May 24, 2012

A Respectful Letter to Yoga Journal Magazine: Represent & Unify. ~ Shira Engel

Dear Yoga Journal,

This is not, I promise you, a scathing letter or any form of hate mail.

On the contrary, Yoga Journal is my favorite magazine of all time.

Whenever I get a new issue, I’m incapable of reading it without post-its, a highlighter, and a pen nearby.

You truly are the leading resource on yoga. This is why I would not want to simply remake you by creating my own yoga magazine—I couldn’t do half as good a job.

But here’s the thing: the media represents us. You have earned the honorable responsibility of representing a practice that changes lives on a daily basis.

But you, in imposing a limited representation of the practice of yoga, limit the people who can see themselves as part of this mindfulness movement that is having a global effect.

Yoga’s asana component is the only form of physical exercise that is not perpetually paired with aspirational headlines and vain promises that reproduce what is wrong with society’s expectations of what our bodies should look like.

Yoga Journal does not partake in this verbal assault on weight and beauty through the words on the covers, and I commend you for that.

But they say a picture is worth a thousand words. In case you didn’t know where I was going with this, I will say explicitly now: Yoga Journal shows the same body type on just about every page, on just about every cover, and this limits who thinks we can do yoga, a practice that is intended for absolutely every body.

YJ, you know this. You feature articles on teaching yoga to the deaf and in prisons. Teachers and scholars of all shapes and sizes write for you, but you don’t seem to show their pictures. I get it—you go with what you know sells to we, your readers, but guess what?

Reality sells too; there’s just not enough statistical backing to prove this yet because popular culture has yet to give equitable representation a fair chance.

Yoga is revolutionary. It is reaching more populations than any other trend or practice. Its boom is fast, and it is perhaps this century’s most lasting import into the West.

Yoga Journal, as yoga’s biggest media representation to the mainstream, has the potent chance to be revolutionary as well. You can be the first leading publication to stop airbrushing and start offering something real to a global community of yogis and yoginis.

I picked up my first issue of Yoga Journal on a shelf at Barnes & Noble three years ago. I did not pick it up because I saw a thin woman on the cover in scorpion (there is nothing wrong with thin women, by the way, and YJ should most definitely continue to feature these women, but not by virtue of their weight or height).

I picked it up because of the logo that screams, “We take yoga seriously!” and headlines that promised help with creating a home practice and a breakdown of arm balances I was working on mastering.

Even though I am a yoga teacher and regular practitioner, I don’t think you’d feature me on your cover.

I am 5’2”. I have a big butt and hips in comparison to the rest of my body—that is, in comparison to conventional beauty. I have thighs that require me to get a different Lululemon size for leggings than what I get for tops.

And do you know what?

Yoga teaches me to love every single ounce and inch of me.

When I step onto my mat, I am joyfully proud of my body. When I teach, I thank my thighs for keeping me grounded as I adjust students in half-moon pose.

But when I pick up a copy of my favorite magazine, that pride I have worked my yoga butt off to cultivate…wanes. For a brief second, before a meditative reality check kicks in, I start to wonder if I should aspire to something other than acceptance when I chataranga my way through a vinyasa.

I am one of the lucky ones. I already have a practice that is about acceptance, joy, and love. Others don’t, yet, and so need a resource like YJ to get them started. But they need to know that they are represented and therefore included in this practice we all love.

Yoga is for all of us, not just cover models. So, for the sake of the definition of yoga, let’s unite to broaden our definitions of yogi and yogini. Let us reach as many people as possible with this practice.

Yours truly,

Reality Check



Shira Engel is a college student, teacher, yogi, feminist, writer, and sister, and seeks to blend all these aspects of her identity into the daily practice of living. She is a student at Wesleyan University and blogs on yoga for college students at storyofacollegeyogi.tumblr.com.

As a teacher, she seeks to use her teaching skills and love of yoga as service to her communities. Fueled by dharma and finding communities she can serve, Shira seeks to embrace her roots in order to cultivate the elements of the root chakra in her students – strength and stability – through a fierce and healing practice. She resides at her blog and at shiraengel.com.

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Editor: Mel Squarey/Kate Bartolotta

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