I recently came across a post on Facebook which read, “The best yogis of Instagram.” This contest was decided upon by a well-known women’s fashion magazine and featured a variety of teachers, many of whom were wearing bikinis and had little to no body fat. Most pictures this magazine chose to feature were filtered images of thin, barely clad 20 and 30-something women doing handstands in remote exotic locations.
Look, I get it. I LOVE yoga. I TEACH yoga. Yoga makes you feel vibrant and alive! I follow several of these established teachers and they have a lot of really wonderful things to say and they are good teachers. But, I’m disturbed by how yoga is beginning to be perceived by our culture. Since when did being a yogi equal being a fashion model? I took a class the other day, and the teacher literally said, “maybe one day if you keep practicing, you’ll be able to do the pose as gracefully as me.” WTF? Are we selling unattainable perfectionism now? It seems like it.
I found yoga when I was 21. I was an anxious, type A perfectionist, and my thoughts provided a steady stream of self-flagellation which fueled everything I did. I hurt my hip dancing and my doctor recommended yoga since its movements were gentler. Instead of just providing a workout for my body, yoga’s message found me and touched my sad little young heart. It said, “you are perfect. you are whole. just the way you are.” That still small voice kept bringing me back to studios in New York City where teachers like Cyndi Lee wove yoga’s message of acceptance into her sequences, opening her arms to embrace men and women of different walks of life, colors, and with different sized waistlines. In Los Angeles, I was lucky to study with teachers with a wealth of knowledge of various yogic traditions. Our phones were tucked safely away in little cubbies in the hall. We were experiencing quality time with ourselves and each other. It was real.
To me, yoga is the opposite of a flawless instagram post. In the 12 years I have been practicing, what has changed me is the radical acceptance of myself, warts and all. Life is messy and yoga helps us weather the storms of change by saying, “hey. come. sit. practice. it’s ok to be where you are. take a look.” I’ll never be tall and thin and tan and my left wrist is pretty jacked up, so I can’t do a ton of handstands. But, most of the time, I like my own company. I feel like I stand for something and have something to say with my voice. This is because of my practice. This is because I had teachers who rooted themselves deeply in the philosophy of yoga and the limbs of its tree which extend way beyond just asana (poses). Ladies, let me tell you, that tree has deep roots. If we climb it, we become nourished and content beings, instead of empty vessels of flesh trying to out-vinyasa each other in a contest for the perfect body.
So, I have decided…when I want to experience yoga, I want it old school. I will keep using my voice to tell the girls who can’t stand up without passing out because they have severely restricted their calorie intake to look away from their instagram feed and turn their gaze within. I will encourage my students to learn the unique landscape of their own bodies so that they can practice safely and joyfully into their senior years and remind them that yoga is a deep well of goodness which ages so beautifully with time. In the words of BKS Iyengar, “Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.”
So, my sweet, sexy, smart, lovely ladies, let me remind you…
You are perfect. you are whole. just the way you are. Go to your mat to wake up to your own atman/soul and only listen to that. And remember, that is the good stuff. No filters.
Art by Patricia Filardi via