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.
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.
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.