Don’t expect magazine-cover-worthy results on your first try.
“Please don’t move to the next krama, or step, in this pose if you are not ready, your balance is off today or you just don’t feel like it. Okay? Simon Says, please don’t do it.” I am wondering if this is what it will take to get students to know I mean it when I say it is cool to stay just where you are in a pose.
It seems like ego is leading my classes lately and seducing students to go beyond their level of comfort. Yes, we change and develop our practice every day, but not at the expense of our physical and mental health. As a teacher, I offer modifications in almost every pose. Yet, lately, even the newbies seem to ignore my suggestions and push through to the way they think the pose is supposed to look.
Are the images we are now being bombarded with in popular (and nontraditional) yoga media hurting students by offering unrealistic and possibly unattainable goals?
As a student myself for the past 10 years, I finally get that I may never get my leg out straight in bird-of-paradise. But I am fine with that! I am happy where I am and I don’t care if Susie Q. Yogi on the next mat is doing her best Kathryn Budig impersonation. (No offense to Kathryn Budig; she is amazing.)
When I try to communicate this to my students, however, I seem to be losing something in translation. Like a parent desperately trying to get her child to not make the same mistakes she did, I still see these rebellious yogis hell-bent on discovering how far they can push themselves. Grunts, frowns and huffs are replacing peaceful sighs and Ujjayi breaths. While it is totally OK to try a new pose or go a little deeper, you can’t expect magazine-cover-worthy results on the first try and then follow that up with a mental beating for failing.
Much like the modeling industry, yoga media seems to lean toward the thin and perfect. In an effort to stay true to our message, perhaps we should self-regulate our industry and seek the opportunity to provide more realistic images of yoga students, teachers and icons. In a pass through a popular yoga magazine, I did not spot one single person that matched up with the average build I see in the Midwest. The only ad I saw with a model over a size 4 was for a weight loss yoga program.
Facebook, Twitter and the like are seething with pictures of perfectly proportioned, hot bodies, selling everything from mats to mini yoga skorts (barf). Pages dedicated to the welcoming of all body types are few and far between. (A favorite of mine is Body Positive Yoga on Facebook.) The most common excuse I get from friends who are afraid (Afraid!) to try yoga is that they are too big. Dude, anyone can do yoga. Almost no one looks like the people doing poses in the advertisements. I mean, you drink Diet Pepsi and I bet you don’t look like Sofia Vergara.
And our friends at Lululemon: While they are desperately trying to make us forget about their see-through situation, has anyone noticed that they don’t offer anything above a size 12? Plus size clothier Lane Bryant has a line of gear, but features crazy things like a sequined tank top in this category. That’s probably not going to help your practice of ahimsa when it rubs off the outer layer of skin on your bicep.
For me, the best part of yoga is if you don’t feel like doing a pose in class, you can take Balasana or just lay in the fetal position sobbing to yourself. I am hopelessly devoted to and in love with my studios because they do not promote the idea of Barbie clones precariously balanced on one toe amidst a sea of brand-name sparkly spandex.
The world yoga community might want to refresh its commitment to the real purpose of asana practice and support some change in its representation in the media.
Meditation, peace and enlightenment do not require the height and weight restrictions of a flight attendant. Stop simply talking about ‘letting go of the ego’ and begin to celebrate the oneness of the human form.
Kim Stanley spent her formative yoga years with some of the best teachers in Fort Wayne and has practiced in studios across the country. She believes life is too short not to find what makes you happy—your true bliss—and follow it. The study of yoga is what makes Kim happy and sharing that joy with students is her Ananda. After nine years of instruction, the most beautiful thing about yoga to her is its adaptability to everyone. No matter your age, physical ability or state of mind, you can take a class and find peace every single time; it’s the only sure thing in this life. Kim has a B.S. in Organizational Leadership and lives in Fort Wayne with her husband and two children.
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Assistant Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna/Kate Bartolotta