I hit a wall of frustration yesterday with the uber-flexible spandex trend on Instagram and Facebook. The trend of photographing yourself in an advanced posture, whether that’s a padmasana handstand, or legs behind the head. What has happened to Yoga? What about the meditation? The kriya’s? The mantras? All of these parts of practice that transform people in a way that isn’t attractive or sexual or amazing looking? What message are we giving as yogi’s if all we do is post images of ourselves accomplishing something that most other’s can’t, and anatomically may never be able to?
I also hit a huge place of clarity in the “I” of it. I am actually frustrated with myself for creating an image that has become “me.”
I sat this morning, feeling my belly, full of way worse food than I would normally eat in a time of consistent practice. I felt my inability to do postures I have been able to do in the past when I was more fit, more skinny. I felt my self-critic come into the room and say, “Well, you can’t even post a photo of you doing Kurmasana because your belly fat will be hanging over your pants.” “Maybe you can just do one of a kriya..?” The truth was, I was too full and disgusted with myself to even do my kriya’s (internal cleanses which involve intense abdominal movement).
I realized pretty quickly that my anger had little to do with the rest of the yogi’s in the world, and more towards myself for creating an image in the first place. I am completely guilty of using my most difficult postures as a showcase of who “I am”, and I am now suffering from operating out of this image that I had created about being flexible and strong.
The reality of yoga is this: it is a journey that will rock your world if you stick with it, because there comes a point where you will have to practice on a deeper level than asana’s. Yoga is an ebb and flow process that will take you to the deepest and darkest parts of yourself and make you face them, like me today. My practice has lead me to a place right now of deep inner contemplation, what is my image, and why did I create this? Why am I not respecting my body and what I put into it?
I had created an image of myself that I cannot always maintain, and such is life. As much as I would love to sit here and say I am diligent about my practice every single day, and my photos are a means to inspire myself and others… this is simply not realistic for myself and most people who now come to Yoga. Can it be realistic? Sure. Is it what we want to be spraying out there consistently as Yoga? Probably not.
As one of my mentors says, “it’s all part of the ceremony.” This is true, and I am grateful for the reflection and contemplation this has given me.
Now let me switch from me, to us as a community.
With all of that said, as teachers and leaders in a multi-billion dollar industry growing very quickly, it is our responsibility to create a practice (whatever lineage that is from) that is not an image of our body for others to aspire to be, but rather a way to attain peace within ourselves, as we are along our journey. The practice inherently contains the discipline of eating well, treating your body as a holy vessel, exercising, and breathing. If all of the other parts of the practice are encouraged, people will find good health and inspiration without the need to feel like they “can’t do” Yoga because of some of the images they think are Yoga.
I can’t tell you how many times I have somebody come up to me and say, “I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible.” And I have to then say, “Perfect! really flexible people are pretty boring to teach anyways, they can already do all of the asana’s. You came to exactly the right place.” Hatha Yoga is meant to be the first step in all of the Yoga’s. It is meant to be the starting place to clean, cleanse, and purify the body. Let’s keep that in mind. Most people come to this practice not flexible, not in super great shape, and not able to do a handstand, and that is beautiful and OK.
I think we need to ask ourselves really honestly how much of our Yoga magazine cover’s, Instagram photo’s, and videos of us in intermediate/advanced asana’s creates this image around Yoga.
When I travel to India to teach or practice, the people on the street ask me what my Yoga mat is. That is how extreme we have taken this small part of the practice here in the west compared to the mother land of Yoga.
I humbly offer this set of questions to inquire into before we post our next pretzel photo/lotus handstand:
1.What is my true intention for posting this photo?
2. In the past when I have posted photo’s like this one, how do I receive the reaction and comments?
3. Do I get my self-love from others seeing the physical part of me?
A rule that I have set for myself is to wait a couple of hours before posting a photo, so that I can get out of the excitement of it and really see the truth behind it. Maybe that is a good place to start?
Lastly, as someone who teaches about the human body and has studied bones extensively, I feel obligated to also put out there that Yoga asana’s stem from 12 year old boys studying under teachers from the time they are children. Their bones were literally being formed while learning asanas that we do today, just as gymnasts are (I was a gymnast). Your unique and beautiful manifestation of your body is completely unique from those 12 year old Indian boys or that woman who can easily float into padmasana while doing a headstand.
Take this all with a grain of salt, as I am sure you will. I am also on the ride with you as a teacher and student of how Yoga evolves in the west. All I ask, is that we all practice reflection, contemplation, and compassion as we move forward. Not judgement.
Hari Om Tat Sat
You are that.