self in the Yogi. The Spirit is beyond gender and has little to do with the functions of the genitalia.
If anything Yoga is about taking the attention away from the lower chakras that feed the reproductive organs and channels it upwards to the heart to feel expansive love for all, to develop the ability to communicate the soul’s truth and for God-contact through the Sahasrara chakra.
Very few Yoginis, female Yogis, have found their way into written history. Lalla Devi of Kashmir, a Shaivaite Yogini from six centuries ago, is still revered by both Hindus and Muslims.
Traditionally male Yogis have left families ties behind to establish ashrams across India, developing their particular flavor of Yoga and meditation in the process.
They have also made sure they were remembered, most yoginis worked and faded away in oblivion.
Myth 9: I do Yoga for the Yoga butt
Yoga Fact: The glutes will grow, but we may end up with more than we bargained for 😉
Yoga is a series of Isometric exercises that barely puts any pressure on the heart, does not raise blood pressure, and keeps the muscles long and strong (there are a few exceptions)
Modern Yogis have incorporated many Isotonic exercise moves into Yoga to pump and build muscle. We see blends of ballet dance, Qigong, aerobics, heat therapy, and cats, even! This was done to create a workout regime faithful to the ‘no pain, no gain’ maxim.
Yoga body became synonymous with ripped male and female bodies. These bodies hardly fit the definition of health based on Yoga or Ayurveda.
A Yoga body is soft and supple as a baby’s when resting and hard as steel when tensed.
When the channels are open and relaxed, energy flows freely. This is the goal of Yoga and its sister science Ayurveda -to open capillaries, cavities within organs, nerves, microchannels, and the path taken by hormones and enzymes leading to a compassionate lion heart, a serene mind, in a lean, energy-efficient body.
Myth 10: Yoga is so sexy
Yoga Fact: Western Yoga clothing and accessory marketers use sex to sell products. Yoga and Sexuality are Oxymoronic.
An ashtanga namaskara is not a pose to channel JLo.
Yoga is about developing trust in the self and nurturing an ongoing dialogue with the divine within. The body is merely an instrument to hone in on the ability to stay present with what is unfolding.
The how and why and which way this instrument has to be turned and twisted to achieve this goal is the science and technology of self-realization.
Yoga clothes have become fashion statements, yoga accessories vie for our attention on online sites. pants turn see-through, cleavage-revealing strapless bustiers are modeled by buff bodies.
We are caught up in how attractive we look to the opposite sex in class.
Yoga focuses our vital energy Prana, like the damming of waters in a river, to take it upstream through the central Sushumna Nadi.
Sexual release is like an explosion breaking the dam and letting all the water rush back to its natural course, the downward pull of sex and reproduction.
If practiced with the utmost respect for the original instructions, Yoga will instill the ability to be in a state of brahmacharya – abstinence from sexual feelings – on and off at will.
There is nothing wrong with sexual feelings, Indian householders, those following the path of rebirth and enjoyment of sensual pleasures, practice Indian classical dance which is much more physically challenging than Yoga asanas.
Justin McCarthy is an American Indian Bharatanatyam performer of great repute. To honor the sensual and sexual, modern Yogis please practice Rasa juice-filled Indian classical dance with abandon. Sexuality is celebrated in this art form.
Myth 11: Real yoga is power yoga!
Yoga Fact: A Yoga practice is energizing, not depleting.
Thank you wonderful modern Yogis for embracing this science and joining us with gusto.
Yoga is the opposite of a western or rather modern approach to exercise: burn, pain, push through and exhaust till the body sculpts into a Greek God-like form.
The original idea behind Yoga is the flow as designed by Sage Patanjali, the eight steps of Raja Yoga. Each limb builds on and is supportive of the other limb. Here they are:
Yama: Code of ethics
Niyama: Disciplines to observe
Asanas: Yoga postures
Pranayama: Breath discipline
Pratyahara: Inward flow of the senses
Dharana: Inner focus on the higher chakras
Dhyana: Meditation on the subtle currents in the highest chakra
Samadhi: Dissolution of self in the highest realm.
