Yoga is ‘in’ these days. It has become an extremely popular form of exercise, which has made the practice available to enormous amounts of people. As a lover of yoga, and an instructor, I'm so glad it is reaching more people than ever! Posture practice is wonderful for our physical body, but it seems that some less than healthy cultural ideals of body image have snuck their way into yoga classes.
How could it not, really? America is permeated with messages that tell us our body equals our value and that any extra body fat is disgusting. It would be quite a yoga miracle if it came out unscathed by our rampant distorted beauty ideals.
I love to go to new studios and experience different instructors, it's a wonderful way to keep learning as an instructor and a student. New postures, techniques, cues, quotes, books. I always walk out with something new and interesting to add to my repertoire.
Sometimes the lessons come in a package I would never expect though. Which is what happened during one particular class this summer.
All of a sudden after the instructor cued us into chair pose she proceeded to tell us to hold a little longer because we were 'building our bikini booty’s.’ Only to be followed up by encouraging us to work on our ‘bikini abs’ while in plank.
This got me all sorts of fired up inside.
I had to mentally talk myself down, remembering that we all are only doing the best we can with what we know. This reminder allowed me to release the immediate anger that had boiled up from my core directed toward the instructor. I still had this urge to rebel though. Maybe it was my ego wanting to make a statement, or maybe it was just me showing myself some love. Either way I lowered myself out of plank.
Because guess what?
I am not in yoga for a 'bikini body.’ Not to mention every body is a bikini body. If a woman wants to put a bikini on her body she should damn well do it without a second thought.
Although everyone has a different agenda for their practice, and it’s none of my business, I was hoping that was not why the other two women next to me were there or that now they thought that's why they should be there. That they hadn't come to yoga to punish their body or to try to fit into society's ideals of perfection. A bikini booty or abs may come with regular practice, sure, but it saddened me to think that could be the sole motive to go to yoga. I think even more it just saddens me that so many of us have these thoughts and feelings. That we live in a world where judging ourselves to the point of shame and self hatred has become normal.
Yoga is not about a 'bikini body.’ It’s not about trying to make ourselves into what society says is an acceptable body for a bikini.
Yoga is about self acceptance, self love and connection to our body. To be in union with our body.
Not to say any of that is easy, but it's the goal.
By doing yoga we may end up with a stronger physique, but yoga to me is not about the belief that our bodies needs to change in order to be put into a bikini or to feel confident in our own skin.
I felt like the instructor was telling us we needed to work harder and be better to be bikini worthy. I realize she probably didn’t think that much about what she had said and she didn’t actually mean that. My reaction was born out of my own past and where I've come from. It did have me pondering why any form of physical activity, including yoga, has to do with changing ourselves to be more acceptable in less clothing? Why does a practice that has a lot to do with deep inner work get tied up into this belief that our worth comes from our outward appearance?
The fact that these ideas have crept their way into yoga studios honestly freaks me out.
After class I saw the silver lining though, the lesson that I would walk out with.
This stuff needs to be talked about and addressed. We need to draw attention to this idea and to start to speak differently about women’s physical fitness, exercise and bodies. It’s not fair to just want to complain about it and then do nothing.
I want to help create an awareness and a shift. It was like this nudge urging me to just freaking speak up and get out there. If this bothers me and I want to see a change I have to be that change.
It's in my power to contribute to a shift.
Although throughout the process of creation fears and doubts have crept in about Yoga for Healing because it has nothing to do with weight loss or getting that burn, this experience made me realize how glad I am about that. I am doing what I believe in and it is exciting to be able to acknowledge that.
So long as we are in conflict with our body we will be unable to find peace of mind. Our personal power, self confidence and deep happiness will always slip between our fingers.
Change starts with each of us. We have the power to decide to change how we speak about our practice and our bodies, our motivation behind our physical activities, the comments we make, the things we post, the judgements that creep in. Let's be the change together.