When I first discovered yoga in the 1990’s, I was ecstatic. I could feel a gravitational pull emanating from every part of my being to this wonderful practice, and I truly began to fall head over heals for it.
The trouble was, we had very little information about the practice and I was told that what I was doing by practicing yoga was unpleasant to God. That it was a religious practice I needed to stay away from and that I should go back to reading the Bible instead of trying to meditate, which would inevitably lead to my becoming possessed by a demon.
Yeah, that was pretty much my first encounter with the “rumors” about yoga. I was sad, but I was also respectful of my elders, and so I listened and left the practice behind until a few years, back, when I was able to make an informed and open-minded choice about the practice. And boy, am I ever glad I rekindled my passion for this yoga of mine.
Unfortunately, much rumor and speculation still remains regarding the practice and, although I understand both sides of the spectrum, it does sadden me that people have gotten the wrong information about something as pure and as amazing as yoga.
So in an effort to dispel some of these rumors; here are six things that yoga is not:
1.- Yoga is not a religion. – I heard a teacher say this once, and it stuck with me: “Religion is not contained within yoga” See, the word yoga means to “yoke”, to unify, and to bring together. Therefore, yoga is a union of body, mind and spirit. This does not mean, however that you are going to a yoga shala or class to bow down to x,y or z deity. You do not do yoga as a part of a service or ritual. Yoga does not have a formal creed or religious statement for you to follow. Yoga accepts all people, regardless of religious beliefs, sex, body constitution, culture, ethnicity, economic standing, etc. So; no, yoga is not a religion. Can there be religion in yoga? Yes, if you bring it in with you, but that does not mean that religion is an inherent part of yoga.
2.- Chanting “OM” will not send you to hell lead to possession. – Contrary to popular misconceptions, chanting the sound “OM” is not a sin. I like to explain it to my students in this manner. We can stretch, move and strengthen the body through a myriad of physical activities. We can strengthen the mind as well, through mathematics, reading, puzzles, etc. So, how then, do you exercise, and stretch your very cells? How do you reach deep with in and touch every tiny little cell that makes you who you are and give them all a little individual massage? You make them resonate. You allow a sound or sounds to shake them up and help them release tension, expand, move and become alive. So when we chant OM (which incidentally is not the name of some creepy deity or demon, but rather, a complete, universal sound) we are getting a cellular massage. We are allowing every part of ourselves to become engaged, to resonate and to be filled with life.
3.- Meditation is not a demonic revolving door. – Ok, there is a huge movement against all things “meditation” and so books have been written and people have been told that meditation leads to either demonic possession (as it apparently opens the doors of your brain to demons while you are “relinquishing control”) or spiritual alienation from God. Well, sorry, but I disagree fully. We meditate to calm the mind, not to “relinquish control” of the mind. In fact, there is plenty of “control of the mind” during meditation; the only change is a quieting of the mind, not a “relinquishing of control”. We also meditate in order to allow ourselves to be truly present, which means we are fully aware of what is going on moment-to-moment, not totally oblivious and open to possession. In fact, many religions believe in meditation as a way to be present enough to listen to and feel God’s presence. Some will pick a verse from a Holy Book and meditate upon it. It is even said, “meditate on the word of The Lord day and night.” Joshua 1:8 even states, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” So, as with all things in life, meditation is what you make of it. If you chose to allow your meditation time to bring you closer to God, then this is the outcome you will create with your intention.
4. – Doing yoga does not guarantee a perfect body. – In recent years, this has become one of the most popular rumors out there. Lets address it little by little. Firstly, yoga is not solely a physical activity, and therefore, the goal of the practice is not and should not be to get skinny, hot, toned, or fit. Yoga is, as stated above, a complete union of body, mind and spirit. Therefore, it is a practice that should be approached with devotion, self-awareness and commitment. It is a practice intended to help you go deep with in so that you may grow, and so that you may quiet the mind in order to see the world and see yourself as you truly are, not as you think you are. (Yoga Sutras 101 baby) Secondly, going into a yoga class expecting to burn a bazillion calories simply because Gwyneth Paltrow does yoga and looks amazing, will only lead to disappointment. Once more, this practice isn’t purely physical, so, even though the body is being challenged, and you are indeed burning calories, you are not in an aerobics class darling. On average, you can burn anywhere from 100 to 300 calories per class. Yup, not as many as you though huh? And the beauty of it is, it is not a bad thing. You are going so much deeper than all that. When you allow the practice to really seep into every part of who you are, you are becoming aware of just how amazing you truly are, how beautiful being in the moment can be, how incredible all the people in this planet are and just how peaceful it can get when you quiet the mind in order to see things as they really are. So stop fretting over how toned, sexy or thin you will get by practicing this yoga or that, and instead, focus on the work you are putting in to better your body, mind and spirit.
5.- Breathing is crucial to your practice. – I see this all the time, and admittedly, when I first began my practice, I was quite the perpetrator of this, but BREATHING is absolutely crucial to your practice. Meaning, you can not move through a Vinyasa class in true meditative motion if you are hyperventilating, or if you are breathing so gently, so softly that not even a mouse could hear you. Yup peeps, “ujjayi” (the kind of breath we use while practicing) means victorious! Not meekly breath, but victorious breath! J I love that! So, let me break it down. You can not do ujjayi breath properly if you are shying away from letting others hear you breath, you can not practice properly if you are running out of air mid vinyasa, and you can not fully practice yoga if you are allowing the movement to dictate the breath, not the breath to guide you through the movement. So, next time you are in a flow class and the teacher has repeated the phrase, “don’t forget to breathe” for the umpteenth time, take a moment and consider the possibility that you may indeed not be breathing fully, and then, change this breath. It seems silly but I can not tell you what a difference proper ujjayi breath makes in a practice; especially a flow based practice. Remember, yoga is a meditation in movement, it is not a race to see who can get to the top of the mat first or who can be the fanciest jumping through. So, take your time to really allow the breath to be the thing that moves you through your practice and watch how much more energy and life you can generate this way (as opposed to breathing like a weight lifting champ) and also, observe how much more focused, and quiet your mind becomes. It is truly lovely.
6.- Yoga will not wreck your body if you practice properly. – This is crucial, take it form someone who has been injured before. The way to get injured really badly and really quickly in yoga is losing control of the breath, and allowing your ego to take over control. When you are in a class, and you decide you will push and push and push your body past the place where it actually needs to go, you are going to get hurt. So, if you want to show off and force yourself to come onto lotus when your hips aren’t open, your knees are gonna get the brunt of it, and oops, there went your meniscus. (Yeah, not fun. Again, take it from me.) So always be present, stay with in the four corners of your mat and stop trying to compete, show off and/or do something that is not right for your body. Every body is different, and every body’s body is different every day. So the next time you get on your mat, please become present, aware and loving. Love your self and the body you have in exactly the place it happens to be at this very moment. You may never be able to put both legs behind your head, but if you are able to let your attachment to that pose go, and really enjoy the breath and the intention of your practice, then you will benefit from your practice a million times more than if you spent 5 hours panting and moaning and damming it all to hell and forcing both legs to do what they cannot or will not at that particular time.
Ok, hope this helped shine a light where once the darkness of rumor resided.