#perfectpigeon, #handstandwinning, #dancersposefordays; if you practice, if you have friends who practice, if you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve seen them — photos of young and slender bodies posing with ease, backdropped by sunsets and beaches, or perched perilously on a mountain peak. We are struck by the beauty first, perhaps followed with a little envy, and then associate these captured moments as forms of yoga perfection.
But does it make us substandard yogis if we can’t do the standing splits? If a full wheel pose is out of the question, have we not yet “made it?”
“‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is one of my favorite quotes,” says Catherine Caldwell, a petite, hot yoga regular.
By social media standards, perhaps she fits the image of an ideal yoga physique, but she still fights the urge to imitate. “I always have to remind myself to keep my eyes and concentration within the four corners of my mat,” Caldwell continues. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. You have to do what works for you.”
Comparison is a vehicle of viewing ourselves from the outside in, disassociating from introspection — our ability to look within. If we view our bodies as observers, through the lens of a camera or a mirror or others’ perceptions, we are essentially on the road to self-objectification and in turn, body dissatisfaction and body image issues. And when have we ever heard of a yoga sequence of mountain, forward fold, halfway lift, then self-critique?
In recent years, countless articles and conversations within the yoga community have examined the ideas of the bastardization of yoga; how the practice has in some cases morphed from an ancient science of mind-body connection to a trend and a means to a leaner, better, more “acceptable” body. With so much emphasis on the physical, yoga has become inaccessible to people intimidated by a studio filled with lithe, tightly outfitted bodies. And although many instructors strive to cultivate a safe haven free from judgment, they themselves may be struggling with body image as well. While working to help move their students beyond their physical limitations, teachers are not immune from the pressures to become physical proof that yoga “works.”
At 6’4” and 360 lbs., Paul Witte flies. You can find him at acro-yoga gatherings around Oahu, sometimes a strong base, sometimes in flight. “Yoga seems like any other relationship,” he says, “some days it’s great, some days it frustrates you, and some days you’re looking for a change in your practice. That being said, no matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ my time is on the mat, I’m always glad that I took the time to get there.” Paul regularly attends “Acro-jams”, practices with friends after the Moana Surfrider’s monthly Vino and Vinyasa events, trying out new poses, perpetually smiling. He adds, “[Yoga] works my strength, my flexibility, and helps me find myself in the moment.” As far as his size is concerned, Witte quips, “You just do what you can, modify, and be happy in the moment. Be happy in your practice.”
Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh once wisely said: “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” Although easier said than done, a simple shift in viewing moments and situations can guide us all closer to accepting ourselves for who we are.
Perhaps most importantly, we must realize that large or small, tall or short, old or young, your body is your one and only vessel at the moment. With that said, you might as well get along. By setting an intention to be present to what already is, you open your heart to becoming an ally with yourself instead of an enemy. We are more than the sum of our belly fat. Celebrate the strength of your poses — whether it be tree or mountain or warrior — and feel alive through your breath! Tune into the body’s needs without judgment, quiet the mind, listen to that faint voice in your heart; it’s probably not telling you that your rear end needs 20 squats. If you really listen, it’s gently tugging you on a string towards greater self-awareness.
Ultimately, yoga is about transformation. But not the kind of transformation that a good Insta filter can lend but deep transformation from the inside out. Transform your relationship with your body and you will in turn transform your relationship with yourself. You’re already everything you need right now and you’ve already “made it” every time you make it to your mat.
Rebecca lives in Kailua and spends most of her time smiling very broadly. She has practiced yoga for over a decade and has kept pen to paper considerably longer. When she is not on the mat or composing words, you might find her on the ridge of a mountain or the peak of a wave.