“Yoga teachers shouldn’t have tramp stamps.” ~ Amy Jirsa

Via Amy Jirsa
on Apr 4, 2012
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Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

The Tattooed Yogini.

Yoga teachers shouldn’t have tramp stamps.”

I overheard this proclamation, muttered by a yoga student sitting next to me, while watching a particularly gifted yogini demonstrate a series of asanas (yoga postures). I turned my head and took her in, but said nothing. After all, enough judgment had been laid down in her comment and I wasn’t about to contribute. I simply moved away, toward of group of similarly dressed, but tattoo-decorated, yoga students and continued to enjoy the demonstration.

Disparaging comments about body art, like the one above, are not unfamiliar to those of us thus decorated.

Most of the time, as far as I can tell, we couldn’t care less about others’ opinions. Ours is a generation of seekers, of nomads. We take up yoga, Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy, natural health, environmentalism; we move from place to place-seeking community, like-minded activists, and happiness. No longer do (most) people live and die in their hometowns.

On one hand, this inspires a generation that embraces diversity, is open to new ideas and has built deep compassion for each other and for the surrounding environment.

On the other hand, however, it can be a lonely existence; we don’t buy houses next door to childhood best friends or siblings or parents.

We don’t always have people around who have known us from birth. We have to be open so that we can connect. We have to work to find those deep connections with other wanderers. We have to find a way to find our tribe.

In my world, this world of nomads, tattoos are a common denominator; I can enter any new situation and, chances are, by scanning for body art, I can find people who share my particular concerns and interests or are at least open to my particular concerns and interests.

It’s a misconception to think that it is always rebellion that drives people to body art.

More likely, people are driven toward it by a deep need to express themselves, to show the world who they are and in what they believe. (Added bonus: in social situations, this cuts way down on needless small talk). Tattoos are a flag we raise, a beacon, drawing us together—a true tribal expression of community.

You are more than welcome to think that the Om symbol is sacred, that it shouldn’t be “desecrated” as body art. And though many people get tattoos for the wrong reasons or regret them later on, let me tell you, the person who put that symbol on her body? That’s a pretty permanent and beautiful expression of what is sacred to her.

I say the more tattoos the better.

We’re becoming a community too large to ignore or to downplay as mere rebels filled with sound and fury without anything more substantial underneath (next battle—tattoos in the workplace)—still slightly disturbed by and mistrusting of that tattooed guy down the street? Don’t be. Just know that he cared enough about something to have it painfully and permanently etched on his skin. If that isn’t love, if that isn’t devotion, then I guess I’d better find a different tribe.


Editor:  Tanya L. Markul

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About Amy Jirsa

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). She'll be releasing a book on yoga and natural health, to be released in 2015. Stay tuned!


30 Responses to ““Yoga teachers shouldn’t have tramp stamps.” ~ Amy Jirsa”

  1. Tamie Overbo says:

    This sounds good. Something that makes you look better fast has got to be good

  2. cit1 says:

    Awesome article! I appreciate your discipline to refrain from added judgement

  3. YogiCrystal says:

    Yes! I love seeing all the beautiful body art that people have done, always amazes me. Sure there are those that regret a tattoo, but then there are always ways to turn it into a new piece of art. Great discussion pieces too!

  4. I love my tattoos! I love people with them, without them and I love this piece. What I don't love is the "shouldn't" phrase… besides there being no rule on what a yoga teacher "should" look like…we also don't know someone's past — I haven't always been a yoga teacher and I didn't always know I would be one and I am sure many other's are there…who knows what a tattooo represents or when it was acquired — that's what makes them so awesome – that reminder of the past.

  5. Annie Ory says:

    We are fascinating creatures, the way we want the world to conform to our ideas of what this or that means and to say that if it doesn't fit it's wrong. Trayvon Martin didn't fit into George Zimmerman's idea of "who belongs in my neighborhood" or "what my neighbors look like". Let us allow people to be who they are, and learn about them as we know them more, leaving them to their lives unless we plan to know them personally and understand their choices more.

