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April 17, 2014

Why Yoga Left me Feeling Alienated. ~ Guinevere Hilton

I fell in love with yoga through chanting at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC.

I loved the incense, the Sanskrit, the soft lighting, hushed voices, welcoming hugs and especially the gentle, seemingly unconditional acceptance.

I just wanted to be there, chant, breathe and be in service to my Guru.

Asana came later. In fact, I looked down on asana as an external practice that was only the threshold to the “real” thing: bhakti (devotion) yoga love, devotion, seva (selfless service).

I was a yoga snob.

This snobbery followed me for years. I secretly believed that the only way to practice yoga was with a Guru, devoted and committed to a bhakti path.

Karma…it’s a bitch, or actually, a goddess.

Asana (yoga pose practice) became my lifesaver. I stumbled onto it as a way to find connection after fleeing NYC and leaving my beloved yoga community behind.

I was restarting life and missed the daily chanting and meditation. And I was lucky to find in rural Vermont, a bhakti yogi who also happened to teach Kripalu-style yoga. She gave me just the right amount of ego-boosting encouragement to keep me interested and showed me how the body can be the spiritual path.

Cue screeching halt. Avoidance + Asana = WTF???

I came face to face with the reality that I had been ignoring: I hated my body. I was using the idea of “transcending the form” to deny a fundamental relationship that was deeply flawed. In asana, I was forced to be in that vessel.

I can’t say exactly how my asana practice healed me over time. And, FYI, that healing is still a work in progress. I continue to make massive mistakes, get weird and insecure and have the impulse to manage things in an unhealthy way. But as long as I get to my mat, as long as I’m looking at yoga, reading about yoga and talking about yoga…it keeps working.

And that, my friends, is why I started My Real Yoga Body. Looking at yoga was leaving me feeling alienated. I wanted so badly to be that girl on the cover of the yoga magazine. I wanted to be the model in the (name your fave/most hated yoga store) ad. And I started to find myself at odds with my body again. And I was pretty whiney about this:

“Why are the only curvy ladies in yoga magazines in articles about yoga featuring some kind of weight loss?”

“What about the dudes?”

                “The middle age mamas?”

“People of color? ”

And when I did see a representation of myself, it was usually in reference to being accepted into yoga…as in:

“We embrace you, curvy, middle-aged, yoga practitioner!”

Who the hell was this ”we”?

We are the we: the newbies and the flexy-bendies, the dilettantes and the devoted, the health nuts and the junk-food lovers. The breathing. And we can be part of celebrating and diversifying this mysterious, blessed, joyful practice by participating in the conversation.

I don’t want to beat ‘em. I want to join ‘em.

 

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Apprentice Editor: Jen Weddle/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo Credit: Danielle Atchison / Pixoto

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Guinevere Hilton