“why not?” sadie nardini defends yoga for weight loss

Jul 19, 2012 by

It’s the ol’ weight loss yoga conversation again! (image via wordsoverpixels.com)

So lately I’ve been feeling all hopeful and positive about the state of yoga in North America: yoga studios are creating anti-oppression committees, a new e-book, Permission to Curve, celebrates yoga for all bodies, and the GLBL YOGA campaign crashed and burned. Things are looking up!

And then I came across an article on Elephant Journal, “Yoga for Weight Loss. Why not?” which was written by Sadie Nardini. In the article, she addressed the recent discussion here on IAYB about the questionable ethics of using “weight loss” in the the marketing and promotion of her online yoga courses (for the full story, see this post and the follow-up post).

Nardini’s counter argument to the criticism was to acknowledge that obesity is an epidemic in the US and people need all the help they can get to develop healthy relationships with their bodies. Yoga is a great tool for doing this, and if “yoga for weight loss” opens the door for many people who would normally never consider the practice, all the better. As Nardini so eloquently states in the title of her blog post: Why not?

I had planned a response to the response, but Carol Horton beat me to it with an articulate rebuttal on EJ. She touched on the social context for North America’s obsession with weight loss, which had been overlooked by Nardini. As Carol notes in her post, “weight loss” is a 60.9 billion dollar industry in the US. She also dug up a few distressing stats: one out of every four college aged women has an eating disorder; an estimated 40-50 percent of American women are trying to lose weight at any given time; one-third of American girls have a distorted idea about their weight.

I reread Nardini’s post this morning and realized that the question here is not Why not? but Why?

Why do we have to keep luring new yogis to the mat with the promise of losing weight? Why do we need to use a marketing strategy that preys on a culturally conditioned sense of lack? This is what’s missing from the conversation. We don’t need flippant retorts and defenses.

Nardini is at a place in her career where she doesn’t need to keep riding the tired “weight loss yoga” train. Let’s see her have the courage and creativity to imagine marketing material that reflects the supposed depth and breadth of her teachings. And what I would like to see on a grander scale are the fit and slender high-profile teachers using their privilege and position to promote body acceptance, at any size.

Then maybe we can stop protesting this shit.

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14 Comments

  1. Vision_Quest2

    “Let’s see her have the courage and creativity to imagine marketing material that reflects the supposed depth and breadth of her teachings. And what I would like to see on a grander scale are the fit and slender high-profile teachers using their privilege and position to promote body acceptance, at any size.”

    Fit and slender, if natural (as a Tara Stiles) usually also means cerebretonic (= having an overdeveloped mental abilities/mental agility). So let them also get into promulgating yogic philosophy, even Scripture (even if they have to dumb it down and translate it into everyday English) … it’s high time and serves as a THERE there to move on to.

    When I think back at how a gym-based YogaFit teacher I’d taken class from, had been more evolved than a Sadie Nardini when it came to philosophy, it makes me shudder!

  2. Lumen

    Sigh. This issue seems to go around and around. When this comes up, I always feel compelled to point out what I feel is often missed in this discussion – that regardless of how you achieve your weight loss, generally most people will regain the weight (even yogi’s!) Now of course there are individuals who have lost weight and maintained it, Sadie being one of them, but if you look at the stats, this is an ‘atypical’ result (as all the weight loss ads say!). What I would really like to see is teachers who put themselves in the weight loss business do right by their students and actually take a look at the most current obesity research. If you claim expertise in an area, then actually take the time to educate yourself about the complexities of the issue. If you don’t want to, please stop promoting weight loss as a health intervention.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Right on the money. I don’t care if it’s yoga, detoxing, aerobic dance, martial arts or going to Weight Watchers that gets the weight off. Own the “results not typical” … in other words, don’t wait for the law to do it for you; and barring that, don’t hide under a cloak of spirituality as a built-in immunity from all that.

      Just say: weight loss is possible, weight gain (needed or otherwise) is possible, maybe you’ll be away from the table for those 90 minutes but return to it ravenous an hour after practice. Remove the body shaming, and the diet shaming. That’s the only thing that will work.

