Monday, February 22, 2010

the image of yoga

One of the very few downsides of living in Cambridge is there is a severe lack of independent cafes that do a good Sunday Brunch, so this weekend we had to make do with Giraffe.

One of the many upsides is the beautifully laid back yoga atsmosphere.

Back in London, there was a tendency in some of the studios, to judge. To judge on the "perfection" of your asana, the austerity of your life, even the price of your yoga bag, the more expensive the better. It's enough to eat into anyone's self esteem and is one of the reasons why it took me so long to get around to training to teach yoga - I just didn't think I was "good enough".

Of course now, as I said in an email conversation with EcoYogini yesterday, it breaks my heart that beautiful, talented and amazing women are thinking twice about training to teach because they are not "good enough".

The yoga media don't help much either as Brenda P pointed out in this post. Much as I love Yoga Journal and it's UK equivalent Yoga & Health (hell I've even written for the latter one), I don't think I've ever seen a cover shot that isn't of very slim, Caucasian women bending their "perfect" bodies into gymnastic postures. Sometimes it's enough to make anyone give up. What about the tattoed, crooked backed women who will never get their head on their foot in Pigeon Pose (and yes YJ I'm willing to pose for a cover shot if you're reading)? What about all the beautifully curvacious yoginis out there? What about the graceful older yogini? What about the non-Caucasian? What, even, about the men?

We need images that inspire us to keep practicing despite, or even because of, our individual limitations - which, incidentally, we do all have. Images that remind us that this practice that we have right now is yoga, that we are not waiting to practice yoga until we can attain a posture akin to a Yoga Journal cover shot. As The Everything Yoga Blog wrote in this post, asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga - a precursor if you will to the practices of pranayama and meditation.

With this in mind then, we can begin to realise that we do not have to be a certain build, or be of a certain flexibility to become teachers. It doesn't matter if we can't perform every asana "perfectly". As teachers we are enablers, helping our students work to their own abilities, helping them along their journeys, whatever their journeys may be. From personal experience I have found that my students secretly like my crooked back and dodgy hip, it gives them a sense of perspective!

Desikachar says that yoga is "to attain what was previously unattainable". That "unattainable" is different for everybody, and it's time that difference was represented more in the yoga world.

In Cambridge you can turn up to a yoga class in your pajamas (I have a friend who regularly does) and nobody bats an eyelid. Let Cambridge lead the way - I'm a lucky girl to live here. :)


Eco Yogini said...

oh Rachel. THIS is perfect. I want to live in Cambridge too!! :)

Thank you for the beautiful words. You're so right!

Anonymous said...

Cambridge is a fabulous place in so many ways. I just wish I lived a bit nearer...... did I mention I'm waiting for the Guided Bus? :S ;)

Nan said...

Well said! My teacher used to tell us "don't expect to look like one of those models on the cover of yoga magazines, posters or books, most of those people do yoga all the time while many of us have other responsibilities (homes, families, bills to pay, etc.)" all of which I believe make us more compassionate and well rounded as teachers. I've been there; heck, I'm still there. Many Thanks for your honest thought provoking posts.

Who's that Gamine? said...

we definitely need images to inspire us all the time :) maybe that's why i'm a photo fanatic!

you make me happy :)



babs said...

I have a horrible, horrible habit of cruising YouTube videos for inspiration. I always stumble on some Ashtanga video where they are doing amazing things and they are so strong...and instead of inspiring me, it makes me feel like s@$& about my slow, curvy lady hatha practice. I KNOW that it shouldn't. I know that I'm not built to have a practice like that. But, I hate feeling weak. I hate not being able to do what they do.

I did appreciate this month's YJ cover model shot of Trudie Styler. Not an impossible pose, just a peaceful one.

Cambridge sounds so lovely! The studio I hang out at is low key too. Doesn't matter what you wear. Doesn't matter what flashy pose you can do. Just a great place.

Thanks for the post!

Emma said...

yoga journal (us version) makes me so mad thats its anti-yoga. that thing has more ads then vanity fair.