Yoga Myths

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Yoga
Tags: ,

There has been some interesting press around yoga as the veritable ‘all-encompassing workout’ lately and it has been causing more than a stir in my lycra-clad yogic circles.  On a few occasions, friends (and fellow practitioners) have forwarded  me some interesting articles regarding some rather, shall we say, interesting views and perceptions about yoga.  Maybe it’s dangerous, trendy or just plain silly, whatever, yoga has been on the receiving end of an old-school beatdown in the popular press as of late.  Now, whether these people really have our interests in mind, or whether they’re just hopping on the bus and getting their rage-on for yoga, who knows, but I feel the need now to address (as I am prone to do) some of these allegations.  So for all those yoga doubters, disbelievers and naysayers out there, I offer you my own personal perspective after nearly a year of practicing as it regards to these primary “yoga myths.”

I will admit that when I first got into yoga last year it was with a little trepidation.  “Will I have to wear leotard?”, “Are they going to make me chant?”, “Are the girls all going to laugh at me?”  so on and so forth; I stressed about it all.  Primarily, I wondered if it was going to provide me with the type of He-man core strength conditioning I was so desperate to find in my training program.  As it turned out, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’  to nearly all these questions: I have taken to wearing stretchy shorts, I do chant ‘OM’  periodically in class, and, yes, I’m sure the girls have shared a giggle (or two) over my lack of dexterity or flexibility from time to time as well…and, yes, I am also now finding that He-man strength too.

Myth #1:  Yoga is dangerous.

This whole recent questioning came from a recent New York Times article, entitled ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ (click HERE to read the article) which indicated that regular yoga practitioners are just as prone to injury as any other physical practice – maybe even more so.  Really?  The article goes on to list several examples of extreme and painful injuries that were directly contrived by participating in regular yoga classes.

This was, at first, rather shocking to me since one of the first major attractions for yoga initially was its being able to assist me with my ‘recovery strategy’, so the thought of placing myself directly in harm’s way was not a welcome one.   But much of this makes sense and I do realize that yoga is now being cited by doctors, therapists and physicians as an easy means by which to cure a whole multitude of ailments, from curing back pain to lowering blood pressure.  If I had 25 cents from each person who told me that they had been recommended to take up yoga as a means of staving off some other physical or chemical malady, shit, I could open my own Ashram on the moon.  And this is all well and good, but if these doctors told them to strip naked, smear themselves with mayonnaise and dance by the light of a full moon…would they do it as well?

Like anything else, yoga can injure.  It’s true.  So there is some truth base to this myth, but to dismiss it altogether as just another dangerous practice is ludicrous.  Like any discipline, yoga is something that needs to be learned and coached effectively and safely.  The overabundance of wannabe yogis lately has definitely created an influx of self-proclaimed yoga gurus all racing to be the next Baron Baptiste, it’s true, but anyone who simply walks into a yoga studio and suddenly expects to contort themselves into a pretzel just because some dipshit in a pink bandana and ponytail tells them to is simply mad.  Personally, the more egocentric and blindly astute the yoga teacher is, the less likely I am to join their class.  Instead I seek out ‘real’ people, those without ego who I trust to guide me safely through a series of asanas and who will always encourage me to ‘stop’  as much they do to ‘try something new’.

Knowing your body and your limitations is absolute key in anything you do, whether it’s weight-lifting, triathlon, yoga or even bowling for fuck sakes, whatever it is…do it correctly and while using proper form.  Knowing proper form comes with practice, study and guidance, not by listening to some moron on an ultimate ego trip.  I may not be the most graceful, bendy or

So choose your studio carefully and at all costs, practice smart.  Will yoga help with your sciatic back pain?  Maybe.  Will yoga help your asthma?  Possible.  Will yoga help alleviate your chronic depression?  Perhaps.  But whatever the chances are, don’t lose sight of what yoga is just because you are desperate to find a cure-all for whatever it is you’ve been stricken with – it’s physical exercise and needs to be respected as such.

Myth #2:  Yoga is easy.

I’ve been scoffed at, politely mocked and teased by my guy friends at the gym, training peers and even family members for the past year over this issue.  Yoga is for sissies.  “I thought you wanted to be an Ironman?”, “I thought you were trying to develop muscle strength?”  Ah, yeah…I am.  Thanks.

