When Ontario, Canada–based yoga teacher Samantha Menzies first launched her website, a prospective student sent her a surprisingly personal email:
Seems like your build differs from other yoga instructors, as you’re much more muscular + stronger than the norm. Are you trying to change your physique in that direction?
Rather than quietly take offense, Menzies took to her blog—firing off an honest, funny and inspiring post critiquing the myth of the "perfect" body. We chatted with the spirited yogi about accepting yourself, limitations and all, and why yoga is so much more than pretzel poses.
YogaJournal.com: What first drew you to yoga?
Samantha Menzies: My very first practice took place at the age of 10 with an Ali MacGraw yoga video cassette that I bought from Wal-Mart with my birthday money. As a fat and pathetically uncoordinated child, I appreciated the the fact that the most important part of yoga was breathing. I had found my sport.
YJ.com: You've written that you don't have the kind of body that's "built for yoga." Explain?
SM: I have the bone structure of an armadillo. I'm substantial and solid. I have short arms and wide shoulders. All of this makes me really good at powerlifting and not so good at, say, binding my arms behind my back in Marichyasana or hopping from Down Dog to Boat.
YJ.com: How has your own practice affected your relationship to your body?
SM: I went through a phase—the majority of my life actually—when my body was never good enough...The emphasis of the yoga practice on non-judgment was critical in helping me to realize that my body is perfect as it is. I learned to explore with curiosity how my body responds to certain poses and movements. At first it was a struggle not to beat myself up over my body's limitations and not to feel like a failure because of them. The more I practice yoga, the more I am able to embrace and accept the limitations of my body, which means I can embrace and accept everything about my body. Honestly, I love my body now. It's an amazing thing.
YJ.com: People often talk about the "yoga body." What does that mean to you?
SM: The yoga practice as we know it was designed in the East by and for men with short bodies and long limbs. It's been carried on in the West by women with short bodies and long limbs. Those are the bodies we see in the magazines and Pinterest pictures doing all the cool, pretzel-shaped poses and making them look easy and accessible.
We need to change that ideal. A yoga body, in fact, is any body doing yoga. Can you breathe and be aware of it? Congratulations, you have a yoga body.
YJ.com: Will you summarize your response to that anonymous email?
SM: Most of my physical activity comes in the form of powerlifting because I take pleasure in lifting heavy things, but I have always been an avid yogi. When I launched my yoga website as a new yoga teacher and was asked if I was trying to morph my body away from a powerlifter physique into something new, I was disappointed. I was disappointed that our society has this idea that only a certain body type is designed for yoga or that practicing yoga will give you that certain body type. So I responded in the way I do best: by writing a whole sarcastic blog post on the subject.
I said, "I can't change my physique because I can’t change my bones or where I carry my body fat or the length of my arms (which, FYI, are not long enough for yoga). This body is all I’ve got so this is what I’m going to have to work with. This body will give me a greater appreciation for what I can do."
YJ.com: What do you wish more people knew about yoga?
SM: Yoga helps you sleep better. It helps relieve stress and anxiety. It improves your balance, strength, and endurance. It cultivates an awareness of your body's abilities that you can carry over into other sports and into all aspects of your life. Why would you hold yourself back from easy access to all these benefits? Let go of the sense that you have to be good at yoga to do yoga. You just have to breathe.