Yoga is beyond body issues

 ganesha-coloringpage

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.

Sri_Ramana_Maharshi_-_Portrait_-_G._G_Welling_-_1948

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.

 

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9 thoughts on “Yoga is beyond body issues

  1. paige0731

    Beautiful post!
    There are times in my practice that I’ll be working on a new pose or transition, and won’t be able to get it. I’ll think to myself “it’s because my thighs are too fat, or my torso is too long. Feet are too big…” I’ll feel angry and regretful that I can’t do something on the mat, and I begin to feel bad about my body.
    The same thing happens off the mat. I focus on the things I can’t do, and I’ll attribute them to my inadequacies.
    When you take those moments on your mat, where it seems like you’re just not good enough, and instead be grateful for what your body can do, enjoy the challenge, let go of vanity, and bring lightness to the practice, that’s yoga. That’s the real tough practice. That takes strength.
    That equips you to do the same in life.
    It doesn’t matter if you look like the yoga journal cover girls, wear super tight pants or hold a lotus handstand with grace. That’s not the ultimate goal. Yoga is enjoying the journey, every moment of the journey, regardless if your body looks the way you want it to, or you’re not as strong or flexible as you want to be, or if you can’t attain a certain pose.
    Be okay with not being your human definition of a perfect yogi, because our human definition of perfect is pretty flawed.
    Thank you for this reminder. I really needed it today.
    Namaste ❤

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  2. yogibattle Post author

    Thank you for your reply. As a male practitioner, I can’t imagine what female practitioners have to go through in terms of societal pressures of what one should look like. It must be a difficult path. As a semi-chubby male, I am usually the oddball in any yoga class I attend. I just surrender to what I have been given, do the best I can, and modify when I need to. I appreciate your readership.

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  3. tessaehasson

    I loved this post. I am about to begin a Pilates certification program and I feel that many of the principles used in Yoga also apply to Pilates (breath, flow, concentration, etc) . Yet, so many of the websites and magazines designed for Pilates focus on “trimming the waistline”, “toning your abs” or just “looking “lean”. Haven’t we already discovered that thin doesn’t mean fit!? I hope to become a teacher that inspires students to practice Pilates for overall health and wellbeing as opposed to being fit and focusing only on the physical aspect of it. If I find a way to sneak it in, I’ll make it a point to share this article with my future students. And on a final note, my Mom is a Yoga teacher who I believe follows the principles of the practice more than most and she would whole heartedly agree with the last paragraph! Thank you for the great message and reminder!

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