Body Image, Discontentment and the New Yoga of Self Consciousness

~ THE NEW YOGA OF SELF CONSCIOUSNESS

The funny thing about Yoga Journal’s recent magazine on body image is that it was about body image. The Barbie bendy spandexed cover model cuties have begun to raise the shackles of some yoga practitioners. The initial response was for the infamous yoga toe sox advertisement model to step off her arm balance pedestal and onto the magazine’s cover presenting a thicker, rougher, updated version of herself. Behind the cover she advises the readers on how to deal with body image. I get that she’s a cover girl who assures us that ads are imagery that is not real or sustainable. But I wouldn’t think that a ‘body image’ issue in yoga that does not highlight the absence of culture, color, age or men has done a lofty job of representing the issue of appearance and inclusivity. This issue seems strictly about striking a dagger into the heart of unattainable physical perfection.

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We are stuck teetering on the edge of the pond obsessing over our reflection whether we love it or not. Yoga is a call to consciousness which means being aware. It seems the now popular practice of yoga has become a cattle call to self-consciousness, featuring a population that feels awkward, ill at ease and insecure. Maybe it’s time to dive below the surface.

~Dysmorphia: From Greek, Bad Form

The current Mantra magazine has an article on the “yoga body” by Melanie Klein of “The Yoga and Body Image Coalition”. The author says …”yoga culture from advertisements to magazine covers increasingly cultivate normative expectations of “yoga body” by consistently presenting the same body type- from its lithe lean, toned, able-bodied, and hyper -bendy form to its white unblemished and youthful skin”.

{The following article was a four page photo spread of hyper-bendy, able- bodied unblemished white women demonstrating unattainable poses.}

~Should a Yoga Body Look Healthy?

The country is overweight and under toned. We eat crap. We sit too much. National spokesmen for better choices have been railing for years at the puffy population to get its vending machine mentality out of the schools and out of our fast food faces. We are becoming vessels for diabetes, heart attacks and depression.

What does healthy look like?

We idealize the vision of a yoga person because people want to believe that this will be them on yoga: no food issues, no weak choices, no mental anguish; someone who is non-threatening because she/he is so damn happy. We know it’s not literally us but it’s our totem and the symbol of possibility. Artists have idealized the human form since the time man had the wits to look past survival at his/her image. The current yoga population is not wholly apart from the greater population. Perhaps we do need idealized models of yoga of any ages, races, sex and colors. Idealized images are not meant to diminish but to inspire.

 

What is radical and what is a nod to mainstream beauty may be confusing. Melanie Klein is concerned that the homogenization of an image-idealized white female beauty- is antithetical to yoga’s rebellious underpinnings.

 

{I think of the ascetic vegan Jivamukti founder Sharon Gannon as the face of yoga rebellion and radicalism as she presses her agenda for modern yogis to live a certain lifestyle. She is the image of thin white and bendy. Maybe the tattoos make her seem less a less chaste descendent from the Mayflower but the austerity that creates her image, though not born from the same discipline that makes a super model, shares the discipline of diet that creates a look that is perhaps the face of rebellion against a habit of overindulgence. Surface can be deceiving}

 

 

~Yoga Journal

If yoga was once the practice of the rebellious in this country, the interpreter for that rebellion was Yoga Journal who took on the task of proving that yoga was not the anti-Christ. Maybe that’s why they’ve always had pictures of non-threatening people on the cover. I suppose that people who remember that are the ones that hope that the Journal will raise a banner now to show it is (metaphorically) the anti-Christ or at least anti-establishment by de-Barbifying those cover models.But maybe Yoga Journal is just giving Shape magazine yogis what they already buy in hopes to keep the magazine on the shelves. After all, if yoga has become fashionable, Yoga Journal is a fashion magazine. You have only to look at the ads to see what fashion of yoga is featured there.

How can something be the vehicle of rebellion when it has become a fashion and the fashion of the white middle class? And it’s mainly the fashion of women and women buy the magazine. Fashion sales don’t soar from representing; they soar from the promise of hope and change.

 

~Fashion

 Fa-shun

Noun: a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior. ~Vogue, trend, craze, rage, mania, fad, style, look, tendency, convention, custom, practice, thing

A manner of doing something ~Manner, way, method, mode, style, system, approach

Verb: To make into a particular or required form ~Fashioned construct, build, make manufacture, fabricate, tailor, cast, shape, form, mold, sculpt, forge

Does that sound like yoga?

 

The cover of Yoga Journal is the whipping boy for the content within which is a candy story of empty calories with one dusty shelf designated for Luna bars to appease the small segment of the population interested in something more sustaining. We’ve idealized the yoga image because we’ve idealized the yoga of looking and feeling good. The yoga some of us learned was not about either. It was about self awareness and self regulation. That does not require the image of anyone. Those Hindu gods are terrifying images. There is no chance we will take them for our own. They became married to the yoga culture. They manifest embodied energy. There is no spandex among them. We’ve replaced them with our own cultural icons which is a reflection of what we value. Are we embodying yoga or are we a yoga body?

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The population of exercise yogis discovers unexpected benefits when they come to yoga. If they come in because it’s fashionable, who cares? Is it because it attracts the wrong or a limited crowd? Critics say we want to show that yoga is for everybody and every body even the prevalent concern or at least the concern getting attention, is attractiveness. If the visual body is the main concern there are plenty of examples of people who are not the images at celebrity yoga events or on the cover of magazines.

