Often people are hesitant to practice yoga or learn about yoga with the belief that yoga is a type of religion. Traditionally yoga has been practised by people of the Hindu faith for many centuries, but the practice of Yoga in itself is a spiritual discipline. Spiritual discipline can help one’s development in any line of religious belief and practice since there are underlying connections with spirituality and religion. But Yoga can be practised without religion. Yoga is a way of life, through understanding of spirituality you are striving for unity between self and universe, expressed through harmony between mind, body, man and nature.
It's quite often that I hear “I can’t do yoga because I can’t even touch my toes”. There seems to be a preconception that you need to be flexible to practice yoga. It's quite the contrary, by regularly practising yoga you will become more flexible as a natural result, and flexibility isn’t a measure of how good you are at yoga. By performing different asanas you will know your body, you will build strength, endurance, and flexibility. Props and alterations can be used to overcome individual constraints and difficulties, so it is possible to build a suitable practice for anyone. The essence of yoga is to become aware of yourself and your body, to understand how breath control can help physically and mentally.
This is not quite a misconception as we can sit crossed legged and hum “AUM’’ or sit and meditate as part of the yoga practice. But it is not the only aspect in Yoga, it is one aspect of the whole practice. “AUM” or Om is a very powerful sound, the sound pronounced and voiced correctly is known to mimic the sound of the universe. The frequency and the vibration the sound creates can generate harmony as it becomes one with the universe. So humming AUM is not such a strange thing, the repetitive humming of this word brings peace to yourself and the surrounding. Meditation is a critical aspect of yoga. It is a continual process that we must practice to withdraw one’s senses and calm the mind. Now we often see ‘’yoga’’ and ‘’meditation’’ marketed separately as both require ample time and devotion, but they are both essential aspects of the yoga practice as a whole.
Yoga can be practised until any age as long as you have a conscious mind and body. In fact, there are many known yogis who lived to their 90s and beyond, often continuing their practice until their passing. Yoga is a lifestyle, and so it can be practised throughout your life. From kids until mature age, it's never too early or late to practice yoga!
Stretching is the movements that elongate the muscles to create flexibility and elasticity of the muscles and can be done with any type of breathing or level of focus. On the other hand, yoga in terms of physical practice (asana) involves a combination of breathing and movement coordination, movement control, strength work and stretching, all practised mindfully. This not only improves flexibility but also increases strength, alertness, agility and stamina. Yoga is also not only about asana, it is a wholesome practise of balancing body, mind, spirit and building spirituality.
Yoga has definitely caught on popularity among women but, ironically many of the founders of various schools of yoga were men. Yoga previously used to be only practised by men, while women practising would be frowned upon in the scene, quite contrary to the current situation. It is sometimes overwhelming for men to attend a class full of women, maybe feeling a little out of place. But overcoming self-consciousness or external distractions are benefits to reaching a deeper yoga practice oneself. The practice is for your own self and not for comparison to others, the mind and senses are focused inwards.
If you had any of these misconceptions, I hope they have been clarified for you!