The postures are to enable greater attunement to an impeccable code of behavior, intention to focus the senses inward as opposed to constantly disturbed by shiny objects outside of self, for deeply focused meditation and for flushing and re-energizing the body parts that lay locked during long hours of meditative sitting.
Indian Yogis follow Ayurveda for health, and Ayurveda recommends to exercise till ardhashakthi, half the strength, is exhausted. In summers only do half the exercise you would do in winter.
If in winter you workout for 1 hour, work out for only 30 mins in summer.
If you run 5 miles a day in winter, then run only for 2.5 miles when it is hot and sticky.
Indian soldiers have been doing Yoga for centuries and also follow the rule of ardhashakthi. Those who consistently exhaust beyond a point will make their bodies age faster.
Myth 12: Yoga is a hobby, a fad..
Yoga Fact: Yoga is a complete set of instructions on how to achieve enlightenment.
There is scope for all to arrive at this ocean and get what they wish for themselves. Not everyone who comes to the beach decides to become a sailor.
Those who wish to traverse this ocean of growth, the manual is readily available.
Those who might be thinking ‘is yoga a waste of time?’ here are some accounts of how many yogis have benefited from a regular Yoga Sadhana.
Myth 13: I have a health condition, Yoga is not for me
Yoga Fact: A large body of research has proven Yoga’s ability to ease many health concerns related to mental, cardiovascular, circulatory and respiratory health.
When I was visiting India in 2018 for the Yoga Ambassadors tour organized by the AYUSH Health Ministry of India, this was one of the topics of breakthrough discovery. NIMHANS National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Science of Bangalore has done extensive research on this topic.
Psychologists and mental health counselors in India are beginning to prescribe Yoga for depression.
Many Yoga schools offer therapeutic Yoga with the use of props to assist in recovery and to regain full range of motion in all parts, no matter what you may be facing, with the help of a qualified Yoga teacher, you will find your way back to recovery.
I personally find it very satisfying to teach Yoga to those who are facing challenges, please feel free to schedule an online session with me.
Can yoga get you in shape? Absolutely! Begin where you are, move in the direction of life and health.
Yukthasya Rogene is one Sanskrit definition of Yogic Pranayama. Yoga is a tool to remove disease.
Myth 14: Yoga is pure bliss
Yoga Fact: Indeed the ultimate goal of Yoga is Ananda bliss.
However, the road to bliss is surrounded by the ravines of broken relationships and friends who ghost. Family members no longer understand why you don’t participate in the same discussions as before, or find movies and media, previously enjoyed as a bonding family activity, now abhorrent and offensive.
Also, the initial stages of awakening to the reality of life and the quality of our close relationships is exquisitely painful. The transition to a new way of being is a lonely dark road and only when we arrive at that place of unshakable strength, bliss awaits.
We continue to experience life with all its pitfalls and unexpected horrors, and our mind-body instrument, now attuned to energy and stimuli through regular deep work, responds often with grief but surely and steadily keeps coming back to its stable core.
We start to notice we are happy with a few simple things and gather a small circle of friends around. We weep often at the injustices of the world and step forward in action. This is the bliss of Yoga.
Myth 15: I don’t have hours of spare time to do Yoga.
Yoga Fact: Even 5 minutes is good to begin or bring back Yoga.
An hour-long Yoga journey is a wonderful gift to the self, however busy Yogis like me find ways to build in 5-15 minute practice into their day.
Whether you are a beginner in your 30s or a crazy busy mother of teens in her 50s, you can warm up for two minutes and then do three asanas that will help you calm and reconnect to your body.
I like to set my timer to do 5 minute Yoga sessions throughout my day. I do simple poses like Padahasthasana while waiting for my dog to sniff at street lamps, I wake up and do a full-body stretch before I do anything else and have a mat handy by my work desk to do 3-5 asanas whenever possible.
