Aug 25, 2013

Yoga and Body Image


DETOX—a common theme in the yoga community.

But, this is not about detoxing the body, rather detoxing the mind. It’s not that I disagree with detoxification of the body. I know that we take in WAY too many toxins in our current environment from the water we drink, to the food we eat, and the very air that we breathe. But, as I scan my emails, walk through the check out at the grocery store, listen to the radio in the car, and read through my FB posts I am constantly inundated with new ways to get thin, clear my skin, augment my breasts (surgically or otherwise), reduce cellulite, extend my eyelashes, shrink my waist, rid myself of the belly fat, and firm my ass. The toxic messages we are taking in everywhere we look and listen are most definitely having an impact on what we value as women—and this is being passed down to the girls we parent, mentor, teach, etc. This is what I mean when I say we need to DETOX.

An amazing documentary film was released in 2011 called MissRepresentation. This film gives practical ideas of how we can all make a difference in the way women are portrayed in the media. One very simple way is to STOP watching, STOP buying, and STOP believing that we are not good enough as we are. It claims that if we spent just half the time concerning ourselves with the suffering that exists worldwide as we do concerning ourselves about how we look, we would free up space in our intellect to make big changes in a world that is so out of balance.

As a student and teacher of both sociology and psychology I have spent much time reading, writing, and teaching about how the media plays a role in how we, as women and girls especially, view our bodies. Some of the most fascinating books I read in my early twenties were The Body Projectby Joan Jacobs Brumberg (1997) and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991). I recently took these books off my bookshelf and paged through them.

Like many adults in American society, girls today are concerned with the shape and appearance of their bodies as the primary expression of their individuality”. –Brumberg

From the perspective of history, adolescent self-consciousness is quite persistent, but its level is raised or lowered, like the water level in a pool, by the cultural and social setting.” –Brumberg

The first sentence breaks my heart. It broke my heart when I read it back in 1997, but it breaks my heart even more now because it is 16 years later and I don’t think things have changed. I have to say I think it has gotten worse. Are we healthier? Or are we just more obsessed with how we look…and disguising it with hot yoga and juice cleanses? I do not have any data, but I am sure it must exist somewhere in regards to how much time and energy women and girls spend thinking about, working on, and suffering in regards to how they look.

How has yoga influenced how I view my own body? I have to be honest. It depends on the day. When I first began practicing I lived outside of the U.S. where there was much less emphasis placed on women’s appearance. I became more confident than I had ever been. I attributed this to my yoga, but now I wonder if it had more to do with the culture I was living in.

Many yoga studios here have mirrors…and are heated between 90-110 degrees. Is this bad? I have reflected on this quite a bit. I think the answer is different for each individual. For me, the answer is yes. The mirrors gave me more access to criticize rather than stay present to the sensations in my body. The heat became a way to burn calories.

About two years ago I made the conscious decision to stop practicing in the heated studios. And I prefer to practice without the mirrors. I did this not because I think either is bad, but because after some soul searching I realized my yoga practice had become toxic, just another way to engage in self hatred. Since then, I have made it my intention to focus on ahimsa (non-violence), sayta (honesty), and santosha (contentment). I want my practice to be healing rather than harmful. And I must continually reflect on my intentions and hold myself accountable. It is a journey towards self love.

In the end, I want my yoga to help me grow. So, I continue to reflect on my intentions every time I step onto my mat. To love, accept, and celebrate the best of who I am so that I may become a catalyst for change.

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