  6. Louise Brooks says:

    Okay all you tattoo enthusiasts – next time you see someone with breat implants, make-up, body hugging clothing, toupee, etc,etc and you're tempted to issue the usual "why do people feel like they have to give in to societal pressure/ why can't people be satisfied with the body they were born with" drivel, remember this article.

  7. Jenifer says:

    I love your dread locks! I seriously miss mine. I had them for one year, before they started to fall out (something about my hair being too fine for it to manage — and I was getting them professionally done, too). so tragic.

    I'm all cool with tats and piercings and all manner of creativity. I'm even cool with people being super normal. It's cool to just be yourself.

  8. cit1 says:

    I personally don't have any tattoos and have more appreciation for the purity of a clean, natural "canvas," but I do like this article.

  9. Mary Eliazabeth says:

    I never thought of myself as a 'tattoo person' and then one day I woke up with the most compelling urge to mark this time in life with art on my body. My tattoos tell a beautiful story of who I was at that moment, a cancer survivor, a yogini on my way to YTT, a mother who has struggled to understand how to let go of what I cannot control and to embrace, love and support myself and my beloveds in each moment. They remind me to breathe. I love my tattoos. I love the stories behind tattoos. I live those who choose not to tattoo also.

  10. Leah says:

    I completely agree. Judging someone on their choice to have their skin decorated or their boobs enhanced or their cat eye makeup, makes you well… a Judge. It's all the same, we're given a body to do with what we choose. Judging each other about how we adorn it, well it's self serving. Love yourself love your body. Let each other love theirs the way they want as well.

  11. Tanya Lee Markul says:

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

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  12. Carol Horton says:

    "I can enter any new situation and, chances are, by scanning for body art, I can find people who share my particular concerns and interests or are at least open to my particular concerns and interests."

    This is really interesting to me – I would love to hear more on how one can "read" the meaning of different types of tattoos on people's bodies. Clearly, they are not all the same. An "Om" symbol is clear, yes. But I see many different types of people out there with so many different styles of body art today. I'm curious, but don't know how to interpret it myself. Has anyone written something good that would help explain this?

  13. Nancy says:

    " I can enter any new situation and, chances are, by scanning for body art, I can find people who share my particular concerns and interests or are at least open to my particular concerns and interests." I would venture to say that there is a bit of profiling here. There are many reasons why people choose not to get tattoos; in my case, I haven't ever found any image that I feel is an accurate enough symbol of who I am, or one that I felt I would never get sick of. After all, my absolute favorite bedspread only lasted only three or four years before I was tired of it! There are many people who do NOT have tattoos who might share or be open to your concerns or interests. On the flip side, I know tattooed people who laugh at yoga.

    I agree that there is absolutely nothing wrong with decorating oneself and that one shouldn't be judged based on that decision. But I don't think people should be judged based on their decision to remain unadorned, either.

  14. Whether a person has or hasn't a tattoo says nothing about who they truly are as person – there are many reasons why people get or don't get tattoos.

    I'm against tribalism based on race, creed, color, sex, etc. including fashion and appearance. Talk about trees for the forest.

    For me, while I've sometimes thought about it – given I try to avoid chemicals in my food and environment – I don't think I'm up for injecting in my skin cells. I reserve the right to change my mind if the right tattoo enters my life….

  15. integralhack says:

    Yup. As a parent (with a daughter who would just love to get a tattoo) I also worry about young people who might get a tattoo that they might regret later in life. Even at the ripe old age of 18, many young people don't have a good understanding of who they are, so any permanent "logo," spiritual or not, seems like a generally bad idea at a youngish age.

    On that note, anyone know where I can get Che Guevara's face removed from my ass cheek for cheap?

