Take a deep breath—literally. Yoga isn’t as intimidating as you think. People often create a million excuses for why the practice isn’t possible for them. From concerns about acceptable body types to costs associated with classes, all kinds of misunderstandings about yoga often prevent people from even trying it in the first place.
We turned to some of Birmingham’s top yoga instructors to set the record straight, and asked them to share the truth about so many common misconceptions for yoga.
Misconception #1: Only ________ people can do yoga.
Fill in the blank with whatever stereotypical word seems to fit: young, spiritual, flexible, active, etc… In every instance, the statement will almost always remain untrue.
“Yoga is for everyone!” said Anne Damsky from Villager Yoga. “Ask questions and explore several styles to find the right class for your physical, mental and emotional needs.”
Yoga is about connecting the mind and body to create healthy harmony. Anyone at any age, shape, size can achieve this because yoga accepts people exactly wherever they are, said Damsky.
“Yoga is for anybody because there is a plethora of choices for what type of yoga you can do so you can easily find a fit,” said Ingrid Propst, an instructor with Birmingham Yoga. “It doesn’t take strength or flexibility. If you’re mindful of your body, your ability and your limitations then over time you’ll be able to do more. There are a wide array of types for yoga so almost always you can find a type of yoga that you can do.”
Studios across Birmingham offer many different types of yoga for all ages. Villager Yoga, in particular, offers a variety of classes for the whole family. At Villager Yoga, classes geared toward prenatal needs, parent & baby, children & teens and more, encourage healthy exercise from the earliest stages of life. Children are able to begin their own (parent-free) classes at age 3. Age-appropriate yoga classes are available for ages 3-5, 5-8, 9-12 and Teens. There are many different adult yoga classes including those specifically for beginners and men. Go here to learn more about which Villager Yoga classes are the best fit for you.
Misconception #2: Yoga is just gentle, relaxed stretching.
It’s true that some yoga classes have a large focus on stretching, however, there are many other yoga styles that are more physically challenging.
“You can work every cell of your being in a yoga class,” says Damsky. “At the root, yoga is about connecting the mind and the body so that everything is working in harmony. You can do this in a sweaty, actively paced class, or you can do this in a still, gentle stretching class. Both can challenge you in different ways.”
Akasha Ellis, co-owner of Birmingham Yoga, agrees with this notion. “There definitely has to be a physical challenge to keep you there and keep you in the moment.”
One of the most challenging yet also relaxing forms of yoga is Bikram Yoga, or hot yoga. Birmingham is unique compared to many other cities in that it has a Bikram studio. The 90-minute class welcomes both beginners and regulars to practice a series of 26 yoga postures and breathing exercises in 105 degree heat with 40% humidity. To experience Bikram Birmingham’s hot yoga, check out their class schedule here.
Misconception #3: I don’t understand meditation so I don’t want to do it.
Meditation that accompanies yoga is often misunderstood. Different types of yoga involve various postures that require movement, strength, and stamina, but all yoga is united by the need for concentration and relaxation. This comes in many different forms, but it is always generated from one’s own individual practice.
“To mediate,people have this idea that you’re just sitting there not doing anything or taking deep breaths. You can meditate in all kinds of ways based on your thoughts,” says Propst.
The mediation side of yoga simply means you focus on your thoughts. This causes you to ‘turn inward’ and reflect on yourself in a practice called Dyhana.” She further explains that by actively participating in meditation, it will often become something a person grows into, becoming much more natural. .
After 33 years of experience in yoga, Ellis choses to operates his studio with a spiritual focus. He believes everyone must have his or her own spiritual experience, regardless of his or her beliefs.
“To me yoga offers so many things, whether you are spiritual or not,” he says. “I think if you believe in compassion and forgiveness, and you’re doing some postures that help you learn how to breath, its going to make you just more thankful for that energy.”
Misconception #4: I can get the same experience in the yoga classes offered through my gym.
Although many local gyms provide a variety of beneficial yoga classes, there’s no mistaking the fact that studios centered specifically around yoga-and only yoga-are usually able to offer many more perks, and are especially conducive to the practice of yoga..
Teachers at yoga studios are usually required to have a minimum of 200 hours of training, and maintain a personal practice. Some even have additional specialties or skills allowing them to provide modifications for poses at all levels.
“Teachers [at studios] are truly dedicated to the practice of yoga,” says Propst, “whereas in a gym that might just be what they do on occasion. It’s not their specific focus.” She also mentions the fact that a lot of gyms are designed with rooms meant to hold multiple classes at once, and she says that’s not the best type of space for yoga practice.
Propst believes this creates the main delineation between a studio and a gym as the commitment level of the yoga participants is often greater. More importantly, it’s often felt that yoga studios offer a greater sense of community.
“You start to build that community,” says Propst. “I think there’s a lot to be said for that, especially if you want to practice yoga multiple times a week. There’s a support system at a studio to grow your practice as opposed to just going to a random class once a week.”
Traditional yoga rooms rest around a temperature of at least 75 degrees. The warmth allows for a purification of the body. Paired with deep breathing, the exercises generate internal heat to purify the body while sweating cleanses the body of toxins. In a cooler room, like at a gym, it’s harder to accomplish a full body cleanse, says Propst.
Misconception #5: Yoga is expensive.
This should not be an excuse. Studios across Birmingham are offering affordable and even FREE yoga classes weekly! Here are a few great local options:
Birmingham Yoga hosts Ashtanga Flow and community classes weekly on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Students and lower income participants can donate whatever amount they can to partake in the class. The money collected is distributed to the teachers and then donated to local charities across Birmingham.
For a schedule of their community classes, visit birminghamyoga.com.
Villager Yoga is offering a free yoga workshop specifically for men! Dudes, Do Yoga will take place Sunday August 11, 2013. Also, experience Villager Yoga’s “Happy Hour” special where all weekday 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. classes are $10 from May 28th to August 30th. Community Vinyasa is also offered Sundays from 4:30-6 p.m.
Powerhouse Gym offers a free community yoga class at the Casa Pranya Yoga Studio, located inside Powerhouse Gym. Attend the hour-long class at 4 p.m. on Sundays from May 6th until December 29th. Contact Jen Cooper for more information.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Center
Enjoy Neighborhood Yoga on Mondays at 6 p.m. or Thursdays at 8 a.m. at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, courtesy of Sweet Om Alabama and Earth Creations.
Attend Railroad Park on Thursdays at 6 p.m. for Get Healthy on the Railroad, sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of America.
Attend Community Vinyasa at the Wee Flip Gym Sundays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Donations will be used to benefit local charities.
On Sundays from 6 to 7 p.m. attend lululemons Free Magic City Ashanga. Visit the Summit lululemon Facebook page weekly to view the instructor leading the class.
Perhaps the best truth to know about the practice of yoga comes from : “You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, you just have to be able to start. Start where you are and the rest will come with time and practice.”
So what are you waiting for? Birmingham has many yoga opportunities available for people at all phases of yoga experience! Join the yoga community and benefit from Ellis’ belief: “Yoga is a healthy way to find hope and remember to take care of yourself. Realize that there is something divine in you!”