Yoga and Body Image

by | Big Yoga

There is a new book that came out recently that I think you’ll want to have a look at–it’s called Yoga and Body Image.  This is a powerful subject, and I’m delighted people are talking about it.  I’ve been teaching Yoga for over 35 years, and as I got older, my body changed, and so did my concept of my body.  Thanks to Yoga, even though I’m not young and slender, as so many yoga models are, I’m still healthy and have a deep love and respect for my body.  Practicing yoga enables us to become intimate with the body in a way that exercize does not, and helps us to accept the body’s many changing faces.  Every day on the mat has its own unique challenges and surprises!

Yoga and Body Image is a collection of essays written by yoga teachers and practicioners, compiled by Yoga teacher, Anna Guest-Jelley, creator of Curvy Yoga, and her pal, Melanie Klein, a professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies.  The stories they have collected are personal.  They are honest and brave.  They are about loving your body, even when your body doesn’t look like the teacher’s body, or a model’s body, or some ideal of a woman’s body that doesn’t have curves, or lumps, or bosoms.  I am loving this book and feel tremendous respect for the sometimes heartbreaking, often revealing, and always insightful stories.  

At it’s best, Yoga is a protocol for transformation.  At its worst, it can be a fat-hating, shame producing exercise in futility.  When I started practicing in my 20’s, I was always the biggest person in the room–looking back, I wasn’t even that fat, but in comparison with the other yoginis in the room, I was a tank.  There were no big yoga teachers.  I’m really grateful to whatever magical force it was that kept me coming back to the mat, in view of others.  Now that I’m older and bigger, I usually prefer to do my own practice at home–I know what it feels like to not want to put your body out there for all to see!   Bryan Kest talks a little about aging gracefully in his article.  He  started out doing Yoga because he wanted to hang out with his dad in Hawaii.   Dad insisted he do yoga every day, and it changed his life.  He transformed himself from a tough street kid into a wise yoga teacher, learning not just the asanas but yogic philosophy as well.  He talks about yoga being “an opportunity to stop feeding mental energy and unconscious loyalty” to the judgement and criticism that arise during practice.  

Rosie Molinary writes “I am informed by how my soul can take care of my body, and my body can do the same for my soul.  I am a collaborating force, emboldened by both sensation and expression”.  She also talks about how, after years of dissociating from her body, yoga helps her to understand the her body is her vehicle, her system for “enjoying and experiencing life”.

Professor Audrey Bilger spoke about how her yoga practice–especially Warrior pose–helped her to open her own heart to a contingent of anti-gay faculty and effect positive change in her academic community.  In her essay, “Confessions of a Fat, Black Yoga Teacher”,  Dianne Bondy, offers “The key to bringing diversity to yoga is to have a diversity of teachers”.   I hear that! 

  In the last chapter, Anna Guest-Jelley suggests we keep this conversation going–that we continue to expand our notions of what a Yoga-Body is.  I heartily agree.  Thank you for bringing these essays into the discussion.



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