When I was first introduced to yoga, I thought you could only do it if you were flexible and had muscles — neither of which I had. As someone who never considered herself a physically graceful individual, I wrote off yoga as an activity. But, I was so wrong. Yoga is for everyone.
As a female human person who’s between the age of 1–90, I have a love/hate relationship with my body. I’m grateful for all the things my body has allowed me to do; all the places I’ve been able to travel, all the wonderful food I’ve been able to eat, and all the amazing sensory experiences I’ve had.
At the same time, being a woman dictates that I must also dislike my body because it’s not skinny enough, tan enough, tall enough, etc. During my teenage years, I was terrified of my physical existence and I wanted to hide from the changes that were happening. So I buried myself in clothes and made myself as small as possible (which wasn’t hard at 5 feet tall).
Anyway, this isn’t really about my teenage body image, this is about how, as someone who isn’t necessarily athletic or flexible, who carries a little extra weight, who has acne, who is basically a little anxious all the time, can enjoy yoga; because sometimes it’s hard to feel like yoga doesn’t just belong to the super bendy skinny white girls on Instagram.
I wouldn’t call myself a yogini, or even an expert, but I’ve been on my journey for 3+ years and I feel like I’ve learned enough about what yoga has done for me. I’m not here to tell you how to do yoga, it’s a personal thing everyone needs to discover for themselves, but if you’ve been thinking about diving into yoga, hopefully, this can provide a little advice and inspiration.
Do Yoga For You
Your yoga journey is just that: yours. It isn’t about how close you are to touching your toes compared to others in the class, it isn’t about how you’ll look after doing a few months of yoga. It’s about how you feel, your connection to your body and breath, and not pushing yourself too far beyond your limits.
In classes, it’s easy to see someone whose poses look perfect, their transitions are graceful and fluid, and they can breathe like a champ, and compare yourself to them. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. It’s hard to remember that they’re on their own journey while you are on yours. If something they’re doing doesn’t feel right for your body, don’t worry. Focus on what feels good for you and do that. You are the only person that matters when it comes to your practice.
And because of social media, it’s easier to see yogis around the world. This online yoga community is a double-edged sword for those who aren’t as confident in their abilities. A quick search on Instagram (#Yoga), brings up a swath of tiny white women in bendy poses; as if you’re not a true yogini unless you weigh 100 pounds and can lift your toes above your head. On the other hand, social media is a good way to find others who are on similar journies and develop a healthy community who support every type of “yoga body.”
It might be a good idea to stay away from social media. I try as much as possible, because I know I’ll just end up comparing myself. My yoga practice isn’t about the bendy girls on Instagram, it’s about me and my connection with my body and breath.
Try At-Home Yoga
If like me, you have a hard time not comparing yourself to others while doing anything, it might be worthwhile to try doing yoga at home. There are plenty of videos on Youtube and programs around the internet that can get beginners started.
I’d love to find a studio, but I know I’d spend all my time in class watching what everyone else was doing. It wouldn’t be productive for me, so I do a lot of my practice at home, where the only person I can compare myself to is me.
At-home yoga might be a great way to try it, to see if it would be worth spending the money on classes.
Find the Joy
There are some days where nothing will be going right. A few days ago, something in my practice was just off. My hands and feet were weirdly sweaty and sticking or sliding around on my mat, my transitions were sloppy, and I felt like I couldn’t do any of the poses the way I used to. Some days will be like that because that’s life.
“Tap into your inner smile,” is a quote from Adriene Mishler (of Yoga with Adriene) that helps me when I feel like I’m struggling. Sometimes I’ll even physically smile. It’s sometimes hard to smile while doing a plank or difficult balance pose, but it really does help to spark a little joy. By smiling during a difficult pose, you start to associate happiness with it.
Remembering to find the joy and fun in your practice is just as important as finding your breath. Yes, yoga can be hard work, but what’s the point if you aren’t enjoying yourself?
The “Yoga Body” is a Lie
Some people will try to tell you that if you don’t have a “yoga body” you’re doing yoga wrong. Those people would be wrong. The itty-bitty Instagram yoga girls don’t look that way because they are just doing yoga. They are also dieting and doing other workouts. Some ways to achieve that look aren’t healthy.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t look that way, or you shouldn’t. But, the focus should be on health, not on looking a certain way.
I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never have a yoga body. Even I hoped at the beginning of my journey that I would end up looking super skinny and cute while doing handstands on the beach. Now most times, I don’t care. Maybe I’ll always have a little pudge and thighs that need their own seat on an airplane, but that’s okay. More importantly, yoga has made me feel stronger and more in-tune with how I’m feeling physically.
Also, being as flexible as the Instagram yoga girls might not be realistic either (at least not without a lot of work). They make bending and stretching seem so effortless, though it takes a lot of time and effort to get your body to contort in those ways. It’s been years and I still have to bend my legs in standing forward fold. That’s okay because I’m not forcing my body into shapes that could hurt it.
Lululemon is a Lie
Certain clothes will not make you better or worse at yoga than anyone else. But, stores like Lululemon would like you to think that it does.
Having super cute leggings and tops might make you feel like a “real” yogi, but material items aren’t part of the practice. Being comfortable is what matters. You need to wear clothes that you can move in, but other than that, there are no rules. Lately, I’ve been wearing a baggy t-shirt because it’s just so soft.
It is hard to ignore the ads; the ones that try to convince you that you can look like their models and “live your best life” if you’d only buy that strappy tank top and matching leggings. Resist the strappy tank top — it can’t help you.
You don’t need the best clothes or equipment to have a worthwhile journey, you just need a body and the desire to learn and grow.
You might (like me) feel like yoga is not for you because of whatever reason, but I want you to know that it’s not true. You can gain strength, flexibility, connection. Yoga is a journey for all, you just need to get started.
I hope all my fellow average girls, who feel inadequate, who aren’t skinny, who don’t have perfect skin, who can’t touch their toes, can feel like yoga is for them as much as it’s for the yoga barbies. Because it is!