BY LAUREN RUDICK
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 5:37 AM EDT
What is a yogi?
Is it about being super-bendy? Is it about headstands or arm balances? Is it about chanting and meditating or being a vegan?
Yoga is accessible to everyone, everywhere. With the will to practice, anyone, anywhere can be a yogi.
If we are mindful, meaning — if we are striving for stronger, healthier, happier, more peaceful, generous, and more loving lives — then we are ALL yogis.
Here are 5 of the most common misconceptions about yoga practitioners:
1. Yogis have to be vegan or vegetarian.
Not all yogis embrace the concept of Ahmisa, the non-harming philosophy of the 8-limbs of Pantajali’s yoga, by adopting a strict vegan or vegetarian diet. Yoga is about mindfulness.
Ahimsa asks that we do our best to be compassionate toward all living things at all times. That said, it is natural for some humans to eat meat. Although the typical Western diet is probably heavier in meat consumption than necessary, yogis also practice non-attachment and non-judgment meaning, different lifestyles work for different people.
I am not vegan, because I am naturally anemic. I could take supplements, or I can eat meat once in a while from locally sourced, humane, farms where animals graze and eat naturally and live in big open spaces. This works for me. Veganism or vegetarianism is what works for others.
2. Yogis have to extremely flexible.
As an instructor I hear this all the time: I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible.
Start where you are. We all have very different bodies and abilities. A regular yoga practice will certainly improve flexibility, but our bendiness is largely governed by genetics. Embrace your abilities rather than gawking at the struggles, and be grateful for the improved mobility that comes with practice.
3. Yogis sit and meditate every single day.
Quiet time, clearing the mind and finding stillness are all a part of yoga, yes. That said, meditation can take on many forms. Sometimes it might mean going for a walk in nature, doing an arts-and-crafts project, or even certain solo sports like swimming or snowboarding can be meditative.
Meditation is about finding a way to sustain awareness, not just sitting around in Lotus for a certain amount of time each day.
4. All yogis stand on their heads.
Sure, some yogis can preform all kinds of cool party tricks, but the essence of the practice doesn’t stem from being able to do wacky things with your body. You don’t have to do advanced asanas to be a yogi. Simply stretching and breathing with your legs up the wall, or lying on the floor in Bound Angle Pose or Savasana, is just as much yoga as is a tricky arm balance.
5. Yoga is only for skinny, rich white women or the super elite.
Wrong again! Yoga is about COMMUNITY.
Unfortunately in North America, there’s a misconception that only the wealthy practice yoga. This just isn’t true. Sure, studio memberships can be expensive, but there are many ways around this. Online classes from wonderful, highly-skilled teachers can be found fairly cheaply and even for free on YouTube. Many yoga studios offer karma programs and trades. There are also many studios that do exclusively donation-based community classes. Find one that speaks to you and suits your budget!