by Jessica Abelson
When people find out I work for Yoga Journal, their eyes open as if suddenly seeing me in a new light. I know what they’re thinking: Wondering if I can bend myself into those spectacular poses they’ve seen in photos, imagining a lifestyle of cleansing rituals, essential oils, and spiritual enlightenment. I always giggle to myself, knowing the power of the word “yoga” and the reality of the situation.
Admittedly I do now find myself stretching on the train, taking deep calming breaths while waiting in long lines, and preaching the benefits of regular yoga practice to whoever will listen. So, yeah, I’m that yoga girl. But yet, I’m not.
To outsiders, and even within our own community, practicing yoga carries certain stereotypes: that you’re vegetarian, have a killer body, and that you live in sync with your intentions.
That’s just not me.
While sometimes I think I’d love to diligently uphold the values that Patanjali preaches in the Yoga Sutra and to live my life with a focus on health and lovingkindness, this simply is not the case right now.
Here are five ways that I don’t fit the yoga stereotype:
I am not a vegetarian. I know it’s a-yoga, a-political, even a-my own health, but I can’t help it—I love meat. I also love chips, fried foods, and ice cream, and I’m not ashamed. I respect people who live on strict diets, carefully monitoring the foods they put in their bodies, but I simply do not have that energy or will. My philosophy is moderation. I don’t want to live my life not being able to eat what I want when I want it. I simply make sure my diet is balanced with not only the things I want, but also the things I need.
I don’t live in a state of total peace and harmony. Am I always Zenned out? Only after my yoga practice! Mostly, just like everyone else, I have my stresses and anxieties, my freak-outs and breakdowns. I simply use yoga to find moments of peace and quiet.
I do not wear Lululemon. The price tags on designer yoga brands scare me. I’m not in a place in life where I can spend $50 on a shirt I use to sweat in. And the $10 yoga pants I bought at Target work just fine. One day if I have money to spare, maybe I’ll buy those perfectly fitted, yoga-correct clothes, but for now I’m more interested in focusing on my practice rather than what I practice in.
I am not an “advanced” yogi. People constantly ask me if I’m “advanced.” What do I say to that? I honestly don’t see yoga in terms of levels, simply where we’re at on our individual paths. Some days I come into Bakasana and feel like a yoga queen. Then I’ll try a simple forward bend over Lotus and feel like I have the flexibility of a turtle. So, am I advanced? Yes. No. It depends. But, does it really matter?
I am not spiritual. I was raised without religion and can be pretty cynical when it comes to spirituality. It’s difficult for me to think about the unknown in terms of anything but science and logic. Practicing yoga has opened my mind to different ways of thinking, but I will never be an energy-seeking, cosmic-reading guru. It’s just not in the stars for me.
What I’ve learned through my practice is that yoga varies in the forms it takes. Even within any given class, my strengths and weaknesses are so different from those of the people around me. Just as I can’t tell my adductors to let to me stretch further, my mat neighbor can’t force herself into a full Wheel Pose if her back is tight.
The same principles hold true outside of class. I simply can’t live a so-called yogic lifestyle just because I do yoga. It has to feel right to me, piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit. Some days I opt for quinoa and some days I crave fried chicken. Some days I’m open to natural healing and some days I just want the Advil.
No matter what I choose on any given day, it’s still a part of my yoga practice. No matter what “yoga” means to anyone else, I can only live the life that feels right for me.
Jessica Abelson is the Web Editorial Assistant at Yoga Journal.