10 Common myths about Yoga
Ever since UN has declared June 21 as International Yoga Day, the hype around yoga refuses to die. Every one, be it old, young, professionals, homemakers, students – wants to learn yoga. Newspapers, net, social media are all flooded with information about yoga. In such a scenario, many a times, we find myths associated with this ancient Indian art form circulating as facts among the curious and often naive readers. Below, we have tried to bust 10 such common misconceptions about yoga:
1. Yoga is religious
While Yoga is heavily influenced by ‘Hinduism’, it is not religious in nature. B K S Iyengar has described hatha yoga as “not just physical exercise, but an integrated science leading towards spiritual evolution.” Perhaps, it is because of this spiritual aspect of yoga that many associate it with religion. However, a common man is more interested in the ‘physical exercise’ part of yoga. And if we look carefully at that part, we realise that exercises are mainly animal postures or greetings to nature. Even the most debated Surya Namaskar is basically a namaskar (salutation) to sun. How can these exercises be religious?
2. Yoga cures every disease/ People who do yoga are fit and healthy
This is a very common belief possibly because, many a times, we have seen well-known yogis making unsubstantial claims to cure diseases. ‘Yoga’ is a distorted version of the word ‘Yog’ which means joining of body and mind. It is meant to keep us healthy by calming our mind while building a fit body. It may help in containing a disease/injury in some cases, but for cure, a doctor is always a wise option.
3. Young people go to gym and old do yoga
It is generally believed that yoga is meant to improve flexibility and isn’t as good a workout as cardio or weight training. In fact, youngsters who want to strengthen muscles are usually advised to go to gym. But then is it possible to do asanas like the ones which require us to hold our body on our hands without strengthening of our muscles? The beauty of yoga is that you only use your body and not any equipment. Also, yoga is a good cardio exercise, esp the surya namaskar.
4. Power yoga is better than traditional yoga which is slow
Power yoga, hot yoga, beer yoga, water yoga and so on – these can best be described as yoga marketed in different packages. While packaging may seem attractive, they are not authorised by Patanjali in their current avatar. Also, as per Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one is required to do savasana after every asana. Hence, these packages may do more harm to body than good.
Yoga is a flow of movements; not slow but subtle. If the aim is to lose weight or get a toned body quickly, then this is not an exercise you should opt for.
5. You can learn yoga from a book/YouTube
Bookstores are full of books on yoga. Google yoga and hundreds of articles on the subject will pop up. Want to watch a video, just YouTube it.
While videos/articles are a great way to familiarise us with yoga and even help us recollect asanas, it should not be a substitute for a teacher. The importance of guru is explained best by Hans Ulrich Rieker, in his translation of Swami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika. He writes, “Yoga practice, regardless of the system we follow, has a psychological depth effect. One exercise goes in this direction, another in that. Often they have a perplexing similarity; here and there we find a minimal difference which seems inconsequential. The guru, however, watches not so much the exercises in general, but just those little details.” Hence, it is important to do asanas under a proper guidance and with perfect understanding.
6. All yogis are spiritual
While spirituality is an integral part of yoga, mere exercises do not lead to spiritual evolution. The Yoga Sutra, written by Patanjali, describes eight limbs (steps) of yoga – yama (morality, self-control, discipline); niyama (rules or laws prescribed for personal observance); asanas (body postures/stretching); pranayama (breathing exercises); pratyahar (withdrawal of all five senses from outer stimuli); dharana (inner awareness); dhyana (devotion, advanced meditation); and samadhi (union with the divine). One can become spiritual only when one completes the fifth limb, that is, pratyahar – this is a bridge that connects body with the mind.
7. You have to become vegetarian to practice yoga/ All yogis are vegetarian
This is a common misconception because yoga is usually associated with rishis (saints), who are considered to be masters of yoga and are vegetarians. Also, one of the guidelines of a yogic lifestyle is said to be ahimsa (non-violence) which is generally interpreted as non-violence towards animals. Further, some styles of yoga like Jivamukti promote vegetarianism or veganism.
Even though sattvic diet (consisting of seasonal foods, fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, dairy products etc.) is encouraged in yoga, it is not mandated. People are free to eat the food of their choice.
8. Yogis are minimalists
Again, this is a personal choice. Nowadays, most yogis are real people who have not renounced worldly pleasures. They live in cities, have families, are tech-savvy and buy non-eco friendly products.
9. Yogis are always peaceful
Well, this myth perhaps finds its origin in the fact that yoga teaches us to calm our mind. But let’s not forget that yogis are real people. They too experience emotions just like us. Yoga is certainly a tool that aids in processing our feelings, but it doesn’t remove them.
10. Yoga is a sport
The exercises that constitute yoga are no different from what we do in other sports. The impossible appearing postures can be easily performed by a gymnast. So does this make yoga a sport? No, because yoga is much more than mere sports. It is a way of life. It involves meditation, self awareness. While increased flexibility is its well-known benefit, a yoga session can be anything from simple cardio exercises to meditation to breathing exercises.
The Peeper Times would like to thank Yogi Ankit Garg for his contribution to this article. Garg is a founder of Charak Yoga Studio, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad, UP.