What does a yoga body look like? Part 2.

Via Chelsea Roff
on Apr 27, 2011
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Photo: Spiritual Essence Yoga, owner Dana Smith Upper Marlboro, MD!

Photo: Spiritual Essence Yoga, owner Dana Smith
Upper Marlboro, MD!

Part 2: Seeking Balance in a World Without.

Part 1 can be found here.

I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing quite a lot about bodies these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one– yogis responded en masse to my recent question to the yoga community, What Does a Yoga Body Look Like? I’ve been so inspired the comments— women declaring “my curves and changes were made to create a dwelling place for my children in their conception,” “my body is the dwelling place of my soul,” and “my six pack abs and rockin’ triceps are a side product of spiritual exploration and self-inquiry.” I love it. Those comments inspire me like you can only imagine.

If anything, the massive response on that post affirmed to me just how important this conversation is. I think we all too often keep these discussions relegated to the darkened halls of our own minds, afraid to “stand out”, “be visible”, shine a light on an issue that will necessarily point a finger back at our own selves. How can you read an article about bodies and then not get curious about what the author’s body looks like? Yea! I know you scrolled down to take a gander at my picture, and– hell, yes– it makes me feel self-conscious.

But you know what? This is too important a conversation to avoid for fear of being seen, judged, critiqued. Many of us have been taught our entire lives to control our bodies’ wild whims, to keep them quiet and hidden beneath the cloaks of invisibility. It starts as early as potty-training; we learn to rigidly control the natural wisdom of our bodies so that we’re able to function in a civilized society. We tell it what, when, and how to give expression to its urges– we shame it when it doesn’t follow the “rules”. And don’t you think those early childhood experiences are inconsequential; the mind and body are inextricably linked. Have you ever met someone Freud would have called “anal-retentive“? Yea, then you know what I’m talking about.

Now, I’m not advocating we stop teaching our kids to use the toilet or start defecating in the streets. Rather, I think the upsurge we’re witnessing of yoga and other “mind-body-spirit” practices in our culture reflects a common desire we all share to strike a balance in relationship between body, spirit, and mind*. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, I think we sense that something’s off– there’s too much disconnect, too little acceptance, too many mind-over-body manifestos, and far too few opportunities to allow the spirit to speak through the body to the mind itself. Does that make sense? I hope it does. I admittedly don’t have it all figured out just yet; as I said earlier, I’m still trying to hold the paradox within and for myself.

My experience has been that yoga beckons me to come back to my body, to feel the rhythm of my heart, to see– really see– the epidemic of hatred, abuse, and disconnect that’s reigned supreme for far too long. I come to my mat to practice relating to my body in a different way . In just a few years, I’ve already seen this practice seep into so many other dimensions of my life. Somehow by learning to find equanimity within the safe space of a 71 x 26 inch piece of rubber, I’m able to take those lessons off my mat and begin contributing to the move toward balance on a global scale.

If we can be compassionate, self-aware, connected to a deep, inexplicable wisdom inside us on our yoga mats… Well, maybe we can carry that same presence into relationships with neighbors, abusers, even the earth that bestows us with life. Maybe, with practice, we can move from the personal to the interpersonal… maybe we can transcend the boundaries of our own body to  to start the process of healing our collective body as well.

So what does a yoga body look like?  I think it’s still open for discussion. When we talk about yoga bodies, are we referring to just the physical body or are we talking about something bigger, something that encompasses mind, body and spirit? Is a yoga body a body that imbues balance and connection– even if it doesn’t fit societal images of “health”? And what about this collective body I referred to… are bodies limited to our personal selves?

In Part 3, I’ll explore those questions and that notion of our collective body further. Stay tuned. Even I’m not quite sure what’s coming next. 🙂

*Please note that I’m making a distinction here between mind, body, and spirit for the purposes of this discussion, but these three concepts are  intricately intertwined and by some frames of reference one in the same.

via Yoga Modern


About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is a nationally-recognized author and speaker, and the Founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders. In September 2013, Chelsea raised $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo to kickstart her non-profit, Yoga for Eating Disorders. The program is currently being offered in treatment centers and yoga studios around the country at no charge, and she is working with researchers at UC San Diego to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in treatment.

Chelsea is known for her intelligent, inspiring, and tell-it-like-it-is speaking style, and for weaving together profound personal experiences with her scientific background to deliver deeply moving insights. After nearly losing her life to anorexia and a subsequent stroke when she was 15, she has became a national advocate for community-based mental health interventions. Her work was recently showcased by Sanjay Gupta on CNN, and she’s been keynote speaker at 92nd Street Y, The Omega Institute, and at various universities and conferences around the country.

Chelsea currently lives in Venice, California, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.


15 Responses to “What does a yoga body look like? Part 2.”

  1. Another great article, Chelsea. I like that you're making this a series.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Chelsea says:

    Thanks, Bob. 🙂 The topic calls for it, I think.

  3. giuliana says:

    Thank you for making us going deep in ourselves….those are difficult times…..

