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The Politics of Yoga

Yoga | Yoga for Beginners

I call myself the accidental activist. My friends and colleagues say otherwise. I guess they might be right.

I have a hard time tolerating intolerance. Actually, I dislike the word tolerance. I prefer celebration.

I have a university degree in Political Science. I am a mother, an entrepreneur, a black woman in a larger body who teaches yoga, and I love to observe the culture of the day.

My activism in the yoga community started one day when I just got tired of being the only person of colour in a size 16+ body on the mat. I knew there were more of us out there. Now I see that there are!

Yoga Culture and the Body Positive Movement

For years, people have been scared to try yoga or enter a studio space because mainstream media has presented and marketed yoga to healthy, educated, middle class people with fair complexions and flexible bodies.

Bravo! Their marketing was successful, because that is mostly who showed up to class.

Yoga quickly became a commodity to be sold through expensive, size restrictive, clothing companies and glossy publications where gymnasts performed on the cover. Lost in the mainstream yoga culture was the idea of the true self in the average inflexible body.

Our bodies were left out of the yoga conversation and we lost the idea of the true practice of yoga. Some of us were even sometimes shamed away from the practice. We could not practice as we wanted in our bigger, smaller, inflexible, flexible, brown, yellow, pink, beige, and white bodies.

We were sold a bill of goods that continues to be perpetuated and the body positive message gets co-opted by these same companies trying to sell their products and play on your insecurities.

Modifications as Cheating?

In the latest issue of a leading yoga magazine, modified poses are now considered cheating in your yoga practice. The so-called “perfect shape or expression of the yoga pose” is limited to those like the genetically gifted, strong and able-bodied teacher featured in the article.

She fits the yoga body stereotype through genetic privilege. Why this image continues to be perpetuated dismays most of us. It makes you feel that yoga bodies that need modifications are somehow less vibrant and are cheaters.

The Need for Diversity in Yoga

The quest for a more diverse image of yoga has become a political one. I have been criticized for making the practice political when it’s not. I have news for you; everything we do is political to some degree. Everything we do impacts the world.

The choices we make and the messages we send get amplified and internalized by many people. Yoga became political when mainstream yoga culture started designing the message and making it an inclusive club that many of us could never belong to.

We took an ancient and beautiful practice and turned it into something used to judge our bodies, and create a new culture of dysfunction around body image. We teach people through our actions that what we look like is more important than who we are.

Come as You Are

My newest and most favourite yoga quote shared by a student is: “Come as you are, use what you have, and do what you can.” There is no cheating in the yoga practice. There is no perfect expression of the pose. There is no perfect yoga body.

There is the perfect yoga philosophy—come as you are and learn who you are. – Dianne Bondy

Yoga is your opportunity to express yourself authentically. Yoga can empower you. Yoga can teach you about yourself. Yoga can be a great tool for self-awareness and reflection. It’s these tools that can lead you to a more fulfilled life.

Don’t let marketing designed to play on your insecurities, body shaming, or pose-shaming stop you from trying yoga. Coming to your breath and feeling strong, calm, and grateful for the body you have is the truest form of yoga.

Yes, you have a yoga body, and yes you can do yoga.

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
Featured in the Huffington Post, USA Today, and VOGUE

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