Yoga and Body Image

yoga certificationBy Gopi Rao

Impossible Standards Set Everyone Back

Are the flashy advertisements for weight loss Yoga, “butt lifting” pants and nude Yoga helping to bring in new practitioners, or are they driving away those who could benefit from the practice?

Though Yogic philosophy in its original format does not focus on physical appearance at all, around the world, it has been relegated to a position with other “female attributed sports” like gymnastics, ballet or figure skating. With this niche, the emphasis on fitness standards, of beauty for women, mean that practitioners are shown as thin, beautiful and predominantly white in the media. The exposure that Yoga is now given in the women’s fitness market is a blessing and a curse: Globally more women practice Yoga, yet they now feel pressure to live up to body ideals that have nothing to do with Yogic philosophy and everything to do with marketing.

The effects that advertising has on body image are real and measurable. The poll conducted by ad agency Saachi and Saachi in 1996 found that ads made women fear being unattractive or old. Similar research found that “the average woman views 400 to 600 advertisements per day, and by the time she is 17 years old, she has received over 250,000 commercial messages through the media.”

One should examine the underlying message sent by these ads: first, Yoga is only practiced by the young and physically beautiful. Secondly, if you are not physically beautiful or young, you can become so by purchasing the right products. Finally, the standards are always climbing; there are new products that will make you more attractive and advertisements with more stringent beauty standards every day. You, alone and unadorned, are not good enough.

Faced with these messages, it is no wonder that those who fall outside the young, beautiful, thin, athletic and flexible category (i.e., the majority of the population) can be intimidated by the thought of trying a Yoga training session. Ironically, those who take the leap and begin practicing anyway usually experience a healthy change in body acceptance and awareness. The Psychology of Women Quarterly study in 2005 found that people who practice Yogic techniques “reported less self-objectification, greater satisfaction with physical appearance, and fewer disordered eating attitudes compared to non-practitioners.”

Tips for Yoga Teachers

The only way to derail this negative process is to reject it outright. Know that these products are sold for a profit, not to help you. Be certain that advertising for your own studio or classes shows a representative sample of Yoga practitioners, and speak out if you find advertisements that are inappropriate. Encourage new practitioners to find five positive things about their bodies during practice; over time, this will become a healthy habit for them.

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7 thoughts on “Yoga and Body Image”

  1. Bless you for this article! Often people tell me they “can’t” do yoga because they think they aren’t “thin enough,” or “flexible enough.” I say that yoga is designed to adapt to us, not the other way around. My favorite book to share with my adolescent clients is “Yoga the Iyengar Way,” by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta. The people in this book are very normal, average looking people (with extraordinary yoga abilities, of course!)vs skinny gymnist-type model images my kids are surrounded by. I will share your article with my students. Thanks again!!
    Anna B.

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