April 14, 2012

The Lingerie-clad Yogi Behind the Equinox Video: Briohny Kate Smyth.

Adapted from Kass Health.

Meet the awe-inspiring yogi in lingerie, from the Equinox video, Briohny Kate Smyth.

The beautiful and controversial video, that went viral in two days, with two million views, made me want to know the real woman in the glass-walled apartment, practicing asanas with the sleeping guy in bed.

Inspiring and empowering, the video embodied strength, commitment, integrity and beauty. And for some, it triggered fear–comparing, judgement, insecurity, or even defeat–allowing the video to simultaneously serve as the perfect opportunity to get curious, rather than judge.

Here, some words from the woman, herself, on body image, healing, and the power of yoga and a daily practice of self-care.

J: What was it like shooting the Equinox video?

B: So cool. It felt great being in front of the camera and not having to be 90 pounds–for me, it was just awesome. We really had no idea how this was going to go down or that it would be so controversial or so popular. It was a one-day shoot. I got there and they gave me underwear; I usually see people in the least amount of clothing, because I’m a yoga teacher, so I didn’t think anything of it. And I know that showing the lines of the body really helps, when demonstrating yoga. The production crew had a great vision. I mentioned, in another interview, this one moment where my old ways of thinking came in and freaked out for a minute and my fiancé said, “You look beautiful.” I couldn’t let my butterflies get to me. It’s okay to have that moment, but then let it go and freak out later. So, I had a ball.

J: What is your personal experience with body image?

B: I grew up in LA from three to eleven and was larger, as a kid. I began singing and performing in Thailand, at eleven, and I’m thankful for those experiences. But it was challenging starting out in that industry at such a young age and being half Caucasian and half Thai, because Thai women are naturally very thin. Since I wasn’t, people were telling me to lose weight and get on diet pills–targeting my baby fat in my cheeks and thighs. Not having the tools to cope, I internalized it, and figured the only way to live my life was with an eating disorder and a lifestyle that continued to ruin my body and confidence.

Even then, the image I wanted to put out was to inspire women, but behind the scenes it was a different picture. To this day, I’m still not cured–I’m just healing. Anything can be an addiction–food, relationships–even yoga! These experiences have shaped who I am today; we all need a rock-bottom to create the drive to live our life to the fullest.

J: What has been your path to healing?

B: I found yoga at 15 and started experiencing the concept of self-care, for the first time. But my negative beliefs and behaviors were still present and I found support within 12-step programs like OA. They helped me recognize my responsibility in all areas of my life–I had to look inside me and understand how I create my life and my relationships. In 2004, I got pregnant, and it really changed the way I took care of myself.

My pregnancy was the biggest healing process in my life; it was a clearing of the negative beliefs and allowed me to just be a mama. Healing is a daily occurrence–it happens every day. Some days are harder, and you call in the tools–affirmations, mantras, gratitude lists–anything that helps you stay present. For me, it’s turning to my practice and these tools, rather than outward, to people, for support. Practicing self-care allows you to go inside rather than become dependent on other people (and other external things) to make you feel better, creating a more sustainable path to happiness.

J: Tell me more about the power of yoga in your life?

B: Yoga was my first wake-up call for healing. When I was 15, I went to Tibet, to film a travel show, and my mother said, “You sound different. Maybe you should stay”. I had discovered an ashram there, in Nepal, and loved the level of spirituality. Any time you’re able to focus on one thing for one or two hours, it’s spiritual, especially in our culture where we’re just going and going. After the ashram, yoga became really huge in my life and I began to slowly integrate it into my daily life. Over the years, it became a ritual and routine. It held me accountable for what I did. When someone new to yoga asks me where they should start, I ask them what they’re looking for. Their focus is usually around the physical gains, and in time, it moves beyond becoming more fit, and it creeps into every crevice of our life, becoming much bigger than we could have imagined, while connecting with a different part of yourself.

J: What’s your favorite pose?

B: Savasana. We work so hard during our practice, so that’s a time when we can really reap the benefits of all the poses we’ve just done (all of which, I love). I also love the handstand. It has really changed my practice and my life right now, boosting my confidence and creating upper body strength. The handstand keeps things fun and light–and I can practice it with my daughter, which inspires her, too.


Editor Tanya L. Markul

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Shivin Varghese May 20, 2012 6:36am

well, a nicely directed ad for a bikini, and not for learning any yoga asanas, I must say.

To be honest, I have had conversations with women from the US and Europe who keep posting their "yoga" pics wearing a bikini (most of the times). When i ask what they actually intend by putting up those pics, they are like – "hey isnt yoga about Freedom? " about doing this … that" bla bla…

To learn Breath movements while doing asanas, not necessary that the instructor has to be exposing all of his or her body. I was initiated to yoga by a Punjabi woman, here in Mumbai – a mother of 2 small school going children… She would be wearing a full trouser and a T and still she would be able to explain things with a wonderful poise. I dont know why such commercialization of Yoga?? The great Saint Patanjali – not sure if he would be breaking his head for this westernization of yoga – the light he is said to have brought down to earth.

I know there will be more exploitation of this ancient art and science form… I know for being an Indian with such criticial opinions on yoga, Id be mocked by every Westerner (who prefers to do yoga in Undies and speaks of Freedom). Am not trying to judge but here is my final take – In Julliard you wouldnt find a man wearing a dhoti and giving a piano performance, and you wouldnt find a Bharatnatyam dancer dancing in a short skirt… While there is freedom involved in every form of art, there is also a discipline. This includes a discipline in what one wears too.

Tell me one thing – do you expect a woman to walk into a yoga class in her undies and not cause a distraction of mind even for a single second among the students? If the answer is NO, then I must say the few indian female teachers I have known, would be all FOOLs to be wearing a T and long trouser, or sometimes even a Salwar Kameez (look at Pattabhi Jois' daughter Saraswati who teaches Ashtanga yoga to the many westerners at Mysore). Not that Indian women werent "sexy" not to expose too much while doing yoga.. But perhaps they were looking for Yoga and not some beach gymnastics.

Connie Apr 21, 2012 3:08pm

This article really connects with me and I look forward to meeting Briohny when I host the Rasa-Lila Fest Orlando Festival – love the thoughtfulness behind her words.

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Jennifer Kass

A mission to spread happiness, health + beauty, Jennifer’s mediums are writing, taking pictures, and the acclaimed New York City-based, Kass Health, a holistic coaching business leading clients to their happiest, best lives.