If you are a yoga person, you’ve seen a yoga selfie. If you follow any of the famous yoginis on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, you’ve seen a yoga selfie. When they are done right, they are absolutely beautiful and let’s be honest, quite inspirational. I follow quite a few yoga teachers on social networks and every time they post a picture or video of them doing yoga, I watch absolutely amazed and grateful to be able to watch them practice. But first, let’s talk about how I used to feel when I saw these selfies.
When I first started doing yoga, I was driven by the compulsion to be perfect. To be the most goddamn awesome yogini you have ever seen in your life. Those ToeSox ads with Kathryn Budig balancing on a cliffside with her perfect form and epic body stretched to the sky? I wanted to be that. I wanted to be Miss Pretzel With a Smile.
My body didn’t think so.
As a formerly obese person, I have a body that is deceptively flexible but in fact is quite vulnerable. My back, from 20 years of bending forward to accommodate the extra weight, has a permanent forward curve in it that yoga is just starting to correct after 6 years in the practice. I have developed musculature around the back of my neck to support a jutting head, again from all of those years that my skeleton was pulled forward by the excess weight. I can bend forward with the best of them, but the parts of the practice that deal with backbends are incredibly hard for me. The same thing happens with my hips; they dealt with so much pressure for so long that any posture involving a leg around or behind the shoulder are excruciating. Therefore, I made the decision to not really practice those postures. Again we’re talking about the whole ‘let go of that which does not serve you’ stuff. With all of these limitations I still consider myself to have an advanced practice; I do hot vinyasa yoga and I can hold full lotus position, and I’ve just started to incorporate vrschikasana into my practice. But I think that’s as far as I’ll be able to go.
Also, Suffice to say I am not what you would picture when you think of a yogini. I’ve got big muscular legs and a tummy. Although yoga did give me the mythical “yoga butt”. So that’s something I’ve got going for me!
For so long, this guilt over my former obese state and the limitations it placed on my now healthy body were why I would get slightly nauseated when I saw yoga selfies on my Facebook. I felt like the world’s worst yogi for not being able to get into peacock pose, or yoganidrasana (are. you. kidding. me.). Because these people hadn’t been practicing yoga for nearly as long as I had and yet there they were, with their long pretzel legs, folding themselves into neat little packages, and I sat there scrolling down thinking to myself Damn, I wish I could do that. I hate my stupid body and its stupid limitations and stupid obesity for making me like this and UGH I cannot believe she’s already doing grasshopper, that asshole.
Maybe if I were thinner, I’d get those postures.
Do you see where this head voice is leading to? Destruction and self-doubt and triggers.
It took a lot of yoga, and I mean a LOT of it, to realize that the true purpose of yoga is actually not about the postures themselves, but what happens through them. If you’re jamming yourself into a posture because it ‘looks cool’ but you can’t breathe and be still in it, you aren’t doing yoga correctly.
The postures are a gateway in order to do what yoga is really all about – sitting still, opening your heart when everything tells you to keep it slammed shut, and to retain peace in the midst of a world that is unquantifiable.
If you can do a perfect yoga handstand and transition that into handstand splits, and then slide perfectly into scissors, but you’re not doing any of the off-mat work that you have to do in order to approach your practice from a position of clarity and ease, then you are in actuality not doing yoga. We come for the physicality of the practice, but if that’s all it is, you aren’t allowing yourself to experience the true transformative opportunities that yoga provides.
So no, I don’t do yoga selfies. My yoga can’t be qualified by a picture, or a pair of lululemon pants, or a jazzy and expensive mat (although my best friend bought me an awesome yoga mat for my birthday last year, so I will say a really good mat makes all the difference in your practice!).
I won’t begrudge anyone for doing the yoga selfie, however. I see those pictures, I smile at what my beautiful friends are accomplishing with their bodies, and I am grateful that so many of my friends and teachers are spreading the grace and power of yoga through their photos.
I choose to do it another way.
Either way, I hope the message is the same: yoga is about putting your body into a state of ease, so that you can approach this samsara we call life with more of an open heart.
The best we can do – the only thing we can do – is love as hard as we can, as much as we can, and as long as we can.
That’s my yoga. What’s yours?