September is National Yoga Month, so what better time to quash some of the most common misperceptions about yoga?
Join us in debunking the myths of yoga together — starting with perhaps the most famous:
Simply put, this one is a big NO. ❌
Yoga invites you to come exactly as you are: tight hamstrings, stiff shoulders, achy low back, creaky joints, busy mind, strained Achilles.
If your muscles are tight, you're in just the right place! Yoga was designed for you — and it will meet you where you are.
Pop culture representations of yogis tend to overemphasize already-flexible models performing flashy, bendy poses. Don't let those fool you.
Yoga is just as suited for the couch potato middle-aged dad who can't touch his toes as it is for the ex-ballerina whose foot slides easily behind her head.
As you unroll your mat for the first (or 50th) time, trust that you're in exactly the right place.
This one's another big NOPE. ❌
Believe it or not, expensive athleisure wear is a completely recent development. Until the last decade or so, there were no explicitly "yogic" clothes. Even the ubiquitous sticky yoga mats we associate with a modern-day yoga class only emerged in the 1970s.
In other words: you can wear whatever the heck you want!
Ratty sweatpants with holes in the knees. Baggy old paint-splattered t-shirts. Your favorite summer maxidress. Soccer shorts. That polka-dot unitard from your 8th grade roller-skating competition.
It's ALL GOOD.
Because the point isn't what you wear. And expensive workout gear won't make your hamstrings any stretchier or your mind any more enlightened.
You already come to the practice with everything you need: bare feet, your breath, and just enough empty space to unroll a mat (or a towel, or a rug, or nothing at all).
And then, the magic unfolds.
Definitely not. ❌ The good news is: there's no such thing as a "perfect" yoga pose.
There's just you, right here in your body, offering what you can, as you find the right shape for you in this particular season of life.
That expression will change over time. The pose you breathe into today might be very different from the one you'll do 10 or 20 years from now. It might be a far cry from what you did back in 1999. No worries.
Our practice isn't about matching an image on a magazine cover. Yoga asanas are subjective. They're malleable, they're creative, they're 100% YOU.
So let go of the outdated idea that you have to force your body in a particular shape from a 1970s yoga book — no matter how revered it might be.
The only standard you need for your practice is inwardly-determined. It centers around that sattvic balance of steadiness and softness, effort and ease. Once you can find that in your body, you're exactly where you want to be.
Alas, sorry to say, this is not true.
Practicing yoga won't magically take away the grief of losing someone you love, or the anxiety of sending your kid to school during a pandemic, or the stress of figuring out how to pay your rent when you lost your job last month.
There are no tricks, wizards, or superpowers involved.
What yoga CAN do is help you glimpse moments of bliss, peace, and ease amidst the hustle and grind of being human.
What it CAN do is help you develop the skills to sit lovingly and tenderly with the most difficult moments of your life, knowing they will ultimately pass.
What it CAN do is hone the mental and emotional tools to stay with uncomfortable feelings, rather than running away from them, or numbing them out with a pint of ice cream, a bottle of wine, or a shopping spree.
What it CAN do is bring you more deeply into this one true life of yours, minute by minute, slowing it down so you can really be present for all of it: the beautiful and the benign and the bittersweet.
What it CAN do is lend a little more ease to being alive in your body, so the aches and pains that used to haunt you are softened, stretched, or maybe even released.
Yoga moves through our lives in wonderfully big and small ways. Let it flow through yours.
Definitely not! 🤔 Have you met Ashtanga? Vinyasa? Power flow?
Say hello to yoga's vigorous, fast-paced, athletic side.
There's certainly a ton of quiet, soft, gentle, and slow yoga out there. Yin and restorative styles offer exactly that.
But if you're looking for a high-intensity, challenging, butt-kicking practice, you can find that, too.
Yoga has so many different faces. Take the time to explore them all. You might be surprised by what a variety of styles you find.
Good news: no mat necessary!
You're welcome to use a towel, a rug, a blanket — or nothing at all.
You can also modify your practice by doing yoga in a chair, against the wall, or on a stand-up paddleboard.
A sticky mat can be a nice addition, but it's certainly not required.
And — as most yoga teachers will tell you — most of our yoga practice happens off the mat in our daily lives, anyway.
Standing at the kitchen sink, waiting in line at the post office, or sitting in rush hour traffic might actually be the setting for your most meaningful yoga practice.
So, mat or no mat: trust that you've got what you need.
It's easy to think this is true, isn't it? 🤔 From the athletic images we see on magazine covers to the popular stereotypes of yoga as a fitness workout, the cultural story we tell about yoga in the USA is one of physical pursuit alone.
