People think you have to already be thin, young, healthy, flexible before you can do yoga. I’ve no idea why this is the case since one of the greatest modern teachers of yoga was so sick his own teacher gave up on him when he first started learning. BKS Iyengar developed props to help people get into poses gradually, to open their bodies but starting where they were, no matter their physical state at the time.
Let me point something out. This is me.
I sometimes think I’m fat. Let me say that again for those of you who’re questioning my sanity. I sometimes…think I’m fat. Body image is an odd beast and there are winter days where I’m sluggish and feel like poop warmed over. I go to a Bikram yoga class and feel youthful and vibrant. I feel like Titus Pullo.
When I took this photo after a Bikram class I felt alive and well, certainly not fat. Years from now I can look back and remember that I had visible abs. For guys that’s some sort of benchmark in western society. Don’t believe me? Find a copy of 300 and watch it. Abs are a big deal. Why? Do you needs visible abs to do yoga? Well you certainly do if you want to strut around and flirt with girls after class I suppose.
Image and yoga? What do they have to do with one another? Very little but American marketing demands that its needs be met. Yoga even the physical hatha yoga isn’t about the physical. The end goal has absolutely nothing to do with your physical body. In fact the practice is supposed to teach you, to have you experience the fact that you are not your body. It uses the physical as a doorway to the spirit. You may have to walk through it but I doubt anyone has ever reached saint status then thought, “man, I don’t have abs any more.” Crunches needed.
So what’s the focus on fat? I’ve no clue. I presume it’s just the groans of a dying society lost in a whirlpool. Our species for most of its existence had to struggle to get enough calories. Many on the planet still starve but those who have food, especially here in America have, dare I say, too much food. Food is everywhere and you can’t avoid it. People say sex sells but how often do you see pornography on a billboard? How often do you see naked breasts on the convenience store window? You do see ads for poptarts, corn dog rollers, double bacon patty melts and a whole host of foods not only poor in nutrition but loaded with calories. Hold up some kale and ask kids what it is? Brocolli? Swiss Chard? Now hold up a burger, do you see my point?
Part of the issue with yoga and those considered fat is that yoga, a timeless part of Indian spiritual tradition hit America. The land of botox, lapbands, fake boobs and pastreurized processed cheese food has now tried to merge with a spiritual tradition whose goal was samadhi. Lord, save me from your followers.
If you are ill or unhealthy then you’ll have problems reaching that goal. That is what the physical yoga is for. It’s designed to help make you strong, limber, focused with open hips that allow you to sit and meditate. Notice that I did not mention cute $100.00 yoga attire, mats, blocks, straps, water bottles, yearly memberships or your neighbors excess or lack of arm pit hair. Those trappings and material components have nothing to do with yoga. It’s not the point.
The point is you. It’s helping you wherever you are physically to train your mind and body to experience who you really are, underneath the abs or fat or both. So for the fat girls out there, yoga is designed for you. Much like life and relationships, yoga is what you make it.
I teach yoga in a nursing home once a week and have for the past year and a half. These people have taught me more about the practice of yoga than anyone. Know why? Because they couldn’t do anything that I thought of as yoga previously. They can’t get on a mat, they must sit in a chair. They’ve never done any traditional yoga pose other than mountain pose in a standing position.
If you come to my yoga class and can’t do something, we find something else for you to do. We improvise. If you’re in a yoga class and a teacher makes you feel bad or criticizes the fact that you can’t do a pose find another class and teacher. My goal as a guide is to help you explore you, wherever you are. Out of shape? So what. That means you’re a perfect student. The practice is designed to help you not convince you you’re not worth anything. If I as a yoga teacher cannot look at new students with different bodies as an opportunity to grow my own teaching practice then I have failed as a teacher. Each new student with different limitations is my chance to find out something new about what I’ve devoted my life to.
Start where you are. There is no other option.
Oh and by the way, remember when I said I feel fat? I’m 5’10” and weigh 174lbs. According to BMI I’m 1lb overweight. Medically I’m overweight. If I lose 1lb I’ll be considered okay. Get my point? That guy in the photo with the abs is considered medically overweight.
I’m keeping my bacon and my fat girls.