Yoga studios don’t often hand out pamphlets explaining what yoga is or what you may gain from it. Yoga and its practices are often difficult to sum up quickly in words as there are many different techniques, styles, and practices to get to the yogic state. In addition, any yogi who has studied will know that promising specific benefits or setting expectations of gains for students actually negates the purpose of the practice altogether. Promising results is near impossible—not to mention it would make Patanjali himself roll over in his grave.
This difficult-to-define, expectation-less, and open-ended-results situation gives rise to many a myth about what yoga and the postures themselves can do for you. Not a day goes by that I don’t crack up scrolling through social media to read the latest and greatest promise that yoga is offering. Here are a few of my favorites.
Myth 1: Handstand, Scorpion, One-Armed This or That…get you into the VIP section of the Enlightenment Lounge.
I often joke that if fancy poses are the key to enlightenment then I should be sitting next to Siddartha and have rays of lights shining out of me. Alas, I do not. Complex asanas are first of all not even wise for every single body to attempt, nor are they the keys to transcendence. What could get you closer to what yoga has to offer is NOT doing the fancy even when you can, not clinging to them, and not focusing on what you’ll get when they are accomplished. What you’ll get from doing Scorpion is the shape of Scorpion. What you can learn from the process of approaching that pose and discovering whether or not it’s wise for your body will teach you far, far more about yoga’s true aims.
Myth 2: Yoga will make you the next David Copperfield—a levitating, time-traveling, but oh-so-peaceful magician.
I will say that being in tune with the moment does allow for some better decision-making skills and an easier daily existence. That said, these are probably only going to be skills you acquire if you become a monk and head to the hills to meditate for eons. Even then, if you’re clinging to the idea of supernatural gains, you’re missing the point of yoga. Yoga is being present, fully engrossed in the experience of the moment—not magic.
Myth 3: You’ll become a Gandhi/Mother Theresa hybrid.
A yoga practice can make you kinder and more compassionate by making it easier to be less reactive and more accepting of things as they are. It can give you the ability to be compassionate toward other people’s behavior and pain because you understand that they’re doing the best they can in that moment. But that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be sweet as pie, all the time—even to the person who cuts you off on the freeway or to the telemarketer who calls and wakes you up at 5 a.m. Yoga can make you less of a jerk, sort of. It encourages steadiness during moments of conflict or discomfort, which can help you fly off the handle less often. And it certainly can allow you to be gentler and more accepting of yourself and all of your facets. That said the idea that somehow practicing yoga makes you the definition of virtue is silly. Sure, you’ll learn to make better choices about what’s wise for you and you may become gentler with yourself and others, but you’re not bound for sainthood (that’s religion, not yoga).
Myth 4: You’ll be able to manifest that Range Rover you’ve always wanted by doing nothing but some Sun Salutes.
Yoga isn’t about manifesting stuff. It isn’t about gaining wealth, fame, or a tighter butt. We could have a nice long debate about the Range Rover’s obtainment, but what I will say is that yoga practice can teach you hard work and discipline, which often simplifies life. If you’ve always wanted something and don’t have it, usually it’s either simply not meant for you (like my dream of being a rockstar despite my complete lack of vocal talent) or you’ve skipped the work it would take to manifest that outcome in favor of some television and a glass of wine. For yoga to change your life, you have to take its teachings off the mat and into life. I’ve found yoga actually makes me want stuff way less. That Range Rover doesn’t matter to me at all these days, which actually makes me happier than the car ever would have.
Myth 5: Yoga frees you from all of life’s ills—no more problems ever!
Sorry to disappoint, but practicing yoga doesn’t lead to a life that’s suddenly all rainbows, roses, green juice, and asana lived out on a tropical beach. Life pretty much stays the same, it’s just that the ups and downs stop bothering you as much as you come to understand the nature of impermanence. Preferences become a silly notion. A flat tire becomes something that you just roll with as what’s going on in that moment. You realize that the situation will pass and that the only real problem is worrying about things being a problem. That discovery allows for some joy to exist in places where only hassle and worry existed before. The flat tire becomes a moment to sit and listen to music while you wait for the tow truck to arrive or to enjoy the process of teaching yourself how to change a tire.
Myth 6: Yoga will improve your personality.
This is a biggie. Sorry, no “most popular and likable” award guarantees. The thought that yoga can make you a “better person” who is more pleasing and acceptable to others is just downright silly. Yoga may make you gentler to yourself and others, but not in the way the mind would like to believe. It makes you more aware and accepting of exactly who you are and what your unique being (body, mind, personality, and all) is made up of. If you’re blunt and tell it like it is, well yoga won’t make you less blunt. Yoga will just allow you to accept that you’re a blunt person speaking your truth with no malicious intent. When someone gets upset about it, you’ll realize that’s simply their way of being and allow them to feel how they do without feeling the need to apologize.