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Debunking Stale Yoga Stigmas

Yoga has been practiced for thousands (yes, thousands) of years, offering a plethora of benefits for both body and mind. However, despite its widespread popularity and numerous scientific studies confirming its positive effects, there are still a few stigmas and misconceptions associated with yoga. These stigmas often deter people from trying yoga or realizing its full potential.


Let's debunk some of the most common yoga stigmas and uncover the truth behind them...


Woman enjoying a yoga pose with flexed spine

❌Yoga is only for flexible people...


One of the most common stigmas associated with yoga that I hear most often is that it is only suitable for flexible people. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of their flexibility level. In fact, practicing yoga regularly can help improve flexibility over time. Additionally, there are various modifications and props available to make the poses more accessible for all fitness levels.*


 *Here are some tips to help you get started if you feel like your flexibility is an issue:


Start slow and use support: Begin with beginner-friendly yoga poses and gradually progress as your flexibility increases. This can be tricky because one person's beginner pose is another person's challenge. Practicing poses like mountain pose and triangle pose can be helpful with a wall behind you for balance and awareness. Having the support of the wall can help you take more time in the posture and learn how your body responds to the movements and shape of the pose.


Focus on breath: Pay attention to your breath, and use it to guide your movements and gauge how well your body is responding to a stretch. The body has a way of protecting our muscles from overstretching when we put too much pressure on them. This then has the opposite effect when we're working to become more flexible.


If you're holding your breath or breathing hard, this can indicate that your body is protecting itself from overstraining as opposed to relaxing into a healthy stretch. Soft and mindful breathing can help relax your muscles and allow you to better appreciate a posture and it's benefits.


Consistency is key: Regular practice is crucial for improvement. Even short, consistent sessions can contribute to increased flexibility over time. Scheduling 10 min daily to practice a posture or two when beginning a yoga practice is a great way to start.

Choose the right group class: Look for beginner or gentle yoga classes. Many instructors provide variations and modifications to accommodate different levels of flexibility.


Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body and avoid pushing yourself to the point of pain. Discomfort can be normal, but pain is a sign to ease off or modify the pose.


Be Patient: Flexibility takes time to develop. Celebrate small progressions, and don't be discouraged if you can't achieve certain poses immediately. Remember, yoga is a personal journey, and there's no need to compare yourself to others. Embrace the process, enjoy the journey, and let your practice evolve at its own pace.


Strong male practicing yoga at home

Yoga is not exercise, it's stretching...


Many people believe that yoga is not considered exercise because it appears to focus more on flexibility than high-intensity movements or strength training...


I suppose this depends on one's definition of exercise. Exercise is more widely defined as a type of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitively used to maintain or improve physical health.


Yoga is a holistic form of exercise that offers a wide

range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.


Yoga is a full-body movement practice that integrates various muscle groups simultaneously. Here are just a few ways in which yoga serves as exercise:


It is weight-bearing: Many yoga poses require you to support your own body weight in various positions. Your body weight serves as a natural resistance during yoga poses when weight is concentrated in certain parts of the body either repetitively or when held for a time. This weight-bearing load places stress on muscles, bones, and connective tissues, stimulating them to adapt and become stronger. When you hold your body in a specific pose, various muscle groups are engaged to maintain that position, including an isometric contraction. Many yoga poses involve isometric contractions, where the muscle length remains constant, and the muscles work against resistance without significant joint movement. This type of contraction builds greater functional strength and endurance.


Functional strength + mobility: Yoga often includes functional movements that mimic daily activities. For instance, standing poses like Warrior I and II aren't positions we take in our daily lives, however they strengthen the legs and mobilize the hip joints, enhancing functional strength for activities such as walking, hiking, biking and climbing stairs. Many postures can help strengthen muscles and create better joint mobility allowing us to reach, bend, squat, get up and down from the floor, etc. Yoga sequencing offers a dynamic way for us to move from position to position as we do in everyday life creating greater opportunities to elaborate on these actions for greater stability and strength and balance.


Cardiovascular Conditioning: Certain approaches to yoga involve sequences that offer strength challenges or swift movements pose to pose that elevate your heart rate and increase the need to breath deeper. Yoga emphasizes this connection between breath and movement contributing to cardiovascular fitness and stamina.


Adaptation and Progression: As you consistently practice yoga, your muscles adapt to the demands of different poses and actions. Over time, you can progress to more challenging variations or hold poses for longer durations and even add weight, further building strength.


