There’s a pretty, skinny girl who practices at my local yoga studio.
She’s kind to everyone that she meets and is always open for conversation. She’s the kind of a girl a lot of girls would like to hate for being pretty, skinny, and nice, but she’s real with people and doesn’t ask for attention—just for a smile most days. From what I can see, she’s a nice person.
Her practice is gorgeous.
Today she was self-practicing after class, contorting her body into a yoga pose it wasn’t ready for (the splits with a backbend), as her friend took a picture of her. After berating herself for not being able to get deep enough into it, she commented on how her lower back had been bothering her.
“Thank god there’s only a few more days left in this Instagram challenge”, she said, “my back is about to break. My sacrum is killing me.”
“Yoga isn’t supposed to hurt!” I wanted to yell. How often do we push ourselves into postures we’re not ready for, just because it “looks” good? Isn’t yoga supposed to “feel” good?
It reminded me of all the times that I’ve contorted myself into postures so I could get a “wow” from someone. Of every time I’ve hyperextended to get into a pose and of every vertebrae I’ve crunched in a backbend and every time I’ve fallen out of an arm balance even though I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I’ve hurt my body before, knowingly, seeking a sense of validation.
It reminded me of the fact that some days I haven’t felt good enough because the girl on the mat next to me has been skinnier or stronger or more flexible or has had better alignment.
I’ve fasted before classes so that I can look at myself in the mirror and feel beautiful. My early yoga practice spurred on a full-on eating disorder, because it bothered me that my stomach could never seem to get flat enough in postures. Sometimes it’s still triggering to me, and that’s when I know I’m not really doing yoga. Because real yoga saved my life, and real yoga doesn’t hurt. It heals. It feels right. It makes me want to sing and cry and lay still with awe of the wonder that is my own skin.
Listening to my body, showing it compassion, giving it time, taking it easy some days—that’s what helps to heal me.
This is why Instagram yoga concerns me. It boasts spirituality and physical challenges by showing snapshots of young and beautiful girls in picture perfect postures. It gives the idea that if we are not skinny enough, or flexible enough, or strong enough, or “perfect” enough that we are not yoga enough.
That we’re not enough.
It’s discouraging because you don’t know if that pose really feels right to the practitioner—we look at a photo for what it is—from face value. Just because you can do a posture, doesn’t mean you always should.
At least we know that in mainstream media the models are photoshopped and airbrushed and have probably starved themselves that day. The advertisements are selling “happiness”, but what bothers me the most about the Instagram craze is that the “models”—yoga “practitioners” are selling spirituality in the form of poorly executed handstands. What message is this sending to young girls? What message is this sending to all girls?
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with celebrating your practice or your body through sharing photos on Instagram. Wear your tiki patterned sports bras and bikinis and bare it all in the deepest expression of standing bow that you can bear. If that’s what feels good to you—then show it.
Express. Be you. Be beautiful and sexy and flexible and flamboyant and mysterious and wonderful.
But can you do this intrinsically, from the heart? Sustainably and with kindness and compassion to your body. If it hurts—stop. Don’t take a picture of it if it’s hurting you, because if the posture’s not real for you, then it’s not real for anybody else either. A picture may be worth a thousand words but it is not worth your health, your sanity, or your soul.
We have one body on this earth, one body that is capable of so many breath-taking feats when treated right. Let’s trust in nature’s way and learn to love ourselves in this moment, wherever we are.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Courtesy of Flickr/Matthew Ragan