It kind of makes me sad when I see yoga marketed as FITNESS. “Come on in and get your Yoga Buns, or A Beautiful Yoga Body!” “Yoga will make you lean, sexy, and desirable!” While all that might be true, it really misses the point. One of yoga’s greatest gifts is the opportunity to redefine our relationship with our bodies. For most of us, that relationship is complicated. Far too often, the way we feel about our bodies is based on how they look, or how we imagine they look, especially compared to whatever the accepted societal standard of beauty happens to be at the moment. We decide our bodies are too old, fat, thin, weak, short, tall, etc. Or maybe we’re just good and pissed at our bodies…they are injured or ill, they can’t produce children or do the things they used to do, or they don’t match the gender we identify with. We feel so betrayed! We identify them by their list of flaws. And even when we have to admit there are some things we like about our bodies (I have great forearms!), we are much more likely to fixate on the things we believe are wrong with them (I wish my legs weren’t so short!).

All of this is bad enough, but now factor in the modern western idea that the state of your body defines your general worth as a human being. Our culture has become so focused on our physicality that we tend to pass judgment on each other with a glance. We assume the fat person is lazy, the muscular gym rat is vain, the person with an illness is pitiful, the tall man is powerful, the old woman sitting by herself is lonely and sad… Even when we know better. Our self-image becomes inextricably linked to our body image, and we decide that if our bodies are obviously “flawed”, then we must be, too. And we might not even realize we’re doing it. We just know we feel bad about ourselves.

But there is a different way. Through yoga practices, we learn to examine our bodies from the inside, instead of the outside. We become more interested in how they feel than how they look. We get excited about discovering what they can do. We begin to separate body image from self-image. As we work to gain mastery of our bodies and a deeper understanding of our inner essence, we start to remember that our bodies are simply vehicles for navigating life on the material plane. They don’t define who we are. They contain who we are. And instead of judging them or obsessing over them, what if we just had fun experimenting and playing with them? Our bodies can do remarkable things!!! 

Yoga teaches us that our bodies can change. They can grow stronger and leaner, or softer and more open. They can release long-held tension, and move with greater fluidity and ease. They can heal and function more efficiently. Through compassionate and consistent effort, they can accomplish things we never thought possible.

Yoga helps us discover a new appreciation for the unexplored nooks and crannies of our bodies. When we learn to feel our way under our shoulder blades, we can recognize when tension is setting up shop there. When we explore the movement of our diaphragms, we can learn to draw in more healing breathe to revitalize our bodies. When we come to know the souls of our feet, we develop a deeper appreciation for our connection to the earth. When we identify and relax tension in our muscles, our manic minds begin to still.

Yoga shows us that how we move our bodies can affect our emotions. Backbends invigorate us. Forward folds soothe and calm us. Standing poses make us feel powerful. Restorative poses remind us that we are held and supported. Balancing poses help us find center. Inversions can flip our perspective.

Yoga reintroduces us to our souls. It reminds us that our bodies are impermanent…they will change, breakdown, wear out, and eventually decay. But our inner essence is timeless and unchanging. When we can identify and love the Selves who are piloting our bodies, we begin to spot and love the inner Selves in everyone else. Namaste! Yoga encourages us to take loving care of our vehicles while we have them. It makes the ride smoother and more enjoyable. 

Our bodies are not our enemies or our oppressors. They are our allies, teachers, and modes of transportation. It’s time we started showing them the gratitude and respect they deserve. Yoga gives us permission and the tools we need to become amazed by what our bodies can do, rather than worried about what they look like. The things we can’t change about them lead us to acceptance. Illness and injury teach us about surrender, perseverance and compassion. Our bodies are miraculous containers for our inner divinity. They are instruments of love…temples for God. They may not be “perfect”, but they are ours. Let’s try to start loving them.