The Yoga Body is…Disgusting!

on Jun 1, 2011
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I’ve seen a lot of discussion here about the “yoga body” lately. There’s been a wide range of reactions to this phrase:

–   The yoga body is beautiful and reasons are given why: fit, healthy, glistening, sexy,etc.

–   The yoga body “is what it is” – i.e. if you’re not in shape but comfortable with your body and really into yoga then that’s ok also because beauty is in the mind, etc.

Nothing wrong with either of these philosophies but it seems to me from my beginner’s mind and very meager experience that the reality is the yoga body is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever encountered.

(not all specific yoga bodies are disgusting of course)

A)     Sweating. The yoga body, particularly in the first stages (and how long does that last? Years?) Why does it sweat? Because the body is being purified. It needs to sweat toxins that have been there for years. So the toxins come out. Maybe this is better than the “non-yoga body” but I’m not comparing the two. In the non-yoga body  the toxins are hidden. In the yoga body, those toxins are out full force. And the sweat is everywhere. The sweat comes out of your eyeballs. It drips all over your mat. All of those glistening yoga bodies around you are disgustingly sweating out of places that have never in 20-40 years sweated before. By definition, because that’s what yoga is doing.

B)      The air. The average person takes a breath every 2 seconds or so. The yoga body gets into these contorted positions and breathes deeply and holds the position while breathing deeply. So what happens? Just like in sweat, “stale air” (as one yoga practitioner referred to it) starts coming to the surface and you start exhaling it. Again, I get it. You’re purifying your body. But during the 28 years you’re doing it its pretty disgusting to breathe up all that stale air.

C)      Vomiting. When I first met Claudia she told me about her teacher training in Thailand. One of the things she mentioned was how they would drink warm salty water in the morning until they threw it up. Part of their morning cleansing.  I’m a believer. I would like to do this myself. All I’m saying is: vomiting is disgusting. To me personally. I love the idea of purification and eventually hope I get there. But the process seems repulsive.

D)     Enemas. It’s not just vomiting. I have vague memories (note to self: bring up with therapist) of being held down as a constipated three year old while screaming and being forcibly applied an enema  by my parents. My sister told me it was horrible to watch. Why was she watching?

But now I hear it’s also part of the yoga purification process. So the yoga body is sticking stuff up themselves all the time. For me, I have feelings of disgust around this. But ok. Again, nothing wrong with it. But sticking something up your ass is often disgusting.

E)      Neti-pot. Perhaps the least invasive of these techiques but the yoga body sticks a pot of warm water again up your nose while you tilt your head and you pour until the water comes out the other nostril, draining all the snot out of your nose and whatever else has been up there for decades. But this is not just once. The yoga body is doing all of these things. Every day. Forever. Throw in the things that come across your tongue scraper and you’ve got a whole heap of disgusting. Nice.

And finally, philosophy. Is yoga really about exercise or looking good? Claudia and I just got back from Ramaswami’s 20 hour course on the yoga sutras. Much of it was above my head. I’m no expert.

But on day one he describes the roots of “yoga” (in terms of the yoga sutras where Ashtanga, Iyengar, Power Yoga, etc are all descended from) as not “union” (as in Bhakti Yoga) but “separation” of mind from pure consciousness. And later he relates this to the niyama for “Cleanliness” in that you realize how repulsive the body is through the act of cleansing it. In other words, the feelings of repulsion you learn towards your body during the process of yoga (and everything underneath that massive umbrella) help you separate your mind from it. Which in turn helps your mind separate from pure consciousness.

So, I’m just a beginner. I know nothing. But I’m curious what other people think of this.



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21 Responses to “The Yoga Body is…Disgusting!”

  1. Claudia says:

    Good idea to see it this way James, and indeed, from the point of view of working through the eight limbs, the yoga body does become disgusting, especially when we see it for what it is, gas, mucus, and other delights…

  2. JamesAltucher says:

    Ha, I missed that one. Note to self: remember to ask Claudia if she's been reading my bowel movements like tea leaves.

  3. annieory says:

    UMM. I would not be interested in any of these trainings. No poop. No.

  4. I like this as a counterpoint.
    I think overall you need to consider the culture that Sankhya comes from-
    Indian culture- where everything about the body is considered vile and repulsive,
    lower than the realm of the spirit. This leads to sexual repression and degradation
    of the body. If the body is already vile and separate from "you", then do you have
    ownership over yours?

    It depends on if you believe in this duality and if you
    think it is useful to think of a "you" that is separate from your body.
    How does this play out in life, practice and relationship?
    I think as Americans there is enough shame around the body as it is, to then cast it as separate
    and assign it negative or positive attributes.

    Is the body that makes love vile? Is the body of your lover repulsive?
    Is it repulsive because there are parts of us dying all the time and because shit stinks?

    While who you are might be something broader than your body, your body is yours.
    I am not in your body. Therefore we have to question what is the use? What is the
    use of these separations and distinctions? And where does this lead down the road?

