By Dana Gornall
It was a typical Monday morning.
I was running around taking care of the last minute things I need to be ready for work: some sort of food to eat, check; water bottle/coffee mug, check; book, check; key card for entry into work, check; phone, check. I pressed the home button and swiped, then opened up my Facebook app. Why? Good question—bad habit. That’s when I saw I had been tagged in a post.
Can anyone tell me the difference between Tai Chi and Yoga.
Underneath the post I saw my name in a comment suggesting I could help. My brain reeled for a nanosecond, What is the difference? There is a world of difference! Knowing I had little time, I ignored the tag until I had a few seconds to hurriedly respond: trying to explain the difference between Tai Ci and Yoga is like trying to explain the difference between going bowling and playing pool. They are completely different sports/lifestyles, try Google.
This got me thinking about misconceptions, stereotypes and how so many people don’t really “get” yoga. Heck, sometimes I wonder if I even “get” yoga and I have been practicing for years. However, if I had a dollar for every time someone made the assumption to me that yoga is relaxing…
So with the purpose of explanation, my mind flashed to the book What Makes You Not a Buddhist written by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. In the spirit of this book, I thought I could maybe shed some light on what makes one not a yogi.
Yoga is not about being the most flexible
I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, I can’t do yoga, I am not flexible at all. While it’s true that people who practice yoga on a regular basis tend to gain greater flexibility, classes are full of people who still cannot touch their toes—or even their knees. It’s easy to forget this when we are in class standing next to someone who can fold in half like a piece of paper.
Yoga is about being aware of each pose. By focusing on the body’s alignment, paying attention to the muscle fibers as they pull and give, the mind begins to settle (mostly). At least that is one of the goals.
Yoga is not about wearing the cutest, most expensive yoga pants
When most people think of yoga, they tend to envision a lean, tan woman in tight-fitting leggings and a tank, serenely bending in some sort of gymnastic-like pose. A lot of people think of soft music with a chiming flute and possibly a darkened room with the scent of patchouli or sage drifting through the air. Perhaps an image of a woman dressed in a tiny bikini with her foot resting above her knee, hands together at heart center, in tree pose as she sweats in a room full of other tanned women and maybe a few chiseled, muscular men dripping perspiration on towels during hot yoga class came to mind.
While there may be classes out there that are like this, I can tell you this is not the heart of what yoga is. As a matter of fact, I can say I have never attended a yoga class that has fit into anything in the above description.
People who attend yoga come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. One person may be wearing Athleta, and the next might be wearing Target-brand. As a matter of fact, I see a whole lot more nondescript yoga gear than I see name brand. If someone is there only to show off the hottest yoga gear, they are probably not getting the point of what yoga is about.
Yoga is not just about exercise
Yoga is really an eight-limbed path. Asana, the exercises most of us think of when we hear the term “yoga” is one part of this path. Just like anything that has been around for centuries, the true origin of yoga is a little vague and at times disputed, but what we can tell is that it appears to have originated in India. The term was first mentioned in a collection of texts called The Vedas, which contained chants and mantras used by Vedic Priests, or Brahmans. One of the most known and referenced texts on yoga is the Bhagavad Gita, which is a 700 Hindu verse written in Sanskrit. This is a dialogue between the Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, which sets the framework for dharma and a lot of yogic principles.
Later on, the sutras of Patanjali were written, which contained these eight limbs of yoga and outlined the path to Samadhi, or enlightenment.
Yoga is not a religion or cult
I have actually had people tell me that they thought yoga was a religion or some sort of devil worship. While the roots of yoga are formed in India—a place where Hinduism is the primary religion—yoga itself is not a religion; it is a practice. Anyone can practice or not practice any religion and practice yoga. The basis of yogic principles and the eight limbs are about morality and ethical behavior such as non-violence, self study, responsible behavior and non-stealing. Yoga does not subscribe to any specific deity or worship.
Yoga is not just for women
Somehow here in the West, there is a misconception that yoga is for women. Most people might be surprised to know that yoga was a male dominated practice in its early beginnings, and still is male dominated in some parts of the world. Yoga asanas can take a lot of strength and perseverance to perform many of the poses, and can be quite a workout. It’s not a place we go to sit around singing songs and meditating (that would be a kirtan). Some of the most renowned instructors are men.
Yoga is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all practice
I took a yoga class once, and hated it. It’s not for me. This is another common statement I hear. I always reply with, Try another type/instructor/studio. They are all different. When people tell me it is too slow moving, I ask them if they have tried Vinyassa. When people tell me it was too easy, I ask if they have tried Ashtanga or Iyengar. When people tell me it was too hard, I ask if they have tried a beginner Yoga Flow class. Experiment. There are a vast number of different forms of yoga and just as many different styles of teaching, it’s a good idea to try out a few before dismissing the entire practice. When I first tried yoga I went to so many different classes I told my friend I was a yoga slut (thus the reason for the name of this column). I found not only were the styles varied, but the teachers each had different ways of presenting the poses.
Just like anything else out there, many misconceptions surround yoga and what it actually is. Most people who give it a shot end up falling completely in love with the practice. Why not give it a try? Your sanity—and your hamstrings—will thank you for it.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak