There’s no denying the many health benefits of yoga, from increased flexibility and lowered muscle tension to decreased stress and anxiety. In terms of movement practices, yoga is just incredibly good for your body. “Yoga offers a unique combination of deep stretching with dynamic movement, thereby effectively lengthening the muscles and realigning the body,” says Christine Fuchs, a registered yoga teacher who spent 8 years on the Board of Trustees of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the largest yoga-based retreat center in the US.
But there’s also a lot of misconceptions about yoga—misconceptions that keep a lot of people who could benefit from a yoga practice from ever getting on the mat.
So, what are those misconceptions—and why are they inaccurate? Let’s bust some of the most common myths about yoga—so there are no misconceptions or misinformation standing in the way of you and getting started with yoga (and enjoying all the health benefits in the process):
Myth #1: “Yoga is only for flexible people.”
When you see pictures of yogis on social media, they’re often bent into gravity-defying postures—which has led many people to believe that you need to be super flexible in order to practice yoga.
But flexibility is not a prerequisite for practicing yoga—and no matter how flexible or inflexible you might be, there are ways to adjust every pose to make it work for your body.
“The core of yoga is focusing on the breath and exploring how the body feels. Every yoga pose can be adapted to a person’s current level of flexibility,” says Fuchs. “The focus should not be on how the student looks in the pose, but where the student feels the stretch.”
Take downward facing dog, for example. People with tight hamstrings will definitely struggle to get into the heels-on-the-floor posture you might see in yoga class—but a) that’s not the point of the pose, and b) the posture can easily be adjusted to fit your current level of flexibility.
“The purpose of downward facing dog is to stretch the spine without rounding the lower back; the goal is not to have straight legs and bring the heels to the floor,” says Fuchs. Fuchs recommends students with tight hamstrings bend their knees generously to get the stretch in their back—and as they get more flexible, they can work on straightening their legs and lowering their heels.
(And, if you practice regularly, chances are, you will get more flexible. “I often hear from people that they are not flexible enough to do yoga,” says Fuchs. “I remind them that they don’t need to be flexible to do yoga, but that they might become more flexible as they practice yoga.”)
Myth #2: “I have chronic pain—so I can’t do yoga.”
If you struggle with chronic pain, the thought of exercise can feel overwhelming—and that includes yoga (particularly more intense forms of yoga, like Vinyasa).
But if you struggle with pain, certain types of yoga can actually help you better manage your pain.
“Studies have shown that practicing yoga may be beneficial or can even reduce certain types of chronic pain,” says Stephanie Morgyn, a Chicago-based yoga instructor and wellness blogger. “For example, yin yoga is usually taught in an unheated class and has been proven to increase oxygen and blood flow to the muscles through gentle, long holding postures. It is recommended for those who…are living with chronic pain, stress, or tight muscles. These classes are more restorative and rely heavily on gravity to help deepen postures and restore range of motion.”
People with chronic pain may also worry that certain postures might actually make their pain worse. But it’s important to remember that “all postures can be modified,” says Morgyn. “If you are practicing at a class in person, make sure to let your instructor know about any health problems before class so that they can offer customized cues and modifications to help you in certain postures that might be painful.”
Myth #3: “I’m too old to try yoga.”
There are a lot of people out there who believe that if you don’t get into yoga by the time you turn 30, that ship has sailed.
But there’s no age limit on starting a yoga practice—and there are a variety of yoga styles that will mesh with any age group.
“While my 80-year-old mother might not enjoy hot yoga or power yoga, there are lots of different yoga styles where we move slower,” says Fuchs. “If the main goal is relaxation, I recommend [older] students try restorative yoga or yoga Nidra. For a more active practice for seniors, I recommend chair yoga…slow flow yoga, or gentle yoga.”
Practicing yoga also has certain benefits that are particularly helpful for older generations; for example, a “big benefit of yoga is the focus on balancing poses, such as Tree Pose, and on being firmly grounded,” says Fuchs. “This is especially important for seniors,” who may struggle with balance (and could face serious health issues if they were to fall).
Bottom line? It doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 42, 59, or 82—you’re never too old to get started with a regular yoga practice.
Myth #4: “Yoga is only for spiritual people.”
Yoga has spiritual roots, which has led many to believe that yoga is only for spiritual or religious people.
But while yoga is certainly a spiritual practice for many, it certainly doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of different elements of yoga, and “what we most commonly call yoga is [actually] ‘asana,’ which is the physical component of yoga—and that doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice,” says yoga teacher Alessandra Calderin.
And while the spiritual aspects of yoga (like meditation) certainly have their own health benefits, sticking to a strictly physical yoga practice has plenty of benefits of its own.
“[Asana] can however be a great tool for getting in touch with and listening to the body, cultivating strength, slowing the mind, mastering the breath,” says Calderin. Asana is also “linked to tons of health benefits like reducing anxiety and inflammation.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.