      Yoga should be treated just like any other active pastime.

    • agreed!
      “yoga for weight loss” implies a magic cure-all for an issue that is SO much more complex than simply losing weight. It’s also fitting in the category of “make this change= you will lose weight”; a blame the victim “just try hard enough and you can achieve this socially constructed ideal weight/body image” which lends itself to all other dieting schemes in the diet/weight loss industry.

      And we know that diets don’t work. there’s a whole slew of quantitative research that has proved this for the past two decades.

      Instead of focusing on “(insert diet fad)” for weight loss, a negative and potentially emotionally and psychologically harmful tactic (see blame the victim perspective above), yoga can be portrayed as a way to Love your body the way it is. Now. Self-acceptance which may lead to better lifestyle choices, healthier relationships with food, healthier emotional and psychological well being and realistic body image.

      She’s missing the bigger picture. which is unfortunate.

  3. Agreed. Why should yoga be a part of the dualistic commentary on body image, and more specifically women’s body issues?

    Yoga is about taking our minds out of preference-mode, connecting inner and outer worlds, and extending that to the community. I really feel that if a yoga teacher is marketing their classes as a weight loss tool, then they are no longer teaching yoga.

    The focus on the individual, and about whether or not they are the right shape and size… from a yogic philosophy perspective, its ridiculous, and divisive.

    Sure, learning to move your body and get out of your head creates connection and self-love that will lead to eating right, getting appropriate rest and hey… maybe even weight loss.

    But weight loss isn’t guaranteed as a result of yoga. For example, nothing shifted my weight (no matter how much yoga I did) until my auto-immune condition was diagnosed and addressed.

    Connecting yoga and weight loss like this… it makes me sad. To hear prominent teachers like Sadie are writing articles saying “what’s the harm” make me wonder just how these people get to be famous. Sounds to me like Sadie needs to go back to her studies, maybe even to India and study the tradition in its entirety…

    • “I really feel that if a yoga teacher is marketing their classes as a weight loss tool, then they are no longer teaching yoga.”

      Agreed. If a student wants to begin a yoga practice to lose weight, get in shape, or work on any other “self-improvement” issues, I think that’s fine. There are many valid starting points. Most of us didn’t have a clue what yoga was about when we began. We have to begin where we’re at. But yoga teachers should know better. They should know that yoga is not about “self-improvement.” It’s about inquiry. And to draw students to your classes or workshops by feeding on students’ desires to lose weight and look attractive just feels irresponsible to me. I realize that full time yoga teachers have to make a living…but there must be a better way. Weight loss yoga isn’t yoga — it’s just exercise…and not a very effective form of exercise at that.

  4. Elizabeth McNeill

    There is a strong obsession with weight loss which needs to be let go of. (Aparigraha) letting go of this concept. Something I think which needs to be encouraged, is building one’s awareness, through yoga, pranayama, meditation, shavasana etc. Once awareness is built up, perhaps then we can learn about our emotional world, and our habits and through time discern with wisdom healthy eating, healthy living. Working from the inside, out. The thoughts or habitual patterns that end in obesity or eating disorders must be addressed, otherwise amount of exercise will change anything, as the pattern will return again. Just food for thought.
    As for advertising, perhaps you can switch it around and emphasise returning to a healthy body, or maintaining a healthy body?

  5. ‘Nuff said. think about it.

    “We live in a society of addiction. Fake desires are created
    and pushed on us in the guise of spiritual or selfimprovement
    ideals, and we do not learn to recognize or act on our real desires. Trying to be something you are not is the cause of human suffering. This is addiction. From the ultimate pop star to a homeless person, we are trying to get somewhere as if we are not already the unadorned marvel of life. The solutions to our plight are usually more of the same: one stronger pill after the other, one exaggeration after the next, as despair increases.” — Mark Whitwell

