Yoga, Body Image, & Body Shaming: 3 Facts to Consider
I always thought I was too big or my boobs were too big, for yoga.
While my boobs DO go in my face sometimes, it has come to me much easier than I thought it would- in part, thanks to my flexibility.
Within just a few weeks I have found yoga to be so uplifting and I am grateful.
I wish I started a long time ago.
But I am still learning to love, trust and accept myself, as I am, every single day.
– Ashli Gonzalez
This is the status my friend posted on Facebook.
I’m so proud of her.
I’m proud of her for overcoming resistance (and body anxiety) and getting on the mat.
I’m even more proud of her for returning to the mat, over and over again despite that pesky resistance popping up.
For her, it was big boobs.
For me, it was my belly rolls.
For you, it might be big thighs, or a belly, or back rolls holding you back from deepening your yoga practice even though you may already be aware of the mental and physical health benefits of yoga.
Given the current yoga culture, it’s easy to think that yoga is only for skinny, bendy people.
Just do a quick yoga hashtag search (i.e.: #yoga, #yogapose, #yogaeveryday) on Instagram and 90% of what you’ll see are images of half-naked or midriff-baring thin women performing acrobatics and turning their bodies into a pretzel.
It’s easy to assume that this is what true yoga looks like.
And if you differ from what you see online you can’t help but think that yoga isn’t for you.
“Yoga isn’t for fat people, bigger bodies, or plus-sizes” is the unspoken message that the collective modern yoga scene is sending out to the world.
And this is 100% UNTRUE.
The true timeless, ancient practice of yoga is for *every* body type.
While the practice of hatha yoga (focused on the poses) may result in weight loss and increased stamina, it’s perfectly suitable for larger bodies who aren’t looking to “drop pounds” but instead want to practice yoga for emotional well-being and mental health.
I almost didn’t try yoga because of my body image hang-ups…
The first time my feet ever touched a yoga mat was thanks to a Groupon deal I forgot I had purchased.
I reluctantly made my way to an evening candlelight flow class at this swanky South Beach yoga studio and instantly felt like an imposter.
As I looked around I saw a sea of bare midriffs and toned asses and legs. (I was wearing an oversized ‘blah’ t-shirt.)
(I’m sure there were all shapes and sizes in class that night, but my brain was zeroed in on proving to me how out of place I was.)
I almost walked out when the yoga instructor began class and had us close our eyes for opening meditation.
I’m glad I didn’t…
What I didn’t know then was that in the next 60 minutes I would experience myself like I had not ever experienced myself before.
I’m not sure if the teacher’s impeccable taste in music did it (she played my favorite version of Sia’s Breath Me) as we slowly flowed through a simple enough sequence of poses as the mellow, soothing warmth of candlelight provided me just enough shadowy anonymity to forget my surroundings for a precious moment of true, utter mindfulness and presence.
For the first time in, well… ever, I experienced my focus, my breath, and my body merge together.
For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of safety, inner peace, and power.
Despite my belly rolls and muffin top.
Despite my imperfect posture.
Despite my own resistance.
It was like hitting the g-spot for my spirit and I was hooked.
Scared, but definitely hooked.
So I know that trying out yoga for the first (or first few) time(s) can be daunting and confronting.
I’m familiar with how our preconceived notions and ideas of what yoga and “yogis” are can make us a little intimidated and feel not “up to par.”
If the me of today could go back to the me at my first yoga class I’d say this:
“Yoga is a challenging practice that has many benefits for the physical body…
But the biggest gift of Yoga is of an intangible nature.
The most rewarding, delicious outcome of this sacred practice is the peace of mind and the strength of spirit that comes after every time we get on the mat.
That’s where the gold is; not in the muscles.”
Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind
– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
It pains me to see so many of us stop ourselves from embracing this beautiful practice of yoga because we allow the voices on the outside to be louder than the voice on the inside.
We sell ourselves short…
And we often end up thinking: “I wish I had started earlier.”
Here are three facts to consider before saying ‘no’ to your yoga practice:
Yoga is only 1/8 about the poses…
If you’re missing the other 7/8, you’re missing yoga.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga are like the “10 Commandments” of true yoga practice.
You might be surprised to find out that the actual yoga poses (or “asanas” in Sanskrit) are only one small part of a larger whole.
True yoga, involves so much more:
Limb 1: Yamas:
These are known as the ‘5 Moral Disciplines’: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation of the senses, & non-greed.
Limb 2: Niyamas:
These are known as the ‘5 Spiritual Habits’: cleanliness, contentment, accepting pain as a means of purification, study of self, & surrender to Divine Will.
Limb 3: Asana:
Asana means ‘meditative posture’ in Sanskrit and that’s exactly what yoga poses are: a means of getting the body ready for meditation, mindfulness, and present contemplation.
Limb 4: Pranayama:
These are breathing exercises to help expand and regulate the breath, which in turn can amp up or calm down the nervous system.
Limb 5: Pratyahara:
The study of turning to our inward senses as a means of self-realization.
