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Yoga, Weight Loss & Representation: The Real Story

Recently I ran across dubiousdrishti‘s article on yoga and weight loss as a feminist issue, and it caused me to reflect on my own anti-plus-sized yoga stance. In the article, DD addresses that yoga is not really a weight-loss technique, but that our hyper-beautified culture and capitalistic branding have resulted in an inauthentic marketing of the practice. I couldn’t agree more, except I believe the spectre of weight loss gimmicks in yoga is yet more complicated. Over the last decade plus I’ve been practicing, my weight has fluctuated many times.

When I first began practicing in 2003, I was somewhere in the range of a size 18 and about 190 lbs. By 2005 I’d dropped to 155 and a size 6, although damage to my knees resulted in years of physical therapy and an increase to about 220 lbs. or around a size 20/22 for my height of 5’ 8”.When I’ve begun to lose weight, people comment on it long before I notice it and attribute it to yoga. Sometimes they are right in obscure ways.

Over time as you build muscle mass you shift your metabolism and without changes you diet you might reach a tipping point. If I wasn’t doing yoga those days, I would probably have been sedentary. Sometimes I’m doing a lot of yoga because I’m so stressed I’m not hungry, or I’m far more conscious of what I’m using as fuel, etc. However, none of these are prescriptive or even conclusive habits, and I’m often quick to point out that my weight fluctuations are not necessarily intentional and definitely not a goal for anyone!

With that being said though, I think it is important to address issues of weight in the yoga community. @dubiousdrishti notes, “Yoga’s association with lean, fit bodies should not be emphasized. Yoga has completely changed my relationship to my body, not because it’s transformed it, but because it’s allowed me to know it so much better. I don’t know exactly how much I weigh, but I can tell you which shoulder has more range of motion, which hamstring is tight, and that whatever I weigh gets fucking heavy after the 38th vinyasa in the primary series.” Although my practice is more Iyengar-influenced than Ashtanga, I completely relate! I only weigh myself after months of students asking me questions, and then only to get a quantifiable figure I can use to educate my students so they will stop associating yoga with the svelte cover model they’ve come to envision.

In fact, it is this issue of weight that informed my two local, community blogs opposing plus-sized yoga. Although obesity in the United States is a serious issue, the way we relate to our bodies and the inconsequential idea of that number is absurd. We are far more content to cut off our own arms to lose 20 pounds than examine the deeper social, emotional, and physiological issues at work. In this way, yoga can provide profound value to those wanting to lose weight, but only if they realize they are allowed to participate in our community.

I’ve opposed Plus-Sized Yoga and posted yoga pics w/the numerical weight attached because we act as though weight and yoga are somehow mutually exclusive dualities we are mystically manage to reconcile. The fact is weight is a part of my body, just as a tight or lose hamstring is a part of me, or weird ROM variations I’ve had since childhood are a part of me. Don’t get me wrong— weight requires modification, severe obesity requires specialized attention, and there are poses I’m more likely to do now at 175 than I would at 220. However, the average overweight person should not be segregated into a separate class to avoid slowing down or discouraging the skinny girls, just as the average modifications should be a fundamental part of teacher training programs rather than a single weekend one-off slapped together with Kids, Prenatal, and Senior yoga.

Although we have come to these conclusions from different angles, I believe @dubiousdrishti’s admonition against encouraging the “yoga body” and “yoga butt” image is part of a deeper problem in Americanized Yoga. Postmodern yoga in the media is represented by Lululemon creation “Ocean”— a hyper-essentialized white, young, urban professional, middle-class size 2 uber-yogini— while magazine covers promote our generation’s Sting-esque celebrity practitioner over the everyday men and women who come to the mat each day. Yoga practitioners of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, backgrounds, sexualities and gender representations, ethnicities, belief systems, and personalities have all the more call to action to actively represent yoga in the many diverse ways it is practiced and realized.

It is a complicated thing to negotiate ego-identity and “selfies” and yet offer yourself to our sometimes vicious Internet hive-mind as representation of the “otherness” in your global community. However, in times when weight-loss yoga bots and cheap Buzzfeed celebrity fluff pieces are counterbalancing what little SEO rankings and search engine contradictions we can offer, it is all the more important for those of us who are not represented in the media to rise up and self-identify in our little ways, and perhaps convince those who are searching that they have a place here too.


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