    There has to be a middle ground between disdain and disgust and worship. Asana
    can lead us in both directions and we have to navigate the ground between
    over-identification and dissociation.

  5. JamesAltucher says:

    Kimberly, great points. Thanks for this response. I am learning.

  6. Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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  7. Trying to purify the mind by purifying the body is like trying to clean up your marriage by having your spouse go take a shower. When the mind becomes pure the body will become so also. Sarada Devi and others talk about how we poison our very healthy food with our own negative thoughts. A lot of yoga practitioners are confused about what purification is and what it is for. Clear your mind!

  8. helloimmandy says:

    As a body worker, I see that in order for the mind to be at peace, the body must be at peace as well. You can't have one without the other but I also don't think you can attempt to better your inner peace without attempting to better your body's balance as well.

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

  10. Ramesh says:

    Chelsea, thanks for asking… the indian views on the issue of the body is complex. One of the things I loved about living as a sadhu in India was how "real" and 'basic" everything was. I used to spend days meditating near the burning ghats watching families bring their loved once to be cremated openly. I purposely did this to overcome my disgust, my alienation from death and the fact that the body will get sick and die. This is one of the beautiful things about India–life/death in all its color, glory and gory, is right there in the open. So, yes, the tantric way would be to confront your disgusts, your fears, love them, embrace them, until seeing the power in it. Thus many tantrik sages are famous for eating with dogs, drinking dirty water, etc. And enemas? At a detox retreat I was amazed at how easy it became to talk about stool and bowel movements even during breakfast…. so is the body disgusting, only if we think it is. It's really all in the mind. From the view of Sprit; all is beautiful. Even your own smelly shit.

  11. At the risk of taking too seriously what is a very enjoyable and entertaining article!:

    The most ancient Yoga texts teach "Sat Chit Ananda" or "Reality Consciousness Bliss".

    What this means to me in this context is that if you look at sweat and excrement in their absolute true reality , there's nothing disgusting in them in the least. To the contrary, like everything else in the world, they're infinitely wondrous.

    Sound far-fetched? Not at all. Look at sweat from the point of view of a phD researcher in the sweat gland system, or excrement from the standpoint of an MD specializing in the Digestive System. Both are absolutely amazing, like everything else about the body.

    Plus every molecule and every atom of every drop of sweat and every bit of excrement is infinitely wondrous from a pure physics standpoint, as is the ability of your eyes to see the sweat or excrement.

    Indeed, it's an absolute unfathomable miracle that your brain cells can perceive sweat or excrement.

    And it's infinitely wondrous that your brain can even perceive disgust in the first place.

    (Suggested reading Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra, which to me is nothing less than a modern update of the philosophy of the ancient Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.)

  12. Added disclaimer: This is coming from a guy who has concluded that a paper clip is also infinitely wondrous. See: The Infinitely Wondrous Universe from

  13. Heather says:

    I find that things other then the yoga body are also disgusting. I don't thing this is confined to yoga but is a general statement about the human condition.

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

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  15. yogachickie says:

    I highly doubt that any teacher training involved ritual vomiting on a daily basis. I am the first one to say that yogis are nuts (myself included), but the only induced vomiting that I have ever heard sanctioned takes place as part of a five-step cleansing process that is done on rare occasion, not daily. I like your writing style, and I think your topic is funny and on point, but I wonder if you sacrificed accuracy for a good laugh?

  16. JamesAltucher says:

    Thanks Heather. I responded to you in the other forum. Your link above is broken, btw.

  17. tanya lee markul says:

    Actually I attended a teacher training where some Kriyas were taught. One did involve vomiting. It didn't take place from day one but was taught mid-way through the training, along with other Kriyas. It wasn't mandatory at all. 🙂

  18. body maven says:

    Hey Fellow travelor, have you looked into the whole realm of being Vata imbalanced? It may enlighten your views on kriyas…and other body 'issues', like muscles, mucus, and mind, to name a few.

  19. […] the “yoga body.” Body image has and will be forever recycled as a topic of interest, concern, impact, and awareness in many […]

  20. Roger Le Marié says:

    You do not discribe the Yoga Body but different very healthy body functions. Some of them cleanse the body (urin, partially sweat, etc.), others serve as cooling system (sweating) or as disposal of unneeded or even unhealthy leftovers after the body has taken the good stuff out (excrements). With this specific one the smell and feelings of disgust have a very good, evolutionary reason: it keeps our race – especially in the oral phase of very young age – from eating our own feeces.
    So: isn’t the Yoga body after each training even more pure, more healthy, more detoxed and therefore cleaner? And isn’t some of the disgust really only in your mind? Sweat for example starts usually only to stink after bacteria began breaking it apart (are you wearing your yoga clothes for more than one training? I neither hope nor think so 😉 Before that, it detoxes, stabilizes our skin pH equilibrum against hostile bacteria and transports tons of pheromones that can be quite the turn on for the opposite sex…