Yoga is not for sissies; far from actually.  As reporter Grant LaFleche (click HERE to read the article) found out at my local YBS studio this past week, yoga is actually quite challenging…but in a good way.  What LaFleche discovered, by the sounds of it, is that your favorite MMA superstar has nothing on an 80lb  girl in when it comes to physical conditioning.  Sure, she will not exactly rain down with hammer blows and look to submit you with a guillotine, but she will inevitably hold her Warrior III long after your legs begin to tremble and quake like licorice whips.  Of course, the antagonist in me also likes to think: “Oh yeah, let’s strap a 60lb bag of potatoes to her back and see how well she fares”.  But that wouldn’t be very nice, would it?

But strength is pretty subjective.  Her muscles are perfectly suited for holding and supporting her unique and infinitely prettier body mass.  We dudes, having a larger, bulkier frame, need more muscle and core strength to hold up our manly girth, and – believe me here – that takes some serious time and effort.  So comparing yourself to the other girls in class is rather futile and counter-productive.  I learned a long time ago never to watch what others are doing and just focus on what’s going happening on my own matt (usually a combination of thoughts including cheeseburgers, milkshakes and monkeys on rollerskates).  They say “there is no ego in yoga”  for a reason.

Now, regular yoga aside, the Hot Vinyasa yoga is the mother of all workouts.  Besides providing your muscles with that straight up, ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners workout, it’s also assisting you with that mental toughness conditioning that is important in just about any competitive sport or activity.  I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again: ‘hot yoga is endurance for the mind’.

So if anybody ever wants to maintain that yoga is, in some way, for wimps…I invite you to any 60 minute hot yoga class, or other yoga class for that matter.  Don’t let the older ladies deter you; they’ll be easily twisting themselves and balancing in positions that would cripple you just as easily.  Likewise, you’ll probably discover muscles that you didn’t even know you had.  Stock up on the Bengay, Tarzan.  Trust me.

Myth #3: Yoga is just a trend.

It’s not hard to figure out where this myth comes from, what with all the current and often odd practices currently being offered nowadays.  Among the usual yoga styles available, one can now pretty easily find Couples Yoga, Naked Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Hip Hop Yoga, Aerial Yoga, Paddleboard Yoga, Yoga for Foodies, Christ, there’s even Doga now…that’s right, yoga for your dog.  Shit, look hard enough and you’ll likely find a new type of yoga for every day of the month and never have to go back to the same studio twice.  So I guess there is some truth to this myth, but this is no Billy Blanks Tai-Bo shit either I assure you.  Yoga is definitely here to stay.

Trend is defined as:

  • A fad
  • A fashion
  • A popular style or vogue usually for only a short interim

But this isn’t really accurate given that, historically, yoga has been around in principle for nearly 5000 years.  That’s long before Christ; long before Buddha; and definitely long before Zumba.  Here in North America, yoga was only introduced in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda who spoke at the Parliament of Religions.  Since then, of course, yoga has received numerous make-overs.  But, prior to that, yoga was primarily a preparation practice to ready the body for seated meditation.   However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Americans became obsessed with looking good.  Thank you, Jane Fonda!  Suddenly, there was a mad rush for diet pills, Richard Simmons and Jack LaLanne ‘Power Juicers’.  Around this time yoga became unhinged from its Indian lineage and Americans started branding their own sequences and opening studios willy-nilly.   Of course, all of the original founders of these American brands had only the highest intentions. They had all gone to India, studied with renowned gurus, worn giant palazzo pants and had practiced and taught for many, many years before developing their own unique styles and brands.

But enough of the history lesson; I’m not in it to achieve any spiritual awareness or ultimate enlightenment here, I’m in it for results; pure, old-fashioned, un-adulterated results.  So what has this “trend” taught me you ask?  For starters, yoga has taught me how to breathe, improve my focus, and maybe most importantly, it is teaching me patience.  All these things have been integral to my own Ironman training and largely the reason why I have done as well as I have.  I have learned how to breathe through periods of discomfort, gained confidence through maintaining a focus on the task at hand, and staved off injury so far, largely thanks to having the patience and common sense to spend time developing a successful ‘recovery strategy’ involving effective, educated stretching.  And yeah, yeah, there is that physical He-man aspect to it as well, tough guy.

Now, if that’s all achieved through merely participating in something regarded as ‘trendy’, then paint my nails and call me ‘Paris’.

 

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