Every Body is Beautiful (Doing Yoga)
On social media recently, a big popular yoga studio in my city posted a picture of a woman in a headstand, with a caption something like, “Danielle, practicing in the sunlight wearing the new (insert big name controversial expensive-yoga-wear designer name here) scoop tank in lavender!” Despite all of my attempts to keep any negativity at bay, I have to admit to being instantly annoyed that the woman and the sunlight and the asana all ended up being linked to an uber-expensive spandex garment. The reason for my angst wasn’t just the commercialism—who doesn’t love fashion and fun, even taking into consideration the yoga precept of non-attachment? (Yoga is more than just poses or exercise, but that’s another story.) Instead, what bothered me about it was the exclusivity it portrayed. While I’m sure it was unintended, the post proliferated an illusion that certain people have about yoga, an illusion that it is for rich, skinny, attractive, in-shape, popular people. I myself used to hold that same mistaken idea in my head when I thought about yoga. That it was exclusive, elitist, mean-girl, cheerleader. You can’t just walk into a yoga studio!
Concurrently, the other week, NBC’s Today show coined the hashtag #LoveYourSelfie, and showed interview clips from the hosts about their own body imperfections. Hoda Kotb said, “I was heavy, and then I lost weight, but I don’t ever feel like the girl who lost weight.” I’ve been overweight as well, and I can corroborate Hoda’s sentiments—you never feel like you’re a thin girl, only the same old imperfect one who is somehow fooling everyone. It is this kind of mentality that keeps so many people away from yoga studios, when yoga is exactly what they need, for body, mind, and spirit. I want everyone to know that yoga is more than doing poses with beautiful people in a sun-filled room. You don’t have to own the gear; you don’t have to look the part; you don’t have to diet and exercise before you get there.
Because, truth be told, every body is beautiful doing yoga, wherever it is being done. I made that observation at my practice last weekend, when young and old, fat and thin, male and female showed up to practice together. Because of what had been on my mind, I looked around a little more that day than usual. That woman from the mini-van who doesn’t feel sexy in her “mom” jeans looks as graceful as Dorothy Hamill gliding along in the 1976 Olympics when she does a balancing half-moon (Arda Chandrasana). A 57-year old woman looks like a girl again, hearkening the pink ballerina twirling in a music jewelry box, during dancer pose (Natarajasana). The one who feels so soft and saddle-baggy in the hips looks perfectly put together with that famous “fearful symmetry,” the sun lighting up her passive upturned face while creating the beautiful right angles in triangle pose (Trikonasana). The sparkle of a wedding ring is magnified on chapped, wide-spread hands during a clumsy attempt at crow pose (Bakasana). Everyone can finally see the pointy front of their own hip bones in reverse plank (Purvottanasa). Teen girls look like Baby from Dirty Dancing in a simple toe stand (Padangustasana), arms overhead, calves flexed. Husbands look vulnerable, their usual strength tested by the unusual patience required by asanas. The scrawny and lanky eventually look like the most sinuous and stealthy python, breath and muscles churning through the planks of Surya Namaskara. A pedicure never looked better than on a foot in a d’orsay flex, leveraging Warrior III. And hey, girl behind me? Your fresh haircut actually looks even better when your head hangs upside down in a forward fold! In Balasana (child’s pose), every big old angry driver, every shrill-screaming mother, every bossy executive looks exactly the same as the grieving daughter or the unemployed college graduate or the triathlon trainee: humbled, buckled, almost fetal. And every single one beautiful.
Your shirt may come up in the back, and your lower back is sexy. Your sweat is a glow, not a damp stain. Your face, devoid of makeup for a change, is the translucent ruddy blush of a fresh peach. The tomboy becomes graceful, the frail attain gravitas. Skin that is stretched over muscle stretched over bones in extension becomes taut again during reaching poses. You, with the bandana around your head, you do look like a rock star. You are beside a guru with a hemp bracelet and an OM tattoo. You each look like a commercial on television, the perfect silhouette of a person who has climbed a mountain, a fierce warrior against a setting sun. You look exactly the way you dream of. Fully you, fulfilling your potential, all in your own body. Whether lithe, angular, Rubenesque…even the oldest and plumpest, seated peacefully, looks like serene Buddha. Every body is beautiful doing yoga.
So please, find a place to practice yoga that suits you, even if that’s at home with a video at first. You can wear an old concert t-shirt, and you can borrow a mat. But please try. You may think at your age, or your weight, or with your abilities, that the only way your kids will ever see you upside down is if they get a look at your mortgage statement. But believe me, and the friends who practice with me in a humble studio on Saturdays: one beautiful pose will lead to another, and you won’t even believe the things you can do. Yes, you!