"Yoga Shred for Weight Loss"
"Yoga Sweat Weight Loss"
"Meditate your Weight"
These are names of yoga programs or books that, as you can tell, turn yoga into a focus on your weight.
I recently read a few posts by the Yoga & Body Image Coalition calling out an article by a yoga teacher all about thinking yourself (or meditating yourself) thin.
This is so wrong, frustrating, and sad.
Yoga is a healing practice that has the capability of connecting the mind, body, and heart rather than the constant inner war that happens in disordered eating and body hatred. For many - including myself - it has allowed me to tune in deeply with my body to accept it, love it, and truly take care of it in order to move through old patterns of ignoring its needs.
We live in a culture that is focused on trying to control our bodies through diet plans or "lifestyle changes," workouts, and ignoring our inner wisdom. There is so much weight stigma and body shaming that is normalized in society, which makes weight loss (or changing the body's shape) a goal and focus for nearly every women at some point in their life.
Most people know diets don't work by now, yet diet culture has turned "lifestyle changes" and "healthy living" into ways to control the body rather than listen to it. Instead of counting calories, people are now 'eating clean,' or 'flexible dieting.' While it may be easier to justify as a lifestyle change, it's usually coming from a desire to control the body.
The body is not here for us to control, ignore, or shame. (You can't control it anyways. There will always be a rebound effect - usually binging, weight gain, and even more disordered eating.)
The body is our home.
It feels sensation, stores emotion, keeps us alive and thriving, and holds our heart.
It is meant to be listened to, honored, cherished.
Yoga can be a practice of self-care.
Your mat can be a refuge from your inner critic in order to breathe and learn to live IN your body.
Your practice can be a chance to feel vulnerability, joy, and process emotions and experiences.
Yoga can be a practice for all bodies.
Yes, the asana (physical poses) practice we see on Instagram does not offer much body diversity (beyond some wonderful yogis like these!). The crazy upside down, leg behind the head poses you may see are awesome feats of strength of flexibility, but it doesn't portray the full practice of yoga.
Yoga is more than the physical - it's the breath, connection of mind and body, the meditation practice, community, service, self-reflection and study, and more. Yes, the physical poses feel really good in the body, but my practice off the mat is where I feel the heart-connection the most.
The yoga community needs to make yoga more accessible and body positive. There are wonderful studios and spaces out there doing just that, but I know many beginners that are intimidated.
While you don't ever have to get on the mat to practice yoga, I know many students who do want to practice but aren't sure where to begin.
Here are my tips:
- Take classes from different teachers and different styles of yoga (vinyasa, iyengar, restorative, yin, etc.). There are so many different styles that if you don't like one style, you may like another.
- If you're a beginner, consider a private yoga session or a beginner's series. A private session will allow the teacher to work with you on your goals, offer modifications, and help guide you through a sequence that is individualized to you. A beginner's series is a great intro to yoga in order to keep your body safe and build strength, flexibility, and balance over time. Even if you've practiced for a while, beginner's classes are still great! I love going to beginner's classes every once and a while to focus on the foundational poses.
- Use props. Props like blocks, bolsters, and straps are the best! They can help you stay aligned (and safe!) in the pose, provide stability, or allow you to surrender into the pose without pain or too much discomfort.
- Focus on how your body FEELS rather than how it looks. Yoga is a feeling, and the physical shape of the pose really doesn't matter. The pose is always going to look different in each person's body based on their genetics, bone structure, past injuries or movement history, experience with yoga, and body proportions. Instead, tune in to how the pose feels from within - does it feel expansive, open, strong? Is your breath steady? What do you feel emotionally? What sensations are present?
- Get inspired or practice with body positive yoga teachers. I love following @nolatrees and @mynameisjessamyn on Instagram, and the Curvy Yoga podcast is great (she also has an online studio). If you're a teacher, get educated about how to cue poses for students of all sizes or be mindful of the language you use in classes. If you're a student, talk to your teacher about their cues or language - I'm sure many would be open to conversation and feedback.
- Sweat, meditate, and move from a place of self-love. My practice is all about being fully present with all parts of myself in order to show up in the world and speak my truth. When I breathe, meditate, sweat, and move, it allows me to strengthen my sense of Self. It provides space for clarity, creativity, and connection to grow in my life. My weight or shape of my body has nothing to do with any of that, and it's through yoga that I've learned that lesson.
If you give yoga a try and don't like it, that's okay! You don't have to do a physical yoga asana practice - there are so many ways to practice movement. Find a practice that feels good in your body and that you enjoy.
I understand where these programs are coming from. When I started yoga, I would run to power yoga class, then run home. I was pushing my body hard, and in my mind, it wasn't about losing weight but staying small. My world was reduced down to staying fit, 'healthy,' and everything I did was around food and exercise.
That was my introduction to yoga, and I am so grateful from that beginning. Slowly, I started to feel my inner power and my voice beyond the physical body. My world expanded, as I sensed my body from the inside out and felt my heartbeart and my breath. I used to lay in savasana waiting for it to end (or leave early!), but with time, I found freedom in those moments of rest and was able to be with myself.
Wherever you are on your journey, be there and breathe. If you feel at war with your body, take inspired action but trust the journey.
I'll close by sharing one of my new favorite songs - "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu" by Kevin Paris. It's a mantra that means "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all."
Freedom is possible.