Limb 6: Dharana:
The study of one-pointed, ‘laser’ focus.
Limb 7: Dhyana:
This is the study of meditation to extend Dharana over time.
Limb 8: Samadhi:
The final Limb is all about bliss and the moments when our brains and hearts and bodies are in sync with the world around us. These are those fleeting yet powerful moments of gratitude, inspiration, and deep intuition.
Yogis are all colors, shapes, sizes, & tones.
Case in point – real people, with “defects” and challenges (like us all) inspiring others by being themselves on and off the mat:
This self-labeled “queer fat femme yogi” is a breath of fresh self-loving air on Instagram. Her raw authenticity about her struggles and life experiences is magnetic and because of that, she’s become one of the main faces of the “fat yoga” and “curvy yoga” movements.
“It’s very hard to get past the mental blockage of being fat – our society has shrouded it in so much shame that many of us find it unspeakably difficult to even attempt vigorous exercise styles because we’re still licking our wounds from all the times we’ve been made to feel inadequate for being fat.
This is something I understand more than I’d rather – it may seem like I’m effortlessly confident, especially when practicing yoga, but I don’t pretend to be immune to the shared emotional trauma we’re all trying to resolve.”
Dana is impressive to us all because she just started practicing yoga in May 2014. If you take a look at her IG feed you’ll see her killing it in all sorts of beautiful progressed poses and inversions.
“If you can see beauty here, you can see it in yourself, too.
We have been in a crisis of body shame for too damn long.
I’m grateful to have been part of the self-love revolution that’s been happening over the last year or so.
It’s changed many lives including mine.
That’s why I put myself out there in this way.
Beauty standards are not real.
Somebody made all that sh*t up and told us to believe it.
I did for a long time but now that I know the truth, I’m free.
Free to just be me, free to see myself as beautiful in the same way that I see others.
You can too.
Especially if you can see it here.
Go look in the mirror and see it for yourself.”
In November 2012, feeling tightness in his chest and pain/numbness in his left leg during a yoga class, Tommy was rushed to the ER where he underwent multiple surgeries for a heart condition that resulted in multiple complications, one of which was the amputation of his leg.
But that didn’t stop him from moving forward both in life and on the mat.
“Being whole is about recognizing I am connected to a larger community.
No matter how much pain and discomfort I go through in a day, I wake up, I go out in the day and I live the day that I have.
Yoga provides me a centrifugal force of mind, body, and soul to breathe throughout my physical integrity that goes beyond questions of understanding how, but give me answers to all possibilities of how to be complete with nature as my guide.
My body is different, but it does not effectively mean that my yoga practice is filled with shortcomings.
For me, the practice gives me the opportunity to find a balance of effort and ease, or steadiness and release.
There is a darkness and light that fills my life, to which I fully accept, and I’m challenged only by my lack of being present in the moment.
The most beautiful people I know are those who have known defeat, who have known suffering, known struggle, know loss and found their way out of the depths.
Those who have experienced these events have come to appreciate a sensitivity and an understanding of life that is filled with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen.”
At 29 years old and a freshly new mom, Saira was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) and was told she’d end up in a wheelchair. She faces her condition daily with the help of both Yoga and Ayurveda.
“For me, MS is a blessing because it requires that I be mindful of how my mind and body are feeling at every moment of every day.
Yoga and Ayurveda keep my life in balance, and are integral to my path to optimal health.
Because if MS is going to try and stop me from moving, I sure as hell am not going down without a fight.”
Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity.
This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self realization.
Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul.
Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.
– BKS Iyengar, world-renowned Yoga teacher & author of ‘Light on Yoga’
Progress > Perfection
We’ve got the concept of perfection all wrong.
That’s exactly why we make ourselves sick “trying” and “chasing” some unattainable picture of what we *think* it *should* look like.
It’s very easy and enticing to get sucked into the vortex – to pressure yourself and ‘should’ yourself because you’re “not getting it right.”
In fact, all of this mental chatter IS part of yoga.
Whenever you hear yourself saying/thinking:
“my posture isn’t right,”
“my hands can’t touch the floor,”
“my fat rolls are hanging out,”
“shit, I fell out of the damn pose,”
“I need a prop but the chick next to me can do it with one hand,”
Recognize it as part of the process of yogic flow.
Anytime these thoughts creep up, it’s an opportunity to bring yourself back into your center and to bring yourself into awareness.
It’s not a failure or an indication you’re wrong or there’s something wrong with you… it’s simply just an indication that you’re human.
The real yoga begins when you start feeling resistance in a pose.
Can you breathe into your body and remain present with the moment?
If you fall out of a pose, can you get back in it without self-judgment or criticism?
That’s real yoga. That’s progress.
Progress will always prevail above what the collective masses dub “perfection.”
What goes on on the mat is a reflection and symbol for your entire life.
How you show up on the mat is mirroring exactly how you show up in life.
And, just the fact that you showed up for yourself and got on the mat is perfection enough.