I was recently chatting to someone I don’t know very well.  Through our conversation they found out I practise yoga.  Their response:

“Really?  But you don’t have a ‘yoga body’.  I mean, people who are into yoga are usually kind of… thin.”

Woah.

Some people really don’t think about the impact their words can have.  

I think my response was something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Thanks for that!” but I don’t really remember.  Frankly, I was too shocked and I’ve never been one for on-the-spot witty comebacks, sadly.  (Why is it that you always seem to think of just the right thing to say about ten minutes after the event…?)

Just to clarify, I wasn’t upset here at the implication of being called fat – I was just as, if not more, upset when an old friend not long ago told me she thought I’d lost too much weight and looked ill, “… and is doing all this yoga really a good thing??” (Though that was coming from someone who has only ever known me as being larger so maybe that was more about them not being used to seeing me any other way…?  I don’t know.)  Ultimately, what upsets me is that someone thinks it is okay to make what is clearly a derogatory comment about another person’s body.   But also, this phrase – ‘yoga body’ – got me thinking.  What is a yoga body exactly?  What does that mean?

Like many people I’ve had issues with body image over the years. Yoga is one place I try to keep that at bay.  But my view of myself is one of the reasons I used to be reluctant to practise in the front row of a mirrored Hot Yoga room.  For a while when I did Bikram yoga I’d go in the front row, but only because I’d sussed it was the cool spot in the corner of the room and I always managed to position myself in such a way that I didn’t have to ‘look’ at myself. But even then I felt self-conscious.  So after that I avoided being too near the mirrors.  I am short-sighted so without my glasses or contacts I struggle to recognise even close family members from a certain distance. (Apologies again to my Aunty, who I unintentionally blanked in the street the other day!)  Not being in the front row meant that I didn’t need to look at myself because I literally could not see myself properly. 

So, mainly for those reasons I’d not contemplated going in the front row until one day, Allie gently suggested that maybe I’d like to.  Also, I’d always thought of the front row as being for far more accomplished practitioners and other teachers, but with that little nudge I questioned whether I was able to let go of my ‘comfortable’, if somewhat blurry space – in the second row, near enough to the teacher to just about make out the posture they’re demonstrating and not directly under the air vent…

In my next class I lay my mat in the front row.  There was no escape – I could see myself.  I could actually see into my eyes.  At first I struggled to look at myself – to ‘stay’ with myself.  But I realised that I needed to.  So, after that class I kept going back to the front row.  And gradually it became easier to be more accepting of what I saw in front of me.  It has changed my practice. I have, and continue to develop a deeper sense of gratitude for the body that I have and all that it does every day. As my mind shifted the irony is I didn’t see my body changing.  I knew I felt different inside.  I didn’t notice that I was starting to look different too.   No, I am not thin but as I type I am fitter, healthier and stronger than I have ever been in my adult life – side-effects of a regular practice accompanying the internal benefits I have been experiencing. 

I suspect there will always be certain days when I lament the size of my thighs. (For you it may not be your thighs, so fill in the appropriate body part here….) But when I do have those days I increasingly realise that it really isn’t anything to do with my thighs at all.  It’s always about something else that’s bothering me at the time, but for whatever reason I project those feelings towards the way I look.   Fortunately though, it’s something that is happening less and it’s another thing I credit my practice for.  

Thanks to Allie for that gentle nudge towards the front row.

So, what is a ‘yoga body’?  I guess the general perception, and most widely accepted image is that it is slim, lithe, toned…  And it is.  But it’s also tall, short, male, female, black, white, curvy, muscular, young, old, has tight hamstrings, concrete hips, a dodgy back, cellulite…. the list is endless.

In my view, a yoga body is any body that practises yoga. 

If I could re-wind to that conversation, that’s what my response would be.