Yoga for Every Body: Picture of an Ordinary Yogi
A few weeks ago, I was asked to model in a photo shoot for a training manual for yoga teacher trainees. Color me tickled (and terrified!) to be asked to be a part of this photo shoot! For starters, it still shocks me that I am a yoga teacher at all. I struggled for years with the desire to deepen my yoga practice through a teacher training and the equally strong desire to hide my body and not be seen.
Yoga helped me to connect with myself and heal from years of disordered eating and body image issues, but it was a process to even imagine that I might be capable of teaching others to do yoga in this body. The primary reason it took me so long to take the leap into teaching yoga was that when you teach yoga, people look at your body for instruction! Scary! I took my time, and eventually I built enough self acceptance to go for it.
The process of becoming a teacher pushed me to learn how to be comfortable enough in my own body that I could ultimately help others become comfortable in theirs. I honestly could not have imagined that I would someday be teaching regularly and helping others to become teachers themselves! I chuckle in disbelief every time I head out the door to teach one of my classes. I love teaching yoga, and it is delightful to be able to share yoga in both big and small ways. Still, after years of work to be comfortable in my body, some things still challenge me to the core. Being in pictures doing yoga poses (in yoga clothes!) is one of these things.
The Beauty of an Ordinary Yoga Practice
Every day I see images of people in gorgeous and amazing yoga poses. Even the pictures of yogis and yoginis in larger bodies like mine tend to feature people in their best versions of their most dramatic and wonderful physical yoga postures. Wheel pose, dancer, headstand, handstand, the splits! Beautiful! And totally intimidating.
I have been doing yoga for many years. I love my practice, and ultimately I know that yoga has much more to do with the mind than the body. But I don’t have a particularly mind-blowing asana practice. It is quite ordinary, really. I can’t touch my toes to the back of my head, or balance on my hands with my knees over my shoulders. I have a solid, regular, everyday kind of a yoga practice. It serves me well, and I don’t get injured often. I know how to connect to my breath, and I know how to listen to what my body needs. I know how to feel my heart. But a pretzel, I am not.
Yoga and Positive Body Image
Being invited to do a photo shoot made me feel like I had to be ready to bust out the really dramatic poses that just don’t feel good in my body. I can do any posture if I modify it to fit my body. Straps, blocks, blankets and bolsters are my friends. They help me to get the benefit of the posture, but they sure don’t make me Instagram ready. It terrified me that I might not measure up for the task of being a model for this manual. What is a yogi to do with so much fear and self-doubt?
As I sat with the idea of being photographed demonstrating yoga poses, I realized a couple of things that helped me to overcome the dread, and show up for the photo shoot ready to represent for all the ordinary yogis out there.
I am a yogi, and the foundation of my life is a meditative practice. I use meditation every day to work with the B.S. my mind throws at me, so I decided to work with what came up around this photo shoot. Surrendering the fear, shame, self-doubt, and limitation I sometimes (often) feel fuels my growth as a human being. By doing the hard work of acknowledging my stuff and letting it go, I can move into any situation with more clarity and peace of mind.
Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Boy, is that true for me! I have to remember that I don’t need to compare myself with the yogalebrities on social media. Their practice is just that—theirs! Mine is mine, and it is enough, regardless of my social media following or my ability to hold Koundinyasana or some other fancy pose for the camera. My practice is to be present to what is. When I remember that what is is enough, I no longer have to fret about whether I measure up to the other guy. I’m already good enough, no incredible ability required.
I do not have to be a “good fatty.” It is tempting to feel like I have to prove that while I might be fat, I am not out of shape and I can do the dramatic poses, too! This is such a trap, and plays right into a cultural narrative that perpetuates diet culture and contributes to fat stigma. All bodies are good bodies, whether they are able and healthy or not. I have a right to exist in my body as it is right now, and so do you. For me, this means that showing up with my ordinary practice is a radical act. It pushes back against the notion that to matter as a human being, I have to at least try to fit in with the cool kids. I don’t have to fit in. I have to be me.
Which brings me to my last point, which is that what I really want to model is the ability to be fully present in my body and in my heart, in this moment, right now. I want to model that it is OK to move through fear and be who you are! This is what I want for myself, and what I hope to offer as a possibility for others. This has nothing to do with the glamour of the posture, or how I look in pictures.
How, you might ask, does one bring the rather intangible intention of “being in the heart” into a photo shoot in which the whole point is to demonstrate the actual physical pose for a camera? The way that I approached this was to work on surrendering my own fear, and when the time came for the photo shoot, I let my heart lead the way. I offered MY best versions of the postures that were asked of me. I used the blocks, the straps, and the modifications, which is what yoga teacher trainees should be learning to offer their students in the first place. I demonstrated multiple versions of modifications that might work for a variety of bodies. I opened my heart and found joy in participating in the photo shoot and doing the best that I could. I connected with myself and that allowed me to connect with others. Hopefully this will translate in the photos so that the trainees who see them in the manual will feel the intention, and find inspiration for making yoga accessible to their students. I don’t know if that will be the outcome. But whatever happens with the photos, I had the opportunity to deepen my own ability to hold my center and stay in an embodied, heart-centered place, even while I was being photographed.
Another great article from YogaUOnline and Rachel Danya Smith: The Case For Body Positive Yoga Classes.
Study with YogaUOnline and Ana Forrest: Welcome to Creating Embodiment-Developing Your Body Being.
Rachel Dhanya Smith, MA, LPC, NCC, CAC II, RYT 500 is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher with a private practice just outside of Boulder, Colorado, where she specializes in Body Image, Eating Disorders, and Self-Love. Rachel draws from many years of experience in depth psychotherapy, eastern philosophy, yoga, and meditation. It is her mission to help her clients live unabashedly happy, connected, full and embodied lives. Want to get happy, too? Check out Rachel’s work at www.imaginativecounseling.com