Have you been thinking about starting yoga for some time now but still aren’t sure if yoga is for you? If so, this article could be just what you need. As a teacher, yoga therapist, and longtime practitioner, I get all sorts of questions about yoga. Especially from people who are thinking about giving it a try but have some doubts about whether or not it’s really a good fit for them. Often, those questions reveal a myth or two, lingering beneath the surface, about what yoga’s really like.
In fact, I had several conversations this past week that touched on this topic, and it got me thinking. How many people out there are curious about – and could benefit from – a yoga practice, but they’ve got some nagging concerns that keep holding them back? I decided to write this post to clear the air about a few common misconceptions about yoga and to bring some clarity, as best I can, to the decision-making process.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that yoga is for everyone. But, it definitely brings incredible benefit to a whole lot of people. So, if you’re one of those people hesitating to give it a try, read on to see if what’s holding you back might not be as big an obstacle as you think. Maybe yoga IS for you!
Potential Benefits of Yoga for You
Let’s get the benefits out of the way first. You’ve probably already heard about many of yoga’s benefits. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even be considering starting a practice. But, just in case you’re not aware of all of them, here’s a rundown of the research-backed reasons yoga can be good for you:
- Decreases Stress
- Relieves Anxiety
- May Reduce Inflammation
- Can Improve Heart Health
- Improves Quality of Life
- Decreased Symptoms of Depression
- Can Reduce Chronic Pain
- Can Promote Sleep Quality
- Improves Flexibility & Balance
- Can Improve Breathing
- Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
- Can Increase Strength
In addition to these benefits identified in studies, my personal experience has shown yoga can increase self-awareness, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-acceptance. It’s brought inner peace and emotional stability into my life in powerful ways. I’ve come to know and trust myself deeply through the inward focus a regular yoga practice encourages.
Do these benefits appeal to you? If so, then it’s the first indication that yes, yoga is for you.
Reasons You May Question if Yoga is for You
There are many good reasons you might be wondering if yoga is right for you. While ultimately I can’t answer that question, I can offer some insight to help inform your decision, based on my experience. Take a look at the following concerns and see if any of them ring a bell for you.
1. Not Being Flexible Enough
By far, this is the most common worry I come across, especially from men. And, from people who are already doing physical activities that have left them with tighter muscles, such as running and strength training. They see pictures of yogis bending their bodies into pretzel-like shapes and think, uh-uh, I can’t do that. No way.
However, the truth is most people practicing yoga in the world today can’t do those poses either. By its very nature, yoga is an individual process. It’s not a competition, so the practice is always about meeting yourself where you’re at on any given day. It builds on itself as each practitioner moves from beginner poses (and versions of poses) to more advanced ones. Most importantly, all of this is expected to take time.
This means, you don’t need to come to yoga already flexible. No one is going to laugh at you or judge you. They’re all focusing on their own progress and started as beginners themselves at some point too. What will happen is that your flexibility will improve over time. And while it’s possible you may never be able to do those more advanced, twisty poses, it doesn’t really matter. You can still have a full and fruitful practice while honoring your own body’s needs and abilities.
2. An Injury Means Yoga’s Not for You
This one’s another biggie. I’ve spoken with many people who have a back, knee, neck (or some other) injury who assume it automatically means they shouldn’t do yoga. Mostly they’re concerned they might re-injure or exacerbate their condition. Sometimes, they’re also worried the injury will prevent them from fully participating.
I taught most of my yoga classes in a Chiropractic Wellness Center, so most of my students had some sort of injury or physical condition they were treating or had already recovered from. Interestingly, they kept coming back to yoga class long after their recovery, because it made them feel good. Many even said it seemed to be helping them maintain their recovery. I myself have a disc bulge in my lumbar spine, and I can definitely say my yoga practice has helped keep me symptom-free for years.
However, it’s true that injuries can happen in yoga. And, that injuries can be re-inflamed or exacerbated by doing yoga. This is a legitimate concern. The key here is to talk with your healthcare provider prior to starting yoga. Tell them what you’re wanting to do and ask for guidance. What types of bodily positions and movements should you avoid? Which ones will be beneficial?
