By Alexis Corchado
Prior to becoming a Yoga teacher, I wasn’t very aware of the “Yoga Myths” surrounding our beloved practice. To me, it was all peaches and cream with a dollop of Pranayama. But as I embark on my teaching career, I’ve noticed misconceptions and false notions floating around Yoga. I been brought to chuckles at some of the ideas prospective students have even before taking their very first class.
Myth #1 – Yoga is an activity for women
Ok, I must admit that this seems to be true in most commercial Yoga classes. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of students are female. However, this is starting to change. More and more men are becoming acquainted with the practice and its immense benefits. As a result, they’re telling their “macho” buddies about it and the buzz is spreading. Even world champion boxer, Juan Manuel Marquez incorporates asana and meditation into his pre-fight training regimen.
I think this belief centers around the cultural limitation placed on men with regard to feeling vulnerable in public. Women seem more inclined to engage in activities like Yoga that encourage one to look within, and to get in touch with emotions or whatever else happens to be inside of them. Blame it on gender roles and society telling men that they must be stoic at all times.
Myth#2 – Yoga is for “white” people
This is a myth that not only infuriates, but saddens me deeply, because I am of Latino descent. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve heard students of mine (I’m also a substitute teacher in a public school district,) or in my old neighborhood, tell me that Yoga is something that white people do. Yoga is a practice open to anyone regardless of color, religion, or race. To associate a certain activity with a particular skin tone is absurd to me, but I must say that although it’s a false notion, I can understand why it exists. The fact of the matter is that all too often when we glimpse the glossy covers of a Yoga magazine or website homepage, more often than not we’re treated to a photograph of an individual of Caucasian descent. To add fuel to the previous myth, that individual will nine out of ten times also be a woman.
The truth is that the latter and the former myths are reinforced by the marketing of the billion-dollar industry that this ancient practice has become in the West. Let’s face it: Yoga classes and monthly memberships, not to mention retreats, are for the most part, very expensive, especially in major metropolitan areas. The above-mentioned demographic tends to be the one that has the discretionary income available to invest in Yoga. That being said, this is also changing and thankfully so. When I take glimpses around the main room at the Dharma Yoga Center I’m greeted by smiles from individuals representing numerous nations and walks of life, not to mention Sri Dharma Mittra himself is a Latino male. Yoga is for all of us!
Yoga Myth #3- Yoga is just stretching
This myth is, above all, the furthest from the truth. Does Yoga include stretching? Absolutely! Is that all there is to Yoga? No way! I quote the famous second verse from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” Translation: Yoga is the stilling of the mind into silence. This is where heart of Yoga lies. The asana practice is a tool for strengthening the body and creating radiant health. But it’s only the beginning; one branch on the eight-limbed tree that is Yoga. Our practice is about traveling within, shedding external distractions, communing with the true, lasting self, and understanding the multitude of afflictions that lead us to unhappiness and suffering. Yoga is a spiritual science that transcends the body and puts us on the path to comprehending universal truth, or God. It challenges as well as relaxes, forces us to accept our flaws or limitations, and encourages us to improve on them. To say that Yoga is just stretching is equivalent to saying that the Grand Canyon is just a crack in the Earth’s surface.
Yet again, I can comprehend the origins of this myth. Sadly enough, through the commercialization of Yoga in the West, Yoga has become just that, in classes offered across the nation it is just stretching. It appears as though Yoga has been morphed into countless manifestations in the hopes of drawing more business and as a result, the essential nature of the practice is being lost. I’ve been to a few classes, particularly hot Yoga classes, where not so much as an inkling of meditation or spirituality could be found. It felt like I was in an aerobics class (an incredibly sweaty one at that.) As teachers of Yoga, we can’t forget Ashtanga or the eight limbed tree of our practice. We can’t extract the very heart and soul out of what we teach in the hopes of drawing more business, or becoming more attractive to students less inclined to the metaphysical aspects of Yoga. It’s exactly these aspects that, in this day and age, must be upheld and are most in need. For this reason, I hold Sri Dharma Mittra and his way of teaching in the highest regard. Sri Dharma is Yoga on every conceivable level. His approach is classical in its method of preserving the ancient teachings of our practice.
So once again, is Yoga just stretching? Nooooooooooo!
Myth #4 – Yoga is too difficult
Yoga can be infinitely challenging and many asanas are achieved only after years of dedicated practice. But the beauty of Yoga lies in the fact that it is approachable from wherever you happen to be physically or mentally. Most of my students assume they’ll be standing on their heads during their very first class. I assure them that, in time, if they so desire, they will! But advanced asanas aren’t a requisite of Yoga. One’s practice is personal and unique. We all come to Yoga with a set of strengths and weaknesses. As I write this, I’m instantly reminded of my stubborn hamstrings.
What’s important is that we forget about competing with our peers and going into full splits, and instead appreciate the progress that will come when we’re compassionate with ourselves and our bodies. You do what you can do at your own pace. Yoga is a lifelong journey; it shouldn’t feel like a race. Self- realization doesn’t come overnight; it takes time. In basketball, one doesn’t start with shooting from the three point line, not even if your name is Lebron James. You start with dribbling, ball handling, and layups. Yoga is no different. So next time you’re in downward facing dog and your legs won’t comply, trust that this will change. Enjoy the process!
Myths abound and are associated with countless people, objects, events, or activities the world over. But let us try and remember that myths are false notions and often become roadblocks to our progress or experience of life. In the words of Sri Dharma Mittra, “be receptive.” Always strive to experience things for yourself, formulate your own well-informed opinions and in the process, help to shatter pre-existing myths.
Alexis Corchado lives in Union, New Jersey. He has been practicing Yoga for about a year and is in the internship phase of his LOAY 200-hour Teacher Training. Off the mat you can find him playing in the mountains or on the beach or dancing the night away to Salsa and Merengue. Nature is his biggest inspiration and having a sense of place is part of his passion. Alexis is forever grateful for the presence of Dharma Yoga, and all that it represents, in his life.