Every January hoards of people crowd health centers and yoga studios everywhere in an effort to get a healthy start to a new year. Weight loss, of course, is one of the most common New Year's Resolutions. And while yoga can be a tool to help people reach their health goals, some in the yoga community been cautioning yoga teachers to keep their language positive, especially when it comes to body image.
It's such a big part of our culture that many teachers might not think twice about suggesting poses that help with weight loss, but it can be harmful and send the wrong message to students battling body image issues.
"Seemingly innocuous statements about burning off what you ate for the holidays may not even register for some people in class, but other people may be triggered into negative behavior by such statements," says Anna Guest-Jelley, a yoga teacher and founder of Curvy Yoga, a yoga system that supports healthy body image for people of all shapes and sizes. She notes that 24 million people in the U.S. have eating disorders and many more have disordered eating habits that might not constitute a clinical disorder.
It's a message that's been echoed a lot recently in yoga blogs. "Every time we speak in terms that portray food, exercise, reward, even love(!) as part of an economy of exchange, we are latently affirming a message of: you are not good enough as you are," wrote Jamie Silverstein on The Grinning Yoga blog.
Guest-Jelley acknowledges that weight loss and personal transformation is a big part of the conversation this time of year, but instead of contributing to a negative dialogue she suggests that the yoga community can shift the conversation by placing an emphasis on honoring the wisdom of the body instead. "Teachers can honor students' new year desire to change their body while leaving the decision about what that means up to the students themselves," she says.
"Yoga teaches us that who we are in this very moment is enough—and that's a message that's much harder to find," she adds. "How lovely for yoga teachers to be able to offer that respite."