Yoga translates to union, unity, and coming together.
Yoga doesn't stand for coming apart. It's not about choosing the bits you like and trying to eradicate the bits you don’t. Judging and shaming what is different from us isn't a part of yoga.
There has been a recent uproar in the yoga community about "yoga porn." About white, young, thin, childless, disease-less women posting photos of themselves in challenging asana on social media.
The argument here is that these photos are shaming women and men who do not fit this "ideal standard" and discouraging them from practicing yoga. The claim is that these images cause people to come away with the wrong impression: that yoga is all about getting a yoga booty and doing handstands in your bikini on the beach.
The fear is that these photos are making a mockery of what "real" yoga is supposed to be--an inner journey to the self. But there are some major holes in this argument.
What About These Ladies?
Who are the usual suspects? Sean Corn, Shiva Rae, Kino MacGregor, Tara Styles, Kathryn Budig.
All of these women are white. All of them are thin. All of them are free from life threatening or chronic illness. Most have no children. They are all guilty of posting scantily clad photos of themselves in yoga postures on the beach.
They are also responsible for bringing awareness to the practice of yoga to hundreds of thousands of women. These women have paraded their practices loud and proud and have served to inspire and ignite the yoga that has taken root in our country.
If yoga porn is ruining yoga, I kinda love the way that these women are doing it.
I am Guilty Too
Take a superficial first look at me, and I am sure you will put me into the category of self-promoting white girl too. I am lean. I am not dealing with any kind of disease. I do not have children or a whole ton of extra responsibility in my life.
So perhaps this means that my practice could not possibly be inspiring. Because I am not currently facing any kind of diversity, this also means that I have nothing of value to share. Because I have managed to create a healthy, happy life for myself--with the help of yoga--that means I should hide away in my house and never share myself with anyone, right?
Then, what if I told you that I used to be horribly depressed? What if told you that I almost lost my life to anorexia, and managed to pull myself out with very little professional help? I have been to hell and back within myself many times, and through my yoga practice, through looking at the inspiring women I mentioned above, through seeing that happiness and health and a love of life was possible through their sharing, I have gotten to where I am today.
What if it was the photos of these beautiful ladies that encouraged me to do the work of the "real" yoga path? ~Ali Washington
What if the image of shining people gave me hope to get through what I went through? What if I told you that yoga porn was a part of my recovery, just as much as all the inner work that I did?
Now that I am at a place in my life where I feel I am a healthy example of self love, self-care, and health in general, I post photos of myself in asana on social media. I include a caption intended to inspire people to go within and discover their own strength. I am not ashamed of this in any way.
What You See Is What You Choose To See
If someone chooses to feel bad when looking at someone else, that is a personal choice. We all get to decide whether we are going to be inspired or insulted by what others offer.
The real truth is, if you are feeling shamed or unrepresented or otherwise negative when you look at yoga photos, this is your work. This is something for you to look at within yourself. This is an opportunity for you to reach within and choose to allow yourself to be lifted by what you see, rather than beat down.
This is your chance to decide you are going to post photos of yourself if you feel under-represented. This is your chance to realize that nothing is inherently anything. You get to decide what the things you see mean to you. Always. And if you choose to see things as negative, it is really only yourself that you are hurting.
So instead of being insulted, instead of being shamed, instead of yoga shaming, let's do that yoga thing and come together. As fearful as you may be that these photos are discouraging people from practicing yoga, the truth is that the cattiness, judgment, and rejection within our yoga community is far worse for our image than any bikini clad woman in handstand will ever be.
Let's Be United
Lets practice what we preach. Lets welcome diversity and all types of yoga expression, because the truth is that not everyone is inspired by the same thing. The more people we have showing what yoga means to them, the more people we will reach. Then you need to trust that the practice of yoga will do its work. Whatever draws someone to the practice, whether it is the hope for inner peace or a bikini body, the thing that will keep them is the practice itself.
Yoga is union. Bikini photos and dedicated personal practice all find connection here.