• Irina Sheftel

Top 5 misleading yoga instructions

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

We occasionally hear instructions from yoga teachers that set our alarm bells ringing. Some of these instructions are misguided but relatively harmless, but others can have downright detrimental effects. Check out the facts behind the top 5 misleading instructions below — and next time you hear instructions like these, pause and allow yourself some critical thought. Whether teacher or student, we can all reflect carefully on what information we absorb and repeat.

1. Stimulate thyroid in halasana

The thyroid is a small endocrine gland in the neck. There is a belief that flexing the neck in halasana or similar asanas stimulates the thyroid. However, there is no convincing scientific evidence for this idea. No scientific study has compared the endocrine effects of halasana to that of other asanas.

Reflect! Why would stimulating the thyroid be a selling point for halasana? Excess of thyroid hormones leads to a range of unpleasant symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety and heart problems. For people who do not suffer from thyroid hormones deficiency, stimulating the thyroid might not be such a good idea. Yoga (as well as other types of physical exercise) affects many hormones and body parameters such as blood pressure and heart rate. A balanced yoga practice could be an efficient protective strategy against metabolic disorders, even if we let go of the idea that one asana targets one specific endocrine gland.

2. Do inversions to increase blood flow to the brain

The brain is protected from an influx of blood that may damage its delicate capillaries and cause a stroke. Despite what you may have heard at a yoga class, the brain cells are not "bathing in fresh blood" when we are upside down. Besides, inversions tend to slow down the heart and lower blood pressure, which means that the amount of blood going into the brain may even reduce in inversions.

Despite what you may have heard at a yoga class, the brain cells are not "bathing in fresh blood" when we are upside down.

Reflect! Upside down or not, every mental activity that we take on increases oxygen and glucose supply to the brain. For example, the prefrontal brain areas receive more of these supplements when we meditate. If your aim is to increase the blood flow in the brain in a healthy and safe way, try meditation, juggling, playing music or solving math problems! 2. Twist to detox

3. Twist to detox

A perfect example of a commercial myth is ‘detoxifying’! Toxins don’t build up in the body. Our liver and kidneys are continuously busy excreting metabolic products. If the kidneys or liver fail to do their job, a severe organ dysfunction requiring medical aid develops rather quickly. If the kidneys and liver are functioning well, there is no need to eliminate toxins with special drinks, massages, or yoga asanas.

Reflect! Take a moment to reflect on the whole idea of toxins. Telling someone that they have to detox implies that there is something wrong with them — they are poisoned and dirty from the inside. Isn't it unethical to convey a message like this to a student or client?

4. Use Alternate Nostril Breathing to balance the left and right brain hemispheres

There is no direct passage from the left/right nostrils to the left/right brain hemispheres. When you breathe in through your nose, the air enters the trachea and then goes via the bronchi to the lungs. There, the oxygen gets absorbed into the blood and travels to the brain. It does not matter if you have inhaled with the right, left or both nostrils — the blood flow brings oxygen to both brain hemispheres.

Reflect! Why do you need to balance the left and right brain? If you have clear vision and hearing on the left and the right, and you can move your limbs on both sides, then your brain hemispheres are working well in coordination already. However, alternate nostril breathing is a demanding task that requires a lot of concentration. Even if it does not "balance the hemispheres", it is still a great exercise to develop attention and breath awareness — so go ahead and practice!

5. Watch your thoughts — 85% of them are negative

It is common for people to have repetitive thoughts. We worry about the future or replay past events. In some conditions such as depression and anxiety, worry and rumination become excessive and may increase distress and suffering. But repetitive thinking can also be constructive: it brings healing from emotional wounds of the past and enables us to solve problems and plan the future. The statement "85% of our thoughts are negative" appeals to those of us who love exact numbers, along with similar statements such as: "people only use 10% of the brain", and "people have 70,000 thoughts per day".

Reflect! Why would a yoga teacher impose these numbers and make students anticipate that huge amount of negative thoughts? The content of our thoughts is very personal and can be different from day to day. The state of mindful awareness means cultivating a non-judgemental state toward all thoughts, without labeling them "good" or "bad".

This article was originally published at Network Yoga Therapy website. Visit it here to read more articles like this.

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