I love the way yoga poses look. Seeing asanas can remind us of what a beautiful practice yoga is as well as the wondrous capability of the human body.
However, as one of my wise yoga teachers pointed out the other day, it seems that more and more of the focus is only on the aesthetics of yoga. Yes, the practice can be lovely to look at, but concentrating on that is like staring at the surface of the ocean and forgetting there’s anything underneath it when there’s an entire world there.
Some people argue, “Who cares if people are drawn in by the aesthetics, as long as it gets them to yoga.” Well, yes, but what about the people who aren’t? And aren’t those often the people who may need yoga the most?
I suspect I would have been much less likely to try yoga had I only been exposed to finely-edited videos of advanced practices and photographs of Yoga Journal models. The concept of the “yoga body” as sold by dieting businesses and the like turns me off completely. I’ve been through my fair share of body image issues, and paying attention to messages like that never brought me any clarity or joy, no matter what my body looked like at the time. In fact, it seemed the more I gave into the messages, the more I suffered.
The truth is: Everyone has a yoga body. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. You already have a beautiful yoga body. You were born with it. You can be short, tall, average, curvy, skinny, overweight, young, old, whatever. You can have the ability to touch your toes or bend over backwards or balance on your head, or not. It doesn’t matter.
To me, the focus on aesthetics seems to do two things:
- Alienates people who feel like they can’t look like that and/or don’t have any interest in looking like that.
- Seeps into our western yoga culture and infects our way of thinking about our practices.
The whole point of yoga is to connect your mind, body, and spirit. In asana, each physical pose is a metaphor for an aspect of life. Learning how to deal with the challenge of asana can help prepare you for dealing with the challenges of life. Which in my opinion is just f%^&ing awesome. When you think about it that way, who really cares how you look in a pose or how “advanced” your expression of it is?
I’m absolutely not calling for an end to yoga photos, videos, instructions for cool-looking advanced poses, etc. Those things have their place. But let’s not see the ocean only for its waves. We have so much more to explore.*
*Accidental but convenient rhyme