Initially this was going to be a single post, but as I began writing I realized that there was no way that it was all going to fit into one. There is a lot to say as a woman and as a yoga student and teacher about managing the ego. Mindfulness through my practice has made me more and more aware of how the ego permeates my life every single day.
It’s a constant job, managing the ego, one that I have become more acutely aware of thanks to my yoga practice. As a teacher it is a reoccurring theme in classes that I teach. As a female it is a lifelong struggle, not to say that it isn’t for our counterparts, men, trans, etc., because of course it is, but I believe it becomes a permeating issue for young girls much earlier than it does for boys. Specifically I am referring to body image issues.
Young girls and women are bombarded with sexualized images of women in fashion magazines, on TV and movies, in music videos, commercials and advertisements. There’s a cultural pressure to be “pretty”, to wear makeup and expose skin. Although it may not be realized by those that it effects, there is a never ending expectation on American women and women world wide, that leads to low self esteem, eating disorders, and in some cultures, such as Korea where I lived for five years, a massive beauty products industry and even thriving plastic surgery industry.
Think about it for yourself, imagine the last pop culture/mainstream entertainment that you last saw. Ask yourself how the women and girls were portrayed. Men as well can be portrayed with shirts off for example, but it is far less common. Red carpets are a prime example of the disparity. Fashion is something that I enjoy, so after big events I like to look at images of what people wore. The women’s dresses tend to have ridiculously plunging necklines (a-la J-Lo’s green dress at the 2000 grammys), very short skirts, cut outs or sheer fabrics over nothing more than what may as well be underwear. And what do men wear to these events? Three piece suits. They literally could not be covered up more unless they wore gloves and scarves.
The yoga world is unfortunately not immune to this norm. Google the word yoga, select images, and scroll. Most of the images will be of fit, thin, muscular women, some of whom are not wearing shirts, majority of the images will be of white women.
I have to pause and have a brief interlude to say that I somewhat hypocritically, and contrary to the main theme of this writing, believe that if you work hard on your physical fitness and are proud of your body and it’s capabilities through whatever means of your choice, yoga, running, cycling, zumba, and you want to show off your hard work and are a confident, proud adult, then please by all means practice yoga in your sports bra and short shorts. In fact this is the Ashtanga way and even B.K.S. Iyengar wore little shorts while doing yoga his whole life and I completely respect him for that. What I am arguing here is that marketing relies on sex selling which leads to a cultural pressure to be what is seen everywhere and I do not believe that it is healthy or necessary.
Although yoga clothing is often sold with images of women in their bras and leggings, or exposing more skin in their bras and short shorts, there are some brands that do better than others of purposefully having more realistically sized models and plus sized models, that should be recognized, but it certainly is not the case for all brands. In fact, in writing this I looked up one of the biggest names in yoga gear and surprisingly discovered that the line that they’re featuring on their website at the moment of winter 2020 is actually quite modest full of long sleeves, turtlenecks, and drapes of excess fabric.
I had an experience at a studio in a tropical location in which the teacher taught in just her bra and leggings. I don’t want to sound overly puritanical, but I believe that to do so as a teacher is distracting to our students and will more than likely lead them into negative self talk because that is our default as people and primarily as women. As I said before, practicing yoga in little clothing is in some lineages traditional, and I think that women should have the ability to practice in a hot yoga studio or hot climate without a shirt on the same as men, but for a teacher in a place of authority and power I believe that it is not the most responsible decision that we could make.
It is for this larger cultural reason that I purposefully do not often post pictures of myself in my sports bra doing yoga or in my bikini (I only practice so scantily clad at home when very hot in the summer, to my best knowledge there are a handful of shots on my Instagram feed, it is certainly not a common way that I post.) For many young women there is a pressure to post sexy Instagram posts, to get more likes and because that is what the broader culture glorifies.
In a similar manner, Instagram posts of beautiful women performing difficult yoga poses in however many levels of yoga hype up the ego in yoga practice, making many of us feel less than for the inability to do the same. The next post will delve more into the work of the ego in wanting to achieve the perfect pose and how that mindset can in fact be detrimental.