Fitness Magazine

Without Mirrors (or Yoga Selfies)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Without Mirrors (or Yoga Selfies)

by Hokusai

For the sake of this blog—or maybe just because I can’t resist—I try to keep up with what’s happening in the yoga blog-o-sphere and on Facebook. Lately, there has been this whole backlash regarding “yoga selfies,” that trend many of us have been subjected to of yoga practitioners sharing photographs of themselves in fancy yoga poses in a bid to to see who can outdo one another athletically or perhaps just get more publicity (see yoga selfies: tara stiles & NY post spark big ol’ convo). The event that set off the latest firestorm of criticism was yoga teacher Tara Stiles riding around New York City doing yoga poses in a glass box on a truck to promote her latest series of yoga videos.

I was starting to feel that I should weigh in, too. After all, if you’ve been reading our blog for any length of time, you’d know that we’re interested in the power of yoga to foster health and equanimity, not in its ability to make us look good in photographs (which seems rather, uh, counterproductive). And a long-time friend of mine suggested to me that while there are already plenty of younger women writing about yoga for curvy bodies (see Interview with Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga), there was not much out there about older people and body image, and she thought that I should write something about it on the blog. I explained that I was reluctant to, not because I didn’t believe it was important, but because I didn’t feel I had much credibility on the topic. For much of my life, I was lithe and slender, and actively enjoyed the body I was born with. Maintaining that enjoyment is more of conscious struggle these days, as I’m in my early sixties and of course I don’t look the way I once did, especially—to be frank—with no clothes on. But, I explained to her, I still thought that someone who had struggled more with body image issues should be the one to take this topic on. Then by chance while I was cleaning out my attic (I’m still working on my Aparigrapha) this weekend, I found something I’d written a number of years ago for a book on body image that never took off (my co-author, who was the one who had body image issues, lost interest). The piece I wrote was intended just for women, and doesn’t address the issue of aging, but you know what? I think it still speaks to the larger issue. And it reflects my gratitude for one of the profound gifts that my practice has given me: an appreciation for the beauty of my aliveness. Even now with gray in my hair and arthritis in my right hip, I still feel this way when I’m working in my garden, walking down the streets of my city, or practicing yoga alone on my mat.

Without Mirrors

What if you forgot entirely about how you looked and could just walk down the street feeling entirely comfortable in your own skin, relishing all the physical sensations of being alive? And what if the simple movements of putting one foot in front of the other, of swaying your hips, and moving your arms, would feel utterly delicious to you, as if you were savoring the taste of a perfectly ripe summer peach or taking in the exquisite fragrance of a field of lavender? Wouldn’t you stop obsessing about the size of your breasts, belly, or thighs, the texture of your hair, the shape of your nose, the smoothness of your skin? And wouldn’t you simply rejoice in the beauty of your own aliveness? And feel immense gratitude for the gift of your body, the way it is now, the way it is today?

Everyone talks about the “yoga body” these days as if it were some kind of a look, some kind of fashion statement. They even, God forbid, talk about the “yoga butt.” But honestly as we look around our yoga classes, we see women of every shape imaginable, some slim and lithe, some buff and muscular, and some soft and voluptuous. So what if the yoga body has nothing to do with a look and everything to do with a feeling? Because in yoga we practice without mirrors. We do not look at ourselves, but rather feel ourselves and listen to our bodies. Yes, our yoga teachers help us to improve the alignment of our bodies. However, this is not so we look better, but so we can do the poses with more ease and can breathe more freely when we are in them (a good test of whether you are doing a pose with good alignment is to check whether you can speak in a normal, relaxed tone of voice while you are in the posture).

So are you ready to give up the fantasy of looking perfect for the reality of feeling wonderful?

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