You don’t have to wear tight clothes to do yoga.

photo (3) Yoga Journal is lovely.  I subscribe, I’m happy to get it in the mail each month and I always get something good to think about from each issue.  But this month, I was really agitated by the cover photo.  There’s a yogini on the cover, rockin’ a version of pincha mayurasana with a really nice white outfit, a smile on her face and a coy bend of the knee—toes pointed.  She reminds me of an upside-down, playful, sexy 1940’s pin up model. tumblr_mrcgjdW9Yf1qkmctto1_500

This lovely cover photo isn’t all that unusual for Yoga Journal so I have to recognize that my annoyance has more to do with how I’m doing these days than with some insensitivity or editorial shift on their part.  I can certainly see why the editors go for smiley and lovely, but I’m dealing with some grit in my life/practice these days and I am upset that I can’t find any of it in this cover.  No hair out of place, no evidence of strain, no cellulite…even the color scheme made me mad. Admittedly, I’m a little hard to please right now.

If you’d like to see an un-photoshopped pic of a special someone exerting herself, scroll down.  This is me while I am hanging upside down on one of those single monkey bars at my kids’ school’s icecream social last week. When I’m doing something upside down, my face turns beet red and this “y” shaped vein in my forehead bulges out like it might explode. (This photo really doesn’t do justice to the red or the “Y”.)  I’m smiling, but it doesn’t look normal. If I were in a white bra, tight short combo, you might be able to see some veins and cellulite.

photo (2)
photo by Dave who was not given permission to capture this image, but now I’m glad he did because I can use it here.

I bring this up because, like lots of publications, Yoga Journal is selling an image and an idea which they are hoping we want to buy.  I see this cover and  interpret this message to mean that when we practice yoga, we are supposed to look happy while wearing very few clothes and balancing upside down.  This gives the impression that even advanced poses should be performed in such a way that you can pop up into it and then it’s no big deal to playfully bend one knee and point those toes and be cute. But I don’t think it’s cute. I feel left out.  I don’t want any pressure from the outside to look a certain way or to always be smiling because I’m already struggling with this on the inside.  I want to be able to relate to this yoga-lady.  I want her to seem more human, which means not seeming so perfect.  I want yoga to feel accessible and inclusive and like there’s space for a whole red-faced, y-vein person to be involved in yoga and I’m just not feeling it with this one.

My personal practice takes place mostly in the dark, in the early  morning, in my pajamas. There is a lot of rolling around on the floor.YOu  I make noises when I’m working hard and I love that I don’t give a thought to what it looks like on the outside.  It isn’t going to make it onto a magazine cover but it’s good and real and very human. It works for me when I’m feeling good, and it is something to keep me going when I’m not.  I had someone say to me the other day that she wanted to come to my class but needed to lose some weight first.  You know what? You can show up for yoga no matter what you weigh.  You don’t have to smile or wear coordinated short shorts and sports bra. You don’t have to have much coordinated, really, you just keep showing up.  You can practice when you are sad.  You can practice when life is confusing or throwing you for a curve.  It’s okay if your face turns beet red when you go upside down and you need not worry if an occasional grunt emerges from deep down and your veins pop out all over the place. If you can breathe, you like it and you keep showing up then you’ve got what it takes. You don’t have to be “good” or go upside down or wrap yourself up into crazy shapes. Find a teacher you like and then keep going to her or his class.  Get to know your teacher, let them get to know you and keep showing up, even when you don’t feel like it. Then get some private lessons. Then start a home practice. (That’s when it gets super-interesting.) You can do it! Your teacher can help you! You don’t have to have all your shit together. Show up.  That’s a big part of yoga. (It’s a big part of life, really.)  Just keep showing up, and who knows, someday soon, you might be the one smiling through a difficult pose and bending one knee, just because it’s fun.

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26 thoughts on “You don’t have to wear tight clothes to do yoga.

  1. imagine the deafening silence i got when i tried to sell an article called ‘the yoga (every) body’ to a few mainstream yoga magazines…just goes to show my ignorance of the publications at the time. i think it’s a real pity, because the image that these very mainstream books put out is that yoga is ‘for’ a certain type of person, with a certain type of body, and that just couldn’t be further from the truth. great piece…love the juxtaposition of the upside-down pin-up girl…really brings to mind a recent outfit donned by a certain miss cyrus…

    1. Tell me about it! So many of my friends say, “I’m not flexible enough” or “I’m not in shape.” The whole point of yoga is that it’s for everyone. That’s basically been my mission as a yoga teacher. I would love to read your article. It’s an important point to get across.

