Seventeen days ago, I took on Sadie Nardini’s 21-Day Yoga Body program, as outlined in her new book of the same name. That means I’ve been doing pretty much everything that Sadie Nardini tells me to do on a daily basis (not everything, sometimes due to logistics and time).
As I noted in last week’s update, I’m finding the program well-rounded and enjoyable, and I’m having a surprisingly good time doing it. While I assumed that I would get into Sadie’s reflection questions and daily actions, instead I’ve really resonated with the daily asana practice and meal plans. After months of various “body issues” (trauma and a shoulder injury), it’s been empowering to reconnect with a strong, yet sensitive, asana practice.
I’ve also loved having somebody tell me what to make for lunch every day! I’ve spent a lot more time in the kitchen since I started this program, which has had a ripple effect on my relationship (my partner, whom I live with, actually declared a few days ago, “I wish you were doing a 365-day yoga body program, so you’d cook like this all the time!). We eat more meals together at the kitchen table and make time to share food.
None of this is necessarily new or radical behaviour for me: prior to taking on this program, I practiced yoga at home and cooked meals. But things are refined, more structured, and I’m integrating new techniques and tips.
So What About The “Yoga Body” Thing?
Last week I posted on the IAYB Facebook page: “Maybe a yoga body is just a body that practices yoga.” It got a resounding number of likes and comments such as, “Duh!”
In my heart, I believe that every body is a yoga body. Even, perhaps, bodies that don’t have a regular practice. I believe that every body has the potential to practice yoga, and that if we put our minds to it (not just our body, but our whole being) we are in fact practicing yoga all the time.
But on the other hand, it’s not so simple. It’s nice to know that there’s an enclave of progressive yoga types who believe that the simple basis of a “yoga body” is simply practicing yoga. However, when you do a Google Image search for “yoga body,” you see that the Internet has a different idea of what that means. Ask one of your co-workers what they think a “yoga body” is. Try asking your pervvy uncle. Look up “yoga body” on Pinterest.
It’s likely that most of the responses from people will fit the Urban Dictionary definition of yoga body (“the kind of body one develops with years of yoga practice: taller, thin, with legs and buttocks that look like ropes and a bony back and neck”).
I’ve also come to realize that, the myth of the yoga body sells yoga. Of course, yoga itself didn’t even have to come up with this brilliant unintentional marketing meme. Instead, it was a confluence of cultural factors, attitudes towards the body and fitness trends that have elevated the idea of the yoga body to mythological status.
One of the interesting results of my 21-Day Yoga Body experience is that I’m feeling the benefits throughout my inner body more than my outer body. I’m not sure if my outer physical form looks any different (aside from a little more glowy than usual).
Anyway, since I’m still trying to figure out this yoga body thing, I went to some smart yoga writers so see what they think. I asked them what are their perceptions and ideas of the “yoga body.” This is what they came up with.
Anna Guest-Jelley (founder of Curvy Yoga & co-editor of Yoga + Body Image): I spent most of the first decade of my practice believing there is one “yoga body.” Over time, though, while also working on accepting my body, it finally occurred to me that “Hey, maybe the problem isn’t my body. Maybe the problem is that I just don’t know how to make yoga work for me.” That moment changed everything for me and inspired me to learn more not only about how to make yoga work for me, but for anyone else who doesn’t have the stereotypical “yoga body” – which is, of course, the vast majority of people.
Carol Horton (author of Yoga Ph.D.): The now-ubiquitious phrase, “yoga body,” is to me something of an oxymoron because it conceptually reinforces the mind/body division that yoga works to dissolve. In my view, a “yoga body” develops in tandem with the realization that the body is not really separate from the mind – and that the mind is a living process of synergistic exchange between our bodies, brains, and environments – all of which are conditioned by our particular history, or karma. Yoga is the process of making that interactive synergy increasingly creative and vital, as we become more and more free of deadening debris from the past, and clear of egocentric delusions in the present.
