Body Positivity & Yoga: A Natural Balance
Practicing yoga deepens your connection with your body and grounds you in present moment awareness. Yogis and Yoginis come in a rainbow of colors, genders, ages and shapes, so it's not surprising to see body positive influencers striking a relatable cord with the public. In a society that places far too much importance on the superficial, those brave enough to embrace their bodies and encourage others to do the same, truly illustrate yoga’s body/mind union.
Yoga teacher and Influencer, Vanessa Tikaani, started on a yoga path in 2012, after the birth of her son. Initially, the attraction was about asana practice; although, after a while, Tikaani says, “I realized there was so much more to yoga than just asana. Yoga to me is about the inward journey, about finding yourself, loving yourself, and healing from your past.”
When asked how yoga helped unite her with the physical, Tikaani says, “Yoga taught me how strong and beautiful my body is - exactly how it is - because of what I could do without being a certain size.” Tikaani refers to herself lovingly as a “curvy girl” and says “for much of my life I felt ashamed of that. But when I started practicing yoga I realized that my size didn’t matter, I could do anything I wanted to do and most importantly I realized just how strong and incredible my body is.”
In Raja Yoga philosophy, the first Yama (ethical philosophy), in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is Ahimsa, often translated as nonjudgement. In keeping with this mindset, Tikaani talks about the importance of, “not comparing yourself to anyone else or anything.” When it comes to your yoga practice, it's “just you and your inward journey to healing,” says Tikaanii, who adds that common misconceptions about yoga and body image imply “You need to be thin, and already flexible to do yoga.”
Tikaani would love to see more diversity in body sizes from companies. “I don’t believe there is any well-known yogi out there that started with high levels of flexibility. Yoga will give you flexibility in time, and is certainly not a requirement for starting a practice,” says Tikaani. Another way that yoga images could be more inclusive, according to Tikaani, would be highlighting, “yogis performing asanas with props or modifications to show how yoga can be adapted to all levels.”
Hesitant to try yoga because of how you feel about your body? Tikaani suggests beginning with a home practice, since it “takes away the pressure of going to a studio and being afraid of others judging you or watching you as you learn the poses and sequences.” Being in your own environment gives you a chance to, “take time with the classes by pausing, trying the pose a few times, and so on,” says Tikaani, who adds that “your practice is there to make you happy.”
While it shouldn’t be the case, unfortunately, body shaming can be a harsh reality in some yoga classes. When it occurs, Tikaani wisely says, “I always remember that if someone is trying to shame me, put me down, or say I should be doing X, Y, or Z that they are simply projecting their own insecurities or pain onto me. It never has anything to do with me in the end.”
In addition to Tikaani, others reshaping the yoga body image landscape are Tao Porchon-Lynch, the world's most senior yoga teacher, wise and unstoppable at (101), and Jessamyn Stanley, a poetic force of nature. For more yogic inspiration, check out 50 Body Positive Influencers You Should Follow, from Verywell.
Like yoga itself, being body positive runs much deeper than it initially seems. It involves the ability to expand and challenge your own perceptions. So don’t pressure yourself if it doesn’t come easy at first. Keep in mind, how you interact with others strikes right to the heart of yoga and body positivity. So be mindful of your habits and beliefs. When you turn your gaze outward, are you viewing your others with kindness and interconnectedness? Or are you judging? As you embark on the practice of yoga, dare to take on the inner stretching along with the physical. Practice compassion toward yourself and others. And give yourself the opportunity to rediscover beauty in all forms.