Yoga experts debunk 12 yoga myths

  • Two yoga teachers debunk 12 myths about yoga. They explain ways pregnant people can safely practice.
  • They also debunk the idea that yoga is a religion and isn’t a way to convert people to Hinduism.
  • They even mention how you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga. It’s something everyone can do.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Tejal Patel: “You shouldn’t do yoga if you’re pregnant.”

Jesal Parikh: Ugh. Really?

Parikh: “Yoga is a religion.”

Parikh: Ooh, this is a controversial one.

Patel: “You have to be flexible to do yoga.”

Patel: Eh. Can we just, like, rip that up, throw it away, and never remember that was ever said, ever again?

Patel: My name is Tejal Patel. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I am a yoga teacher, I’m a community organizer, and I’m a podcaster. I started learning about yoga my whole life, and I’ve been teaching for about seven or eight years.

Parikh: Hi, my name is Jesal Parikh. My pronouns are she, her, and hers, and I’m a yoga teacher, a podcaster, and an industry disruptor. I’ve been doing yoga since I was a kid, but I started teaching about 10 years ago.

Patel: Yoga is an ancient living tradition, and it’s also a spiritual practice.

Parikh: But it’s become a fitness program and a fad.

Patel: We’re trying to change that by dispelling some myths about what people think is yoga and what yoga really is.

Parikh: “Yoga is just exercise.”

This is the biggest myth of them all, I think, for sure. This is the change that’s come with time and translation over to the Western hemisphere. It’s definitely not just an exercise, it’s a spiritual practice with ancient traditions. It’s an eight-limb path.

Patel: Yoga can include breath work. It can include learning how to meditate. It can include being better towards yourself, being better towards others. There’s so many things that yoga practice can teach us that calling it “just exercise” is a huge disservice to the actual practice, the culture it came from, and to you as a person practicing yoga.

Parikh: “This pose is Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).”

Patel: So, many people know this pose translated to be Downward-Facing Dog Pose, but you can also translate this pose to be Mountain Pose. You can explore so many different lineages in yoga. And when you do that, you’ll find that different poses or poses that look the same have different names depending on the lineage. And that’s kind of the beauty of yoga.

Patel: “You should try to keep your back straight.”

Parikh: I see this cue given all the time in Seated Forward Fold, so Paschimottanasana. I see it given in Uttanasana, Standing Forward Fold. I also sometimes hear it in Downward-Facing Dog as well. Unless you have an acute back injury that prevents you from rounding your back, I would say try it both ways. Try it with a straight spine and a rounded back, because both skills are valuable. The straight spine is often equated to the hip hinge, which a lot of people don’t necessarily understand how to do in their body. It allows you to use some of your inner core muscles to stabilize, and that’s a good thing, but it’s also a really good thing to learn how to use flexion in your spine and also start to load that over time so that when you do bend over to pick up your groceries and your back is rounded, you don’t throw out your back. The only unsafe movement or alignment for your body is the one you’re not prepared for.

Patel: “Your shin should be parallel to the mat in Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose).”

You can take this pose in any variation, in any way that feels OK for you. When I cue this pose, I offer as many props as possible, and you know what? You don’t have to lay forward in this pose. You don’t have to turn, you don’t have to backbend. You can do what feels right to you.

Parikh: What is this pose supposed to accomplish? For some people, that might mean finding some flexibility in their hips, and for others, it’s more of a spiritual, deeper practice, in which case it doesn’t really matter what the pose looks like.

Parikh: “You should twist as far as you can in Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose).”

You’re not gonna reach nirvana just by twisting as far as you can. This pose, in the way that it’s cued, going into the twist as much as you can is definitely not going to be appropriate for people who are experiencing SI joint pain or for pregnant women, but for everyone else, it’s OK. It’s just a matter of, you know, what’s their history with their spine?

Patel: This is a really complex pose. Asking someone to do a more complex pose that has a lot of different actions to it, for the hips, for the spine, stabilizing in the legs, you’re going to want to know what those students are working with. And generally in flow classes, you don’t get all that information before you start. So what I would say to teachers is to be cautious about how you cue this pose, give all the options you can, give everyone the out if they need it, and also create some space for people to come in and out of this shape if they need it.

“When your legs are straight (in a pose), your knees should be locked.”

Parikh: You can lock your knees. It’s more muscularly engaging to not lock your knees and to keep them a little bit bent, but for those people who lack strength, maybe, in a pose and need to rely a little bit more on their joint position, locking the knees can really make the pose a little bit easier for them.

Patel: I hear this cue given a lot when people are being asked to forward fold. And I would say in that pose in particular, definitely micro bend or just go ahead and really bend your knees.

Parikh: It’s just a better idea to start with bent knee and then see how it feels if you want to move towards a straighter leg.

“You should keep your knees stacked over your ankles.”

