I keep finding myself in a similar conversation lately with other yogis and women in my community.
This conversation is about what is happening to the yoga “scene,” and how it is represented in magazines and Instagram feeds by fit yoga athletes with flawless bodies doing amazing poses.
The conversation always seems to lead into a statement about who is “real” and who isn’t.
For example, a common theme is that the flawless woman doing a perfect handstand on the beach isn’t real, and there needs to be more space for the real women with curves and flaws. The end result is that both sides feel shamed and not validated.
For me, the question is not about who is and isn’t real (because truthfully all women are real). Instead, the question is, as women yogis and as a culture in general, are we being real with each other?
Imagine this: You are sitting in a yoga class with a group of women, and before class the teacher asks you something you have never been asked before. She says that before we start moving our bodies, she would like each of you to answer a question. She says:
“I want you to share with the group how you are doing—for real, the raw truth, beneath the surface. And I don’t want you to use any labels. I don’t want to know if you are a stay at home mother, a CEO, or a starving artist. I don’t want to know if you are gay or straight, married or lost for love, curvy or skinny, rich or poor. Instead, I want to know how you are doing underneath the hood of your story, hidden behind the labels and projections and judgments. I want to know what you are hiding behind your veil—the truth you are afraid to show to the world. I want you to go deep inside and bring that to the surface, so that you can connect deeper with yourself and with others.”
You think: Huh. This should be interesting.
The first woman speaks, and she goes straight for it. She shares that she lacks confidence in her decisions, and she is struggling to stand up for herself. The second woman talks about something similar: she has talents and dreams, but too much fear to bring them into the world. The third woman speaks of her inner critic, and how she is always beating herself up and seeking others’ approval in order to feel loved.
Another woman speaks of how she is watching her mother die, and of her own fear of death and disease. Another shares of her miscarriage and the trauma she still feels months after. More women speak of self-worth and value, lack of sense of self, guilt, shame and fear. The room is full of the most raw, human stories, and you start to see that behind the labels and judgments, in a room full of all different shades and shapes of women—fat, fit, brown, white, housewives, career women, rich and poor—everyone was dealing
with the same basic human stuff. No one’s stories mattered anymore because every woman in the room was essentially the same.
This is what happens every day in my yoga studio. I teach intimate yoga classes to women, and a few years ago I started to ask this question before each class: How are you really doing? I wanted the women to connect with their deeper selves, and ultimately to connect with each other and build a meaningful community. It was shocking at first, but people went for it. I mean, how often does someone sincerely ask you how you are doing in your life right now? When we connect with the truth in this way, then we can more easily bring to the surface our stress, fears and anxiety, and work them out in the yoga practice.
But something even more magical started happening in my classes: the women started to see that they were not alone in their grief, fears and raw human experience. Their vulnerability began to free them from their self-imposed isolation. It began to heal their scars. I saw that when one woman speaks her truth, others have the courage to do so as well. The healing from this simple exercise goes deep, and I end up with a room full of women supporting each other, rather than tearing each other down.
So back to the conversation about “real” women. The conversation I would rather see us have is this: what if we leave all labels and projections at the yoga studio door? What if we go deeper than our bodies, curves or no curves, and touch base with what is going on, for real? What if we share this with other women? What if we lift the veil that we all hide behind, and just say our fears out loud?
And what if our Instagram feeds and Facebook profiles matched this level of reality? What would happen if we just started being real instead of trying to figure out who is and who isn’t? What if yoga was about the practice of being ourselves, unapologetically and without fear or shame? What would happen to yoga if we left our labels at the door and instead brought our shared human experiences to the practice? What would happen if we started showing up, for real?
Because I’ll tell you, I’ve seen magic happen.
Author: Michelle Long
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Used with permission from Stephanie Court Photography