The newbies stood out immediately. I picked them out as soon as I walked into the humid, 100-degree studio. Where everyone else was wearing sweat wicking tank tops, these two girls wore over-sized t-shirts and Nike shorts. I grinned to myself as I sat down my mat, my mind grabbing onto the memory of when I had made this mistake in my first Hot Yoga class. I glanced at them from time to time throughout the class, following their bewildered gazes at the other yogis. As the class went on, I found myself growing increasingly irritated as they snickered at the teacher’s mantras and giggled uncontrollably when everyone chanted ‘om.’ It was clear that these girls only came to the class because they heard that hot yoga was a killer workout, which is true. Still, I wondered to myself what the point of even going to a yoga practice was if you weren’t willing to try to accept the practice in its entirety?
In today’s world, yoga has a lot of stigmas surrounding it. Some that I’ve observed over the years include its inherent Hindu nature and its relation to one’s promiscuity. While there is a layer of truth to each of these initial impressions, there is far more to this ancient practice than these superficial characteristics. In bringing the spiritual and mental impacts of yoga out of the periphery, we are able to recognize yoga as it was intended.
I have been practicing yoga for 10 years and consider it one of the most enriching and nourishing parts of my life. I myself came to yoga because I heard of its fitness benefits. Any yogi will tell you though that the reason you come to yoga is not the reason you stay. This was true for myself. I found that in addition to the increased flexibility and energy levels, it helped to lift my depression and taught to cope more effectively with anxiety. My shrinking waistline paled in comparison to my newfound light-heartedness. Yoga, in combination with therapy and medication, is an effective treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, and other mental health ailments. Unlike most sports, yoga teaches those who practice that there is no such thing as perfection, and anyone can do yoga. Its inclusive values, such as Mindfulness and honoring yourself, are universal and healing. Focusing on your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
I think one of my favorite misconceptions about yoga is that it is strictly a Hindi practice. As someone who has grown up in the buckle of the Bible belt, I’ve heard this a number of times. Though it has roots in Hinduism, the practice is meant to cater to people of all spiritual backgrounds. I grew up in a very conservative Christian family, yet we all practice yoga regularly. My mom, the definition of the sweet southern belle, always explains to people that yoga helped her grow in her relationship with God rather than distance herself. Yoga is a spiritual practice not a religious practice.
One of the most challenging situations that yogis face is the stereotype of a yogi. My friend, a yoga instructor, once confessed to me that she has difficulty telling people she practices yoga in one setting in particular: in the dating world. Seeing as we’re in college, that covers a large majority of our free time. To college boys, telling them you practice yoga means that you are automatically open to casual sex. Now to be fair, college boys are at an age where their naivety is at its max high and their filter at an all time low. However, yogis do receive an unfair reputation for promiscuity because of the flexibility gained and somewhat suggestive asanas. Yoga is meant to teach the body to pushing boundaries while also embracing serenity. The poses are meant to mold the body, mind, and spirit to a place of harmonious balance, not for your frat boy fantasies.
Yoga is such a diverse practice and can be used to improve so many areas in your life. It is important to make the distinctions of what yoga encompasses and what is a product of slippery-slope thinking. To all my fellow yogis out there: Namaste, get yo’ flow on.
Photo by Matt Madd