You can find ways to build in the practice to your schedule, you do not have to wait for the perfect moment to arrive.
Myth 16: Yoga is totally safe and has only positive benefits
Yoga Fact: Yoga, if done incorrectly, will harm the practitioner.
I see too many Yoga teachers with knee and hip replacement surgeries, too much Vata and Pitta, rampant egos, and an inability to self-care and self-love.
Yoga is medicine. Yoga is a healing, strengthening, rejuvenating practice for the physical body and the mental state. Yoga is as spiritual as it is medicinal.
Yoga is for longevity and the instrument we apply these principles and techniques on should become vital and vibrant with every practice.
Incorrect postures, pushing through pain, not warming up adequately, not understanding the goal of each asana, speaking loudly giving instructions to students during certain poses are all reasons to put the body under strain. This in turn causes harm to the internal organs and the chakras.
If our practices snap away life from the body, then the practice is toxic.
I write this while nursing an injured ankle, I pushed myself too hard, again.
Myth 17: Online Yoga gives me the freedom of choice and saves me time.
Yoga Fact: Basics must be learned from a knowledgeable teacher in person.
I offer online Yoga fully aware of the dangers of online teaching where I cannot correct a student and cannot observe the way the poses are being held.
To compensate I instruct the techniques in as much detail as possible so the practitioner is aware of what part of the body is to lengthen, what muscles are engaged, and which bones should be weight-bearing.
Online Yoga, or reading about a pose in a book before doing it is rife with the possibility of injury.
Many conscientious Yoga teachers take extra care to call out instructions however students practicing at home may not pay attention.
Foundational Yoga practice has to be learned from a teacher who is knowledgeable and has great care for her students. Such teachers usually have several years of self-practice and teaching.
Once a foundation is established something like Yoga Acharya B K S Iyengar’s 300-week course in his book Light on Yoga can be followed successfully.
psst: A Yoga teacher, irrespective of age, is like a parent and must be treated as such. Yoga teachers must see their students as their children.
Myth 18: It’s perfectly okay to go to Yoga class during periods, let’s not be superstitious
Yoga Fact: Only a few gentle poses and pranayama can be done
My dear modern Yogis, both Indian and Western, please stop doing Yoga when you are on your period.
We women, during our fertile years, and if we are in good health, do NOT need spring cleanses, as we are given the gift of the monthly menses. A period is a time of intense detox of the body, it is Divine Mother’s gift to a woman, it is our own mini monthly Panchakarma detox.
If you are wondering when not to do strenuous Yoga, this is it!
We may safely do gentle pranayamas like Brahmari, Sheetali, Shitkari, Anuloma Viloma and it will help the body stay inwardly focused on the supreme work of cleansing.
We may also safely do gentle stretching asanas like Balasana, Marjarasana, Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, Sethu Bandhasana, Pavanamukthasana, etc. that do not stretch the lower body and gently stop the blood flow in the legs and hands to improve the Apana Vayu, the downward flow of Vata air energy. Please do not perform bandhas during a period. Mudras that assist with the Apana Vayu are excellent.
Yoga and period have nothing to do with gravity or the downward flow of menses getting disrupted if doing a headstand, as some western/modern physicians will point out.
Period is about self-love and self-care, it’s about retreating so the body can perform an effective cleanse.
This is health-restoring and beautifying to let go and let the body be. Every time we hinder this we are creating dis-ease. We will then need annual cleanses and Panchakarma cleanses.
Ayurvedic texts instruct women to sleep in well-ventilated bedrooms, with mattresses of soft grass for circulation as Pitta energy is high during this time. To aid the cleansing, women are advised to eat and drink only a handful of food at a time for the first three days.
During this time we nourish our spirit with practices of journaling, worshiping the Goddess, and rest with what is arising. We retreat away from the company of others, especially our lovers and allow the body temple to heal, repair, rejuvenate, and get juicy. This is key to maintain our sexual vitality.