Frank Jude Boccio (dharma teacher & author of Mindfulness Yoga): A “yoga body” is any body that is attuned with breath and mind. A yoga body is one that – whether experiencing pain or pleasure – is at ease. A yoga body is not-self; it doesn’t contain self, isn’t in self nor is it owned by self. A yoga body is the body born of the earth, made of non-body elements. It is not a container nor a temple nor like a suit of clothes worn by some essence (soul, self, atman). A yoga body is thus. A yoga body is a construct (a skandha/formation). Just like all bodies.
A Cultural Notion
Melanie Klein (body image activist & co-editor of Yoga + Body Image): I didn’t even become aware of the idea of the perception of a ‘yoga body’ until a friend of mine had set me up on a blind date with a guy. We had talked to on the phone several times prior to our meeting and had a lot in common, including a mutual interest in yoga. When we met up, he said “Oh, you don’t have the body I expected. You said you practice regularly so I expected a lean, long, lithe body.” His comment didn’t upset me. My consistent practice over the previous few years had given me a new sense of confidence and helped heal the fractured and negative body image I had carried with me since adolescence. But his comment forced me to take a look around. And what I saw were images of yoga practitioners that replicated the standard of beauty evident in the dominant culture. To me, every body is a yoga body. Through modifications and an awareness of breath, any body can practice yoga and, if you practice yoga, your body is a yoga body. But I know that’s not what most people think of when they hear that term. The cultural notion of the yoga body is the intersection of genetics, diet and movement and it is one that is not representative of the variety of body types, ages, sizes and colors in the larger population.
Matthew Remski (teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, therapist, author) For anyone interested in practicing yoga to heal our legacy of hard dualism, the quest for the “yoga body” is going to be a problem. What could such a body be, other than a slave to a disembodied intention or ideal? Who is “in” the yoga body, moving it like a marionette, and what do they want? What part of us is separate enough from the body that it can reasonably wish to be clothed in a different body? How deep must our internal split be for us to sustain such a wish? Perhaps as deep as that which Krishna teaches in 2:22 of the Bhagavad Gita when he says: “Just as a man giving up old worn out garments accepts other new apparel, in the same way the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies.” (Prabhubada) So here we are in 2013, still dealing with Krishna’s traumatic vision, and that of most other metaphysical traditions: that somehow the body is unreal, and so it can and should be disposed of or exchanged. The connection between this vision and the alienations of consumerism shouldn’t be underestimated. To me, the real “yoga body” would be the expression of anyone who gestured at their flesh and said This is really me. All of me. I’m standing right here. At that point, a new commitment to exercise might feel like a joy-ride of curiosity and adventure. It might not carry even the smallest shadow of penance.
An Icon of Yoga Culture
Danielle Prohom Olson (blogger at Body Divine Yoga): There’s no denying that the taut lithe “yoga body” is an icon of yoga culture. Just Google “yoga images” and you’ll find your screen flooded with young, white, slender, beautiful women triumphantly executing some advanced posture requiring tons of strength and extreme bendiness. Some women are pictured seated, faces enraptured, eyes closed, hands in prayer pose – evoking images of beatific female saints who denied the flesh in search of transcendence.
These are not images of women at work in the world, doing something. Their lithe yet well-muscled bodies are seen in isolation, against backdrops of sea and greenery, or minimalist studio walls. Their sole purpose, it seems, is just to be looked at. And they tell us plainly that the “yoga body” is the achievement in itself. It is an emblem signifying commitment, hard work, strength, will power, and control.
That’s why, no matter our body type, we’re all complicit in the creation and perpetuation of the “yoga body”. We’re all guilty of buying into the notion that our bodies need to be disciplined and got into ‘shape’ – that by controlling our bodies we can find some measure of control in our world.
Reclaiming the Yoga Body
There are just five days left in the program, so I’m not letting myself come to any grand conclusion. But I’m starting to feel that the “yoga body” is something that needs to be reclaimed (or possibly even claimed; was it ever ours to begin with?). It needs to be reclaimed from Google, reclaimed from marketers, reclaimed from a fragmented culture that has mixed messages and ideas about the human body.
As the project winds down, I’ve added a new element, wherein I’m documenting my own imperfect and unstereotypical “yoga body” during asana practice. Stay tuned for this final piece of the 21-Day Yoga Body adventure!