What does a yoga body look like? Part 3 {Adult}

Via Chelsea Roff
on May 4, 2011
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Part 3: From Personal to Collective

~ Continued from Part 1Part 2 ~

Personal Disease

As physically embodied creatures, our minds and bodies are intricately interdependent. Thoughts give way to actions, actions meld into habits, and over time our mental activities literally sculpt the bodies we inhabit. Sometimes I wonder if the body, in many ways, is our deepest form of creative expression— a stage upon which we explore and express our inner experiences. I’ve mused on how through yoga I quite literally create a theatrical masterpiece with my body; my bones, my breasts, my fat, and my muscles become performers in the great drama that brings spirit to life.

Other times though, my body feels like anything but a masterpiece. Sometimes I feel like I have no sense of how to gratify its needs, and my body becomes more like the battlefield of the Mahabaratha than the scene in one of Shakespeare’s romantic monologues. I take arms with the latest cleanse to make myself “more pure”, or grab something sweet to elude the emptiness within. I know that piece of chocolate probably won’t satisfy the yearning for sweet comfort I feel in my heart. But I pretend it will… just for a moment… because I don’t want to sit with the pain of longing for something much deeper.

Instead of listening to my body’s voice and responding with compassion, I go into an over-controlling dictator mode– my little inner-Gaddafi kicks in to quell the outcry of my intuition. I bark orders at the innocent citizens– my belly, my muscles, even my ovaries sometimes– demanding they succumb to my will rather than express the wisdom they inhabit. “You will do another chaturanga dandasana!” “Quit with the hunger pangs, it’s not time to eat yet!”

Societal Dis-ease

Just as I’m recognizing these alarming dynamics within myself, I’m also seeing a parallel trend in the way we relate to bodies as a society. Television commercials, Yoga Journal ads, even elementary school health classes inculcate us with the message that the body must be constantly controlled, refined, and purified.

The cultural rituals we’ve developed to “fix” our bodies range from the somewhat benign (e.g. shaving our body hair and concealing “flaws” with makeup) to the more extreme (liposuction, eating disorders, and genital mutilation). In the yoga world, we herald the “cleansing” effects of fanatical diets or become neurotic about getting “perfect” alignment. Masked as health habits and injury prevention, I wonder if the extreme ends of the continuum reflect something deeper at play–a subconscious desire to fit our bodies to the only ideal our culture teaches us has worth.

Collective Dis-ease

I’ve also come to recognize a sort of collective dis-ease showing up in the way we relate to the body we all share—our planet Earth. As a species, we seem to be taking too much and giving too little, consuming like wild in a desperate attempt to fill a void we have no idea how to satisfy. We are engaged in a collective assault on the earthly body, decrying orders like the malevolent dictator I spoke about harboring within myself. And if you ask me, the assault stems from a very tragic and desperate desire to fill a sense of existential emptiness within.

The dis-ease is undeniable; earthquakestsunamiswildfires, and tornadoes are this body’s way of warning that something is very wrong. We’ve pushed the earth too far, and its immune system is kicking into high gear. I know it hurts to watch the news, see the destruction for what it is rather than shroud it in a myth of “natural climatary fluctuations”, but if there’s anything I’ve learned on my mat it’s that we must see things as they are if we wish them to change. For healing to take place, we have to see the path that got us here, own our responsibility in it… and then, perhaps most importantly, forgive ourselves and move forward.

We could get caught up in self-pity, become paralyzed by the enormity of the situation we face, but in my experience that only sinks us further into inaction. No, the road to healing is paved with uncertainty, it’s in diving fearlessly into the poses that challenge us without attachment to the final outcome. I don’t know that we can “save the earth”– in fact, I think it a little ridiculous we see ourselves so powerful it would need saving– but I do know that all bodies (personal, societal, and collective) are crying for our attention. The question that stands before us, both as individuals and as a collective, is this: When our yoga tells us something’s not right in our body– personal AND collective– how do we respond?

So, what does a yoga body look like?

As I bring this series to a close, I admit that I still don’t know what a “yoga body” looks like. But I’m learning very quickly, thanks to your comments, what it doesn’t. A yoga body is not one that’s so disconnected, so dissociated from what’s happening within, that it fails to hear cries for compassion, pleas for presence, the inner-voice’s call to Love. It is not one that fits the mold placed upon it by a society suffering from a dis-ease of its own. No, a yoga body is grounded in connection… in balance… in something I know no other word for than Love.

The Love we’re looking for will not be found in shopping sprees, barrels of oils, or health fads designed to “fix” our broken bodies. No, the Love remains hidden in the halls of our own hearts. When you feel lonely, when you miss the warm embrace of a mother, I beg you… look no further than the arms you wrap around yourself in garudasana, or the feeling of the earth holding you up as you sink into child’s pose. WE ARE exactly what we’re yearning for. The treasure, I’m learning, is in the hearts of people… not in the empty promises we’ve come to believe will give us worth. With practice, with presence, and with the support of community I believe we have within us the power to heal.

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.


22 Responses to “What does a yoga body look like? Part 3 {Adult}”

  1. Anneke_Lucas says:

    A beautiful article. Going just a little deeper into your own consciousness can yield such jewels. Thank you.

  2. One of the most popular series ever on Elephant. Thanks, Chelsea.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Check out Matt's video on a new Healthy Eating Disorder called Orthorexia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaBg6ruKGQ

  5. Chelsea says:

    Thanks, Bob. It's been a pleasure to be part of such a dynamic and enlivening discussion.

  6. Yogini5 says:

    That poor Ralph Lauren model really, really needs a sandwich. No, actually, an airlift of sandwiches …

  7. diana says:

    Lovely. Thank you.

  8. yogiclarebear says:


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

  10. Chelsea says:

    That picture was actually a photoshop nightmare. Same model in both shots, but Ralph Lauren apparently thought it appropriate to snip her waist down to be smaller than her head. Then they let her go for being "too fat". Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.

  11. Chelsea says:

    Karen, thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot to know that it resonated with complete strangers, and I'm right on that journey with you… shedding the layers of social conditioning to tune into mySELF rather than what a number on a scale or nutrition label tells me. I appreciate you sharing your experience and reminding me there are others in this with me. Much love.

  12. Chelsea says:

    Thanks, Lynn. 🙂

  13. confessionsofaned says:

    amazing article, thank you SO much. I just posted a link to it in my blog, confessionsofaned.com … thank you for this inspiration. xo

  14. yogijulian says:

    great series chelsea!

  15. Chelsea says:

    Thank you so much for sharing it with your readers. Especially important message for them to hear. Much love and well wishes on your own healing journey. 🙂

  16. Chelsea says:

    Thanks, Julian. 🙂

  17. […] What does a yoga body look like? Part 3 {Adult} […]

  18. […] 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 here and […]

  19. […] been a lot of talk the past few months in the yoga community about the “yoga body.” Body image has and will be forever recycled as a topic of interest, concern, impact, and […]

  20. laportama says:

    the body must be constantly controlled, refined, and purified…

    Isn't that what we're doing?