UNESCO World Heritage list. What is the first thing on your mind? Sites like Pyramids of Giza, Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, Machu Pichu? That’s fine, but UNESCO also holds a list of intangible cultural heritage, which means practices, knowledge, and skills that communities consider their cultural assets. In 2016 yoga was added on that list. UNESCO recognizes yoga as a practice important for “unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing”. They also highlight that, “it is practiced by the young and old without discriminating against gender, class or religion”.
Still, a lot of misconceptions about yoga, myths, and negative connotations are being scattered by critics that simply lack adequate knowledge. Here are the most common ones -debunked!
Yoga is religion
It is typical for the Western hemisphere to have this misconception.There are elements of yoga that may appear “religious,” like mantras and chants that come from India’s ancient roots as spiritual components, but they are namely „tools“ for diving deeper into one’s inner self. Their purpose in today’s modern yoga is to bring focus and attention to the practice. They do not „convert“ you to anything and most certainly they are not required to practice yoga.
You have to be flexible to do yoga
Do you have to be in shape to go to the gym? I think not. The only thing you have to do to is to regularly show up on your mat. That’s a start. With time you learn to tune into your body and to focus on movement and breath. Then you can start thinking about putting your toes behind your neck. Yoga practice should be tailored to meet the personal needs of a practitioner. If your muscles are stiff, yoga will help soften them. If you are naturally flexible, yoga can help you build strength. Cannot touch your toes? Bend your knees. Simple as that.
Yoga is for women
This arises from previous prejudice because women are generally more physically flexible than men. Men have more muscle mass and are traditionally hard-wired to “built it”, to be sporty and competitive. But, historically, yoga was “men sport” exclusively, and some of the greatest yoga teachers have been men. Yoga often appears as a softer way of workout, but come to one Ashtanga class and then speak your truth. Yes, yoga can make your biceps and triceps look more sexy but it’s not just your muscles that are getting the strength and flexibility. It is also your mind that goes through the same transformation. Irrespective of the gender.
Yoga is ability to do extreme backbends and arm balances
No, yoga is not about humble bragging with one arm balance on top of a waterfall. While social media often promotes it, there is no need to have skills of a circus acrobat. Of course, there is nothing wrong with progressing into advanced postures, but the most important thing is to track how you feel, what makes you feel best. It can be a therapeutic, relaxing, breath-focused sequence or it can also be that you feel best while doing dynamic, physically challenging sets of asanas. In the end, it all comes down to enjoying the experience and the benefits that come along.
Yogis are spiritual hippie vegans
That is simply not the case. Although yoga encourages self-awareness, compassion and better connection inside out, you don’t have to be chakra-balanced, tree-hugger fruitarian. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron puts it: “Practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”