      Sometimes I wear tight yoga pants, love handles and all, sometimes I practice in my pajamas like Amanda (I have a bulging vein too!), and 75% of the time I go naked because I live alone and I’m not a big clothing person. Believe me, NO ONE looks attractive in naked downdog. But that’s the beauty of it. I can practice when I feel fat, sad, happy, bloated, strong, weak, or whatever and get all of the benefits, even without booty shorts and a smile. And I saw that freakin’ cover too just as I’m working on my forearm stands. I’m sure as hell not smiling, I grunt like a beast, I’m covered in sweat and breathing hard, and I fall and slam into shit all of the time.

    2. I’d like to read your article, too, Ann. I feel pretty lucky because the teachers and the places I’ve practiced yoga are a really great mix of people with all kinds of bodies at different ages, I think it’s so cool that I could see that yoga really is for every body. and then this shit shows up in my mailbox and I’m just so annoyed that this is the direction of our main yoga publication. boo. I quit looking at style mags a long time ago and i actually had the same feelings arise with this yoga mag. ewwwww. nooooo. Colgore, I’d love to catch a glimpse of your forearm balance practice, It sounds awesome.

  2. Not to mention how heavily photoshopped magazine images are, even in this
    magazine. That fact made me cancel my subscription to this magazine.

    1. I think these are really universal issues, but it does seem like there’s a particular buzz going ’round these days. There’s some really healthy push-back and people want to see real bodies and truer images of health and happiness. Thanks for reading, Erin.

  3. I’ve come to peace with YJ by recognizing that it is a life style mag – not a yoga mag. I dropped my subscription a couple of years ago when I realized it only took me about five minutes to “read” it. And if they took out the Hard Tail ads, it wouldn’t take that long. (I’m sorry, I know I over-share.) Anyway… I’ll subscribe again when the cover is a wrinkled old yogi in a loincloth and dreadlocks.

    1. YOu know, you are right, Bharat. If it weren’t for Sally Kempton and the occasional interview with Gary Kraftsow, I’d find the mag pretty vapid– The wrinkled yogi in a loin cloth… that’s something I’d buy in a heartbeat.

  4. I really appreciate this post. I saw the cover this month and more than any other cover it bothered me. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until you shared that pin up photo. I haven’t seen a cover yet that looked too much like YJ was using sex to sell. Pretty clothes and good looking people, sure. But something about this cover is different. It just seems more posed. More about getting the shot than the spirit of the model. It is in complete oposition to the last cover of Colleen Saidman Yee in Gomukasana. It seems YJ has multiple personality disorder.

    1. They have come through with some good covers– seems like YJ is workin on the older yogi crowd with the last few issues. I appreciate that (when I’m not feeling quite so cynical). I have to agree that this particular issue had a different quality. I guess it is the sex. pisses me off.

  5. Reblogged this on Prana and Peaches and commented:
    Amazing post by Amanda Green at AmandaGreenYoga.com. This cover killed me too and gave me some anxiety, as I’m working on my forearm stand at the moment. It’s awesome for cover chick that she can don a huge smile while remaining sweat-free, with no cellulite, and perfect hair. However, that’s maybe one yogi in a million. I know I’m working hard because I look like a red-faced beast and grunt like a man.

  6. You are not alone as yoga folks have been aggravated by the plasticizing of the yoga form for awhile now but you told it with style, truth and humility so your readers will relate and be grateful for your candor. This is the face of yoga the way Hollywood is the face of style. The face is made up and not real and no real people look like this but they love the illusion that they might. That’s what sells magazines and clothes.

  7. A minor complaint of mine is that so many women look so damned good in their yoga pants. There’s nothing left to the imagination. Honestly, sometimes it’s not all that conducive to a contemplative practice (for me). It’s one of the reasons why I teach men’s yoga. I get YJ for free, but I wouldn’t subscribe. Some of their ads are practically soft-core porn.

    1. Yeah, I hear ya. There have been a couple of times that i’ve had to move my mat in a group class because the gal next to me was so fit and fierce that I found it really distracting. I generally teach to seniors. 🙂

  8. I’ve read this post, and all the comments. want to have something of value to add, but all i feel, and therefore can say is, ugh.

    and…..i am not able to do forearm stands….but it sure seems likes this would be pinching her back and neck in a pretty severe fashion. which just makes me look at it again and think/feel “ugh”.

  9. This would piss me off, too. Just because it seems like YJ is really playing into the women’s mag phenom: telling us all we’re not skinny enough, poised enough, perfect enough, sexy-in-a-pin-up-girl-way enough.

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