By Roseanne Harvey, It’s All Yoga Baby
Recently I was having brunch with my granny and she said;
“You’ve gained weight. With all the yoga that you do, you should be skinny!”
There’s nothing like being fat-shamed by your grandmother. But she was echoing a common misperception about the “yoga body,” something that has been presented by the dominant culture, a way of understanding the effects that yoga has upon a woman’s body.
Reflections On A Changing Body
Of course, my 84-year-old granny didn’t point out something I didn’t already know. I have felt myself thicken up lately, despite no significant changes in my eating habits or physical activity.
As I’ve reached my late thirties (38 years young, yo), my metabolism has changed or something. I’m consistently gaining weight, despite my best efforts. It’s subtle, and since I don’t use scales or measuring tape, it’s difficult to measure. But I feel it.
Perhaps it is my yoga practice, which until recently (when I discovered a full body workout in seven minutes – more about that later) was my primary form of movement. My hatha yoga practice has nursed me through consistent lower back issues over the past six years, and then last summer I injured my shoulder, preventing me from doing downward dog and a few other standard poses in modern postural yoga.
I had to ease up my practice, and it became very restorative. I spent my yoga practice time lying on my back, doing weird shoulder stretches, which helped the pain (although not as much as a few rounds of rotations with free weights). I practiced yoga nidra, a deep restful yoga, to replenish my body through the bouts of pain.
So maybe I’d added the pounds because my body was forced to slow down (by itself, which is so crazy). I can’t say that I feel good about these changes in my body. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin, awkward and clunky.
Talking, But Not Always Walking, The Walk
Through my work on It’s All Yoga, Baby, I am a big supporter of the body positive movement sweeping through the North American yoga community. Yet while I’m a champion for the cause, I don’t always feel so positive about my own body.
While I’m hard on myself for only talking the talk, I also see this as proof that this movement is so necessary and important for so many women. I believe in the movement because I have often questioned my practice and wondered what I got out of it.
At times, as I’ve felt the layers of flesh thicken, I thought maybe my yoga practice was the problem. Maybe I needed more cardio burn, more vinyasa, more hot yoga. But I also know that I risk aggravating my sensitive lower back (with its multiple disc issues) when I do a really active practice full of sun salutations, forward folds and twists.
The Endless Pursuit of the “Yoga Body”
Despite the many benefits I receive from my practice, the elusive yoga body is not one. So I have incorporated a new body practice into my daily life, a seven-minute workout, which I read about in the NY Times and then immediately downloaded the app.
I know it’s kind of ridiculous, but the app gives me just the structure and feedback I need, in a way that acknowledges my body for what it is. The seven-minute workout sequence (with its old school conditioning moves like push-ups, squats and crunches) is based in high intensity interval training, and my body is responding to it like crazy. I’ve felt my strength, stamina and muscle tone increase in the month that I started doing seven minutes of working out per day.
It almost makes me wonder why I could have expected anything more from my hatha yoga practice. Bu I’ve already written about how the yoga body is a myth, and now it’s being confirmed again. Instead of developing a toned and fit “yoga butt” through my yoga practice, my body has softened and thickened. But my yoga practice has never felt deeper or more effective.
Yoga Shifts: Physical and Beyond
As I’ve developed a purely physical practice that benefits my body, my yoga practice has also shifted. I’ve started practicing more often in the evening, with a bolster, blocks and blanket, or a guided meditation.
My practice has become more thoughtful and contemplative – and nourishing. It’s where I hang out with myself, co-create a relationship with my whole self, and take time to reflect on what I’m doing.
If I was to respond to another fat-shaming comment from my granny, I would point out that while yoga doesn’t make me “skinny,” it tones other aspects of myself and helps me to “lose” unnecessary parts (slowly but surely, over time).
I may not be thin, flexible, or – as difficult as it is to admit – young, but it doesn’t matter. My body, as thick and newly-muscular as it is, is a yoga body in its own way.
Roseanne Harvey is a writer, yoga teacher and community organizer in Victoria, BC, Canada. She writes about yoga and culture at It’s All Yoga, Baby, a widely read blog known for questioning, provoking thought and shining a critical light on yoga culture ~ while celebrating community, service, creativity, the independent spirit and good ol’ fun. Roseanne is also the co-editor (with Carol Horton) of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Practice, and Politics, an anthology of essays by some of the most cutting edge voices in the North American yoga community. Connect with Roseanne on Twitter: @itsallyoga_baby