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Positive I.D.

In a culture that promotes dissatisfaction with our bodies and alienation from them, yoga teaches us contentment, gratitude, and acceptance of how we look—and who we are.

By Nora Isaacs

Lynn Bass used to avoid every full-length mirror she encountered. "I hated my body," she says. "I was totally disassociated from it—I would only look at my head in the mirror."

Two years ago, Bass, a senior director at a direct-marketing company, started taking classes at OM, a yoga center in New York, and the self-criticism began to ebb. With a teacher who consistently focused on accepting the body's strengths and weaknesses, Bass came to be more at peace with how she looked. "I don't hate my body anymore," she says. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that I love my body, but I have a lot more respect for it."

Bass's difficult feelings are hardly unusual. According to a 1997 Psychology Today survey, 56 percent of women and 43 percent of men are dissatisfied with their overall appearance. And yogis certainly aren't immune to the complex web of cultural forces that contribute to this epidemic of self-loathing. After all, it's not easy to reconcile life in an image-conscious world with the yogic notion that the body is simply the vessel through which we navigate a spiritual path.

But yoga practice creates an opportunity for us to re-create our relationship with our body. While we may have come to the mat looking for a "yoga butt," when we get there, we're usually so focused on directing breath into our tight quads or feeling the alignment in our hips that we forget about our appearance. By enabling us to go inward—to focus on how we feel in a pose rather than how we look—yoga encourages us to let go of our desires for our body and criticisms of it, to enjoy its movements. Over time, this experiential relationship with our body may even enable us to forsake the mirror for our internal seer, to filter out social pressures and unrealistic expectations, and to accept ourselves as we are.

"Yoga is a great tool, because we get to practice being in relationship with our bodies," says Christina Sell, author of Yoga from the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body Through Yoga (Hohm, 2003). "We get to tune in to the fine details of how we bend and stretch, which starts the process of self-inquiry. The doorway is often the body and the breath, and then we begin to become aware of what we say to ourselves—to monitor the criticisms and the judgments."

Getting to Know You

Body image has certainly been a hot-button issue for me. I used to feel alienated from my physical body, angry at its stubborn resistance to fit society's mold. I felt I took up too much space, that my belly stuck out, and that my clothes accentuated every line that wasn't perfectly flat. It was only after I took up a regular yoga practice that I realized it wasn't my body but my body image that was totally distorted—and that this skewed perspective was causing me to harbor resentment toward my body. My practice taught me to see my body the way it really was (rather than simply feeling fat when I was unhappy and thin when I was happy) and even to accept its quirks, like the way my ankles crack in yoga class or how my flat feet don’t fit into many kinds of shoes.

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Reader Comments

jtomanek

I agree with the comments above. I am an over 55 teacher, in great shape, not like the models in most pictures, and I even went so far as to compete in an asana competition. Not trying to "win", but to inspire people and to show that anyone, any size, any age can certainly do yoga.

Jyotsna

While reading this article, I left it mid-way to suggest the magzine team to do what they believe in. How ironic that even the picture along with this article is of a woman with a perfect body. These pictures lead to unrealistic expectations that consistent yoga, or even a crash course in it will get one such a body.
And reading other comments I realise, I'm not alone in this observation. Pls take note!!!

Matt

It's ironic that this article appears in a magazine (YJ) that features so many gorgeous models in their issues. Even the person in the picture that accompanies this article seems to be a model. Why?

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