I am a confirmed yoga gypsy, I love yoga asana and enjoy experiencing the range of classes from Yin to vigorous, from hot to not. On this day, a good sweat was in order for this working mom and entrepreneur and so I journeyed to a studio that does the hot yoga thing right.
After finishing a hot yoga class, I sat down for a moment of solace a few feet away from a middle aged man who was waiting for the class to turnover so that he could have his body wrung out by heat and physical movement.
“You yoga ladies have incredible bodies!” he said out loud. With my drippy towel on my head I turned to make sure he was talking to me and not someone else. "I’m sorry were you talking to me?” I asked.
“Yeah, like I was saying, the body on that teacher... I mean wow, everything is put together just right.”
A Conversation on Women's Bodies
I was taken a little aback, being invited into a conversation about women’s bodies especially after “resetting” myself in class. Truthfully I was pretty speechless (something that doesn’t happen often nor does it last long).
He kept going “I mean, her legs, her abs, really everything, is like WOW. And the things she can do, like some poses….I go home and try to do them and I can’t even begin to understand how I could ever get into those shapes. Anyhow it is just great to be able to come here and just see all these fine bodies”.
I started to feel some undesirable feeling percolate at this point, in part due to his tactless approach, but also probably fueled by the dismay I have been carrying around regarding the continued social media driven definition of what yoga is and what it looks like.
Yoga and Social Media
If you are not familiar with what I’m talking about, open Instagram and type in #yoga and you will be greeted by (overwhelmingly in general) stunning images of young, thin, white women wearing very little clothing, contorted into pretzel-like shapes, or handstands, or pretzel legged-handstands.
Sometimes a cute inspirational message is added to the photo, a line of poetry or a phrase from Rumi or Gandhi. As someone who is working diligently to promote yoga for everyone, and in particular for those who feel they aren’t flexible or “in shape”, I will admit it is a little bit of a pet peeve.
As a business owner recognizing the importance of social media presence, I struggle to maintain an interesting presence to promote not just the brand of my studio but more importantly to showcase how potent yoga with all its limbs can be a vehicle for personal transformation, which can result in an enhanced life and thriving community.
Yoga Beyond Asana
My first instinct was to rip this guy a new asshole but his face looked just so happy and enthusiastic I took a moment to pause and put myself in his shoes, hoping all the work I have done on myself via the yoga train would allow my disgust to turn into delight.
"Do you come just to look at the bodies?” I asked. He smiled broadly “well, not just for that. It's really hard. It's a good workout”.
"Hm... Well did you know that yoga is more than a kickass body?” I responded.
“What do you mean?” his face showing surprise.
“Well, I’ve been doing this yoga thing for a while now, and from what I understand, the physical practice is just one part of it. There is a lot of other things that go along with it, like breathing, mindfulness, and meditation to name a few. And while it is nice to see such pretty bodies, I would daresay that the ones you aren’t looking at, are working just as hard, and are just as committed as your yoga girl over there.”
“Wow, I had no idea” he said, “tell me more. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks. Can you teach me?"
I smiled, "I'm so sorry, I have to go now, but maybe after class you can talk to your teacher about it. Really, I think you’ll be amazed at what you might learn. But please, don’t start the conversation with “you’ve got an incredible body”.
I turned to leave, but then turned back to add “Hey you know what — what do I know, maybe that is exactly how to start it up, after all, it got me to talk to you”.
Oh yoga, you are always there for me, reminding me that if I think I have things sorted out, I still have so much more work to do. Isn't it amazing how there are teachers all around us, if we just take a moment to pause and really see them.