Over the course of my journey as a practitioner and teacher, I have found that a lot of people tend to shy away from yoga, as it comes across to them, as new age fluff for the privileged or a cultish like regime. So, I decided it was time to set the record straight and address these common erroneous perceptions of what yoga is and what us yoga people do (and no, we don’t hang upside-down from the ceiling like bats, when we sleep at night FYI). I have summed these up in 5 most common questions I get asked:
Is yoga is a religion?
No, it is most certainly not a religion nor should it revolve around dogmatic beliefs or behaviours. Does it evoke the spiritual side of us? Well, if we define spirituality as a means to cultivate our consciousness, empathy, mindfulness and absolute acceptance of ourselves and our environment without resistance and judgement, as well as NON-attachment, then yes, it is a spiritual practice. It is about understanding the relationship between pleasure and pain. The more we are addicted to pleasure, the more we suffer when that pleasure is taken away from us. Makes sense, right? Analogically, the less attached our ego is to someone or something, the less suffering there is when these are lost (of course this is easier said that done).
Having said that, yoga is an integral part of Hinduist Philosophy and the word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts of India, the Rig Veda dating to aprox 5000 years ago. Still though, yoga in a scientific and philosophical sense, stands on its own as self-development system that doesn’t prohibit one from practicing any traditional religion or being an atheist. In present day there have been numerous scientific studies addressing the benefits of yoga and not to mention that a lot of mainstream therapy recommends meditation, asana practice and breathwork as a way to reduce anxiety and depression.
Can I practice yoga if I’m religious? If I am an atheist?
As far as Yoga is concerned, everyone is welcome in class given that they are in a suitable type and level of class for their age group and physical ability. This is why most studios offer different yoga styles and levels, as well as private sessions that can be tailored to the specific needs of each student.
I like the physical aspect of yoga, but I can’t stand the teacher preaching. What should I do?
Different teachers and yoga schools focus on different aspects of the practice. Therefore, if yoga philosophy in class makes you cringe, either because you are traditional in terms of your religious beliefs, or are a hard-core atheist, who just wants to get in shape or destress, your best bet is to try out vinyasa style classes, which focus more on the physical aspect of the practice. In my classes, I make sure I don’t influence students with my own spiritual bias, but instead prefer to give a simple instruction on how to do the postures correctly and in a way that allows them to come to their own conclusions on how and why this practice works for them. It is about creating mental space which allows you to comprehend the practice in your own unique way. Keep in mind though, that even if you do embark the yoga path for the physical benefits, your nervous system will ensure you experience an emotional & mental shift. 🙂
Do all yogis follow a strict lifestyle and a vegetarian diet?
I noticed that some of my friends who don’t practice yoga very often assume that I follow some rigid lifesyle, that they don’t essentially agree with . Although I can’t speak for others, I will share what the yoga lifestyle means to me. My life has most certainly changed since I got into yoga but not because some guru “converted me”, but rather, the yoga practice made me more conscious about my diet, health, relationships, career path and so on. The mental clarity I got out of the practice, helped me weed out the choices I used to make on an ego-gratifying basis and embrace what I truly wanted out of life.
Although I have been practicing yoga on and off since my teens and throughout years of dance training, it was at age of 29 that I fully immersed into the practice. Since then, I have gone from being fully vegan to pescatarian. My diet still consists of mainly veggies, legumes and fruit, however, adding eggs & fish, really boosted my energy levels and mental power.
However, what works for one person, won’t work for another. I am friends with people who eat red meat just as I adore my quirky vegans, and respect their life choices equally. No one is superior nor inferior to another, no matter how polarizing this topic can get. My point is, the yogic lifestyle isn’t written in stone nor a regime one must obey, at least not in my book.
It’s more about undoing the patterns that don’t support a healthy and fulfilling life.
It’s about listening to your body and understanding what it needs most.
In my early 20’s it was all about partying and cultivating an attractive external image, today it’s all about feeling fit, healthy, energized and connecting with my inner self and others, in a loving and sincere way. So, do yogis live a rigid lifestyle? Some do, some don’t. Some walk the talk, some don’t. If you do the practice, you will understand that all changes happen spontaneously.
Your body knows what it needs to thrive.
You just need to tune into it.
And Yoga helps you do that.
Do I need to be flexible to do yoga?
We can blame the Instagram yoga marketing that revolves around the principle “Who ever is more bendy, is a better yogi or teacher”, for why so many people get discouraged from this empowering practice simply because they feel they are not thin, flexible, fit , (fill in the blank) enough. Flexibility is a potential side-effect of yoga, but is by no means a prerequisite. In fact, I have been pretty bendy all my life, thanks to mother nature and also years of dance training, long before I started doing yoga. However, at times, this was more of an obstacle than an asset, as I would rely on my flexibility when in fact it was core-strength that was required to do a posture correctly.
Yoga is all about you connecting with your body and embracing it just as it is.
Yoga is a mental training through body work.
Some postures take years to learn and the process is frustrating. However, the postures teach us how to properly use our muscles and energy locks, how to coordinate movement, balance, stay focused and breathe fluidly. It’s about you, your ego, your body and your personal story, on the mat…. every day. And you may become more flexible and you may not. Even if you do become more flexible, you won’t necessarily become a happier or better person. It’s the process in between that counts.
Yoga is all about leaving dogma, judgements and labels behind, in order to be the best version of YOURSELF.
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