Finlay Haswell

Mythbusters: yoga facts and fiction

5 July 2022

Yoga is a safe and effective form of physical activity that improves strength, flexibility, co-ordination and balance, as well as being a form of meditation and stress reliever.

But there are many myths that surround yoga that can put some people off. Finlay Haswell, Physiologist at AXA Health, sorts the fact from the fiction and highlights the flexibility of the practice.

Why practice yoga?

Yoga has a unique benefit to everyone. The best thing about yoga is that it is flexible, with the benefits changing with your energy, mood and time of day. For example:

  • A morning session will start sleepy and rigid, and gradually build in energy, boost mood and could be used to help get you ready for the day ahead.
  • A lunchtime yoga session could include a more difficult flow, with lots of power elements to revitalise and boost afternoon productivity.
  • In the evening you could opt for a more calming and relaxing session, really delving into breath control, mindfulness and stress reduction to help you wind down.

“Yoga is more for the mind than body”

MYTH! Yoga can be practiced to gain both physical and mental benefits. Practicing yoga is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

It has been shown to increase flexibility, muscle strength and tone, improve heart health, relieve back pain and help alleviate the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis1.

For our mental health, yoga has been shown to improve body image, increase self-confidence and reduce stress and anxiety as well as boosting mood2.

Discover more of our mythbusters - from stress to insomnia.

“Yoga is all about impossible postures”

MYTH! When we think about the word "yoga," lots of us will jump to an image of a very complicated pose or posture, almost pretzel-like bending of the body. Although many advanced yoga practices include some difficult postures, yoga encompasses a lot more than this.

Yoga focusses on strength, flexibility, alignment and breathing. You don’t have to do extreme movement. The word asana (the Sanskrit term for yoga postures) means posture comfortably held.

“I need to be flexible to start practicing yoga”

MYTH! You do not need to be flexible to start practicing yoga. Anyone at any age or ability can start their yoga journey. It’s about acceptance of our own body and its limitations, as well as the limitations of our mind.

Yoga is also about respecting ourselves and working to improve our physical and mental health. For some, improving health through yoga means improving flexibility, for someone else it might be to build strength or improve mood and reduce anxiety.

“Yoga and Pilates are the same”

MYTH! A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that yoga and Pilates are the same, but they are more different than you might think. Yoga is an ancient practice, dating back at least 5000 years and can be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation in India3. Whilst Pilates is a much newer form of exercise, developed by German fitness expert Joseph Pilates in the 1920s.

In yoga, the goal is to stay connected to your breathing whilst developing postures. Though, in Pilates, the focus is on:

  • building core muscles
  • precision of movement
  • spine alignment and strength
  • and coordination of breathing.

The main difference is that yoga is a gentler form of strength training, while Pilates focuses on increasing muscle strength and endurance.

“I need a lot of fancy equipment to practice yoga”

MYTH! Whilst equipment can be used if you feel it will support your practice, such as a yoga mat, blocks, bands, wheels or grip socks, these are not necessary. Yoga can be performed in the comfort of your own home on a carpeted floor or towel.

With many sessions available for free online, yoga is an extremely accessible form of physical activity.

Top Tips

  • Try a few different forms (home videos/group sessions/different practices or teachers) before deciding if Yoga suits you.
  • Pick your sessions depending on how you’re feeling: Feeling tired and lethargic? Do a morning energising session to boost your mood and outlook for the day.
  • Whether you’re looking to take a break from your desk or wind down after a long day, Yoga has something for everyone, so why not give it a go.

References

  1. The Physical Benefits of Yoga – Harvard Health
  2. Yoga and how it can benefit you – British Heart Foundation
  3. History of yoga – Yoga Basics