There is a great deal of talk about body issues in Western yoga. This discussion is by fed an industry called LOHAS (Lifestyle Of Health and Sustainability) which is making millions off of yoga fashion and dietary products. The latest issue of Yoga Journal has a woman who is considered “full figured” on the cover and a full article about body issues. There is another article that talks about diet. We are fed these ideas that all a practitioner needs to do is get a xyz brand yoga mat, do xyz style of yoga, eat an xyz type of diet, and viola! you fit into xyz brand of sized 5 yoga clothing, or shouldn’t worry about being sized five because you read Yoga Journal that tells you it’s okay to be full figured and practice yoga.
But yoga, when done classically, instructs you right from the beginning that your own body is not who you truly are. That may sound strange. “Of course my body is who I am…” (then ego kicks in with lengthy explanation). In classical yoga there are the concepts of Purusha and Prakrti. Prakrti means “nature” in a loose translation. Like weather, it is ever-changing and never constant. Purusha is that part of you that cannot be changed and is your “true” self. That is the part of you that witnesses all the madness your physical body puts you through. Your physical body is Prakrti. It changes every day, cells die and new cells form. Hair gets grey. Muscles get firm, then they atrophy. We age, then die.
The true aim of yoga is to cut through all the Prakrti to find the diamond that is residing inside of you. Yoga Sutra 1.4, vrtti sarupyam itaratra, means that sometimes the aspirant identifies more with the ego than the reality of his/her true splendor. By focusing on your body perception, you are caught up in the delusion of something that is ever-changing like a wild river.
In my work in the mental health field, I have encountered many clients with eating disorders and body dysmorphic issues. It is a tough mountain to overcome. In unpacking a lot of the problems these people face, it usually stems from not accepting that part of themselves that does not change. That is when they compensate by limiting their dietary intake to “fit” into what they feel should be their right size. The problem is that size is never good enough. And that perception is reinforced by the LOHAS industry.
Sometimes to get perspective, we have to look at the great masters. Ramana Maharsi. His later years were spent in a cave and he became ill and unable to ambulate. He developed tumors in his arms and refused medical treatment. His followers urged him to get medical attention to which he replied “Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go.” This is not to say one should do the same, it just show that Maharsi was not concerned about his body as it did not have much bearing on his soul.
We should practice yoga no matter what. If you are feeling that your local studio is judging you by how you look or what you wear, chances are your local studio does not practice yoga, they practice avidya (ignorance). If this is the case, I encourage you to study the yoga texts to find out how to liberate yourself. You cannot attain liberation in a yoga class, it has to be done individually.