Something funny happened to yoga on the way to mass appeal. Once an exclusive practice for loinclothed men seeking spiritual enlightenment, yoga has been thrust to the forefront of web and social media with a myriad of photos of young, scantily clad women in various yoga poses.
Doing an image search on ‘yoga’ will invariably lead you to find endless photos of young, fit women (let’s face it, it’s more women than men) in skin-tight, flesh revealing clothing. One may think that yoga in a bathing suit could be a handicap for an asana practice, but many images suggest this to be far from the truth. Some of us in the yoga world have been left to ponder whether this ancient practice has suddenly been co-opted by come a bastion of taut-skinned, suntanned bodies able to do a handstand on a surfboard riding the waves.
A reminder to anyone entertaining feelings of inferiority because they don’t see themselves as bikini girl candidates: Yoga is a profoundly spiritual endeavor with just a smidgen of the physical. At the end of the day, yoga can’t be ‘Instagrammed.’ We—almost all of us—already fret needlessly over how we look on the mat, how we look in those yoga pants doing prasarita padottanasana. The yoga fashion world has given us wondrously comfortable and functional clothes for yoga, but it has also contributed to the objectification of the ‘ideal’ yoga body. Their muses appear shimmering, sculpted and coiffed, with perfectly formed glutes and slim waists.
It’s no wonder then, that the burden of convincing others of the accessibility and benefits of yoga is often difficult. Consider telling mothers who’ve packed on the pounds, menopausal women struggling with hot flashes, breast cancer survivors and overworked, slouching desk dwellers that yoga is exactly what they need, and see if they’ll listen.
The Yoga Sutras instruct us that through asmita—the affliction that has us believe we are our bodies, our thoughts and emotions—we develop a distorted image of ourselves. In the same way our egos can lead us to think we are superior to others, asmita can lead us to become arrogant and conceited because we have a beautiful body. Asmita can also compel us to feel inferior because we don’t have a body that meets the rigorous standards of beauty.
But that’s just the point of the yoga: To remind us that the body is impermanent. We are not this body, so whether it’s the flawless, toned body of youth, the body scarred by surgery, the one ravaged by the years or the oversized body hiding the fears, it is merely an exterior shell. Asmita distorts the reality that our true essence is the inner light, the inner awareness and consciousness. It’s a tough message to deliver if you are comparing yourself to a beautiful sun-tanned yogi in skin-tight garb, but in her too, the light shines.
When you do an image search about ‘yoga’ what stands out to you? What would you like to see more of?