Yoga, Fat Coffee, and Wrinkles

By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | Feb. 24, 2024

COMMENTS

a picture of a white woman with her legs straight and hands holding her knees. On top is a cup of coffee with milk.

We had been in a straight legged, teeth grinding Boat pose for about a minute when the teacher said, “You’re doing great! Keep it up for another 10 breaths! You can do it! Just think how much better that cream is gonna taste in your coffee this morning when you’ve earned it!”

My inspiration evaporated.

Will the cream in my hypothetical coffee be less wonderful if I don’t do Boat pose for another 10 breaths? Should I feel guilty drinking a full fat beverage without first earning it with exercise? Do I need to prove to myself that I deserve to ingest cream?

a picture of a white woman with her legs straight and hands holding her knees. On top is a cup of coffee with milk.

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I had some pretty awful but also garden-variety eating disorders as a teenager and young adult – bulimia, body dysmorphia, over exercising, calorie restriction, etc. They were awful because of the self-inflicted violence, and they were garden variety because, well, so many other people deal with the same issues.

Self-loathing around weight is never entirely personal, it emerges and is promoted collectively, from shared cultural values and media messaging.

When I started practicing yoga regularly I became kinder to myself and more accepting of my body – but it would be dishonest to say that my issues completely resolved. While yoga can be a refuge from the cultural messaging around weight, it can also be an insidious accomplice in reifying that messaging. Body shaming can easily go underground in the yoga world – neatly repackaged as the virtuous pursuit of health and self-care.

I mean, as a woman, an American, and a yoga teacher does it come as a surprise that I’ve struggled to accept my body? Despite the robust pushback against weight stigma, fat phobia, and agism in the yoga world, implicit and explicit shaming and self-harm persists, regardless of the glaze of bliss that gets drizzled on top.

As yoga teachers and students our bodies are central to our work and practice. Pressure to conform to societal standards doesn’t magically disappear when you step into a yoga space. Instead, it morphs into the exalted, sanitized, acceptable pursuit of health.

a hand on a chalk board drawing the words, health, fitness, habits, prevention, balance and diet

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Over the years I’ve had many discussions with my husband about the difficulty, as a yoga teacher, of walking the razor’s edge between the positive inclination towards healthy living and the morass of self-loathing, disordered eating, and dieting. Many times, he’s kindly suggested that I take care on that walk. Take care in how I talk to myself about my body, be mindful of how underground eating disorders masquerade as healthy living; and always approach my students with the same level of care.

Honesty, satya, is a precursor to svadhyaya, self-reflection. What practices make me feel strong, vibrant, and healthy? Am I practicing out of self-love or self-loathing? Am I beating myself up with yoga or learning to love myself through it?

a picture of the author doing tree pose in front of a blooming tree

author

I haven’t conquered all the internalized culturally messages about my body – they are sneaky. While most days I feel pretty confident that I’m increasingly finding balance, avidya remains an insidious force. Some days I don’t even realize how the messaging is being reflected in my behavior.

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of ads for face yoga coming through my feed – of course, I’m targeted as an older woman interested in yoga. And while I’m sure there are many good, healthy reasons for doing face yoga, the messaging can be similarly sneaky.

Like yoga for weight loss messaging, yoga for anti-aging preys upon a cultural rejection of aging. It’s not innocuous – it taps into cultivated fears and disguises it as health. So I’ve decided to practice loving my face regardless. Thanks but I think I’ll keep my wrinkles, I’ve earned them.

Part of my own personal growth process is writing about this stuff. What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.

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