Part 2: 6 Misconceptions About Your Physical Yoga Practice
Whether you’re new to yoga or have been living it for years, don't give in to these big misconceptions about the practice of physical yoga. Although new yogis are more apt to fall into these traps, you can still find yourself, like I do, giving into these illusions even after many years as a devoted practitioner. Let this list help you see through your mind’s clutter and remember what is most important in your practice.
Didn’t read misconceptions #1-3? Check out part 1 of this blog by clicking here.
Misconception #4: You don't use yoga props because only beginners do:
Props are a very important support system in your practice. We all could use a little extra assistance and blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters and the like do just that. Props allow practitioners of all ages, levels and physical ability to find their unique and most beautiful version of each asana (pose). New yoga students tend to either be intimidated by the equipment or embarrassed to use it and “look like a beginner”. Many experienced yogis, including myself, will tell you props are definitely not just for "beginners". You’ll find my mat outlined by a blanket, two blocks and a bolster almost every time I practice.
Similar to the hands-on assists you may experience from your teacher, props help you move into better alignment, ease tension and tightness, and take you deeper into poses. In my eyes, props are seen as necessary supplies for everyone at some point in their asana practice. Some of my favorite teachers are those who include options and examples of prop use throughout their yoga classes. But students should also feel empowered to speak with their teacher one-on-one to learn how props can specifically benefit their challenges and needs. (P.S. If you’re still unsure about the use of props in yoga, read this Yoga Journal article on the use of props in the Iyengar yoga method.)
Misconception #5: You stick to one style of yoga because it’s what you’re familiar with:
New yogis are usually introduced to a single style and often come to know yoga as being only that flavor of practice. I’ve also met people who have been deeply dedicated to yoga for many years but only have experienced the practices of one particular lineage. I encourage my students to step out of their comfort zone to gain a fresh perspective. But, branching out can be daunting or maybe it just doesn't seem like a priority. I tend to get stuck frequenting only my favorite studios and types of classes. When I become I aware of this, I make an effort to check out a class at a studio I haven’t been to before or I seek out an opportunity to practice in a style I’m less familiar with. I find so much growth as both a teacher and student when I step back from my day-to-day and take a walk in another yogi's shoes.
You may also find yourself caught up in only the more mainstream styles of yoga such as vinyasa flow, Bikram yoga and Ashtanga yoga. But there is a whole universe of other styles that may better fit your unique needs or act as a complement to your current form of practice. Some lesser-known styles that are likely still readily available in your community include yin yoga, restorative yoga, Iyengar yoga and Kundalini yoga. I truly believe there is a style of yoga that fits and appeals to everyone.
Misconception #6: You think "yoga" only happens in class while on your mat:
Yoga isn't just about physical exercise. More than 5,000 years ago yoga was born, but downward-facing dog was nowhere in sight. Ancient yogis were more involved in the mental aspect of yoga. The word ‘asana’, which now means posture or pose, originally referred to the seat you would meditate upon. It wasn’t until many generations later when Tantra yoga (no, not the Kama Sutra kind) became popular that Hatha yoga (physical yoga) really took on a following. Contrary to their predecessors, Tantra yogis believe the body is just as important as the mind. Improving the health and wellbeing of the body, as a gateway into the mind, is vital. What’s important to remember is yoga had a long and complex history before the highly physical yoga we know in the West became a “thing”. And I'm thankful Hatha yoga has flourished, but I remind my self it's not everything.
As my teachers have long told me, I remind my students, "The real yoga begins when you step off your mat". Yoga is practiced physically, mentally, emotionally, in our relationships, at home, at work and all the time. Beginners and more experienced yogis alike can become disconnected from the real meaning of “to practice yoga”. A dedicated yoga practitioner integrates the philosophy, principles and activities of yoga into all aspects of their life without compartmentalization. Of course, this is much easier said than done. It sometime takes coming back to your mat to remember. Just don’t get stuck leaving all your yoga on your mat. Let it flow with you into class and back out into your life.
By acknowledging these misconceptions and making an effort to see past them and through to the truth, you empower yourself to reap the full benefits of your yoga practice.
Did you miss misconceptions #1-3 in part 1 of this blog? Click here to read part 1.
Brittany Szafran, Sass Yoga owner, is a registered yoga teacher providing private and group yoga classes. She teaches various styles of hatha yoga - vinyasa, yin, restorative and more - in a variety of venues from yoga studios, fitness centers and corporate offices to public parks and local beaches. Her intention is to provide a welcoming and inspiring space for all people to experience yoga. By creating a safe space founded in knowledge, professionalism and integrity, everyone can explore the unlimited benefits of their yoga practice. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her through the form.