The good news is: it's so much richer than that.
Physical asana (or yoga pose) practice is just one of the eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga. At the heart of this eight-limbed system are teachings on philosophy, psychology, meditation, emotional intelligence, purpose, activism, relationships, non-violence, and more.
Yoga is a truly comprehensive system for being alive — and making meaning — in the world. Many of us first discover it through yoga poses — like a "gateway" of sorts. And that's totally ok!
But stick around a little longer and dig a little deeper. You might just be amazed by the depth of transformative, holistic teachings you find.
Definitely not. ❌
Yoga is for EVERY body — and all bodies are good bodies. So you are 100% welcome to bring your perfectly-original, perfectly-YOU body to the mat.
For a long time, yoga magazines and popular media coverage only really depicted one type of body. Think of a long, lithe ballerina-type: a stereotypical "skinny white yoga lady" from a 1990s issue of Yoga Journal.
Many of us struggled to see ourselves in those representations — and that lack of identification has huge repercussions. Because the story they told was that "the rest of us" weren't really cut out for yoga.
And that's just not gonna fly anymore.
Representation has improved a lot in the last few years, with media decision-makers growing more conscious of the fact that the images we see of yogis need to illustrate a wide range of body types, races, ages, abilities, and gender identities.
But it's not good enough yet. We have so much further to go.
Here at studio BE, we do everything we can to make our practices accessible to folks of all sizes. Rest assured, we're always working on making our yoga classes more inclusive and welcoming.
So trust that whatever your body shape, you are absolutely in the right place. Offer your body gentleness for working so hard to carry you through this life. It shows up for you every single day!!
And then exhale into this ever-loving, ever-renewing practice.
Props are for everyone!! The more, the merrier.
And it doesn't matter whether you've taken 2 or 2000 yoga classes: you just might find that a well-placed block or a supportive bolster could be the game-changer for your practice.
Props can be useful for so many reasons.
Maybe you're injured and that extra block allows you to reach your hand closer to the floor. Maybe your tight hamstrings mean that using a strap to grab your big toe (instead of your hand) makes a pose reasonable in your body. Maybe you want to relax into a Supported Reclining Hero pose, and that bolster behind your heart will help you exhale and rest.
Or maybe you're taking an Iyengar or Restorative yoga class, where props are readily incorporated for support and exploration in most poses.
Whether it's a block, a bolster, a strap, or a blanket: props can bring a whole new dimension to your practice. Embrace them.
And because our bodies and practices change over the years, you might find yourself using (or not using) props as the seasons ebb and flow. That's cool.
Roll with it. Stay open.
In Sutra 1.2 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (a central Sanskrit text), we learn that yoga is defined as "chitta vritti nirodhah":
"The cessation of the misidentification of the fluctuations of the mind."
Whew, got that?!
In other words, the practice of yoga is about no longer thinking YOU are your THOUGHTS. No longer getting swept up in the racing and swirling thoughts and feelings that come and go, and instead knowing you are the clear blue sky of consciousness behind them.
This means that yoga, at its heart, is really more of a psychological than a religious practice. It's not about worshiping any particular deity. No confessional vows required.
It's more of a mind-training practice: an opportunity to learn to work with difficult thoughts and emotions, and instead of getting stuck in them, developing the capacity to stay gently with them until they pass.
We add a few yoga poses or breathing exercises as tools to help us work with our minds: noticing where our thoughts go when we're in a tricky upside-down pose, or when we fall out of a tough balance, or when we aren't breathing deeply.
The meditation at the heart of yoga is all about learning to watch your thoughts, choose your response, live with more gentleness and compassion, and ultimately, to make friends with yourself. Folks of any faith can find meaning and purpose in the practice. The core values that meditation and yoga cultivate — patience, forgiveness, and lovingkindness, for example — are also emphasized by most faith traditions around the world. And meditation can actually be a great complement to most spiritual traditions.
So people of faith, have no fear: you can absolutely take on a yoga practice and maintain your deep spiritual commitments. Meditation might actually deepen your sense of connection to all that is: whether that's nature, your body, other people, or the God of your own understanding.
And that sure sounds holy to us.
It may seem this way, but this is far from the truth. 🤓
Back in the day — long before sticky mats or yoga pants or even Sun Salutations were a thing — yogis were the absolute opposite of mainstream.
Historically, yogis were often seen as renegades or rogues — especially those who incorporated often-mystical practices.
In India, yoga didn't originally have much to do with asana. Maybe a sannyasin (the Sanskrit name for a Hindu renunciate) would do his practice by spending two days standing on one leg in a river. But mostly, practicing yoga meant finding a comfortable seat for meditation.
