In last month’s post we talked about a concept called “the other” as a philosophy and communication technique to deepen our relationships, bring us closer to one another, and improve our interpersonal communications. We explored how the philosophy of “the other” requires that we examine our motives and put aside our own egos and views in order to understand what someone else may need or want and that we shouldn’t act on the assumption that we have the perfect, or the only, understanding of any given circumstance. I read a book this week called Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley. Contributors to the book explore the concept of “the other” in an entirely different way. In this context, the authors refer to “the other” as feeling out of place or not included. They talk about something I have given a lot of thought to recently. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to yoke or to unite. As a practice, it is known to connect the body and the mind, to help us connect with ourselves on a deeper level, heighten our self-awareness, appreciate what our bodies are capable of, and accept wherever we are in the moment physically or emotionally. At the same time, so much of the yoga industry is divisive in their marketing strategy, using methods that portray a projected ideal of how a yogi “should” behave or look. Publications photoshop models and focus on a narrow variety of body-types and demographics. And in some cases we go so far as hold contempt for ourselves if we feel we don’t measure or we objectify and judge one other, all in the pursuit of some fictional perfection. It makes me sad to see this go on and it makes me particularly sad that it happens in an industry that is built around a practice that is meant to provide support, acceptance, and create community.
I can’t count how many people tell me that they don’t practice yoga because they feel like they don’t fit the mold of what a yogi is. They feel like they aren’t “good” yogis because they eat meat, like to drink wine, or aren’t flexible enough. They look around at yoga books and magazines and don’t see themselves in the images. They go to yoga classes in studios or gyms and spend a lot of time comparing themselves to people they have been conditioned to believe are physically the quintessential yogis and they feel badly about themselves because that is not how they see themselves. They feel like they don’t fit in because of their body shape, size, or ability. And here’s the reality and the beauty of yoga – there is no ideal yogi. Yogis come in all shapes and sizes. Yogis eat meat, yogis are vegan, yogis drink alcohol, yogis are sober. Yogis eat ice cream and they drink smoothies. Yogis are blondes, brunettes, and redheads. Are you getting the picture? Yogis aren’t one just one thing or the other. So how did we get to a place where we think that there is some perfect way to be? I would say that it isn’t just one thing. It’s a confluence of happenings, internally and externally that are influenced by the message that the media sends us that there is an ideal and most of us aren’t it.
The goal is not some artificial state where you stuff your real emotions. Whether you are someone who turns their judgment inward or outward, the goals here are kindness and acceptance, letting go of the mythical idea of how we think we should be, and tossing out comparisons and resentment.
So what can we do about it? Yes,we can choose to love our ourselves, to view the changes we go through as a beautiful part of the process of life and representative of our stories. We can choose to not buy in to the bill of goods the media is selling us about the yoga industry or any other for that matter. And I don’t know one man or woman who wouldn’t choose that if it were that easy to do. But it isn’t. There’s no quick fix or easy solution to this because the things that shape our views on this subject are complex and institutionalized. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do things differently. Perhaps the next time you have a negative thought about yourself or you begin to compare yourself with someone else, you stop the thought and acknowledge it. Sit with the discomfort, breathe through the feelings that come up no matter how unappealing they might be for you. Whether they are feelings of envy, inadequacy, self-hatred, or judgment, acknowledge them. It’s not comfortable but paying attention to these things and exploring them honestly is how we get through the other side and begin to feel differently.
The goal is not some artificial state where you stuff your real emotions. Whether you are someone who turns their judgment inward or outward, the goals here are kindness and acceptance, letting go of the mythical idea of how we think we should be, and tossing out comparisons and resentment. Accepting where we are physically and mentally and not judging or admonishing ourselves for it on our mats or off. There are times when I feel great about myself and the decisions I’ve made and there are times I’m scared and I question those decisions. I’m trying to love the scars I have because they are a daily reminder, not of illness or injury, but of my body’s incredible capacity to heal. I’m trying to look at things that I see changing about me as I get older and love them because they tell the story of my life. When I notice that I’m judging myself or comparing, I stop, I acknowledge what I’m thinking as if it’s an interesting piece of information. I breathe and I ask myself where I think the thought is really coming from. I try not to judge myself or scold myself for having the thought. And you know what? Things are shifting. It’s kind of freeing. I’m excited for the day when I achieve total self-acceptance and in the mean time I am learning so much.
Pause here an notice the reaction you’re having to what I just said. I hope you are reading this and you are excited at the possibility of what could be. And if you’re reading this and you find yourself starting to judge what I’ve said or you are telling yourself that you can’t change the way you think, or you are beginning to make assumptions about me and why this might be easier for me to do than it would be for you, notice how easy it was for you to slip into that thought pattern. Notice how often you might do it to yourself or to others over the course of the day. Pause, not to reprimand yourself for doing it, but to breathe through it and think about how good it might feel if we all just stopped buying into the messages all around us, the judgement, and the negative self-talk, and started appreciating ourselves and one another.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.