The Lost Unity of Yoga

Ali Washington
The Lost Unity of Yoga

I think it is time we, the yoga community, had a heart to heart. There have been a lot of articles and ideas floating around lately about "big body yoga" and whether or "not all real women have curves."


And other articles have similar themes which suggest that some people need to justify their place in this world—or in a yoga class.


Honestly? I am tired of reading these articles. Not because they do not have important points, and not because I don’t believe that diversity needs to be acknowledged and recognized. I am sick of these articles because I feel that in the end, they lead us away from the path of yoga.


Yoga is unity.


One of the most commonly accepted definitions of yoga is union. It would stand to reason, then, that as a community, we need to do more.

We should be striving to create norms of inclusion that are outside of the norms in the "real" world. ~Ali Washington


Separation goes deep, however, even in yoga.


Krishnamacharya would not teach B.K.S Iyengar because he was sickly. He was not able to practice the postures as well as other able bodied men, so he was rejected. The only reason Iyengar was eventually allowed to practice with Krishnamacharya was because his sister was Krishnamacharya's wife.


This rejection scarred Iyengar quite deeply and he still speaks and writes of his resentments toward his teacher. Krishnamacharya did not take on his first female student until Divi in the 1960s, almost a full 60 years after he started teaching.


So as much as we like to idealize yoga as a safe place for all bodies, it still has roots in segregation.


Big bodies, small bodies—who cares?


Today, there is a common idea that yoga is for bendy 20-something women who are thin. This makes way for the notion that if you do not fit into that category, you are either judged for your presence in yoga class, or you have to justify your presence there in some way.


This also creates the double standard that if you do fit into that "mold" of what a yogini should look like, you are judged as being "not a real woman" or "having an eating disorder." Essentially, we end up with a class full of people all judging one another.


We need to set the example.

What if we allowed everyone to come to class, no matter their body shape or size, no matter their skill level, no matter anything? What if we made room for everyone to listen to their own bodies, make any adjustments they need to make, and not make a big deal out of any of it?


If you have a "fuller" figure, you do not need permission from any teacher or any specific class to make modifications so that your practice works for you. You do not need a "bigger bodies" class. You can still do yoga with everyone else if you are injured, have short or long arms, tight hamstrings, or hyperextending joints.


The purpose of yoga is to connect you with your body. If you need to make adjustments to what is being offered in your public class, I say empower yourself to make those adjustments without worrying what anyone else thinks. Include yourself and you will feel more included. Then no one can reject you.


As teachers, there is no reason to point out the differences in our students. Obviously, be safe and offer modifications if it looks like someone is struggling or is setting themselves up for injury.


Outside of that, I feel it is important we let go a little and allow our students to have their experience. You may feel that someone could benefit from pushing harder, holding back, or doing this or that; but the end of the day, each student must choose for themselves what they are going to do.


Remember, how you feel is up to you.


Lastly and most importantly, it is your job to make yourself feel welcome in a yoga class.


No one can make you feel inferior without your permission. If you are feeling judged by other students or by your teacher, you do not have to take offense. You do not have to feel shamed. You can realize that if you are triggering them, that is their stuff and not yours.


If you find yourself judging your teacher, your students, or the person on the mat next to you, remember, that is your trigger. They are just like you on the inside. They may look different or have different skill sets, but that is just their shell.


This will mean taking a step back and letting go of the need to make ourselves feel special or different from others in class. Honestly, I think that is a fair trade.


Let's stand up and decide that we are all one. We look different on the surface, but that is merely the appearance. Let's take our practice to the next level and set the example for everyone. Yoga is for everyone. Life is for everyone. It is your job to make it work for you, and you don’t need permission to do so.