Sannyasins' spiritual practice was to live simply and nomadically, often existing on the margins of householder society.
If they time-travelled into 2021 and landed in your grandma's YMCA yoga class, the yogis of old would probably not recognize anything happening there as yoga.
Even in 1893, when Swami Vivekananda is credited with bringing yoga to the West at the Chicago World's Fair, he very deliberately emphasized philosophy and breathwork and said little about hatha yoga, in an effort to present yoga as less renegade and more mainstream.
Yoga is always changing. We've seen a lot of evolution in the last 40 years, for sure — but it's always good to remember the tradition we know now isn't necessarily the same one that emerged thousands of years ago.
Never too old, never too late.
Whether you're four or 40, it's always the right time to start a yoga practice. Yoga will meet you where you are.
This is the grace that's built right into the practice.
And even if your joints feel creaky, you're never too old to transform your mind. Because learning to work with thoughts and feelings is really at the heart of a practice.
Take it as slowly as you need to.
Yoga is for everyone: womxn, non-binary folks, men, toddlers, tweens, soccer players, airline pilots, transgender kids, pharmacy clerks, nurses, athletes, schoolteachers, tired moms, grouchy dads, funny uncles, cool aunts, your grandma, her boyfriend, goats (yes, goats), gardeners, bartenders, you name it.
Yoga. Is. For. You.
Would you believe that 7/8ths of yoga has nothing to do with pretzel-y poses?!
The bendy shapes get all the attention, but they're just one small part of a yoga practice. The philosophical and psychological aspects of yoga are just as — if not more — important.
That said, there's one word here we especially want to avoid: "forcing". We never, ever want to force anything in yoga asana practice.
Pushing, striving, or grunting our way through a yoga class kind of misses the whole point!
Because what we're really learning to do in these shapes is to listen to our bodies: tuning in to the messages they're sending us when we're in Triangle Pose or that forward fold, really paying attention to our edges, setting healthy boundaries, and backing off before we hurt ourselves.
We're practicing taking even more tender care of ourselves. And that's pretty much the opposite of "forcing".
So stay gentle. Keep listening. Let yourself unfurl.
This is yoga.
This is so far from the truth!
While it's true that sometimes we might find ourselves quietly "in the zone" while we're practicing on the mat, yoga is often anything *but* serious and sober.
Think about it: how can you take yourself too seriously when you're pretending to be a Tree or a Cat or a Camel? How can you help but laugh when you fall out of a tricky balancing pose and land on your face?
This gentle lack of self-seriousness is exactly what we cultivate in our practices.
Yes, we take our yoga seriously — because it truly holds the power to transform our lives, our work, and our relationships. But if anything, a long-term yoga practice will make us more childlike: more open, more flexible, more quick to laugh, more full of wonder.
Eastern wisdom traditions like Buddhism and Taoism often associate experiences of enlightenment with being lighthearted and rich with joy.
Let your yoga practice unravel the tension that comes with the serious pressures of adulting — and bring you a little closer to who you were as a child.
That's where the ease really unfolds.
Yoga is *so* much more than just stretching.
Yoga is strength-building.
Yoga is meaning-making.
Yoga is stress-releasing.
Yoga is power-creating.
Yoga is mind-training.
Yoga is storytelling.
Yoga is unraveling.
Yoga is softening.
Yoga is clarifying.
Yoga is releasing.
Yoga is opening.
Yoga is evolving.
"Real" yoga happens wherever you are.
Sure, it might be in the living room as you dial up a quick 15-minute practice on your TV — but it just as likely might be in the hospital waiting room breathing through an emergency.
Your yoga practice might unfold while you're sitting stuck in traffic, caring for your ailing parent, or snuggling your little one to sleep at night.
The bottom line?
No mat required.
No studio required.
And definitely no pricey per-class rate required.
Once you discover the breadth and depth of what a yoga practice truly is, you can infuse it into your entire day.
Whether that means a few breaths in Downward Dog at the wall before your next meeting, or 30 seconds of quiet pranayama practice between calls, or simply noticing your breath as you unload groceries: it's all yoga.
And you can practice in every moment of your life.
Here's to unraveling.
Guest post by studio BE Vice President Rachel Meyer
Rachel Meyer is an American writer and yoga teacher based in Switzerland. She draws from her roots in musical theater, theology, and the arts to teach a wholehearted, vigorous vinyasa. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Yoga International, Parents, HuffPost, and more. Prior to moving to Basel, Rachel taught for a decade in premier studios in San Francisco, CA; Portland, OR; and Boston, MA. Learn more at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or on social media @rachelmeyeryoga.
Feature photo by Nataly/Adobe Stock