You’ve seen ‘em all over Instagram…pictures of long-haired, sun-kissed, (typically) white women in bikinis doing impressive looking yoga postures somewhere beautiful—beach, mountain, mod urban apartment. Often, the photo is captioned with some kind of mantra, yoga quote or Rumi poetry, or a New Age self-help affirmation about loving yourself and letting your inner light shine.
Sometimes, the post isn’t a still picture, but a video sequence. Likewise, these typically feature a young white woman with a dancer’s body doing dramatic postures, but the video is sped up, so it looks like she’s some kind of floppy doll in a child’s hand. There is no instruction or guidance but there is lots of bending and spreading.
I don’t mind what the images stand for. I am all for health and fitness and fully support empowered, embodied women. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman who truly glows from within and has the confidence let her sexy self shine.
Where things go south for me is when they relate what’s happening in the picture to yoga. Because yoga is about transcending the ego, not reinforcing it. And I can see absolutely no purpose for these images that is not ego-based. Every time I see one I have to fight myself not to type the same comment:
Please stop misappropriating an ancient spiritual practice to gratify your ego.
Do you ever see Catholic nuns posting images of themselves reciting Hail Mary’s on a Malibu beach wearing a thong? Has a Buddhist nun ever hashtagged her post #sexymeditating? No one ever seems to post selfies where they’re practicing brahmacharya.
Many of the images I am talking about are sponsored (in other words: bought), which is one more way they work counter to yoga. By playing on our desire for what is pictured, the advertiser establishes a sense that if we just buy their product, we can have it. Youth? Beauty? A tight ass and extraordinary bendiness? Just buy these yoga pants! It works on the id—the unconscious—precisely what we’re trying to transcend through our dedicated practice.
It’s possible these images bother me because I am harboring some subconscious resentment that I wasn’t born blonde but brunette and am built more like a biker than a ballerina. I admit these images do tweak my insecurities. And this is yet another reason I am opposed to them.
I’m not saying those pictures make me feel insecure—I am responsible for my response to them. But they do perpetuate unrealistic standards and reinforce stereotypes that are unfavorable to women. Turning ourselves into objects (what we look like) instead of people (what we think, do, and feel) does nothing to advance our position in the world.
It’s bad enough that women face so many media images outside the yoga sphere that feed insecurity and perpetuate fears of inadequacy. Yoga should be a safe haven from all of that. A place, a practice, a lifestyle, and yes, even an industry that authentically validates, affirms, and honors not women’s bodies, but our ideas. Our service. Our caring and intelligence and commitment to justice.
The practice of yoga should unite, not divide.
Ladies: enjoy your sexy self. Just stop calling it yoga. And when you’re ready to transcend your ego, or ready at least to try—does any of us ever get there?—actual yoga will always be here.
Click through to read this article on Elephant Journal.