When I went to college, I experienced a sort of culture shock. My college was only a six-hour drive from home, but it was the first time living away from my friends and family. I experienced a lot of anxiety my freshman year. Everything was new and I was forced to mature quickly.
I look back now and realize how grateful I am today for those four years of college. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, but opening myself up to new things, like yoga, and learning how to grow outside of my comfort zone has made me the most proud.
If it wasn’t for my introduction to yoga during that time, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.
Yoga transformed my mental state. I never knew you could find stillness in movement. My mind always raced, and college only heightened that state. But as soon as I took my first yoga class, I was hooked.
I can still remember the smile of my yoga teacher. She would smell like patchouli and had an energy that would light up the whole room. I learned a lot about myself through her teachings, and I’m indebted to her. Little did I know how far and wide my journey to yoga would take me.
Now I’m a certified yoga teacher (RYT-200) and have plans to get to my 500 hours. Yoga will always be a practice. There is never a destination, only the journey. Even though I love teaching yoga now and introducing others to this mindful movement, I am fully aware that I will always be a student myself. That’s the beauty of yoga.
But yoga also has some aspects to it that I dislike.
Clothing and Body Image
Take for example, the clothing trend. Leisure wear has grown to include the usage of yoga leggings outside of a 60-minute yoga class. While I LOVE wearing yoga leggings, I do think it’s made it easier to compare ourselves to other women. Yoga leggings are designed to be a little extra snug, and I find it helpful when doing yoga. But when I scroll on my Instagram feed, I’ll notice other yoginis in yoga wear and think to myself, “Wow, they look so skinny! Ugh, I wish I didn’t have these belly rolls, and pudgy stomach, and a flat butt.” It hits me how often I find myself comparing my body to other women in the same clothes! I start wondering if it’s the society we live in that has prompted this.
Lululemon, the popular brand of yoga athletic apparel, has a reputation for shaming women for their bodies. Their co-founder stepped down after publicly saying that some women’s bodies just don’t work for his company’s yoga pants. Talk about patriarchy! Here you have a man selling yoga pants geared toward females while also telling women what they don’t and do look good in.
Yoga clothes should be accessible and affordable to all. Every woman, and body, should feel comfortable in their yoga attire without feeling the need to compare themselves or shame another. The same goes for all genders.
Straying From Its Roots
Another issue I have with yoga is how America has westernized it. My knowledge of the history of yoga expanded during my yoga teacher training. I learned the deep roots of yoga are in India, its philosophy, and its history. Yet, I see how types of yoga like “hot yoga” gain popularity. People seem to flock to these studios just to burn fat and detox quickly. I even saw a studio named “Hard Yoga.” Hashtag shaking my head.
Yoga can be intense and hard, but it is a soft practice that challenges you spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The challenges are where we grow in our yoga practice. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion. There may be tears, sweat, and we may want to call it quits, but ultimately what we gain from the overall experience is something that we can add to our lives to flavor our experiences as spiritual beings. Trust me, it is so worth the time and energy.
One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga
Lastly, I think of one of yoga’s core principles—ahimsa. Ahimsa can be referred to as “non-violence,” but its closer translation from the Sanskrit language is “absence of injury.” Now, there’s a lot of ways ahimsa has been understood in the yoga spheres, but I personally think it would be remiss to completely ignore how that relates to our food choices. Each time we eat and drink we are committing an act to ourselves, and those acts have consequences even before they reach our plates and cups.
Being an ethical vegan, I’ve made it a priority to do the least harm as practical and as possible as I can. I know I’m not perfect and I’m still learning, but my yoga practice is also a testament to this wild journey of honoring my temple and respecting others, including animals. By not consuming meat, dairy and eggs, I don’t contribute to an industry that profits off of violence being done towards animals, all for the sake of so-called human’s health. Ahimsa is a practice of self-regulation to free us of being chained to our own human impulses. I wish more yoga studios taught ahimsa in this light, instead of ignoring this type of non-violence.
I love yoga, and I foresee myself practicing well into my later years. There’s something so magical about having this type of relationship with my body, day in and day out. Try a class for yourself and see how you feel. Or keep practicing and thanking yourself for the time you give back to your body. Our bodies do so much for us, and by practicing yoga we can honor our temples and extend compassion to our very core. Don’t forget to always fill up your cup first. You deserve it.
Photo: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash