Yoga Butt

“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.”                                                                                                               ― Naomi Wolf

As someone who reads articles upon articles about yoga and is constantly discussing yoga with friends, family, and (quite frankly) anyone who will gab with me about yoga, I am fed up with the abundance of talk about yoga as a tool for weight loss or getting the famed “yoga butt.” This may not make me very popular in the world of Lululemon, but the purpose of yoga is not to attain physical beauty. Current research even shows that yoga will actually slow your metabolism. Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, I will not sit here and proselytise about yoga being a spiritual practice (which it is) with strict codes of ethical and moral conduct (also true). I am not here to tell you that dropping into a yoga class once a week will not get you that famed “yoga butt” or help you find enlightenment (it won’t). I will, however, tell you that I think all the talk about the aesthetic benefits of yoga not only misses the forest for the trees, but also perpetuates a culture in which the cult of thin is valued over all else and “beauty” is measured by an ideal most of us will never attain. In the odd chance that we do arrive at this culturally accepted state of perfection, it will be for a very short period in our lives, because we all (hopefully) grow old. And, guess what? Old, for some crazy reason, is not considered beautiful by the folks that crank out magazines, movies and advertisements.

*Deep breath*

Full disclosure: I have been guilty of “selling” yoga with the same taglines. I even look in the mirror now and again (every day) and think, “Why does my ______ not look fabulous? Are those endless _______ not working at all?”

And then I look up or turn around and peer into my own eyes and remind myself that it is not my inner yogi talking to me, but a whole lifetime of having the beauty industry tell me I am incomplete without a wrinkle creme or a cellulite treatment or the perfect conditioner.

Recently, I was in a class in which the instructor told the students that if we stood a certain way, we would “look thin.” I bristled at the statement. I got mad. I thought about all the women and men who have suffered from eating disorders, some of whom died for the cause of getting thin. I thought of all the people, mostly women, who have gone under the knife in their quest for physical perfection. Then, I asked myself why I was so upset about what the teacher had said. I realized it was less about the teacher’s statement, which was probably really made with good intentions despite the insensitivity, than the fact that deep down I needed to deal with my issues about the body and the impossible expectations that have been set up in our culture. And that yoga + (my) body does not always = thin/perfect.

So here I am. Am I always happy with my body? No. But am I thankful for all it does for me every day? Heck, yes!

The above quote by Naomi Wolf should teach us all something about the cult of thin and, interestingly, about yoga. She observes that society is attempting to control women by creating a culture in which we diminish ourselves voluntarily. I would argue that men are increasingly engaged in the same pursuit, due to the almost never-ending emphasis on physical perfection in the media, which is so often equated with being thin. I am not saying that thin is wrong, but that in our yoga practice, we should not be seeking a way to make ourselves invisible or less than what we are. Fixating on how a certain part of our body looks is not the purpose of yoga. We should be seeking a fuller, more healthy, holistic worldview through our practice. We should be finding peace and joy within ourselves. And if we develop a few lovely curves and even lovelier wrinkles in the process, so be it!

6 thoughts on “Yoga Butt

  1. Bristled? I know it was me who said that – but not in a class – it was while our group was posing for a photograph, and I wanted the shot. Bristled or not, when I gave that cue, everyone immediately did what I asked, and a few people laughed. Photos are like that – get the wrong angle and people look big, get the right angle and we look lean. We got some pics that everyone looked great in. Except Destiny – She was scowling, and I guess now I know why, because she always smiles.

    I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’m just being real. Personally I’d rather be an authentic teacher, and hope I empower you to find your true voice, even though your truth may trigger people sometimes.

    • Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for reading and the great response! I am thankful that you are present in your teaching and insist on integrity in the classroom (and beyond). Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident, but something I have experienced more than once. The “get fit” mantra that is popular in our community is a broader problem that I think needs to be addressed and is the reason I felt the need to attend to the topic publicly.
      I hope you are well and would love to have you write a guest post sometime!

  2. Beautifully expressed Erin! As someone who has gone through eating disorders (and still has disordered thoughts about my body from time to time) I appreciate your willingness to speak your truth. In my experience, yoga has helped me to be in my body, be “embodied” as Prasant Iyengar says, and feel at home in this sacred vessel that God has given me. Sanctify the embodiment, Prasant says. We do this by treating ourselves and others with love and compassion. Hari AUM my sweet!

    • Thank you, Cynthia – love and compassion are qualities I try to cultivate every day. It can be challenging, especially with your self! I cannot wait to see you upon your return to the states :) Hari AUM and big hugs to you!!!

  3. I love your feminist perspective, Erin. You offer a consistent and refreshing counterpoint to the ridiculous physical and behavioral expectations proferred to our gender by the mass media. I don’t know a single woman who has not been affected/infected with unrealistic and damaging ideas about how she’s failing to achieve and maintain the ideal body. What a waste of valuable human energy and precious time! Keep your wise words coming, E! We need you!

    • Renata – thank you! I was just telling someone this morning that I am excited to be 95 and wrinkly (hopefully I make it there!). And, my dear, what we need is more strong, lovely women like you – your spirit is inspirational to me!

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