This beautiful video came out recently featuring a gorgeous yogini in nearly nothing doing advanced asana in a New York City loft:
It's been all over Facebook and YouTube and more than a million interested viewers have watched it. The production is gorgeous, and the featured yogini has clearly honed her practice. My first reaction to this video was: That's never gonna be me.
Not only is that body type not mine, it also doesn't reflect the physiques of many dedicated yoga practitioners. After years of dedicated practice, sometimes rigorous vinyasa practice even, we may still just look... like ourselves. So I guess the question is, can we start celebrating that?
The woman in the video is beautiful, and these remarks are in no way a slight or degradation of her work and body. Much the opposite. It is great to celebrate her work and body, too. But isn't it time that what we see representations of yoga practitioners that reflect who is actually practicing, as well as what they are actually practicing? Apparently, around 20 million people practice yoga across America. They can't all look like supermodels, right?
No, the reality is that in classes, some of the most graceful practitioners are overweight, non-Caucasian, and well out of their 20s. Some are also male. This discrepancy has long been a complaint of fashion and media, and though both of those elements exist in yoga here in the west, the standards are not going to change unless the practitioners demand it.
That's right. Until we value seeing more real representations of ourselves as ambassadors of our beloved practice, we'll continue to see images that reflect our current impossible ideals. These impossible ideals come from an ego that tells us we're not good enough, we're not skinny enough, we're not flexible enough, we're not "whatever" enough. It's possible we'd rather see the image of perfection because it makes us believe we can achieve it than to be confronted with the reality and try to unconditionally accept that as perfect.
This is the challenge. Yoga challenges us to see what's right about our bodies rather than what is wrong. It asks us to be happy with what is rather than what needs to be changed. Yoga instills acceptance... in our large thighs, cellulite, wrinkles and tight hamstrings, rather than the overwhelming and all-consuming desire to try and fit ourselves into some box that just isn't, well, just isn't us.
For many, it takes years of practice to get to the point that we don't obsess over the lines appearing on the corners of our eyes, or lament the injury that has us refraining from chaturanga for a few months. Surely it would be more helpful for those not at this point yet, or even for those who have not stepped not the mat yet, to see that yoga can allow us to be completely happy with ourselves. We get to enjoy our lives without obsession or a feeling of incompleteness. We see the beauty in big hips that have a hard time lifting off the floor into a graceful handstand, and the glory of tight hamstrings that make hanumanasana (splits pose) a distant dream.
These supposed imperfections actually give us something to practice. Richard Freeman has said, "blessed are the tight people." It's because they know the value and power of a practice that can slowly open them up. Really, blessed are all the things we previously thought were problems. Because all of those problems give us reason to examine ourselves more closely. This is how we realize that the only way we'll get rid of those issues is if we can stop seeing them as issues!
When we're happy with who we are, our ideals shift back into a mode of acceptance and appreciation, rather than a state of anticipation and inadequacy. At this point, the video of the simple yogi with a lot of wisdom would garner as many hits. We'd be as happy seeing a New York loft as a small apartment on a quiet street. We'd celebrate the differences and see only the common thread that makes us all the same, the thread that makes us us. That is certainly worth celebrating.
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