What does a yoga body look like?

How many times have you heard the phrase, “I can’t do yoga because (insert denigrating phrase about one’s body here)”? My belly is too big, my muscles are too tight, I’m not strong enough… the list goes on and on. Who ever decided you have to be strong, fit, or flexible to do yoga anyway? And what cultural forces are shaping society’s conception of the appropriate yoga body?

Recently, a fun blog we follow called Sociological Images featured an amazing set of photographs depicting olympic athletes from dozens of different sports. The pictures, part of a set by Howard Schartz and Beverly Ornstein titled “The Athlete”, show an astonishingly diverse array of bodies and challenge familiar notions of what it looks like to be “fit”, “healthy”, “strong”, etc.

There’s been an explosion of commentary in the yoga blogosphere as of late about yoga bodies— Slim, Calm, Sexy Yoga, A Plea from Curvy Yogis, Judith Laster’s Shellacking of Naked Bodies in YJ, and the new Yoga Journal Talent Search. With the emphasis on asana practice in modern culture, it seems that Western conceptions of what a healthy body looks like have snuck their way into the yoga room as well.

These pictures– an artist’s rendering of the myriad physical features represented among society’s most successful athletes– beg silent questions of our assumptions about what an “ideal” body looks like.  The caption in each image provides the athlete’s name and sport. You can see more photos here.

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- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

19 Responses

  • Tz says:

    So glad that you posted this… I was just looking at MY photos of ME doing some poses… and my own 'un yogafied' denigrating thoughts of What? Look at that alignment… look at that tummy.. and I'm A Teacher!!! then, as I was doing the dishes ( a great time for me to think… doing my Karma Seva around the house)… I thought NO, Yoga is really about connecting to one's self, finding my True Nature, loving the place of my vessel that houses that nature. Being Vulnerable helps others accept and grow within themselves as well. And, I'm all about that.

    • Chelsea Roff says:

      It's a constant practice, yes? Coming back to ourselves over and over again. That's why it's so important for me personally to surround myself with a community that reminds me of what's truly important– the connection to Life/Love/Self you speak of. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your own process. Namaste. :)

    • Thanks soooo much TZ for putting into words exactly how I feel some moments when i lose sight of my YOGA. Taking a conscience breath brings me back to what my yoga is and how I live it.

    • Marta Szwedek says:

      Thanks TZ,

      My thoughts exactly…

  • Bridgitte says:

    This is fantastic! I was just talking with students about the image of "model" that is sometimes considered ideal. We discussed how the whole point of runway shows is for models to be invisible, right? To disappear enough that the clothes stand out. Who wants to be invisible? I LOVE these photos! The other people around me who I am drawn to, find attractive, are usually those that are confident in whatever body they have. It's easy to admire in others. Harder, at times, for individuals to see their own bodies that way.

  • Marta Szwedek says:

    Thank you so much for posting this article!!! It touches on the subject that I have been thinking of for a while… I think that a lot of yoga people (especially in the big cities like NY and LA) became very superficial, which goes against all that yoga stands for…

    and I think that this is part causes the "civilians" to think that they are not fit or flexible enough to practice yoga. When was the last time you have seen a photo of a chubby yoga practitioner in Yoga Journal?