Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, aerial, hot — these are some of the most popular types of yoga, and if you're into the stretchy sport, you likely have a favorite. But have you heard of the newest yoga genre?
Aspirational yoga! It's found only on social media and probably doesn't even exist in real life, but that doesn't stop people from constantly posting airbrushed pictures of thing white women doing impossible poses at sunset. You've seen them, the perfect pictures topped with slogans about embracing our imperfections. It's enough to make a girl want to throw a yoga block.
Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga teacher and the most popular plus-size yogini on Instagram (she goes by Fat Femme), knows what I'm talking about. In fact, she's made it her mission to show that not only is yoga for every body, but that you're allowed to look like a beginner, make mistakes and sweat in inappropriate places.
"Everyone [on social media] feels like they need to project this idea of perfection and beauty and 'Be the light' — that's my favorite quote, because I think it's such bullshit. It's like, 'Be the light,'" Stanley said in a recent panel about body positivity hosted by Refinery29. "They're saying all this stuff that is about positivity — whatever, but 'How did you get to that point?'"
Can I get an "amen"?
Don't get me wrong — I love seeing pretty yoga pictures as much as the next yogini, and it's always good to have goals, but after doing it most of my life, I'm well aware that there's yoga on social media and then there's yoga the way the rest of us do it. "Real-life" yoga is everything that, well, real life is: Sometimes it's shockingly beautiful, but a lot of the time it's gritty, messy, smelly, hard, boring and painful.
I still love it. In fact, that may be what I love most about my yoga practice — how real it is and how it brings me in touch with my very real and very imperfect body.
So I talked to some of my yoga friends about all the stuff that happens that you never get to see in pretty Pinterest pictures. We all agree, this is what yoga is really like. Hint: Not one person said "perfect abs." In fact, the word "perfect" didn't come up a single time.
Who hasn't worn an outfit that looked great on the mannequin but was apparently not designed for people to move in? Or for people who have big boobs or tummies or butts? Or for people who are extra tall or extra short? I once spent an entire yoga class fighting a tank top that wanted to shimmy up to my armpits like a roller shade. Other common experiences include the "pants pull-up pose," where you give your waistband a good yank every time you move through Mountain pose, or the "wedgie wiggle," where you rock your hips in Up Dog, hoping to dislodge your wedgie without having to use your hands.
There's nothing as... refreshing... as lifting your legs over your head for Plow pose and getting a good whiff of your lady business. Yeah, even though you never see it in pictures, crotch sweat happens. So does under-boob sweat (not to be confused with the photogenic cleavage sweat we get to see plenty of), butt-crack sweat, back sweat and (my personal favorite) slippery hand-and-feet sweat. Multiply by 100 if you're doing any type of hot yoga (as in, it's not Down Dog, it's Drowned Dog).
Yoga blocks can be slippery suckers, straps can get twisted around limbs in ways that would make a bondage lover blush, towels can be moldy or stinky, water bottles can spill across fancy bamboo floors, mats can roll up at inconvenient moments (causing double embarrassment by showing how little you use said mat, as it's clearly rolled up most of the time). Basically everything's out to get you.
This one's for all the girls who've tried Toppling Tree, only to actually topple. Or the time you tried Crow pose and ended up crowing in pain as you smashed your beak. Or the time your neighbor got distracted and fell sideways, causing the whole row of beautiful Warriors to go down like dominoes. (OK, that was me. I'm still so sorry, you guys!) People make mistakes — in fact, it could be argued that that is yoga's primary purpose, to teach us how to make mistakes and learn from them — so why is it we never see those in pictures?
Ask anyone who's been doing yoga for more than a month, and I can guarantee they'll have a story about snot, pee, farts, tears, burps, vomit, blood or even queefs. (Yeah, I said it. You try straddle headstand lifts.) Yoga has a way of making us get really intimate with our bodies, and that includes the parts we like to pretend don't exist in the outside world. But all those things are really fine! Promise!
On a good day, I'm totally down with visualizing my chakras and shining my heart center and namaste'ing, but there are times when the teacher tells us we're all radiant, powerful goddesses, and the best I can do is roll my eyes. Another friend admitted to refusing to "clear her mind" during final resting pose and instead goes over her grocery list. Yet another fessed up to skipping final resting pose altogether because she didn't see the point in lying in a puddle of her own sweat, getting cold when she could be getting stuff done. We're not saying this is right, necessarily, but it sure is real. And in the end, that's really the best part of yoga: how it helps us deal with our real lives rather than forcing our real lives to live up to some kind of yogic ideal.
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