Body image in yoga appears to be the new trendy topic. Yoga Dork is selling "this is my Yoga Body" t-shirts, and Yoga Journal has teamed up with Kathryn Budig for this month's Body Issue and social media campaign #loveyourbody. Frankly, yoga is about so much more than the body, and it's getting a little old!
I don't mean to discredit the idea of learning to love yourself and coming to the mat the way that you are. I have worked with those who came to yoga because of stress, weight issues, injuries, recovery from cancer treatment, and a few who came to one class just to support me or their spouse (and ended up staying because they loved it). I encourage each student to look inward and meet themselves in their own space. I believe that the recent social media body image blast is attempting to send this very message, however I fear that it may be clouded in the delivery.
So, if yoga is not about how your body looks, then what is it all about?
1. Yoga is about the body... WHAT? I'm the first to admit that I love a good alignment focused class. I spend large amounts of time analyzing my own habitual movement and that of my students, family, and friends. An hour with an Iyengar teacher or one of my favorite alignment based teachers will have me questioning everything, including the way that I stand, walk, hold my toes, etc. These lessons are valuable and can prevent or treat injuries.
2. Yoga is about the internal body. Breathwork, postures, meditation and chanting can help balance the nervous system, relax tense muscles, strengthen weak muscles, reduce blood pressure, decrease stress, and improve breathing. I'm sure that we can all think of at least one of those areas that could use improvement.
3. Yoga is about the mind body connection. I've had students show up in class announcing, "my husband said that I need to come to yoga". I simply adore the times when students leave my classes with that blissed out yoga buzz. You can see it in their faces and feel the energy in the room. That is the heart of my mission, and it keeps yoga from being just another activity.
4. Yoga is not just the time you spend on the mat. I'm particularly fond of yoga philosophy found in the books that I've listed here, the Yoga Sutras, and many more.
5. Yoga helps create space in the body and mind. Practicing yoga, paying attention, and observing without judgement can and should be taken off the mat. Yoga has taught me to view things from a fresh perspective before reacting. This has helped in my personal and professional life.
In conclusion, come to yoga for the body, come to yoga for the other benefits, or come just to support your spouse or partner (it is so sweet to see loved ones practicing together). Practice yoga, and do it often. Seek out an experienced teacher, and learn to love the practice and practitioners as much as I have!
Namaste - Beth