By Becky Scoggins
Let’s face it: we’re all busy. We’re all dealing with stress, deadlines, dinner burning on the stove, the rip in our pantyhose (does anyone still actually wear pantyhose?) and the cat making a litter box out of your favorite house plant (again.) And that’s just a regular Monday. So when you hear some blissed out, Sanskrit chanting, peace flower yielding, tree hugging hippie tell you that yoga holds the key to your sanity, you may want to punch him/her in the face… and well, that’s not very ‘namaste’ of you, now is it? Come sit by me, young grasshopper, and I will sing you the song of my people. You know, the REAL song. Because REAL life requires a REAL approach to yoga.
As a yoga instructor, I am often approached by friends and family members who want to know more about what yoga actually is. More often than not, I end up explaining to them what yoga is NOT. Yoga is an all-encompassing word for a lifestyle that has become westernized in the last 100 years, so there are a lot of pre-conceptions full of misinformation. The beautiful thing about yoga is that it can be whatever you want it to be for your lifestyle. Here are five de-mystifying truths about yoga as a practice and lifestyle.
1. You don’t have to devote yourself to yoga all the time.
Ain’t nobody got time for that! There are a lot of people out there that simply don’t have the time to take up a new hobby. They care about their bodies and minds, but the thought of trying to tackle a headstand after a long day of work is almost laughable. The truth is that even five minutes of meditation is beneficial, right before bed, at your desk at work, or even while you wait through commercials during your favorite prime-time show. Maybe you can squeeze in thirty minutes of stretching on your next business trip layover or while the laundry is drying and dinner is in the oven. Yoga is intensely personal and therefore, no one should tell you how often or when you should practice. Sure, us yoga instructors would love for you to attend our classes every week and support our livelihoods (and gain some valuable knowledge, too), but at the end of the day the most important thing to remember is that you can do yoga anywhere, anytime. The only consideration is that you’ve had enough instruction in a class setting or with a teacher to know how to move in and out of poses to avoid injury. Knowing Sanskrit doesn’t make you more or less of a yogi, and there’s no rule that says each pose has to be perfect. My golden nugget on this: practice enough that you love it, but not so much that it becomes an obligation. If your passion for yoga grows, you will make time for the practice.
2. Real yogis don’t care about whether or not they’re wearing Lululemon pants.
Americans have commercialized yoga, making it this billion dollar industry where everyone can stand to make a buck…except the teachers themselves (but that’s another blog post.) The heart of yoga is self-exploration and realization, so what you’re wearing should never matter. Spending $100 on a pair of pants because they make your butt look good shouldn’t be on the list of priorities when practicing yoga. Having said that, it’s also your prerogative to spend $100 on a pair of pants because they make your butt look good. If you find yourself heading to a yoga class and upon entering see that the only people there are young, skinny girls in expensive outfits with techno music is thumping in the background, you may have wandered into the Twilight zone. Unfortunately, studios like these are all too common. And hey, it’s great if it introduces you and your classmates to the practice of yoga, and many of these studios have wonderful instructors who live out the yogic life. However, never let fashion, popularity or the hottest new yoga craze define your practice. Find your niche, and wear what makes you feel good (but don’t show up half naked, either). In the real world, most of us are just thankful when our workout clothes pass the ‘smell test’. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
3. Yoga isn’t a religion.
It’s not some spooky, mystical religious experience, and there’s no requirement of belief to practice yoga or meditation. Yes, yoga originated in Hindu mysticism thousands of years ago. Yes, some chanting still acknowledges Hindu gods and demigods. But in no way are those beliefs, or any chants for that matter, required in your personal practice. Oh, and meditation is not prayer. Meditation is looking inward to consciously empty the mind, whereas prayer is outwardly reaching to converse with a higher power. You can practice any religion or no religion at all while doing and living yoga. After all, we attribute the days of the week, the names of the planets, and many other words in the English language to Roman, Greek, Norse and Egyptian mythologies. To say that yoga is a Hindu practice is like saying we believe that Thor is real simply because Thursdays were named after him (don’t let your 10 year olds read that.)
4. You don’t have to eat like a bird.
Many devoted practitioners of yoga follow a prescribed set of doctrines defined as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. These ‘limbs’ guide our behavior to be as harmless and selfless as possible. These are great guides to live by in general. Diet is a big part of bodily awareness and mental acuteness, and many yogis are either vegetarian or vegan in order to do their part in ensuring no living thing suffers. However, other yogis joyously and quite vigorously enjoy ripping into a good ol’ fashioned steak. Just because you enjoy a glass of wine or eat meat or really want a Twinkie every now and then does not mean you aren’t a yogi. The journey to yoga is one of self. In the real world, sometimes it’s just not feasible to avoid meat. So don’t! Get your yoga on anyway!
5. Instagram is a big, fat lie.
One of the most dangerous things you can do for your self esteem is to follow a bunch of bendy yogis on Instagram or other social media platforms. Let me just get it out in the open: most of what you see is not the norm, and it is not real yoga. Being contorted into pretzel-like poses in teeny bikinis can be inspiring (or depressing, depending on how you look at it), but they should never be viewed as the standard. You can be any shape, size and level of fitness to practice yoga. A successful yoga practice is simply one that leaves you more peaceful than when you began. This peace can be felt in the mind, body or spirit. It can be achieved through meditation, poses, breathing or living a yogic moment, such as being gracious or kind to another. Oh, and just a behind-the-scenes tidbit? Those Instafamous people can usually only hold those poses long enough to get a good shot, and never really practice them outside of a fancy photo shoot. If you want some REAL inspiration, follow folks who practice REAL yoga, such as Jessamyn Stanley, a plus size yogi out of Charlotte, NC. You can follow me, too. Just sayin’.
Whatever goes on in your daily life, remember this – yoga is all about learning and using tools to help you find your joy. Through the process of practicing yoga, you can realize more confidence, get in better shape, and learn to cope with stressors that might have previously triggered a full-blown Haagan Daas trough feeding. Real life can steal our joy sometimes. Real yoga gives you the power to take it back.
Becky Scoggins is a tatted up, fired up yoga instructor in Greensboro, NC. You can find her brand, REAL LIFE. REAL YOGA. ™ on Facebook, where she shares nerdy yoga articles and super-fun tutorial videos filmed in her back yard. To support her mission to rehabilitate at-risk and incarcerated youth and adults through yoga, click here.