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Centering on Shame
Tell me again – why do I need to hear “it’s almost swimsuit season!” before I begin a yoga practice?
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
I love me some good yoga gossip. (Just sayin’.) So when a friend of mine told me the other day that she’d recently walked out of a yoga class, you know I had to hear more.
As she began her story, I was imagining someone standing on her back or otherwise physically injuring her. What happened, though, was far more interesting–and common.
Shortly after the class began, the teacher chirped out the nail in the coffin for my friend—“Gotta get ready for bathing suit season!”
Now, I realize that this statement isn’t that unusual, but my friend is mindful about body image and didn’t want to be in this kind of environment. Bear in mind that no one would mistake the two of us for twins–she’s tall and thin while I’m short and curvy.
But that’s the thing about body image, right? It’s coming for all of us, regardless of our size.
When I heard this story, I immediately thought of how the students in the class might have heard it. So let’s walk it through–choose-your-own-adventure style (remember those books? Fun!).
Enlightenment, exercise and escape
We’ll begin this experiment with people who come to yoga to get their sweat on.
After spending what feels like most of my life in front of the computer, I know that I (and many others) can relate to the desire to move my body in a way that feels good.
Next we have people who come to yoga to heal their body image issues and/or to connect with themselves. Even if they don’t make themselves known, we can trust that they are there. Many of us struggle with these issues, even if we don’t present as a “worst case” eating disorder case that everyone can easily identify.
Finally, there are bound to be students who don’t care. Who just come to yoga to zone out; and, really, who hasn’t done this? Sometimes it’s the most loving choice available after a long and stressful day.
Higher truth or low self esteem?
Here’s the thing about all of these groups (which are, of course, neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive): focusing on dieting/cleansing/bathing suits isn’t really helping any of them. People who are interested in that already don’t need additional encouragement in their yoga class. They can literally get that support almost any/everywhere else.
And besides, why spoil a perfectly good asana with a shaming reminder of bathing suits? Because that’s what it is–shaming. It’s not “motivational,” at least not in a positive way. It’s assuming, no matter what the shape/size of your body, that (a) you’ve slacked off and have work to do and (b) you’re not happy with your body now.
A recent Glamour survey found that 97% of young women have at least one “I hate my body moment” per day, and I’m willing to bet that this rate holds strong across many different identity categories. So I think it’s safe to say that when we’re talking about how negative body image affects a yoga class, we’re not talking about a fringe group. We’re talking about our friends and students. And we’re also talking about ourselves.
I think is really the crux of the issue. When we use thought and care to create a space that is supportive of many different bodies and goals, we’re not catering to a few random people in our classes.
We’re supporting ourselves and our loved ones.
This doesn’t have to look like drawing and decorating pictures of our bodies or holding hands in a circle and sharing what our favorite body part is. (In fact, I’d prefer if it didn’t.)
Instead, it can look like demonstrating poses at all different levels. Talking about the joy of movement. Celebrating eating. Acknowledging that sometimes we don’t love our bodies, and that’s okay. Affirming people where they are. And trusting our students–and ourselves–enough to choose our own adventure.
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website Curvy Yoga and on Facebook and Twitter.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.