Follow that up by communicating with your yoga instructor. Let him or her know what your limitations are and ask for modifications. They should be happy to support you in this way. Every yoga pose can be modified. And if a posture can’t be suitably modified to meet your needs, an alternate pose can be offered.
3. Yoga Might Conflict With My Faith
A week ago, I was hiking with a friend of mine who’s also a yoga teacher. (You may remember Leticia from my Laughter Yoga article a while back.) She was telling me how her friend has just started offering Christian-based yoga classes in our city. I was thrilled to hear this news! I’ve encountered many Christian friends and family members who’ve wanted to do yoga, but have been turned off by the Hindu, and sometimes Buddhist, undertones that can be associated with the practice.
Now, I don’t want to dive into whether or not any religion or spiritual path should hold sway in a yoga class. But, what I do want to say is that yoga is a practice that can benefit people from every walk of faith. Through its capacity to develop a calm center, deepen self-awareness, and tend to the temple of the body, it can enhance any pursuit for a more spiritual way of living.
I was happy to hear about this Christian-based yoga class offering, and I’m sure there are more in other cities and for other religions. However, even without that specific focus, many yoga classes are neutral. That means, you can bring your faith into them without having to feel like you’re being led in a direction you don’t want to go. You can reap the benefits of the body movements, breath practices, and mindful self-observation with no religious undertone. The key is looking into the studio and the class descriptions beforehand, and maybe even trying out a few classes before settling on the perfect fit for you.
4. Not Having the Yoga Body
Because so often the pictures posted of yogis on the Internet and in magazines depict lean, toned bodies, many people think this is the kind of body you have to have if yoga is for you. Not true. I can’t emphasize that enough. It wasn’t true in the classes I taught, and it hasn’t been true in many of the classes I’ve attended.
Now, that isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of yogis who DO have that body. But, it’s not everyone, and it’s certainly not a requirement. As I mentioned earlier in the section about flexibility, yoga is fundamentally an individual practice. Everyone has a different body, in terms of shape and in terms of mobility, flexibility, strength, balance, etc. Even lean, toned yogis can’t express every posture in the exact same way the person standing next to them can.
When you do yoga, you perform each posture according to your own body’s capacity to perform it. That’s your version of the posture on that particular day. And you reap the benefits of whatever version you’re doing, whether it be gaining strength or flexibility, massaging your organs, stimulating or soothing your nervous system. So long as you focus on what’s happening within your own body and perform your postures the best way you can, you have a yoga body.
As a slight side-note, I’d say my yoga practice has given me more respect, love, and attentiveness to my body than anything else I’ve done in my life. This healthy relationship with my body is one of the fruits of my practice I cherish most.
5. Yoga Is For Women
I realize this last one is focused on men only, but I had to include it because it’s one of the big misconceptions I see come up. And, for you women who want your husband or male friends to join you in yoga, it might be something you come across too.
The irony is that so many of the early yogis and yoga teachers throughout time have been men. Somehow, in the modern expansion of yoga, it’s become associated with being mainly a female practice. It’s true that many classes are filled with women. But the dynamic’s shifting. Interestingly, many of the men I’ve spoken to who’ve given yoga a try, as well as the ones I’ve worked with, fall in love with it. They appreciate the way it alleviates aches and pains in the body, as well as how much it helps them decompress.
If this is a big concern for you, I can say I’ve seen a far higher concentration of men in the heated yoga classes. I’m not sure why this is, but it might have something to do with the fact these classes tend to be pretty rigorous. The heat pushes you out of your comfort zone. The poses are often challenging. You can really feel the workout. Because of this, heated classes may just feel more like some of the other physical activities men are used to doing. If you think you’d feel more comfortable in a class with more men, you could start by checking out the heated ones.
I hope I’ve covered any lingering concerns you might have about whether or not yoga is for you. If I’ve missed yours, please feel free to reach out to me with a question. Or leave it in the comments section so others can learn from it too.
The bottom line is, yoga can bring incredible benefits into your life. But the key to enjoying the most benefits is finding the right class for you. One that meets you where you’re at and provides the support you need to grow in your practice over time. With the abundance of yoga class options available in most cities (and even online), I’m sure you can find the right fit for you.