The Yoga Body Myth

I hate the phrase "perfect yoga body." As a yoga teacher of four years, it upsets me to see other yoga practioners holding themselves up to such impossible standards. There's no perfect yoga body rulebook, so who's to say what the perfect body is? In my mind, every body that practices yoga is beautiful. I understand having goals and wanting to achieve them. I started practicing yoga for the perfectly healthy reason of wanting to feel comfortable in my body. I thought it wouldn't hurt to lose some weight. However, I didn't sit in every class and compare myself to others. If you do that, you end up missing the workout and you're filled with anxious thoughts anyway.

It's crazy to me that yoga went from being a patriarchal practice in India to an intense muscle-building practice for skinny people in the U.S. At least, that's how people feel who are intimidated by yoga. Believe it or not, you don't need abs to practice yoga. Most people who attend yoga classes don't have them. That's not to say that abs are not useful in a yoga class, but they're not a necessity. Yoga builds strength and endurance, and that takes more mental fitness than physical fitness. You have to have the patience and motivation to breathe in the pose, not the abs that make you look cool in class.

If there's anything I hear from beginners in a yoga class, it's that they're afraid everyone is watching and judging them. I get it, it's easy to be self-conscious in a new environment. However, everyone is too focused on their own practice to pay attention to you. As long as you keep your head down and focus on the poses you're doing, there's no need to worry about everyone else in the class. Once you stop measuring yourself against everyone else, you have room to enjoy the yoga class. Every person in the class is facing their own challenges. There's no such thing as the perfect yoga student. Look forward to those great days when your yoga teacher compliments your mastery of a pose!

Something that helped me with my body image when I started practicing yoga was, first of all, assisting in a yoga class for anybody else. The class specialized in being a safe space for students with physical disabilities and injuries, or those who were plus size. Even though these weren't typical yoga bodies you see in magazines and fitness commericals, they were all capable and the class was so much fun. It was a humbling and enjoyable experience. It took me outside of the mindset that yoga can only be practiced by athletic or flexible people. Once you find a class that accomodates you, yoga helps so much with self-esteem.

The women I've met in the yoga community are beautiful and empowered, no matter what they look like. They all have a yoga body because they all practice yoga! We don't compete with each other; instead we motivate each other to try new classes and poses. It's a blessing that yoga has the magic to bring together women from all walks of life. Whenever I'm feeling insecure, I think about all the female yoginis that inspire me. There's yoga sensation Jessamyn Stanley, who champions the participation of plus size women in the yoga community. Also there's Rachel Brathen, who didn't shy away from sharing pictures of her pregnant body in yoga poses even those that's considered taboo. There was also an article I read last year in my women's studies class called "Big Yoga Student" by Kimberly Dark. I recommend it to anyone who has ever felt insecure. It's a lovely tribute to the practice of yoga, as well as a cultural diagnosis of how we expect yoga practioners to look physically.

If I can attempt to practice yoga with my dog jumping on my back, anyone can practice yoga! Just remember that a yoga body is your body. There are some excellent yoga resources on campus. Every Monday and Wednesday there's classes. The Monday one is at 6 pm in the Greta Ray Dance Studio and on Wednesday it's 4:15 pm in the Weber multi-purpose room