Yoga Bodies

I had the chance to take my favorite yoga class this morning. It’s an awesome class for me: flow-based and fairly vigorous, with a teacher who offers the less strenuous modifications first and who always asks before physically adjusting a student in a pose. In fact, the worst thing I can say about the class is that it’s at a time when I usually have to be at work — and so when I can easily engineer not to be at work at that time, you bet I’m taking off for yoga.

As such, while I’m not a stranger in this class, I’m not a regular, either. That designation belongs to a small group of women for whom the instructor waits to begin class. (Not in the sense that they show up late, just in the sense that she knows they are coming.) The instructor herself is petite and slim, with visible muscle definition in her arms.

The class itself was wonderful. We got to play with some chair pose flows, some partnered warrior work, and some balances against the wall. While it was a practice that involved a lot of strength-building and while I could feel my muscles working, it was not a practice that pushed me to my physical edge. Which, totally fine and good, since that’s not why I go to class.

But.

On the way out, after rolling up our mats, one of the women said to me, “Now I understand why people who really do yoga have the bodies they do.”

I didn’t respond — because another class was starting, because I was headed to meet someone for lunch, because I just did not want to put myself out there for a stranger — but the statement bothered me then, and it bothers me now. I mean, I don’t want to minimize any insecurity that this person may have been feeling, that she doesn’t “really” do yoga or whatever. But I also think it’s not cool to ask me to affirm that insecurity to her. I deal with plenty of my own.

I’ve been practicing for something over 13 years, on a near-daily basis for most of that time. In that time, I’ve experienced insecurity that I am a “yoga fraud” because:

  • At the beginning, I couldn’t do a lot of strength-intensive poses. Also, I got out of breath easily during more cardio-intense classes.
  • I practice(d) largely at home with a DVD. Cue added insecurity about using the “wrong” DVD. Also account for technology improvements by including online classes.
  • I practice(d) largely at home without a video guide, making up my own sequences.
  • I’m not vegetarian or vegan. Moreover, while I care about sustainably grown and fairly traded food products, the majority of the food I purchase is neither. Moreover, I like beer.
  • I’m skeptical of a lot of the yoga woo. Especially, I outright reject the woo that looks to be at odds with realities like anatomy.
  • I teach a yoga class — granted, free and at my school — but am not a certified yoga instructor.

But most of all, I feel insecure because I do not have a “yoga body.” I mean that in the stereotypical — and limited — expectation of a body that is slim yet muscled, toned but never bulky.

That is not my body. My body has broad shoulders, a busty chest, wide hips, a curvy butt, and thick thighs that interfere with the proportions of some traditional poses and require that I get damn creative — and a little bit awkward — while remaining equanimous about it. My body requires modifications that haven’t been invented yet (okay, maybe “have not been taught on a large scale” is more accurate). My body has fat covering its muscles, which apparently causes people to misjudge how “real” my yoga practice is. Moreover, all the daily practice in the world has not given me a “yoga body” that is closer to the slim, sculpted ideal.

And yet.

This body?

Is the one that shows up to practice with me every day. It is my yoga body. It is the only body I have.

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11 comments on “Yoga Bodies
  1. G says:

    Right there with you! It feels terrible to have the activity we do invalidated by how other people feel about our bodies.

    Personally, I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to talk about it in real life anymore. My partner kept talking about it to his extended family yesterday at their Easter shindig, and you could see the disbelief in their faces. “She ran 7 miles? No way.” I don’t get to be proud of my athletic achievements unless I have a body to match…

    • Tori says:

      [Note for talk of unhealthy eating/exercise.]

      Yeah, I think about times when I was eating and working out with a goal of getting thinner rather than with a goal of taking care of myself. It was not good for my physical health and not good for my emotional health and, on the whole, I am quite glad that I’m not doing it anymore.

      But. Emotional health is a complicated thing. And there are times when the dismissal and disbelief now is almost as harmful as the deprivation and obsession was then. It’s only “almost,’ and it’s not even all the time, but — Socially, it was a lot easier to do what I was doing then.

  2. I am at my proper weight; however I am 58 years old, and newly diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. This condition makes me practice in an awkward way as some of my muscles do not want to cooperate. Nor does my disposition.

    Whoever decided to make the image of yoga body this one body type: long and lean and graceful, anyway?

    I do not think any yoga professional is better than me if they look that way, and have that ever-sunny disposition (except when not getting what they want) … Not any better than me–just different!

    • Tori says:

      Whoever decided to make the image of yoga body this one body type: long and lean and graceful, anyway?

      Probably several marketing firms based out of large US metropolitan areas. ;)

      PS — I’m at my proper weight too. If I had less muscle, I’d have to do less yoga to compensate!

      • You’re one of those who don’t look your weight?
        Who give the lie to the BMI?

        Anyway, all the dance-cardio I do (and/or have to do) does not grant me much muscle in my body state … even before all this …
        A major component of my diabetes was hereditary ;-)

        I’m on the short, thick-waisted, non-muscular, scrawny-limbed side …

        No, what gets my goat is how taken some sisters on my weight management journey are SO IMPRESSED by those yoga bodies …!

        • Tori says:

          I don’t know how I come across to others, but when I look at my body, the numbers of my weight and BMI don’t surprise me at all. What I disagree with, however, is the judgment that those numbers are “improper” for me. :)

  3. Caitlin says:

    I read what your classmate said to you and was like, “As opposed to all of the other people who fake-do yoga?”

    Also I am pro-beer and anti-woo, so I approve this post on purely superficial grounds as well as for the more serious reasons.

  4. Motorina says:

    Thank you for introducing me to the phrase “yoga woo”. As someone who has had years of training in anatomy and physiology, I do sometimes mentally stick my fingers in my ears when instructed to “feel your breathe, like a ball of light, massaging your liver and purifying your blood” and other such nonsensities.

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