I was on holiday recently and as usual I browsed the books in WH Smith’s before the flight out. A book caught my eye, called “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli. I read a couple of chapters and was immediately hooked enough to buy it.
So what has this got to do with the top four reasons stopping people going to a yoga class? Well let’s look at those reasons before I explain.
- Yoga is a religion, is very spiritual and involves a load of chanting
- You have to be very flexible to do yoga and I am not
- Yoga isn’t as good for you as other forms of exercise like swimming, running or the gym
- Yoga is dangerous and I could hurt myself
There are thousands of articles, blogs, videos and podcasts that very effectively point out why these reasons are wrong.But I still hear them from potential participants. I have always been curious about why certain myths prevail when there is so much evidence available to debunk them.
Well “The Art of Thinking Clearly” gave me an insight into what is going on here. These four yoga myths prevail because of the way humans think and the way we filter information. The chapter in the book about “Confirmation Bias” was a revelation to me.
What is confirmation bias? It’s a tendency of people to seek information that confirms their beliefs. People gather or remember information selectively and then interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. They also tend to view ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.
So if someone has heard that yoga is a religion, despite the fact that they can find many arguments to the contrary on the Internet, they will select the articles that confirm their view-point and deliberately or subconsciously ignore those that conflict with their view. I read about churches stopping yoga classes in their halls because they hold this view. I can now see why it is so hard to convince them of the truth. Their belief is so deeply entrenched that they will only acknowledge the information that confirms their view.
As yoga teachers part of our job is to overcome these reasons that stop people from going to yoga classes.
- Yoga is not a religion though for some it is a way of life. The elements that seem spiritual are more to do with realising your own nature, or becoming more self-aware.
- You don’t have to be flexible to practice yoga. I guess this myth comes from pictures of very flexible girls with their legs wrapped behind their heads in very advanced poses. The fact is however flexible you are, you will become a little more flexible with every class you attend.
- As a form of exercise yoga is just as good as swimming, running or the gym. Granted some forms of yoga are not aerobically challenging but Ashtanga or Power yoga will certainly raise the heart rate as much as an aerobics class. Yoga means stress reduction, better sleeping, better posture, greater flexibility and muscle tone, improved energy levels and more strength.
- As far as yoga being dangerous and liable to cause injury. Well you can hurt yourself in any sport. As long as you follow the teacher’s instructions yoga is not a problem. Again this is a great example of confirmation bias at work. People will read an article or hear a news report about one or two injuries and take that as confirmation of their viewpoint. They ignore, of course, the many millions who do not get injured, mainly because the media do not report about that.
I will continue to encourage people to practice yoga and overcome these objections. I did realise however that us teachers are also subject to confirmation bias. We will naturally seek out the information that supports our view. To become better at helping our clients we should have a closer look at the articles and reports that support the myths so that we can even better understand them and refute them.
Your turn: You might think that talking about “confirmation bias” was a strange concept to introduce into a blog about yoga. But I found the concept fascinating. What do you think? I would be very interested to hear your views. Please leave a comment below or post a link to your own blog.