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Why nobody should be scared of trying yoga

Think it’s just for bendy Instagram types? Think again.

If you’ve resolved to start a new fitness routine in 2017, you could do worse than take up yoga. It’s becoming increasingly popular, and with good reason – it benefits the body and mind in equal measure.

However, misconceptions about yoga abound, meaning many of the people who would enjoy it the most never make it to their first class. Here are five big yoga myths that are best left in 2016.

1) I don’t have a ‘yoga body’

If the stock photos are to be believed, yoga classes consist mostly of limber young women twisting themselves into pretzel positions. This can be incredibly alienating if you don’t conform to the stereotypes.

Denrele, who teaches yoga and meditation across London, thinks the media image has a lot to answer for. As she explains:

“Most people think yoga is sexy yoga bodies and endless bendy selfies. They have a very narrow view of what yoga is and what someone who does yoga looks like. So I get the usual excuses including, I’m not bendy enough, fit enough, I’m too fat. But once you’ve done a few classes, you begin to understand the power of your breath and of focus and practice.”

And despite its bad rep, social media is actually a great place to find yogis who turn the clichés on their head (itself a yoga pose!). If you want your yoga inspiration with a side of body positivity, take note of Dana Falsetti or Jessamyn Stanley. And a new campaign for Athleta, featuring 98-year-old yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch, proves that age is no barrier.

2) I’m not flexible enough

There’s an old saying – ‘saying you’re not flexible enough for yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath’. And there can be no denying that, however stiff and achy you are to begin with, yoga can help ease your areas of tension.

Betsy Reed, who teaches sports yoga in Barcelona, has worked with competitive athletes who are typically more muscular than flexible. She says:

“A 19-year-old competitive hurdler I trained for several months told me, ‘I started with hamstrings made of concrete. During the sessions I learned a lot about my own body and how it operates as a unit. It’s been a revelation that changed how I train.’”

You might never be able to put your legs behind your head, or snap into lotus pose, and in fact attempting these contortions might do more harm than good. However, a good yoga teacher will help you push your own limits safely. Try a restorative or yin style for a meditative class that targets the deep connective tissues.

3) It’s just for women

Most yoga styles were pioneered by men, and until relatively recently men were the main practitioners. The last few decades, however, have seen a shift, with the majority of classes now disproportionately attended by women.

Unfortunately, this has led to a stigma. As Betsy Reed points out:

“For some men, walking into a studio filled with lithe, hyper-mobile female students can be seriously intimidating. Some persevere with traditional classes. But the way to attract more men – and a more diverse crowd in general – to yoga is to give them what they need, rather than requiring them to practice the ‘traditional’ way.”

Classes like Betsy’s weave in a strong understanding of how different bodies move (or don’t move), while encouraging all students to listen to their own internal cues. And if you’re still concerned about being the only man on the mat, some gyms offer dedicated men’s classes styled as ‘broga’.

4) It’s too easy

If you’re already athletic, you may perceive yoga as too gentle or relaxing to have a place in your regime. However, yoga provides a useful complement to many other sports, homing in on the areas your training may be missing.

One of Denrele’s classes, at Finer Fitness in Shoreditch, specifically targets bodybuilders. She recalls:

“A few of the boys came to my first yoga class and left feeling like they’d had a different kind of workout, where their balance and flexibility was challenged rather than their strength. We also got into breathing from the get go, so they finished class pretty blissed out too. And they kept coming back.”

Bear in mind that, if you pick the right style, yoga can be a workout in its own right. Try an Ashtanga, vinyasa flow, Bikram or rocket yoga class for a physically intense, fast-moving class that will leave you sweating buckets (just don’t forget the towel).

5) I’m not ‘spiritual’

While yoga has its roots in Eastern religions, most classes focus exclusively on physical poses and breathing, rather than on the underlying philosophies. You will never be required to subscribe to any particular belief system.

Betsy Reed orientates her sports yoga classes around ‘functional movement’ and uses plain English – a minimum of yoga language – in her routines.

“More than one student has told me that learning to breathe more deeply and simply noticing their breath has changed their lives and how they train. That’s incredibly satisfying, because it has a lasting impact on their mentality and performance,” she says.

Conversely, some people do find that yoga piques their interest in mindfulness, meditation and other more esoteric spiritual practices. As Denrele explains:

“Students come to their first class for all kinds of reasons, usually to do with wanting a yoga body. They stay because they discover what yoga does for the soul.”

Check with the teacher or the studio beforehand if you’re not sure what to expect. There are many different styles and approaches, so it is always worth ‘shopping around’ to find a class that works for you. Happy hunting!

This article appears on Netdoctor

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