Words can be a powerful tool for students and teachers.
Soaking up all the good, juicy knowledge from books, articles, and classes feels amazing. It can be such a confidence boost to discover all of the great things yoga can do. These useful bits of wisdom can define the good yoga classes and teachers from the great ones. With all of this insight offered in between cues it has me asking, how much of it is really true?
Over the years I’ve heard some interesting yoga myths passed off as fact. I’ve had concerned yogis ask me if blood is circulated “x” amount of times in “x” amount of minutes because that’s what their teacher told them. A note of caution before going any further: understand that bodies need a context. What might be true for you will not make sense for everyone so a “one size fits all” approach can’t apply to yoga. Even with poses. The exact same pose might be experienced differently by two different people. One person may feel sensations in their hip while the other feels a stretch along the back of their thigh despite looking exactly the same. Even that yogi’s curiosity about blood circulation had me wondering: does it even matter that blood circulates that fast or that slow? Why is it a benefit? Is it really relevant or useful?
Another word of caution comes from the old saying “take everything with a grain of salt.” If you hear an amazingly fabulous comment in a yoga class about a pose or the practice itself I encourage you to research! Always ask if there is scientific evidence to support this idea. At the end of the day, still take everything with a grain of salt and be sure the info is actually from a reliable source (not wikipedia).
Without further adieu, here are some of my favorite yoga myths debunked.
1.) Twists are detoxifying
Twists can be great for a lot of reasons. They can keep the intervertebral joints healthy (the joints between the vertebrae) and they might play a role in healthy digestion. However, the idea that twists are physically detoxifying is completely false. No single movement will mobilize all of the organs and that might not even be desirable or “detoxify” as many claims say. For more information check out this interview from Amy Matthews, author of yoga anatomy. Although twists aren’t physically detoxifying there can be a spiritual or an energetic shift. Be mindful there can still be other benefits and eastern philosophies should be considered too.
Another article if you’re still curious comes from Ekhart Yoga: Yoga Twists, the Ins and Outs.
2.) That CO2 (carbon dioxide) or your exhale is “bad,” “negative,” or “toxic”
This myth blows my mind. Believing that an exhale is a negative thing contradicts the importance of CO2 in the respiratory system’s response. There’s this idea that we need oxygen to breathe. Although that’s not wrong it’s actually CO2 acting as the mechanism to breathe rather than a lack of oxygen. If there was less CO2 the frequency of breathing would change. The lack of CO2 would trigger the pH in the blood to rise (or respiratory alkalosis) and eventually cause hyperventilation. That’s why breathing into a paper bag is great for someone who’s hyperventilating since it’ll balance out the CO2 by increasing it’s concentration.
To suggest that an exhale is “toxic” implies the body itself is toxic. Self-esteem is already an issue many people face, why add another negative thought to the mix? Looking at bodies in a positive light creates a bright relationship to move forward from; one that is built from trust and kindness.
3.) An extension (like a backbend) shouldn’t be followed by flexion (like forward bend or child’s pose)
This is one I’ve heard from a few different teachers and traditions but the fact is, it’s a complete myth. I’ve heard some people say it might send the low back into spasm. Although we all have our own truths, it’s ridiculous to pass this off as an absolute fact. I’ve heard tons of theories on this but the truth is: there is no anatomical reason OR research that says a forward bend can’t follow a deep backbend. In fact, my natural reaction to a backbend is to have some form of spinal flexion. I think it feels so amazing to have that forward flexion but of course, again, that is my truth and we have to remember that bodies need a context.
4.) Hot yoga is better for you and a better workout
There’s a part of me that cringes when I hear “I want a better workout from my yoga practice” yet I still recognize and love that there is a physical part of yoga. It is an important piece of the practice! I’ve heard some yogis express that hot yoga is a better workout. Although you might sweat more, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the best workout. In fact, one study from Colorado State University suggests that it doesn’t burn as many calories as a power or flow class. It showed that only 330 calories were burned in a bikram (or heated) style practice while an athletic class can reach up to 670 calories. For more information check out the article and the study itself.
5.) I have to be flexible or athletic to do yoga
Some types of yoga can be very intimating. On Instagram or Google you can easily find tons of images with ultra-bendy, strong yogis in pretzel-like poses. It can be enough to scare anyone away, especially someone who can’t touch their toes. I promise, you don’t need to touch your toes or put your foot behind your head to do yoga. In fact, there are many different classes, styles, AND teachers. Change any one of these elements and you’ll have a completely different experience. My recommendation for new yogis is to check out a gentle hatha class or even restorative practice. Chatting to someone at the studio is also a good idea to get their opinion on what class is a good fit. Yoga really is for everybody, it’s just about finding the right class. I’ve even met yogis in wheelchairs so there really is no excuse! If you can breathe and have a mild amount of motor control there is a yoga practice out there for you.
Have any other yoga myths you’re curious about? Ask me in the comments section below!