  4. Chelsea says:

    Hmmmm. I like that, James. No complaints. And I like that you recognize too that part of what leads to that feeling is psychological. For me, some days are "no complaints" and some are definitely not… even if my body has hardly changed at all overnight. The first step is recognition though, and then I come to my mat and can often find that "no complaints" feeling once again. 🙂

  5. Chelsea says:

    Wow. That's a really inspiring story to hear Jack… so different from my own, and yet so very similar! I'm working toward that sentiment you allude to there at the end… that sense that my body shines with divinity, regardless the circumstance. The image you paint is absolutely beautiful, it brought a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  6. firstene says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say that I am glad you are continuing with this theme. In the last article, and in some of the above comments, a theme keeps coming up regarding the way that yoga can save us from negative/abusive forms of exercise.
    I agree, but I was so greatful to read in Part I about the possibility of this benefit of yoga being lost. An issue was raised regarding a scenario in which teacher tells the class "this pose will give you rock hard abs" and a 17 year old participant is troubled by this because yoga was suggested to her as a way to overcome bulimia.

    I wanted to say that Yoga can be abused too, and that it made my heart swell to read these words. I practiced yoga for five years before, at 26, I became anorexic, as I had been when I was 14. The weird thing was that I tried at first to continue my usual yoga practice as I became sicker and sicker, but over time it got to the point where I would do hours and hours of yoga, enjoying any class that was labelled as "yoga burn" and doing advanced DVD routines multiple times. I even had a teacher who pushed me very far, seemingly amazed by what my body could do. My point is just that I had lost the "spirit" of yoga in the course of my sickness. It was no longer something that could help me connect to my body, but something that I used and abused as a tool for weight loss. This took place while studying abroad in europe. But, after returning and recovering with the help of a boulder based organization that really saved my life, I found that yoga classes often re-awakened this sick urge. Especially classes that were based on getting fit. I understand that yoga is partially physical, and that a lot of people are attracted to yoga, at least initially, to get in shape. But sometimes it is just too much. I attended a class in which the teacher actually said "you've got to keep holding bridge if you want to burn that belly flab." Yoga is in many ways my therapy, and it is painful for me to hear these body bashing words when I have a history of some pretty intense body bashing. So, my point in sharing this is just to acknowledge, and express my gratitudein elephant and Chelsea for bring up, that these issues are important! "Yoga bodies" come in all shapes and sizes, and the most beautifying aspect of yoga in my opinion is that sort of glow one gets when they experience that feeling of deep connectedness. If we focus only on yoga as an exercise tool, the real benefits and beauty of yoga are lost.

  7. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. […] — real or imagined, and if we have the audaciousness to do just that, then we are suspect. To accept ourselves just as we are, with warts, wrinkles or rolls of fat, says complacency, laziness and shame. Then she turned her […]

  9. Thanks for sharing this with us, firstene. I appreciate your focus on the sense of deep connectedness with one's self and body as opposed to a change in body shape or size.

  10. I find myself wondering if a "yoga body" has a look. Sure, I know what that means culturally, but from my experience with yoga and mind-body-spirit connections, I'm more inclined to say it has an inner feel to it, not an appearance. As other commenters have noted, the way bodies look on the outside is often little reflection of actual health. I'd love for the yoga community as a whole to continue encouraging acceptance and appreciation of the many forms healthy bodies can take.

  11. […] What does a yoga body look like? Part 2. […]

  12. […] true—these “Shiva Diva” friends of mine were so much more than what was portrayed on their beautiful outsides. One had been through the cancer journey, and another one had amazing adventures traveling the […]

  13. […] you haven’t noticed, I like to write in series (see: What Does a Yoga Body Look Like? Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3) and this post will be no different. In Part 2, I’ll respond to any comments left […]

  14. Ashramgirl7 says:

    Love the article and discussion you are opening up.
    As a recovered anorexic, I recall a time when I went to yoga but couldn't bear to look in the mirror at class because I felt so disgusted with the flesh I saw on my body – later, I was able to see I had been skeletal and went on to enjoy many years of happy, healthy yoga. Yoga did not help me with my eating disorder but it was there for me when I was healthy enough to participate in a way that helped me get further in touch with my physical self in a healthy way.
    I have to admit though I find almost all of the pictures of women in Elephant Journal to be a sinewy and limber as the kind a gals you see doing Jivamukti in NYC — maybe EJ will consider posting more pictures of women who do yoga who look real, not like they are in a Lululemon ad. That would be helpful for people like me who still get triggered by imagery.
    The picture above was part of the Dove campaign for Pro-aging and has nothing to do with yoga all this gal is in her 70's which is pretty cool. BTY, Dove does all this pro-body-image-women's-self-esteem-work yet is is the vary same company that owns the bran Axe with skinny, very young women being unable to sexually resist the young men wearing Axe body spray in commercials – I guess whatever "brand" serves them.
    Maybe Elephant Journal could include more imagery of the kinds of bodies I see in my Moksha class. Not everyone doing yoga is white, thin and young. Certainly in India people don't have that image of yoga, yoga has more of a social component than we do in North America where people strive for "yoga butt".
    Thank-you and gratitude for the discussion being started.

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