Parikh: Ah! I loathe this cue so much! It’s one that’s given for “safety reasons,” which, there’s a really backward logic to this.

Patel: I find it puts people back into the mindset of doing something perfectly or poorly, with nothing in between, and when, really, everything in between is where you want to be, in the exploration of it. Some poses you hear this cue used a little bit too often, in my opinion, are any of the standing poses, like Warrior II, Side Angle Pose, revolved variations of any of those poses. I think we can definitely move into more exploration within these poses and in more mobility and more testing things out, because that’s what we do in real life anyway. Like, when we walk up the stairs, we’re not conscious of keeping our knee stacked over the ankle, are we?

Parikh: Yeah, and if we look at pictures of other yoga masters doing this pose, their knee goes way past the ankle, so I don’t know where this cue came from or why, but it’s just wiggled its way into the yoga industry.

Patel: “You shouldn’t do yoga if you’re pregnant.”

Parikh: There’s a whole genre called prenatal yoga filled with great low-impact asana, poses, that you can do if you’re pregnant.

Patel: I think this myth might be around because in certain elements of a yoga practice, you can hold your breath for some of the breath work, or pranayama, practices, and in prenatal, it’s kind of advised not to hold your breath.

Parikh: So, poses to avoid might be deep spinal twists, laying flat on your back, inversions, any breath retention that is vigorous or too aggressive.

Patel: Poses that might feel really nice could be Cat and Cow, in the way that your spine can move. It could be a wide-legged forward fold. Also supporting yourself with a wall, supporting yourself with props in poses, squatting, because that helps you prepare for labor and delivery. Also being in Tabletop and just circling and swaying your hips. Loud breathing, exhalations and sighs. You can, if you want to, ask someone in the medical field whether starting a yoga practice during your pregnancy is a good idea. Maybe some things you haven’t tried before in your yoga practice you might not want to implement while you’re pregnant.

Patel: “You have to be flexible to do yoga.” Eh. Can we just, like, rip that up, throw it away, never remember that?

Parikh: This myth comes from the idea that yoga is just a bunch of poses and that it’s just a fitness practice, when the reality is you can do yoga every day without doing a single pose ever.

Patel: It’s also assuming that you did some prep work to start your yoga practice. Yoga is the entry point. And I think it just prevents people from thinking that yoga is for them, when the reality is yoga is for everybody. You can start at any point, at any age, and you can keep going, no matter what your flexibility level is.

Patel: “Sukhasana, aka The Easy Pose, is easy.”

Parikh: Definitely not an easy pose, definitely misnamed pose, I think in many people’s opinions.

Patel: People use their bodies really differently. They might be sitting on the floor to eat, they might be squatting to sweep, and, culturally, we just don’t do that as much. So I recommend a lot of support and a lot of preparation before attempting this pose.

Parikh: “The more advanced the pose, the better it is for you.”

Patel: You might see on Instagram, all over the place, “handstand yogis,” quote, unquote. All they’re doing is very strong, muscularly focused posturing. If that’s your cup of tea, great. But it doesn’t make you a more advanced yogi. Sorry to burst the bubble on that.

Parikh: The most advanced yoga pose is sitting quietly and meditating. So if you can manage to block out your thoughts and focus inward and just breathe and sit without anything going through your mind, that, I think, is like, all hail to you if you can do that.

Parikh: “Yoga is a religion.” Ooh, this is a controversial one, with lots of opinions out there. Yoga itself is not a religion, but it is a spiritual practice.

Patel: Everyone wants to know if yoga is Hindu or not. And the answer is yes and no.

Parikh: Hinduism and yoga are both rooted in the Vedas. And so the relationship between the two is that they both have a Vedic lineage.

Patel: And, yes, modern-day Hinduism includes yoga, but modern-day Hinduism is also very different from Vedic Hinduism. It has evolved. And so has yoga. Yoga exists both within Hinduism and outside of it. Basically, it’s both Hindu and non-Hindu.

Parikh: So if you’re not choosing to be Hindu, you can still respect the culture from where this comes from, which is the Vedic culture, which is the Indian culture.

Patel: Just because you’re chanting “om” or sitting in a cross-legged seated position, that doesn’t make you Hindu. I think to be a good yoga teacher, there has to be relationship building with the community that you’re giving the yoga practices to. And I also think to be a good yoga teacher, you have to remember that yoga is a rich cultural tradition and a spiritual practice. Learning about the practices that come from South Asia can look like taking classes with teachers who are South Asian. It can look like starting to diversify your yoga bookshelf by seeking out authors that have South Asian heritage or backgrounds. It could start to look like thinking about the music you might play. If you play music as a teacher in your yoga classes, can you start to diversify your playlist? We have a lot of options, and we’d love for you to take us up on the workshop to learn more.

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