  6. A

    Sigh! All the comments to Carol’s beautiful article on Elephant Journal are about how “but obesity is an epidemic” and “being obese is a real problem,” and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart as a woman whose BMI is 33. As a woman who busted my ass at the gym, spending hours away from those I love, to get it down to a 29 for my wedding. Hours and hours each week, and it all came back and then some, because I couldn’t maintain spending 15 hours at the gym every week. It breaks my heart because health is so much more than weight. I love my job, have a supportive husband, am connected to my family, have passions and interests, and that’s just as much about my health as any exercise or weight. More and more studies say that staying active is a better indicator of health than weight, but we ignore that. We say “well we are not promoting MODEL body size, so it’s okay to buy into people’s fears that they need to lose weight.”

    I wish there was more about Health at Every Size, about loving oneself as one is (nowhere to go, no one to be!), the realization that everything is just as it is, right now, and that’s okay. That joy and happiness are as important as any size or not size. I wish that we would start questioning why anyone has to lose weight at all, rather than whether we are promoting “optimal body weight” versus “weight loss” or “holistic health” versus “weight loss.” Sigh, sigh, sigh. I wish people would say, hmm, “obesity epidemic,” I wonder who could benefit most from that happening. Hmm… body shame, I wonder if that could be preventing people from going to yoga classes, from going to the doctor, and thus preventing diabetes. Hmm… Yo yo dieting and unsustainable exercise, I wonder if that could be making it hard on the body, or hey! yo yo dieting = super harmful, most overweight people have yo yo dieted, overweight people get more illnesses, I wonder if there is a connection!? Just some kind of critical thought around these issues.

    Thanks for sparking this conversation. It’s close to my heart, and one that I wish we would speak about more.

    • “More and more studies say that staying active is a better indicator of health than weight, but we ignore that.”
      YES!!
      I can be active, strong and healthy and not fit into the ‘weight’ (read physically unrealistic for 95% of women) body shape ideal.

  7. Angela

    Someone educated me a lot on Health at Every Size and I wish more people knew about it (as A has already mentioned).

    The comment that stuck with me at the time when I was learning about HAES is this: eating is a behaviour, exercise is a behaviour but weight is not a behaviour! You can choose to adopt a healthy lifestyle but you cannot choose to be a particular weight.

    There’s also evidence that weight cycling (cycling between dieting and not dieting) can be harmful to the body – see http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9

    It’s possible to be fat and fit and it’s also possible to be thin and unfit/unhealthy … unfortunately our culture buys into the latter belief at the expense of the former.

    I also hate the way fat people are pathologized – that somehow it’s entirely their fault for the way they are … such a neat way of avoiding so many issues including:

    - our built environments are often designed for car use and do not support people walking and taking their own exercise
    - its often more expensive to buy healthy fresh food than fast food
    - some communities have become food deserts where it’s difficult to access healthy fresh food
    -welfare benefits are inadequate to cover buying healthy fresh food
    etc etc

    As for Sadie Nardini … least said the better. Promoting yoga in this way is just contributing to the epidemic of eating disorders and internalised self hate … I realise these are strong words but I really loath the promotion of yoga in this way.

  8. Angela

    Re: t’s possible to be fat and fit and it’s also possible to be thin and unfit/unhealthy … unfortunately our culture buys into the latter belief at the expense of the former.

    -that should of course read that people want to be seen as thin regardless of their health – I didn’t word it right!

    I highly recommend Linda Bacon’s website for more info on HAES – it’s an excellent resource:

    http://www.lindabacon.org/

  9. Label or no label, a regular power vinyasa practice helped me lose 15 pounds and gain my confidence back. It’s simple, it just works!

  10. Oz

    People want to know what type of yoga best suits their needs. Hence yoga for runners, or yoga for back pain, yoga for upper body strength, yoga for balance, and, of course, yoga for weight loss. In all of these cases, the creator of these practices took the time and energy to specifically create a sequence to target areas that these people need targeting. Does yoga for weight loss potentially feed into the weight loss craziness? Sure. At the end of the day, one must ask whether this potential negative is outweighed by people actually improving their lives who were attracted to weight loss yoga.

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