These are four words I do not associate with my yoga practice, nor my body for that matter. Yet if you measured yourself by today’s assertive marketing lingo, many of us would fall short – asking ourselves if we are truly ‘yoga worthy’ just as we are. Am I athletic enough for the Hot Power Yoga class at my local or the Fierce Flow Yoga advertised at that new gym opening up? Nope. And I don’t particularly want to be either. My fear is about what these subtle and also blatant messages send so thoughtlessly to the community about an ancient practice that has never before been about aesthetics. The impossibly-perfect images are repellant to those with less-than-perfect bodies – sadly, they may see these images when they are most in need of yoga. For many people, including me, such images are a huge turn off and sadly indicative of how the West has commercialised a 5000-year-old practice. In all honesty, are you more or less likely to try yoga for the first time when faced with an image like the ones below? If they’re turning you off by making you feel inadequate, then you’re not alone.
Anyone a fan of Photoshop?
Women and men see enough slick, unnatural advertising of ideal bodies everywhere from magazines to bus stops and many a Google search in between. I’d like to think a yoga studio could offer reprieve from advertising, from the overt messages of perfectionism that feed the anxieties of many. What happened to feminism if in yoga advertising we see no diversity of ethnicity, body shape, age, gender or ability? These days, I personally check all visual marketing of a studio before I attend a class or workshop. I look on their website, Facebook and Instagram for images that they feel best portray their studio. It’s important to me how they project to the public who they are and what they stand for. If I see a bunch of skinny white women, made up, blow dried and artfully lit as they hold impossibly pretzelly poses reminiscent of a Cirque Du Soleil performance, then I run a mile. I know what they’re about – aesthetics. They’re also about normalising a challenging, too-advanced practice that most bodies aren’t ready for. And god I hate it when the models in the photos are displaying asana incorrectly!
Did you train as a ballet dancer before yoga? No need to point your toes in yoga, ladies.
However, if a studio is actively recruiting a diverse clientele through conscious advertising choices and they offer something other than advanced, heated vinyasa classes, then they’ve got my attention and my dollars. Studios with a conscience bring people in for what I consider the right reasons – ones that are long-lasting, like developing a personal practise is a safe, long-term antidote to a busy lifestyle.
Working in the industry as I do, I’m real concerned that the trend towards aesthetically-driven, intense and overly-heated yoga practice is somewhat counterintuitive, as well as fraught with danger for bodies that are not naturally athletic. I know people and I myself have sustained injuries from being pressured to perform beyond our limits in a class run by an over-zealous instructor who was more like a boot camp trainer. How confusing it is to be told militaristically to Push! Hold! Extend! Stand on your head! one minute and then practically shouted at when at the end of the class we can’t quite relax flat on our backs in a stuffy room full of sweaty bodies. Well, sorry… I find hard to lie still when my nervous system has been jolted around for the last ninety minutes and my core temperature has risen to the point of near-fainting. Can someone please open a window? A Sydney yoga therapist I know reports droves of clients coming to her after sustaining injuries in too-advanced vinyasa classes, only to spend months working with them retraining not only their bodies, but their minds to accept that yoga is not a competitive sport.
It’s not a ‘secret’… all bodies are yoga bodies
And don’t get me started on those Instagram accounts, ‘wellness blogs’ and other published rubbish that promote a so-called ‘Yoga Body’ as though only a certain, model-like aesthetic can claim that official title (see above). God help you if you are buying the idea that yoga’s purpose is to change the look of your body to something you prefer in a mini dress. That is a short-term goal if I ever I heard one. I prefer to champion the not-so-novel idea that everyone from every walk of life has the right to access the benefits of yoga with goals far removed from aesthetics; either on the mat with plenty of correctly-used props or modified in a chair, on grass, a hospital bed or in a thera-pool. Perhaps we continue to tow the line on this myth that yoga is only for certain bodies because it’s what we’re told so often we’ve forgotten to challenge that assertion. I say stop listening to the rubbish and focus on how yoga feels, never how it looks on a screen. True yoga promotes longevity, not Facebook ‘likes’.
Yogis and fans of yoga, please let’s get rid of the term ‘yoga bodies’ once and for all and continue to call them bodies. As I write this, I applaud the studios, bloggers and Instagrammers who align their vision of yoga with the principles of the Body Positivity movement. I’m with you and I continue to learn from you. Keep it up like legs up the wall!