There are an estimated 300 million people practising yoga worldwide. But even with that level of popularity, you’ll still find plenty of yoga myths doing the rounds.

Practising yoga can have so many benefits, from stress relief and improved sleep to enhanced strength. It’s a shame if anyone is missing out on these benefits because they believe the stereotypes and misconceptions.

That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the most persistent – and off-putting – yoga myths.

From the idea of the ‘yoga body’ to the belief that the practice is only about stretching, here’s the truth behind the misconceptions.

1. Our least-favourite yoga myth: Yoga isn’t a ‘proper’ workout

Yoga is often described as a ‘gentle’ workout. And it certainly can be. Restorative yoga, for example, is a slow, contemplative practice that promotes relaxation, while yoga nidra is all about meditation.

But there are also practices that will really get your muscles working, helping you build strength and challenging your endurance. Just ask anyone coming out of an hour-long Ashtanga class!

2. There’s such a thing as a ‘yoga body’

Of course, some yoga talk goes too far in the other direction. You may have heard people talking about getting a ‘yoga body’ – lean and ultra-toned.

That’s definitely a yoga myth. The truth is, there’s no such thing.

A ‘yoga body’ is a body doing yoga. You don’t have to look a certain way to do yoga. You can get started with yoga at any age.

And most importantly: yoga is not about competition.

In fact, one of the best things about a regular yoga practice is that it can help ground you within yourself and develop better long-term body confidence.

3. You have to be flexible to do yoga

We get it: if you’ve ever seen pictures of influencers doing yoga on Instagram, those complicated poses can be very daunting.

The thing is, if you’re a beginner, you won’t be starting with those poses. In fact, there’s no need to ever do a majorly twisty pose if you don’t want to!

The truth is that yoga can really help improve flexibility, but you don’t have to be flexible to get started.

4. You need to invest in super-spendy kit

This is a misconception you’ll hear about many activities in the wellness world. Just as you don’t have to buy ultra-expensive trainers to go running, you can do yoga perfectly happily using your studio’s mat or a basic mat you’ve bought.

Of course, you also may start to develop a preference for a style that particularly suits you, once you’ve been doing yoga for a while. If that’s the case, and you’ve decided to upgrade your mat, it’s worth thinking about what works for you as an individual. Which features will make you feel most comfortable? Things to look out for include:

  • Cushioning
  • Stickiness
  • Texture
  • Alignment lines
  • Eco-friendly material

When it comes to yoga clothing, the most important thing is to be comfortable. A pair of super-high-tech yoga pants may make some people feel good, but those pants can’t magically propel anyone into crow pose.

5. Yoga is just stretching

The whole ‘yoga is just stretching’ myth is part of the ‘yoga is always gentle’ myth, and we’ve already busted that one.

What’s also important to know is that yoga isn’t purely about any type of physical movement, whether stretching or strength.

You may start doing yoga with physical fitness firmly at the front of your mind. But the more you practise, the more you’ll feel the mental health benefits, too.

The word ‘yoga’ is Sanskrit for ‘union’, after all. It’s about uniting mind, body and spirit for overall well-being.

6. Yoga is for women

Yogi Madhav

Yoga is for everyone.

This myth seems to have taken root in the Western world because yoga was once marketed mainly at women. But even a quick glance at the 5,000-year-old history of yoga shows that it has been extensively practised by men for generations.

7. Yoga only takes place on the mat

There are so many lessons from yoga that you can use on a daily basis, even when you’re not actually practising the poses. You may well find yourself thinking about finding balance, grounding yourself and taking smooth breaths as you go about your everyday tasks. That can only be a good thing.

What’s more, yoga is excellent for improving your posture. Part of that is because of improved flexibility and strength from practice. But another key reason is that yoga promotes body awareness. When you’re off the mat, have you started noticing when your shoulders are rounding, or when your pelvis is tilting? That’s thanks to yoga!

8. Every yoga teacher is the same

Different yoga teachers take different approaches. And that’s ok. It’s all about finding a class and a teacher where you feel comfortable and supported.

Of course, if you’re not enjoying a class, it may be about that particular type of yoga, rather than the teacher. Explore the many kinds of yoga to find the right one for you.

9. Breathing techniques are optional

Overheard waiting to go into a yoga class: “I don’t mind doing the exercise bits, but I’m not going to bother with all that breathing stuff.”

This one isn’t purely a yoga myth, in the sense that if you go to a class, no one is going to force you to follow the breathing.

If you’re not into breathwork, it’s understandable that you might feel sceptical about yoga’s emphasis on breathing techniques, or pranayama.

But it’s worth keeping an open mind. In yoga, breath is linked to the poses, and embracing the relationship between the two will really boost your practice.

What’s more, techniques such as three-part breath and alternate nostril breathing can bring a deep sense of peace on and off the mat.

Has all this yoga talk put you in the mood for practising? Check out our favourite yoga poses to reduce stress.