Choose to ignore the wisdom teachings at your own peril.
Myth 19: Vegetarians & Vegans do Yoga, I have to give up Meat
Yoga Fact: Yoga is for everyone, irrespective of diet and lifestyle choices.
If you are planning to be Yogi, as practiced in India and follow the path of Ahimsa non-violence, yes, then you will have to give up meat, fish, and poultry.
But, and there is a big but, if you are a Vata body type like me, and angular, skinny, and dry, then you are absolved. If your body is not the best at extracting nutrition from vegan food and you feel intense cravings for meat sometimes, this is your body signaling it is missing vital health-giving nourishment.
If you are a Pitta body type, an athletic body type, or a Kapha body type, someone who has no trouble gaining every drop of nutrition from the food you eat, a strict vegan vegetarian lifestyle may work very well for you.
Indian Yogis consume milk, butter, ghee, and Indian cottage cheese Paneer for this reason. They eat lots of heavy rich sweets and fruit to make up for the energy lost from hours of practice.
Becoming a regular practitioner will rid our diet of greed-based excesses but please honor your honest life-sustaining cravings.
Myth 20: Pregnant women should not do Yoga
Yoga Fact: Yes, no, and depends.
Gentle Yoga. asanas during Pregnancy will help with optimal blood circulation and ease the pressure off the major organs.
Bandhas and any kind of Kumbhaka retention of breath should be avoided. I do not suggest any of my pregnant clients do any breath control pranayama, only gentle slow deep breathing is beneficial.
The body goes through immense stress during pregnancy. Bones shift as weight shifts. Sleep disturbances and gastric discomfort, swelling of limbs are all common during the last couple of months.
Gentle Yoga will bring relief and relaxation, modified Yoga Nidra will reduce stress and ease the discomfort of lack of sleep.
It is harmful to practice Yoga by yourself or online when pregnant, especially during the third trimester as hormones like Relaxin may give the illusion of greater flexibility.
You may continue to safely practice under a qualified instructor or with someone who is knowledgeable and conscientious.
Also, if you have mastery over the science of Yoga, then you may do anything with your pregnant body.
Myth 21: It’s all the same Yoga
Yoga Fact: There are at least 24 recognized Yoga Acharyas, beginning from Adiyogi Shiva. Each master created a style of Yoga that was distinct.
Yoga evolved in India even before the Vedic times around 1 Millennium BCE.
Yoga was practiced by innumerable great Yoga acharyas and was classified and codified according to what they found to be beneficial to their personal evolution. Some of these works survive to this day: Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from 2000 BCE, Vaisesikha Sutras, Nyaya Sutras, and Brahma Sutras.
Here are some of the great teachers of Yoga based on AYUSH Ministry’s publication Yoga: An Ancient Indian Tradition.
Adiyogi Shiva, Lord Mahavira, Lord Buddha, Maharishi Patanjali, Sri Adi Shankara, Guru Gorakshanath, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Kuvalayananda, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Sri T Krishnamacharya, Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Yogendra, Swami Gitananda Giri, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Chidananda, Sri B K S Iyengar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Satyanand Saraswati, Swami Rama, Sri T K V Desikachar, and Swami Veda Bharati.
During the British colonization of India, Yoga went through a revival as Yogi’s and deposed royalty sensed the threat to India’s great heritage. New streams of Yoga developed during the 16-19 century, with emphasis on asanas and physical feats of strength, as a retaliatory gesture towards Britain’s iron rule.
As Yoga stepped on to the Western shores, it has spiraled into many forms that appeal to the modern practitioner.
From the 84 basic asanas, many many variations got created.
No matter what your heart calls for or your body needs, you will find a style of Yoga that suits you.
Yoga is what you make of it, how you practice it is a reflection of who you are, and where you are headed.
What are some strongly held Yoga Myths you have held over the years?