February 14, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part Deux

Looking Pretty Versus Feeling Beautiful

Read How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I: The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and the Beauty Myth

Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, is a holistic system that addresses the whole person- physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Ultimately, the intention of yoga is to unify body and mind. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition that values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body. The result is what is referred to as the mind-body split. Susan Bordo describes this duality in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, p. 144:

I will begin with the most general and attenuated axis of continuity, the one that begins with Plato, winds its way to its most lurid expression in Augustine, and finally becomes metaphysically solidified and scientized by Descartes. I am referring, of course, to our dualistic heritage: the view that human existence is bifurcated into two realms of substances: the bodily or material, on the one hand; the mental or spiritual, on the other.

Not only has our total being been split into the mind, or intellect and the body, or material, but they’ve been ranked in a hierarchy. Of these two planes, the mind has been, and continues to be, more highly valued than the body, a realm deemed synonymous with the “unpredictable” and “dangerous” realm of nature and the feminine. In addition to the devalue of the physical body, the intellect has been placed in charge of controlling the body. In essence, enforcing the will of the intellect and trampling over the body’s innate ability to communicate.

How does the body communicate? Through feeling or sensation, of course.

And, let’s face it – as a society, we’re awfully disconnected from feeling in general and what we’re feeling specifically. This is made evident in Peggy Orensetein‘s latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, a hilarious and frightening foray into the last decade’s emerging princess culture. She cites countless studies and interviews numerous experts on body image, sexuality, gender development etc. She states:

According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who studies teenage girl’s desire,”They respond to questions about how their bodies feel-questions about sexuality or arousal-by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.

As I pointed out in How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part I,  according to veteran yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, everyone wants to look pretty, or look good according to a culturally constructed and myopic standard, in order to feel good. But as Orenstein and Tolman detail, pretty is not a feeling. Pretty is an outward aesthetic based on an elusive and ephemeral ideal.

Even those that meet the cultural criteria don’t necessarily feel good, one of the endless promises made by the externally imposed beauty standard. In fact, Bryan Kest says “You can’t enjoy how pretty you look if you don’t feel good.” Even if you look like an advertisement in Vanity Fair or Yoga Journal, the supposed prizes “pretty” entices us with can’t be enjoyed without a deeper connection, a feeling of wellness, wholeness and/or self-love.

As Tias Little recently wrote:

When the outer look dominates a yogi’s practice, the feeling within the interior gets overlooked and can drive her to fits of obsession. Denying and defying the flesh is tied into acts of self-punishment and abuse. Self-acceptance is critical. And what is necessary is a critical eye for what the industry—yoga or fashion—displays as slim, sexy or perfect.

When practiced devoid of competition and an intellectually determined agenda, yoga provides a route to complete wellness. Yoga is able to quiet the mental storm, shift our focus inward and away from all of the messages that tell us that we’re too (fat/hairy/pimpled/dimpled/flabby/old etc) , and cultivate a conscious relationship with ourselves.As my yoga teacher, Anaswara, instructed us in last night’s practice to “make choices based on how you feel, not on what your intellect or ego desires.” As she pointed out, “The Body doesn’t lie. Be honest with yourself.”

How often have we tuned our bodies truth out in order to pursue the beauty norm, or the beauty myth, enforced by our culture? Have we exercised too much? Have we eaten too little? Too often, women and girls, and increasingly men and boys, have forced themselves into a one-size image of beauty that lacks the diversity that makes the human race miraculous and special.

My Tantric Dance of Feminine Power teacher, Nita Rubio, encourages her students to “let go of the pretty,” or the external veneer, in order to tap into the wealth of sensation offered by the body. This is where personal power and innate bodily wisdom can be accessed.

As we practice breath and asana, we also practice forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, understanding and self-acceptance. This ultimately leads to self-love and self-love is a feeling.  It’s a feeling that blossoms outward. It allows us to love ourselves unconditionally and therein lies true beauty.

What’s your intention? To look pretty or feel beautiful?

Cross-posted at Feminist Fatale.

Photograph of Drown the Dolls exhibition painting, “Bride Close Up” by Daena Title. On exhibition at Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City, CA extended until February 26.

Reply to Deepicka Mehta cancel

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Deepicka Mehta May 30, 2012 11:53pm

My boyfriend always tells me I'm pretty. I accept the compliment and say thank you. But I've never considered myself beautiful. What's the difference between these two words? Being pretty is only skin deep. It's just the physical attributes that make you appear pretty. Being beautiful on the other hand is feeling oneness with yourself, your mind, body, and soul. How do you achieve it? Self-love is the answer. Yoga helps the process of self-love become easier by allowing you to accept your body and its limits. It allows you to escape the world around you and focus on yourself until your breathing in every breath of your being. Once this is achieved, true beauty is achieved. I myself have taken yoga before, but unfortunately never got far enough to fully accept my body as it is. Thus i've never felt beautiful. But i've decided in continuing my yoga classes after my classes end, to bring my body and mind to a oneness state.

Melody S. May 27, 2012 8:29pm

Beginning the practice of yoga about 4 months ago has changed my life in ways I cannot express. It amazes me how yoga heals so many broken things including the physical, mental, and emotional. I feel so much better about myself after I started doing yoga feeling as if I have been transported into a different dimension in each class. I see myself maturing physically and emotionally as I learn to go at the pace my body can handle and at no body elses. I feel no competition with others and improve at my own pace. The separation of mind and body is perhaps why so many Americans are depressed. Disrupting the communication of the body to the mind can be disastrous making one a stranger to one's own body. I encourage yoga to both men and women who need to build self esteem and not to mention get a great workout without the pressure of the gym.

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Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.