When I started my Yoga practice in 2001, it did not have the public’s attention like it does today. I came to the practice, having no real understanding of what it was. At the time, I had no physical exercise or spiritual practice. I was at a place in my life where I wanted something different, but didn’t know what or how to figure it out. A friend recommended that I try Yoga.
During my first class I felt very uncomfortable and out of place. Everyone else in the room seemed to move so easily through the poses, while I struggled, not only to move but to understand what the teacher was asking us to do. Regardless, I liked the idea of having a physical activity that was more than just a workout. I liked how the teacher encouraged us to be patient with ourselves and guided us to be curious about the sensations in our body as opposed to pushing it or being upset with it for what it wasn’t. This really spoke to me as I was someone who carried around the burden of a negative self-image. Having that reminder is what brought me back to the classroom.
It felt like a different way to approach physical exercise. Although the desire for physical exercise is what brought me to Yoga, the teachings I learned from it as a spiritual practice is what got me to keep coming back. As my body opened, my mind followed. As my muscles started to transform and change, so did my perspective of myself and the world around me. It was a place for me to go that did not require me to look a certain way or have a particular physique. The practice was much bigger than my appearance. This was especially important for a girl like me who was so persuaded by the bombardment of media images of what a young, healthy and fit female should look like. I did not look like any of those tall, lanky, limber women I would see blast out through every media outlet.
I love to see how Yoga has become such a big part of the greater community in our culture. People from all walks of life can be found in the studio today. I see Yoga mats strapped around the backs of people on every block. It’s not just here in San Francisco anymore; studios can be found in almost every town in America. It is referenced on TV, in ads, books, and magazines. It’s everywhere. What a dream!
But there is a shadow side to the community which I have noticed growing larger as Yoga reaches it’s tipping point. There is an infiltration of the media’s unrealistic images of Yoga that are seeping into the sight and minds of those of us who may not be paying close attention. These beautiful images plastered all over the studios, social media and the merchandise of extremely limber beings in poses that are almost impossible for the majority of us to achieve.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more stunning than a perfectly limber, anatomically aligned body shaped like a scorpion. My concern is that they are usually the only images we see of Yoga. I can’t help but think that they ignite that little voice inside that likes to taunt us that we are something less than those images. Yoga is built around the teachings of self-love and self-acceptance, yet the current image it projects provokes something entirely different within. Yoga is so much more than that.
Yoga is about breath, presence, integrity, morality, mortality, compassion, humanity, connectivity, acceptance, sustainability, patience, curiosity–the list goes on. For those of us that are unable to get our fingers to our toes let alone our feet to our head, we can still find respite in the breath and the ability to move just a little bit easier in our body that day. That is what it is all about.
The media sends off this message that only certain body types and the poses they can attain will be able to access this state of bliss!! “Bliss.” This is a big buzz word in the Yoga community. “Live in your bliss!” alongside a picture of someone bent like a pretzel. Well, you know what, sometimes I am living in the shit circus of life and sometimes I can’t touch my toes.
But you know what? I can still do Yoga.
The beauty of Yoga is there is a style for everyone. The room doesn’t have to be hot and the movement doesn’t have to be fast, although some days that is right for some bodies. No matter what your mood, your level of energy, your body type, or your disability, there is something in it for you. Close yourself out to the media’s interpretation of what Yoga is and step into the open door of reality, which is waiting for you in the studio right down the street.
Originally published at https://liminalspacesite.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/the-shadow-side-of-yoga/
About the Author:
Catherine la O’ began her personal journey of yoga in 2001 here at Yoga Tree in San Francisco. Armed with the wisdom and experience of many years of a dedicated personal practice, Catherine shares her knowledge with students in both private and public classes.
As a certified Integral Life Coach, Catherine finds that her ability to teach and guide people into a deeper body awareness marries beautifully with her skillful ability to coach and support them in their journey of cognitive, spiritual and relational development.
Her classes reflect an integral approach inspiring students to cultivate greater mindfulness & presence resulting in an increase in their overall health & wellness. Join Catherine at Yoga Tree Stanyan, Potrero or 6th Avenue. View her full class schedule online. Learn more about Catherine at www.liminalspace.net.