Yoga for Every Body: My Journey

"The extreme and reckless pruning of this tree of life by a culture...where people are not loved for their depth, but for their thinness." - Martin Prechtel

Breathing in, fill your belly with air. Breathing out, draw your naval to your spine. Exhale. Ahhhh.

It wasn't always easy to drop into full breath awareness centered around my stomach. I continued my journey into my yoga practice after college in Los Angeles in my early 20s, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, as L.A. is the hub of amazingly talented and smart yoga teachers and countless classes. A curse, because it is also the center of yoga fashion, juice cleanses, "clean" eating and Lululemon pants. 

My 200-hour teacher training was at a trendy studio one block from the beach in Venice, California. I was a good few years younger than most of the women (and only a few men) in the training. During breaks, the women would march to the local juice shop and sip their juice for the rest of the day, impressed with their "healthy" lifestyle and lack of food consumption. Everyone wore the trendiest yoga pants, and the most troubling of all for me was that the majority of the yogis bodies looked the same too: slender, lean and muscular (and don't forget-- white!).

I felt enormous pressure from within myself to look like these other women. I also drank the juices and shopped for nice spandex. But I was hungry. And I felt badly about my body. 

"The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudo-spiritual connotations.  As orthorexia progresses, a day filled with sprouts, umeboshi plums and amaranth biscuits comes to feel as holy as one spent serving the poor and homeless," writes Steven Bratman, MD*. Bratman originally introduced the term "orthorexia" to the world in the 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. It doesn't take a researching genius to make the sad connection between orthorexia, or the militant obsession with healthy eating, and yoga. Westernized yoga often attract and commend those who "treat their body as a temple" with nods to "purity", "clean" and "simple". Just think of yoga studios involved with cleanses, fasting and juicing. I recall with sadness the day I was so hungry before a yoga class that I ate a peanut and chocolate Kind bar before class, only to spend the rest of class beating myself up for the weight gain I was convinced would occur only minutes later. 

Through therapy and close examination of what I had begun to believe about my body as a result of yoga and symptoms of orthorexia, I woke up. I realized that it is fruitless, terribly damaging and an absolute waste of time to try to fit my body into a cookie cutter of the yoga model we see posted everywhere. I am so thankful for emerging yoga leaders like Jassamyn Stanley** who show that every body can do yoga. When we lose track of the true roots of yoga, to yoke the body, mind and soul/spirit, we have lost yoga. When we lose the breath and try to complete as many chaturanga push ups as possible, we have lost yoga.

I have centered so much deeper into my body and true spirit when I vowed to leave behind the thin, depthless Los Angeles yoga habits that I had once fallen into.