 

There are average looking people everywhere who represent modern Western yoga. Lilias Folan, Judith Lasater, Beryl Bender Birch, Ana Forrest come quickly to mind; none of them idealized women but the main vision I have is Geeta Iyengar who is Indian, overweight, middle aged, dressed in men’s polo shirts and shorts that look like potato sack diapers and she limps. I won’t list more teachers and haven’t even mentioned the men, many who are more middle aged professors than personal trainers. I’m pointing to the yoga spokesmen of an older generation and a smaller population. Perhaps this population is being discounted, undervalued and overlooked in the complaint that yoga leaves out the image of regular looking people. But just by virtue of how many people do yoga now, plenty of fine role models and students are regular looking folks. Of course now that yoga is so popular we are not one regular looking group anyway. We are curvy, straight, stoned, gay, athletic, alignment, medical, spiritual, breathing, meditating, exercising, , bench pressing, chanting, hippie, corporate folks. What do we look like? Maybe part of the problem is that we are seeking our image in a reflection that is not our own.

 

~Is this a women’s issue or a yoga issue?

We’ve railed for years against the destruction of advertising that silently castigates girls for being too fat or not pretty enough by parading unattainable beauty in front of them in magazines, on billboards and television. It’s a destructive course and it would be healthier for all of us if we didn’t feel obliged to pay so much attention to outward appearances. Where outward appearance separates one from the other, beauty is and historically has been a weapon.

 

A new generation of teachers emerged from two elders. Three attractive women would create the first co-owned professional yoga studio in town. The most ambitious took the mantle of leader. I was there when she assured the others why they would pull the town’s business to their door: “They will come to us like moths to the flame”.

 

Men choose women. Men give women to other men for marriage. In this country, a pretty woman is a prize heifer. She has a shelf life. So women are insecure about their looks for good reason. Will removing good looking images change the game? I wonder.

 

If the issue for women is insecurity about looks maybe a representative of the yoga system shouldn’t be fanning the flames of insecurity. And maybe fashion magazines are not representative of the yoga system though there’s no winning in any forum if looking better is the game.

 

There’s only the insecurity of knowing that we can’t control the illusive nature of other’s opinions. Someone will always look, have a better house, car, husband; whatever. If that rattles our cages, seasickness will prevail.

 

“If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” ~ Leonard Cohen

 

I understand insecurity. One of the ways I deal with it is to try to make sense of the bigger picture. Then I choose my battles. I understand that here is a tension of self loathing that is a disease.

 

We’ve idealized the human form from the time our soul entered one. But most of us do not represent the ideal because the ideal is illusive and subjective. We’ve been told that we can get closer to something unknowable if we try and it is always out of reach: We do not feel worthy. We do not trust. We are not comfortable in our own skin. We may not even recognize that skin.

 

There is a hole in the heart; an epidemic of insecurity that encourages us to compare ourselves to others; how they look and what they have. There is a larger issue of class and capital system in our economy which burns by the fuel of desire. That machine depends on our insecurity. Every personal resistance against buying into the status quo is a rebellion. But rebellion is a lonely path when you go it alone. Then you are marginalized. I know something about that.

 

Yoga Journal’s image issue was heralded for hitting the issue of image in yoga head on but it was still the magazine of:

Eight moves to get flexible, 15 poses to wind down at night, 3 food facts, seven poses to find joy and balance, six tips for a pain free practice, the #1 way to feel more focused, six ways to glow from within, 24 natural beauty products with a nod to the readers that they need not be insecure about their looks.

 

Time to dive deeper.

*Note to the reader. I edited out the pages on women and society. I did not feel it had a place here. Or it does.

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

Filed under American culture, new age enlightenment, politcal action, social action, social commentary, yoga, yoga and blogging, yoga and politics, yoga practice, yoga teaching, yoga wisdom

8 responses to “Body Image, Discontentment and the New Yoga of Self Consciousness

  1. Seems to me that there needs to be a greater level of awareness within awareness. Whatsoever we perceive and believe we receive. We manifest destiny all right, but manifestation without hesitation causes a habitation. It would do each one of us wise to practice samadhi!

  2. Sherry

    Entering a surgery center with my husband yesterday (located in a hospital that advertises continually about health and wellness) the first things we passed were three large vending machines packed with sugared and fatty offerings. So yoga is now a franchised corporation moving in a murmuration, much like the health care industry. Promoting health and simultaneously creating illness. Thank you for speaking out, Hilary.

  3. Carolyn

    So glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! There was only one person in that issue who “looked lime me.” I stopped yoga after 9 years because I felt I wasn’t doing it right, or well enough to advance. YJ has nothing for me. I’ll not be renewing my subscription.

    • Carolyn, that’s interesting to me that you did yoga for so long and felt you weren’t doing it right. I wonder if the right way could be no other than unfolding or folding or moving in a new way with awareness and pleasure in breath. My background was Iyengar and I do love alignment and anatomy. But even if I don’t do a perfect pose, it’s in absorbing the details that I become wholly immersed. That feels like yoga. Yoga Journal is nothing but yoga might call you back and if it does I hope it’s in a way that delights you.

  4. I come to yoga class with the desire and intention to relax, let go, be gentle on myself and indulge in breath and movement, flexing and strengthening my tight muscles. I also come to yoga to exchange my internal stress over what isn’t ‘right’ with my body or my world to thoughts of indulging in breath and movement and replacing runaway or self-deprecating thoughts with appreciation for the way my body still serves me, carries me through the ups and downs of each day and responds to my gentle coaxings. I come away from class feeling much lighter in my soul and respect for my body.

    And…your guidance and reminders of movement, breath and focus on the thoughts and movements I can control in the moment carry over into my day. Your awareness, humor, musings and expertise on so many levels have been a healing balm in my journey back to my perfectly imperfect body and ultimately to my self, Hilary. Thank you! Jerilyn Morgan

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