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Yoga’s Evolving Body Image: Justin Michael Williams’ Call to Action

Yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams talks about body image and how it is represented in today's yoga community.

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Yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams attended our Practice of Leadership panel and gave us his main takeaways after the event. Here, he talks about the evolving issue of body image and how it is represented in today’s yoga community. Plus, his two main takeaways.

When you Google the word yoga, the images you see are all too similar—tall, bendy, Caucasian women with a soft glow folded into pretzel-like poses. With the exception of the occasional Indian Guru, this has been the aspirational body image set forth by the yoga industry.

But times are changing.

If we take a closer look at what’s actually happening with the popularization of yoga over the last two years, we see that the representation of yoga in the media is indeed evolving at a surprisingly similar rate as reality of the demographics of practitioners.

Let’s be real. It was not “cool” to walk around town with a yoga mat slung over your shoulder until quite recently. Although yoga has been available in the United States for several decades, the mass popularization of the practice is just evolving through its infancy. For the majority of its prevalence in the States, yoga has always been a practice for the privileged – a niche offering at a high price point. But today, yoga is being offered to people of all socioeconomic classes, bringing diversity to the practice and fostering opportunity for people of varying colors, shapes, and sizes to become leaders in the public eye.

Yes, it’s true that most of the practitioners highlighted in yoga publications are still tall, thin, Caucasian women – but there has definitely been a shift. Look at any recent yoga magazine. You will find men, people of color, and women of all shapes and sizes making their way into mainstream media. New styles of yoga are forming to coincide with varying body types, spiritual practices, and social preferences. This is cultivating new leaders within the community – my personal experience is social proof. I am a multiracial male featured in a full page of an upcoming issue of Yoga Journal.This moment in history offers an opportunity and great responsibility for both the yoga community and popular media. It’s time for a call to action. Here’s what I think:

Yogis of all colors, shapes and sizes
We must step fully into our power, steep in the practices, and activate our role as leaders. It is time for alternative community frontrunners to step out of the yoga closet. Learn to use marketing and social media just as effectively as the current yoga icons so that we can spread our message to the world. This is the only way we can continue to shape the face of yoga.

Yoga media outlets
Keep your minds open to the changes on the ground level of the community. Watch carefully for developing leadership outside of the typical demographic. Remember that the image you highlight will be the image yogis aspire toward, so hold space for leaders of all shapes, colors, and sizes and provide a platform for them to shine.

This moment will never come again. This is our chance to create a clear, open, and authentic public image of yoga that matches the reality of the community and the ethics of the practice. Let’s make it count!

– By Justin Michael Williams

Justin Michael Williams is a social media expert, public speaker, and yoga teacher who decided to ditch corporate America to start his own yoga-centric social media marketing agency. 

See more on the Practice of Leadership panel at YJLIVE in San Diego