I’ve been sitting on this for a while. I’ve been conflicted about whether or not I should comment on the skinny yoga articles, the fat yoga articles, the yoga for every body articles…and I find myself finally sitting down to write this—unable to not comment on the issue of yoga and body image. I think this is the most appropriate place to address my thoughts since this volume of Lotus Petals: Lesson Guides to Deepen Your Yoga Practice concerns Asana. Asana means seat or posture, originally referring to the seat or posture taken for meditation. It has expanded to include a variety of postures which tone the body, calm the nervous system and teach breath awareness.
As a teenager, I weighed up to 175 pounds then lost much of it to weigh 135 pounds. Currently, I weigh anywhere from 145 to 150 pounds depending on the season, the time of day and other things. So, I am very familiar with body image issues. At this point in my life, I also understand coming to our mats to practice yoga is our chance to forget about the image of our body. We practice yoga in order to become familiar with our body and acknowledge it.
So, let’s take a leap into the rabbit hole. I’ll repeat here something you may have already learned. Yoga is not about your body. Yoga is about you. Through yoga, an individual has the opportunity to find their true self, the self that no one sees, their secret self. When we practice yoga, we move the body to get into the body, so we may eventually quiet the body and in turn our minds.
We move through our days so rapidly; we don’t even know where we are in space. It is a figure of speech, but it is also very literal when people wonder aloud, “Now, where am I?” Sometimes, we really just don’t know where we are in our day, in our lives or in our relationships. We move so rapidly we neglect to be mindful of those things, not through any fault of own, but through habit, conditioning and social expectations. Ineffectual habits, social conditioning and expectations build a fortress of neglect. We neglect one another, and we neglect ourselves.
As I mentioned before, with a yoga practice, we gain the opportunity to get into our bodies, to bring our complete awareness to bear on our movements, becoming focused on the present moment. This level of focus allows us get out of our heads. It allows us to slow and abandon the parade of thoughts rampaging through our minds without end. Ironically, when we sit for meditation or to simply relax and return to our thoughts, this same movement quiets and calms the mind imbuing us with a fundamental sense of well-being.
In our media laden society, we are inundated with pretty pictures of people doing beautiful asanas. The human body is a miracle. It is a working, living breathing evolving miracle, and these pictures are beautiful. However, they are not reality. Yoga is not always pretty. It is not always the nice neat categorical package promoted to consumers. Yoga is life. Yoga is awkward on occasion. Yoga can be messy. Yoga is sweaty. Yoga is sexy. Yoga is every thing that life is, because yoga is union. It is the integration of the mind, body and spirit. Yoga practice is grace filled; it is not always graceful. I have fallen on nose and my bum; I have stressed and strained muscles. My shoulder tweaks every now and then as I write this. The reality of yoga makes it a beautiful path of discovery.
This same reality is in part the beauty of the current ‘Yoga is for every body’ movement. However, as teachers and as practitioners, we cannot forget: yoga is not about the body. The body is a vehicle for our souls and yoga gives us the means to live happily with the bodies we have. When we practice yoga, we find our body’s capabilities and limitations while reshaping it and cultivating it to be the perfect space to house our beautiful souls. We practice yoga to annihilate the boundaries in ourselves and in our lives so we can recognize, explore and manifest infinite possibilities. So, when you think about your body and you look at the pictures in yoga magazines, on blogs, on Facebook and on Instagram, remember those pictures belong to the individuals taking that journey. Those bodies belong to those individuals and your body is your own; you get to write your journey however you choose.
Yoga is not about the body. The body is a tool. The body is a space for the priceless and rewarding work of freeing your soul.