Dear Beautiful Human,
Another topic that’s been on my radar for a while now: body image and yoga… I keep seeing posts on this topic. In the last 10-15 years it’s become increasingly apparent that the western yoga industry is saturated with specific images of what a yogi looks like.
It should be no surprise that as yoga has made its’ way to the west and taken hold, it too is subject to our cultural dilusions and misconceptions about physical appearance, health, happiness and spirituality. From Instagram posts of extreme poses and Yoga Journal covers of exclusively white thin women, we get the message: a good yogi is beyond physically capable and has a very certain look.
In contrast, a movement to counter this narrative has sprung up with themes like “yoga for everybody” or “accessible yoga” to show people you don’t need to be a certain size or achieve elaborate shapes to practice yoga. Nor do you need to be white and female. There is a wave of teachers and photographers posting radically different images of people practicing yoga. For instance, veterans with missing limbs practicing yoga, students in wheel chairs practicing yoga, or large bodied yogis of color practicing yoga.
Some companies like Athleta have finally started using images in their catalogs of women with all body types and of all ages working out in their clothes.
I will never forget the first time I saw Dianne Bondy on video at Yoga International (Dianne Bondy Yoga). I was dumbfounded that that was the first time I had seen a large black woman teaching yoga. There were literally no other images like hers in the yoga media I was used to seeing. How crazy is that? This was only a few years ago and right then I realized how skewed the industry is. (BTW follow her on social media- she is amazing).
It’s unfortunate that yoga too has succumbed to our ridiculous cultural expectations about women and body image. But can we really be surprised?
Let’s be honest, in western culture there is a never ending and persistent messaging women get about how they are supposed to look. You can’t deny this. Most women I know experience pressure to look a certain way. It gets some people more than others and can actually “eat away” at the quality of a person’s life.
I grew up with a mom whose entire self-worth was wrapped up in her weight. She was always thin but obsessed about it constantly and stood in front of the mirror to pick herself apart top to bottom. The amount of energy she wasted worrying about her weight and not feeling good enough would have been more than enough to create the life she really wanted to live. But who has time for that when dieting, shame and losing weight take up the bulk of your existence?
What has all of this got to do with yoga?
A consistent and dedicated yoga practice is the remedy for this terribly misguided and delusional way of thinking. I mean it. The yoga industry and the actual practice of yoga are two very different things. When I say “practice yoga” I don’t mean posture achievement. I mean quieting the mental chatter and accepting each and every moment we are in, even when we don’t like it. I mean practicing presence and awareness both on the yoga mat and off it. I mean self acceptance from the outside in.
I have said this before, the core of yoga is for us to know ourselves at the deepest level. By sitting with ourselves on a daily basis, be it in meditation, asana, breathwork or mindful living, we begin to touch the truth. When we regularly tap into the truth, we begin to see very clearly the “untruths”. Actually, this is the aim of the yoga sutras, to disconnect the mental wiring of the untruths. To free ourselves from the negative mind stuff that plagues us.
So, anyone who feels their worth is tied up in their size or weight begins to see this for what it is, a total crock of sh*t. How insane that we would believe our worth has anything to do with our bodies? And who said that there is one beauty ideal?? Look around and you can see the world is full of all types, shapes, sizes, colors, ages and genders. Why is only one type acceptable, beautiful?
I know I could have easily spent the bulk of my life worrying about my weight just like mom did. Luckily the consistent practice of yoga sabotaged that life track. The more you practice yoga, the more you shed the stuff that chips away at your happiness. The more you know and experience your inherent worth and “love-ability.” It’s really that simple. Yoga clears the dirt away so you can see the truth and live in harmony with your own unique self. Then you learn to live in harmony with the world around you too.
For all the women out there struggling to accept yourselves, you are beautiful exactly as you are. By existing, you are worthy. At your essence you are a perfect and beautiful creation deserving of love, acceptance, happiness and peace. That’s the ultimate truth of yoga.
What if we started loving ourselves exactly as we are today? What if we stopped wasting our time and energy on trying to be something we are not? What if instead we put that great output of energy into taking care of ourselves? And then being the powerhouses that we are, out in the world? Can you imagine the difference we would make?
Keep practicing yoga in whatever form you can and your yoga goes from being a concept to an experienced knowing!