  16. integralhack says:

    Well stated, Michael. The "tribal" regression/progression into body painting and also piercing is interesting. I can't help but think of the Portlandia skit where the large gauged earlobe of a Portland bicyclist gets caught by a chain lock. When does self expression via body alteration just become ridiculous? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3nMnr8ZirI

  17. catnipkiss says:

    I love my ink, and I love checking out tattoos on others. It can get a little distracting in a yoga class, especially if you are trying to read a long quote or inscription of some sort on someone's body. But I agree that tattoos can bring us together; I am always ready to ask the story of someone's body art. Alexa M.

  18. Jinny says:

    Well said Amy!

  19. Deena says:

    I hate the label ‘tramp stamp’. I got my tattoo married, when I turned 40 to cover the scar from a laminectomy of my L5-S1. The mark was already there. Why look at scar tissue when you can have something so much prettier? Tramp stamp? Hardly.

  20. Bob Keaty says:

    Tattoos are inexpensive art that is easy to collect and you don't need a place to store them.

  21. Annie Ory says:

    tattoos can be covered up – and – even if you keep a tattoo that doesn't "fit" any more when you're older it is a reminder of the journey, not a mistake. My partner played highly competitive basketball in high school and college. At the ripe old age of 36 he has a basketball/sun on his shoulder and though he and his reconstructed knee don't play any more, it's part of his journey. The solution to "that" tattoo? More tattoos, so that one loses it's place as focal point.
    My first tattoo didn't fit any more after 20 years so I had it blended in to another design. Strangely, a tattoo can never be fully "covered up" but the new design, created by a great tattoo artist, incorporates it into the new image in such a way that if I point it out to you and you look hard you can see the old one, but you'd never find your way to it on your own. The body isn't permanent, even when it's marked. Breathe mom. It's OK.

  22. integralhack says:

    Annie, who you callin' a mom!?! I'm a dude, although I've been told I have very maternal instincts.

    I do appreciate that tattoos can be viewed as part of a person's journey, their karma, or what have you, but mistakes are also part of that journey. We all make enough mistakes on our road that we don't need to propagate unnecessary ones. If someone is hell bent on getting a tattoo it probably isn't going to be avoided, but tattoos can also cause infections and various health problems (some folks are more susceptible than others, it's true). The Mayo Clinic web site has a list for anyone that's interested.

    We also have a family history of melanoma and that is one more reason to avoid a possible obfuscation of any skin abnormalities that need to get checked out.

    Echoing Nancy, I don't judge anyone for having a tattoo, but I also think that young people should not be encouraged. I'll let my daughter's journey be her own, when she's 18, not mine.

  23. Dee Schneiderman says:

    Funny. I'm interested in yoga, Easter philosophy, nutrition, the environment, etc., but have never felt the need to put graffiti on my body to serve as an ice-breaker. On others I find it a huge distraction — I can't hear what you're saying because I'm trying for the life of me to imagine how you could / why you would do that to yourself. I know, I know — that's MY problem. But it's your problem, too, if it keeps people from hearing your message.

  24. […] “Yoga teachers shouldn’t have tramp stamps.” ~ Amy Jirsa […]

  25. apimom says:

    A lot of you make it sound like I should make a conscious decision about likes and dislikes. Some things turn me off but I have no influence over it, even if my mind tells me what I "should" think about it. I for instance dislike the colour green. Ridiculous as it might sound to you, it gives me an un-pleasant feeling and I do not wear anything green or have anything in my house in green except plants. Some people dislike spiders or snakes.

    I had a short term boy friend once. Good looking, bright, successful, well off, super personality. I could not make myself fall in love with him – too bad. No matter how hard I tried.

    Same with tatoos although my daughter and my son-in-law are big time into it although on parts of their bodies that can be covered up. It does create "feelings" in the corporate world and/or the world in general.

    I also dislike brussel sprouts and no amount of argument will crate a positive feeling for them in me. People that like tatoos make it sound like they made the conscious decision to like them. I assure you, you did not. It just happens to be something that creates a positive feeling in you. Forever? Maybe not.


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