what should yoga look like

What Should Yoga Look Like? A Contemplation…

What should or does yoga look like?

Well, this is an interesting question I have battled within myself for the last 12 years…

I know that human beings have an intense desire to belong or fit in, which starts with our first 3 chakras:

Our first chakra, known as the root chakra or Muladhara Chakra,  tells us that we belong OR should have a sense of belonging to our tribe: AKA our family, neighborhoods and geographical locations.

Our second chakra, the sacral chakra or Svadistana Chakra says: seek partnerships, and learn how to honor one another!

And finally our third chakra, the Solar Plexus Chakra says: BE AN INDIVIDUAL, HAVE CONFIDENCE, SELF ACCEPTANCE, SELF ESTEEM AND VITALITY! it shouts it at us! You know the old butterfly feeling in your belly? That is all third chakra.

But sometimes we drown out the third chakra and say, NO! It is more important that I fit in and that is where I will find self-acceptance, in the power of the group, or tribe that I belong too….do you remember high school?? Most likely you did foolish things to sacrifice your individuality then.

Well today, that doesn’t work. When we don’t understand personal power, we give it away to the power of the group. Our group could be family, our ethnic tribe of neighbors and friends, it can be our classmates, or for yoga practitioners today, belonging to a certain studio or “type” of yoga.

It is a good feeling to be supported by the group, but it is also a safe feeling that sometimes holds us back from exploring our true nature.

We might get lost in translation and think: I cannot do my yoga practice without my friends, without my studio, without my mat in this exact spot each week, without my sexy yoga cloths, without my favorite yoga mat… Luckily, I never put constraints on my practice in this way, but I have seen it happen to others, especially when they are afraid to leave the studio nest and go exploring what’s out there. My teacher trainees are assigned the “task” of going to other studios and venturing outside the box.

I was always at ease exploring and doing my asana practice at home and trying other studios and so forth, but found not every studio is friendly or ready to open their arms to you. Lack of warmth and acceptance I find is a theme of many studios today. The biggest compliment my students and clients give us at my studio is: I feel like I am at home.

I am not trying to “I” you to death, but to just build bridges in your reasoning to how you choose to make your choices. Apply this to any place in your life and you will see where you are drawn to being in the tribe and being yourself.

This brings me to my whole big contemplation for this entry:

So what, pray tell, is the yoga body supposed to look like then? What do Westerners think yoga looks like?

When I started to discover yoga, the covers of Yoga Journal still had our modern masters gracing the covers, and now there are a few too many dancer/models shining on the glossy cover page at you, shouting: You must look and bend like me! Really they are not saying that, they just get paid to do their job as the cover model, but you make that conclusion whenever you see the media…

Each day, I get several phone calls from people wanting to try yoga for the first time. Many of them when they call tell me how out of shape or in shape they are because they are worried about being able to do it at all, or they don’t want to be put in too easy of a class. I hear fear of a beginner, or I am too beginner. I don’t hear people say, I want to increase the level of my inner understanding….

I hear, “I am very in shape, I exercise regularly, I am not flexible, I am out of shape, I want to lose weight, I go to the gym everyday…” You hear the shame and the pride as people explain who they think they are to me on the phone by how they look physically.  I am not judging them, I am just observing our behavior as a whole, and here is what they are all trying to tell me:

I am afraid YOU will judge me by how I look in a class.

YIKES!

Well with all the spanx, lycra, and leggings this industry has promoted itself to be, I can understand the fashion, body complex. Well, let me correct you all on your observations of yoga, IT AINT ABOUT WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE ON THE OUTSIDE.

Yoga IS what your inner body reflects. The inner body must be toned, purified, and healthy in order to: practice asanas, breath properly, engage in practices of the mind and concentration, and to be able to tune into your inner being to be able to connect to the universe, god, spirit, whatever you want to call it..or for the yogi’s Ishvara Pranidana.

Yes, yoga is about finding a closeness to god!

WHAT??? Religion?

Nope, that is called spirituality my friends. Being at one with each other. Practicing love, compassion, forgiveness, radiance, openness, truthfulness, cleanliness and so forth.

You will find this as the root to many of the yogic scriptures and texts. The next time you walk into a studio, and see women and men in tight clothing, people with socially accepted bodies, people with socially unaccepted bodies, hot studios, cold studios, naked yoga, dog and me yoga, or whatever fad is in that week, let me remind you what yoga IS: a path of dis-joining or letting go of the untrue self to seek only the truth and find the true self or ATMAN.

Didn’t sign up for that? Well, most of us don’t at first. I know when I began I was seeking change, to understand myself more, to understand more about chakras, yoga history, to be able to perform certain asanas, and delve onto a deeper spiritual path. I didn’t know what vinyasa yoga was at the time, only a nice hatha practice with poses like triangle, warriors, baddha konasana and so forth.

I knew I felt great after. I knew I felt things stirring in my 20 year body and under the surface that felt more important than fitting my ass into a pair of tight yoga pants, even though my ego wanted that too because I was being propaganda’d that all the time. I remember a teacher a lot of people respected for many reasons (maybe her knowledge, maybe her body, maybe her ability in asanas) telling me I was fat in her own way once, and I remember thinking I felt sad that she needed so much healing if my weight bothered her…but true yoga helped condition me to not take it personally.

We made it that way. We made it worshipped for the body to look a certain way. So how can I be blown away by such shallow a comment? I wasn’t! People are people, this is their beliefs, but the important thing is, I didn’t believe her!

I don’t do this to fit in, if anything, this industry has set me apart from a lot of people… but that is a part of the practice, the coming apart, and then the coming together.

So where is this conversation with myself coming from?

Mostly the desire to have my body to look a certain way, and it brought my inner working material, also known as my stuff, up. I know it would make my life easier in some regards, to have a more socially accepted body, but that is not a yoga body. There is no such thing. A yoga body is a self-accepted body.

I have come very far in my physical practice, now it is time to come far in my mental practice. It is time for me to: accept the body I have, engage my thought around self-love and acceptance, and to seek the body I want with love and health being the goal…and still do all those bad ass asanas that keep me strong. I am good with that, and real with that.

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5 thoughts on “What Should Yoga Look Like? A Contemplation…

  1. Tom Schultheis

    Jennifer,
    A great and honest post. I have always looked at you as beautiful. Your beauty, at least for me, comes from your radiance which shines through by your non-judgmental, thoughtful, compassionate, loving and spiritual essence. Namaste, in its most sincere meaning.
    Tom

    Reply
  2. Jeanie Bolton

    Thank you Jennifer. As a chubby 70 year old lady, I needed to hear this. The reality is, I will never have a model figure. But for me, it is much more spiritual and relaxing. My range of motion has improved more than I expected after having knee replacements and both shoulder surgeries. Yes I am still a little wary of the way I look, but I try to overcome such thoughts. Yoga has become a part of my life that fulfills a special need,

    Namaste,
    Jeanie

    Reply
  3. Min

    Hi Jennifer
    So so happy I stumbled on your blogs today via pinterest.
    Love your interesting and honest posts.

    Thank you
    Min 🙂

    Reply

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