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Yoga is one of the fastest growing forms of exercise in the United States. As a yoga teacher, I hear many misconceptions about this ancient art form. Yoga is a beautiful practice that can be physically challenging, emotionally rewarding and spiritually uplifting. But before you roll out your mat and do your first Down Dog, let's clear up some of the most common yoga myths.

Myth: Doing yoga won't help you lose weight or tone your muscles like working out in a gym.

False. There are many different forms of yoga. True, yoga can be slow, gentle and restorative, but it can also be very vigorous. In fact, some forms of yoga, such as power yoga or Ashtanga, actually require some level of physical fitness to begin. These forms of yoga build strength and endurance much like an aerobic workout. In addition, yoga is a more complete body workout than most other forms of exercise, and, with a consistent practice, you can lose weight and tone muscles. Remember no matter how physically fit you are, you should ease into any new exercise program and always listen to your body to avoid injury.

Myth: Yoga is about being flexible.

False. But if yoga isn't about flexibility then why do so many pictures of yoga show people in poses resembling a pretzel? Power yoga teacher Brian Kest explains it best.

"The goal in yoga is to maintain vitality not flexibility," Kest said. "The poses are not created to promote flexibility, rather they are created to heal or maintain the health and vitality of the places of the body that they expose. Remember, too much flexibility creates a state of instability, and that's not healthy."

So, when you begin your practice and you feel stretched in a pose, your body is working to bring health and vitality to that particular part. In time you will ease deeper and deeper into each pose, ultimately becoming more flexible.

If you go

Free yoga classes throughout the grand opening of Perfect Balance Yoga and Massage from May 11-16.

May 16. Participate in an 18-hour yogathon to benefit cancer in the community. Do yoga or just watch, make a donation of any kind and help those with cancer.

May 17. Yoga workshop with Salt Lake City yoga teacher Nikki Meacham. Beginners to all levels from noon to 1:30 p.m. Intermediate to advanced from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Each workshop is $15.

Myth: Yoga is just meditating and breathing.

False. We've established that yoga can be hard and energizing, but meditation and breathing are important aspects of any type of yoga. In fact, breathing is as essential to yoga as it is to living. When we focus on our breath, we are helping our mind stay focused on the present moment. Through this process we become more mindful, both in yoga class and out. Then we are able to be more mindful in every aspect of our lives and deal better with the daily stresses that surround us. We are more able to fully enjoy life and let go of the things that don't really matter.

In the end, yoga is fun. You should enjoy your yoga practice and your journey through this ancient art form. So, if you've never tried it before, what are you waiting for? And if you've dabbled in yoga before, why not re-establish your practice? With the myths cleared up — go get your mat and do that down dog!

Rory Rogina is a yoga teacher, massage therapist and co-owner of Perfect Balance Yoga and Massage in Billings. Perfect Balance is located at 712 Carbon Street, Suite D. (East of Perkins off King and 20th Street).

For more information, call (406) 294-YOGA.