The ‘Yoga Body’ Myth: Authenticity

#5 In my series on the myth of attaining perfection through yoga. Finding authenticity in it all.

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My recent ‘Yoga Body’ Myth posts have come about because of years of exposure to an industry gone mad with glamour and glitter, where yoga is considered fashionable and sexy. But three recent incidents were the straw that broke my camel pose and jettisoned me to get writing.

One occurred when I applied for a yoga instructor job at a city gym. They asked applicants not only for a resume and references but also a photo. Of ourselves. Granted, you can say a lot about a person by their smile, face and expression. So I sent a really good head shot. Not a photo of myself in a bikini ’embodying’ a really difficult, advanced asana. Nevertheless, they received from me a top resume and a nice photo of a talented, albeit fledgling yoga instructor. But I never heard from them, not even a thank you and good luck next time. And I’m glad not to have been chosen, really. They’re not my tribe. Who knows what they were looking for in the person they hired? Probably a six pack and a pert rack. Two things I am glad to not have to ‘maintain’ by way of leaping onto my mat for an intense, athletic practise at 5am daily.

I won’t be applying for any more yoga jobs that ask for a photo. I will remain authentic to my belief that yoga is what we feel…. in the moment of practising and afterwards, too. I continue to reject the notion that yoga looks a certain way. I know I am not alone in my conviction. It will serve me in the long run and longevity is what I am seeking in yoga, after all.

The second memorable event was when an acquaintance asked me in an accusing tone why I don’t have tonnes of hash-tagged yoga selfies on my Instagram*. She follows my photos of bushland and cafes, likes plenty of them but questions what sort of yogi and businesswoman I am without vinyasa sessions photographed at sunset on a beach?? Sorry, I don’t get in my expensive activewear with a professional photographer on hand just for your benefit. I don’t fit that mould and never will. I pondered what authentic yoga is to this acquaintance… almost certainly an image, not an experience.

More recently, I’ve been working for a very small, local holistic business catering to middle class, suburban Sydney types. The stock photos they’ve chosen for their Instagram and business page promote exactly the kind of yoga I don’t teach there – an image of extra difficult, sexed-up, scantily-clad yoga for slim white women in their 20’s. Aside from the inauthentic advertising, the owner’s unwillingness to include me in her vision for the business is concerning. Unsurprisingly, she is struggling to bolster numbers in the classes and so my days are numbered. That’s ok, I’ll soon move on to a studio that presents an authentic, holistic visual message to the eyes of its community (and values its staff). I am grateful to have learned so early on that advertising yoga the way my current employer does really turns people off. I’ve been told this by women who speak with an authentic voice and I believe them.

I’m glad those three things happened this year because they’ve inspired me to write. And the topics I’ve written about so far have been the catalyst for some great conversations with friends, colleagues and other yogis. But the best conversation was one had inside my head with one of my mentors. A woman I’ve never met but whose words encourage me and expand my thinking as I listen to her podcasts and online tutorials.

She reminded me that all yoga teachers are merely the vehicle through which yoga is brought to a community. We are only the water-bearers from a long, long line of water-bearers. I’d always suspected this was the case. This is the reason why I loathe the trendy-bendy types, the uber-gurus and the ‘yoga-lebrities’. Authentic yoga teachers are above all that. They acknowledge that yoga has history stretching centuries behind us and is ours to facilitate only for the shortest lifetime. Blink and you’ll miss it. Yoga does not even belong to us, but is handed down from teachers who learned from their teachers and they their own. Authentic yoga has lineage worthy of respect.

The role of teacher is hard to define, but tonight I give it shape by thinking of my role not as teacher at all, but as student. When you come in to my class, I am an attentive student of how yoga serves your body and your needs. First, I learn from you before we practise together. We can let yoga be an experience, a memory held in tomorrow’s body after the dance of today. Let’s recognise that yoga can be a beautiful chore…that’s ok, too. Let’s not stick to the plan. Let’s be authentic.

 

 

*She was also aghast at my lack of a Facebook business page.

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