Unrealistic yoga claims. As teachers, you’ve all been there before. Either to overhear others or to hear the words come out of your own mouth, “Yoga is like a natural sleeping pill, an anti-anxiety medication, a weight-loss goldmine, prevents heart attacks, and will make you live past 100 years-old with the face of a 20 year-old. It’s true! My sister’s best friend’s brother’s neighbor is 101 and swears by it.”
With the spread of yoga around the world from India over the past century, especially mainstreamed in the West within the past two decades, misconceptions inevitably pop up and dilute the truth. Frustrated students may walk away if the practice is not talked about and taught clearly.
So, when do claims become more hearsay than fact, and where do you draw the line with exaggerations that yoga will make people superhuman?
Do your own research to clarify your own explanations
As an instructor, you come from a place of love for your students. Just like it is difficult to describe the feeling of love, it is difficult to interpret how yoga changes a person’s mindset, attitude, body, and ailments over a period of time. While it may not be eloquent, often studies with demonstrated scientific facts help clearly outline what benefits exist in a certain posture, just as it would with what the brain does under the influence of love.
Unfortunately, the actual amount of scientific yoga studies lack in comparison to how long the practice has existed; yet there are millions of incredible personal stories on yoga and its amazing benefits. So where to start?
A recent resource, The Science of Yoga, written by yogi William Broad, outlined scientific studies along with his own experience of the practice for a number of decades. He references different medical publications, as well as the research behind certain postures or benefits in yoga. While controversial, it is a good starting point for anyone interested in a rounder opinion of yoga.
Have fun with your research, and your own classes will benefit in claims you regularly like to tell your clients, such as how yoga reduces anxiety, for example. Peace of mind will follow as you solidify the sources of benefits in certain yoga asanas, and know what exaggeration sounds like. Accumulate a list of publications as a resource to refer students or friends to. Memorize a couple of the facts for ease of use in conversation, short of carrying around various studies of yoga around in your yoga pants. It also will help for those that challenge your statements!
While a specific study may have one outcome, patience, dedication and realistic expectations are factors students must remember as well.
If you do decide to personally speak to a specific asana or style of yoga, and how it has helped you (because personal stories are so powerful), just be sure to highlight the fact that every person is different, every body is different and every circumstance is different.
Make Satya a Priority
To ask a question of yoga, the best place to search for the answer is within yoga itself – Specifically in The Yoga Sutra, the art of living. In this eight-limbed yoga path, nestled in the Yamas (Universal Morality) is Satya. Satya is to speak the truth. Consider what, how and the effect your truth and the truth have on people. Satya states that honest communication is free from exaggerations, mistruths or deliberate deception that would hurt others.
As a yoga teacher it is natural to be infused with excitement to tell anyone that will listen, especially an enthusiastic new student, about the amazing benefits this practice holds. However, it is important to balance this love with a place of truth and patience. While all you want to do is simply inspire a new yoga student, frustration may set in too early on if his or her expectations are sky high or extremely specific.
Take the time to highlight the fact that every person has his or her own experience with yoga, and to try as many different kinds until s/he finds one that speaks more personally. The pillars of patience and gentleness should weave throughout this journey.
Remind yourself and your students that yoga is just one branch of eight in the philosophy of a true life of yoga. Meditation, kindness practice, breath work, and other disciplines will round out the mind and body and balance specific claims.
Love Your Yoga Enough to Speak from a Place of Educated Truth
Yoga has many healing properties and can do many amazing things. From mind to body and the energy in between, it is a sacred practice for a reason. When a practice incorporates body, mind and spirit, it’s little wonder most of the claims have a base in truth.
So while you highlight studies and personalized benefits for practitioners, it is important to also equalize the information and remind practitioners to listen to their body for Every Day is different. Encourage your students to take it slow, research on their own, and use yoga as just one tool in the path to a whole and healed self.
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