Mind-Body Connection: Yoga emphasizes the mind-body connection, encouraging awareness of how your body moves and feels. This heightened awareness allows you to intentionally engage specific muscles during poses, hold and/or move with more intension and manage breath. This discipline carries into other forms of exercise as well such as weight lifting and sports.


Yoga is exercise and then some! It is a versatile form of exercise that offers a comprehensive approach to physical movement, encompassing strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health, and mindfulness. Its holistic nature makes it suitable for individuals of various fitness levels and goals.


Male and female practicing yoga together outside

Yoga is primarily for women...


While it may be true that yoga classes are often predominantly attended by women, yoga is beneficial for everyone, regardless of gender.


Men and women can benefit equally from yoga, and both men and women can benefit in ways that differ from the other by addressing biological issues and difficult stages of life based on physical and hormonal changes.


Here are ways in which yoga is particularly advantageous for women:


Hormonal Balance: Yoga practices, including specific poses and breathing techniques, may help regulate hormonal balance. This can be especially beneficial for women dealing with menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopausal symptoms.


Prenatal and Postnatal Support: Prenatal yoga provides a safe and gentle way for pregnant women to stay active, enhance flexibility, and prepare for childbirth. Postnatal yoga helps in the recovery process, rebuilding strength, and addressing postpartum challenges.


Menstrual Pain Relief: Yoga poses that stretch and relax the lower abdomen and back can alleviate menstrual cramps. Gentle yoga practices during menstruation can provide comfort and ease symptoms.


Breast Health: Some yoga poses involve chest-opening stretches, which can contribute to breast health by promoting circulation and lymphatic drainage.


Here are ways in which yoga can help address and alleviate concerns unique to men:


Prostate Health: Certain yoga poses, particularly those involving hip opening and pelvic floor engagement, may support prostate health. These poses can improve blood circulation to the pelvic region and help maintain the health of the prostate gland.


Erectile Dysfunction: Yoga, through its ability to enhance overall cardiovascular health, improve blood flow, and reduce stress, can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction. Poses that focus on pelvic floor strength and relaxation may also contribute to better sexual function.


Increased Testosterone Levels: Some studies suggest that engaging in regular physical activity, including yoga, can lead to a temporary increase in testosterone levels. Testosterone is a key hormone for men, influencing muscle mass, energy levels, and overall vitality.


Core strength: Men are 10 times more likely to suffer from an inguinal hernia than women. Yoga engages muscles in unique and intentional ways through bodyweight exercises that can safely develop strength in the abdomen to aid in the prevention of hernias through regular practice.


This is just the short list. ANYONE can reap

the rewards from regular practice:


Improved Flexibility: Yoga's emphasis on stretching and flexibility helps improve range of motion and reduce the risk of injuries, inflammation and pain.


Enhanced Posture: Yoga promotes awareness of body alignment and helps correct certain physiological imbalances, leading to the ability to hold better posture. Better posture throughout the day can help reduce pain and fatigue.


Stress Reduction: Yoga's focus on mindful movement, breath, and supported rest through intentional sequences to calm the nervous system helps alleviate stress, promoting mental well-being.


Balanced Fitness: Yoga complements other forms of exercise by offering a balanced approach to fitness. It incorporates strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular elements, contributing to overall physical fitness.


Joint Health: Yoga's gentle movements and stretches support joint health, reducing stiffness, increasing mobility and alleviating inflammation due to chronic illness.


Injury Prevention: Yoga's emphasis on controlled movements and awareness reduces the risk of injuries. This can be particularly beneficial for those engaged in high-impact sports or activities that carry a risk of injury.


Increased Energy Levels: Regular yoga practice can boost energy levels by promoting better circulation, oxygenating the body, and reducing fatigue.


Community and Support: Yoga classes provide a supportive environment to practice and connect with others. This sense of community can be valuable for mental and emotional health.


Diverse class of happy yoga practitioners

Yoga is a religious practice...


Yoga originated in ancient India and has spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. However, yoga as practiced in the Western world is generally a secular practice, focused on physical and mental well-being. People of all faiths and beliefs can practice yoga without any conflict with their religious beliefs. While yoga does involve mindfulness and meditation, it does not require adherence to any specific religious doctrine.


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While there are more than several stigmas associated with yoga, it is important to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to explore its many facets. Whether you are looking to improve your physical health, reduce stress, or simply try something new, yoga has something to offer everyone. After all, yoga is a practice of getting to know yourself.


Ashley Sayaloune is a teacher at Modified Movement


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