Pick up a yoga magazine and you’d be excused for thinking yoga was just for hyper-flexible, thin, young white women. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the women who meet this stereotype, they are people too, after all; but there is a much more diverse group of people interested in yoga than is often depicted in magazines or social media. I am pleased to see that there are more larger bodied women and a few men gaining Instagram fame, and many of them have very inspiring stories, they also tend to be humble about their practice and honest about their physical limitations – don’t read that as me saying they aren’t very capable, far from it – they are strong and flexible. One of my favourites is @nolatrees I also quite like @healthyisthenewskinny which is has a more general fitness focus and @bodyimagemovement which is about body love, warts ‘n all. These people and groups are showing a more diverse spectrum of beauty, and I love it.
So there are more diverse body shapes and sizes being embraced, excellent. My next semi-peeve is the extreme poses that dominate yoga media – especially when they’re captioned with statements like “it’s been 2 whole months but I finally got into this pose” – I’ve been practicing for over 10 years and can’t come close. Which is ok, in some cases this is because I haven’t practiced my handstands or splits every day, so it will take much longer to get there; in other cases it’s because the anatomy of my body simply wasn’t designed to make that shape.
I guess my main point is that while the images of yoga portrayed in the media are indeed beautiful, they are often only are very narrow view of beautiful and in most cases they do not represent the regular practice for most of us. I love doing my fertility yoga sequences, but the plain honest truth is that the poses really wouldn’t look very glamorous in a photo – or 15 second clip. Like so many things it’s easy to get caught up in how it looks, rather than how it feels. If you’ve ever been to one of my classes you’ll know that there are some sequences I encourage students to do with their eyes closed….because I want them to focus on how their body feels so they can move in the way that best serves them. I also think the eyes kinda lie sometimes – like in standing splits – it feels like your legs are at their maximum stretch and lift, it feels like your top leg is really high….and then you look in the mirror and realize it’s barely more than parallel to the floor, this tends to illicit cries of disappointment...please just don’t look, instead embrace how it feels!
Some poses lend themselves to better photos, it’s true. Anything that elongates the body will naturally look nicer in a pic than say a contorted pretzley twist. But at the end of the day, as a teacher I’m not looking for picture perfect poses (posers?) I will check you for alignment, encourage you to feel that alignment, enquire about your breath quality in the pose and ask you to observe any other physical, mental or emotional things that present themselves either during or after your practice. If you can test your physical limits without ego all while maintaining breath quality and a bit of humor, in my opinion that is what yoga is all about.
Yoga is a beautiful practice to observe; to me that means watching my students challenge themselves, move with ease and flow with their breath. That may not photograph well for the cover of Yoga Journal, but do you really care?