10 Common Stereotypes About People Who Practice Yoga (That Aren’t Always True)

This article originally appeared on Yoga Journal

It's easy to paint a very one-dimensional picture of what it means to be a “yogi.” Maybe you’ve formed a stereotype after scrolling through social media or attending a discounted yoga class five years ago through Groupon.

As someone who was once a wallflower at yoga class, I consider myself as having an expert outsider's take on the yoga community. Trust me when I say that those of us who practice yoga are as diverse as the leggings we wear. So if you’re contemplating trying yoga but you think you don’t fit into the stereotype, you need to understand that there is no “type” of yoga person. If you have a body, you can do yoga. Period.

Following are the some of the most consistent and persistent myths I hear about what someone who practices yoga needs to be.

10 Common Myths About Who Practices Yoga

Myth 1: You have to be vegan

Some vocal vegans also happen to practice yoga. So it can be easy to assume that all of us are that way. Not so. While most of us who practice yoga have mad respect for the choice to be vegan, it's not something that all of us embrace ourselves. I've been teaching for more a decade and I still enjoy the heck out of a burger, a big scoop of ice cream, and an actual BLT.

Myth 2: You have to be woo-woo

Not all yogis are flower children who know their entire astrological birth chart and care more about balancing their chakras than their checkbooks. It’s true that the less physical, more intangible aspects of the tradition of yoga as well as some related lifestyle choices play an integral part in many people's practice of yoga. But that doesn’t have to be your practice of yoga. No talking about the color of your aura required.

Myth 3: You have to be radical left

People come to yoga from all backgrounds, educational experiences, lifestyles, and opinions. There is no checkbox on the studio waiver you sign before attending class that asks you to demonstrate your radicalism.

Myth 4: You have to be super serious

Most yoga classes are not at all like the austere, militant practices you might have seen on VHS videos from the ’80s. In fact, most yoga teachers aren't afraid to laugh at themselves, the funny idiosyncrasies of a yoga practice, or the stereotypes of those who practice it.

You can certainly find somber yoga classes, but you can just as easily find ones that find some levity. To each their own.

Myth 5: You have to be “good" at yoga

There is no such thing as being "good” or “bad" at yoga. You can have the flexibility of steel but that doesn't make you "bad" at yoga. You can mentally curse your teacher for making you hold Chair Pose for too long but that doesn't mean you're "bad" at yoga. The person who can hold Handstand for 3 minutes is no "better" at yoga than you; they simply spent months or years practicing a particular skill set that you haven't attempted yet.

The practice of yoga is an equalizer. All "better than" or "less than" speech goes out the window here. We’re all just showing up on our mat to practice something that makes us stronger, more flexible, and, along the way, we tend to become better than we used to be. That’s the only competition you’ll find is outgrowing your old self.

Myth 6: You have to be a hippie

Not all yogis have forsaken razors, deodorant, and hygiene. Not all yogis wax poetic about the merits of composting. If you fall into these categories, good for you. If you don’t, good for you. All yoga asks is that you try to be a decent human.

Myth 7: You can’t be a real guy and do yoga

False! If you explore yoga's beginnings, it was almost exclusively a men's practice. Only since the westernization of yoga has it become a female-dominated pursuit. Additionally, in recent years the NFL, NBA, and MLB have introduced their athletes to yoga precisely because the strength- and flexibility-enhancing practice makes them more effective and balanced individuals. Veterans, police officers, and firefighters have incorporated yoga into their days because of the clarity and release of physical tension that it brings them in the intense situations they encounter each day.

Myth 8: You have to be spiritual

This one is pretty controversial and some will disagree on this. But the fact remains that you can come to yoga for the physical practice without searching for a spiritual component. The larger tradition of yoga is beautiful and can be profoundly beneficial. But if you just want to work up a sweat or feel more embodied or learn how to sit still in meditation, there's a yoga class for you. The spiritual side is certainly available.

Myth 9: You have to be enlightened

Anyone who practices yoga experiences the spectrum of human emotions just like anyone else. Just because they can sit in meditation for 20 minutes doesn't mean that they're enlightened or above everyday frustrations. Yoga students and teachers curse. They get stressed when they're running late for class. They occasionally flip out on their significant other for not putting the dishes away for the thousandth time.

Yoga can help us learn how to approach our emotions with less reactivity. But it doesn't eliminate our experience of them.

Myth 10: You have to love it

Yoga encompasses everything from athletic vinyasa yoga to incredibly subtle meditative yoga. You don’t have to love it all or even practice it all. So don't give up just because your first class didn't sit well with you. Keep trying. You’ll find what works for you. Beyond the styles, there are thousands of different teachers, and each one will create a different yoga experience, even within the same style of yoga. You never know who or what might be exactly what you need.

This article has been updated. Originally published August 6, 2014.

About our contributor

Erin Motz is not your traditional yoga teachers. She’s the carnivorous, red wine- and French cheese-loving type who teaches vinyasa flow. Her aim is to keep classes fun and accessible, both in the studio and online. You won't hear much Sanskrit in her classes and it’s perfectly fine if you don't know your asana from your elbow. She firmly believes that yoga is for everyone. She may be a “Bad Yogi,” but teaching yoga has been one of her greatest pleasures.

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