Yoga From the Inside Out: Andi’s Experience
One of the books that I read this month was Yoga From the Inside Out by Christina Sell. This book discusses how body image impacts the practice of yoga. Though yoga tells us to love our bodies and to do what feels best and right at the time, many practitioners of yoga, as well as other athletics, push ourselves beyond natural limits in order to “improve” our bodies. Our media and society promotes body perfection, which causes a skewed vision of beauty. Christina Sell and others who were interviewed for this book have all faced body image issues before and during their yoga practice, but through yoga have come to love their bodies. This book discusses strategies to use in yoga practice and in life to help yogis come to love their bodies and practice yoga from the inside out.
Sell gave many shocking statistics about the pressure that our society puts on one another to be thin. A few of these statistics and facts are listed below:
- The average woman is 5’4 and weighs 140, the average fashion model is 5’11 and weighs 117. This means that most fashion models are thinner than 98% of women. In addition, beauty icon Marylyn Monroe was a size 12-14, which is considered more than “plus size” by today’s standards. In 1985, models were on average a size 8, today they are a 0-2.
- Americans spend about 50 billion dollars on average a year on dieting and weight loss products. Even more shocking, this trend starts at an early age. Studies have found that 75% of 4th grade girls claimed to be on a diet, 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner, and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. In addition, 42% of 9-11 year olds are ery often or sometimes on a diet and 51% of 9-10 year olds feel better about themselves when they are dieting. These trends stem from the 82% of families who claim they are on diets sometimes and very often.
I have always had a very poor body image. When I was younger, I was often picked on for being overweight. Even at my thinnest, when I was a full time swimmer swimming about 4-5 hours a day 6-7 days a week, I still did not feel “skinny.” My body is just not built the same way as the women who are considered by mainstream society to be “beautiful.” Though I have come to terms with this fact, I still envy and become self conscious around those who could be “judging” me for my size or who fit our society’s view of beauty. I will admit, that even as I read this book about loving yourself for who you are and not pushing yourself too hard for “perfection,” all I thought about is how I should be doing crunches while reading. Though the text explained that feeling this way does not lead to a happy life, I feel stuck in the middle: I don’t love my body, so I am not in either of the camps. I would really like to apply this book and it’s teachings to my life, but I feel stuck because I don’t know how. I feel that I am currently somewhere stuck within the stages of self-image described in this book. I hope to one day balance both ways of thinking: I know that I will always care about how I look (and want to care about my appearance), and I also want to work out for my own health as well as my self-confidence. That being said, I hope to never take my body to extremes, and hope to be happy with a weight that I can attain in a healthy way rather then to only find those who are stick thin to be beautiful.
This book discussed a lot of feelings that I feel when practicing yoga. Jeannine explained my feelings of body image and yoga perfectly in her dialogue. She explained that though yogis come in all shapes and sizes, those who have that “perfect” body type tend to look best in the poses. Even though they may not always be doing the pose “the best” or most accurately, they tend to look better than someone who does not have the “perfect” body type when doing the same pose. I find the way I look or the way others look while doing yoga very distracting to my practice, and I am thankful that we do not have a wall of mirrors in the front of the studio, as many studios do. I often find myself comparing my body to others during practice. I am people watcher by nature, and find that I am a fairly visual learner. It helps me to watch others do a pose that I am not familiar with to ensure that I am doing it correctly. I also observe others to take visual cues of little things that I should or should not be doing within a pose. Though this helps to improve my practice of yoga, I can find it distracting because it may lead to me feeling self-conscious about the inevitable bulges apparent on my body when twisting and bending as we do in yoga. Because of these thoughts and feelings, my mind wanders from my intentions or breathing to plans to run/diet/exercise more, which takes away from my focus on yoga.
To help improve my practice, I need to be more intentional about my focus in yoga and not allow my mind to wander to other things outside of my practice. Sell explained that this feeling state of poses and its practitioner is called bhavana. This is an idea that goes hand-in-hand with many of my other yoga goals: focusing on breathing, improving my comfort with the moves so that I can find oneness of self through yoga.
In addition to providing insight for my own yoga practice, this book also has a whole chapter included on the importance of creating a yoga community. Though yoga is typically thought of as a solitary practice that focuses on self, creating a yoga community that helps to encourage and celebrate others’ success is and important part of yoga. Through creating, rather than falling into, a community of those who are like minded, we are able to find sanctuary and support not often found in other ares of life. In the book, Sell discusses that the sanctuary found in a community of yoga practitioners is called “kula” which means family of the heart.
Another term that means family of the heart, or more literally “good company” is “sangha.” I had never before researched what Sangha Space meant, but now I know that it describes a space of good company or a space where a community is welcome to form and thrive over the love of movement, body, soul, and one another. Sangha space definitely lives up to it’s name. I love going to a studio that accepts me for who I am and the “level” I am. Trying, even when you fail, is encouraged and even congratulated. I try to promote and display the ideals that Sangha Space was built on each day by making connections with other members, giving encouragement, and being present. This not only helps to create a community for others, but also for myself.