The Image of Yoga

You say ‘yoga.’

Who do I picture?

Here, in the UK?


1) white

2) middle-class

3) slim

4) female

5) herbal-tea-drinking

6) smug

…and I myself tick five and a half out of six of these boxes.

The half is down to a poor commitment to the drinking of herbal tea.  I prefer caffeine in a morning.  I prefer caffeine at night.  And even mid-way through the day if there’s breathing-space (mid-way through a bouldering session, for example).  Herbal teas might be healthier.  They might even smell interesting.  But the taste rarely lives up to the aroma and – worse – they are completely caffeine deficient.

In fact, whenever I buy the things (they help me to feel temporarily smugger), I’ve learned to go for the red ones because at least when I don’t like it, I can let it cool down and feed it to my poor naive kids, who think it’s ‘juice’ and get absurdly excited.

And yes, I admitted to ‘smug.’

Well, what is ‘smug,’ anyway?  As far as I can tell it means being pleased with yourself / proud / confident when the user of the word thinks such feelings are inappropriate.  I have plenty of cause, I’m sure, for owning that label – even when I’m talking about myself.

But back to the stereotypical yoga woman:  I both love and hate that she exists.  Love to notice patterns; hate that people accept them as rules.  Or even, actually, as real patterns.  Patterns are a trick of the light. plus-sized-yoga-jessamyn-stanley-2.

I decided I loved yoga in India, and breifly once while pregnant.  If I haven’t followed up on it, it’s because I haven’t wanted to conform.  It’s almost as though being a Mummy and owning a baby-sling automatically suggest yoga as an appropraite use of ‘me-time.’  Or at least, it’s an obvious option.  Kung-Fu or fox-hunting would have a more interesting social impact, that’s for sure.

* * *

The 30-day ab. challenge (which took me 45 days) made a massively appreciable difference to my body.  I can put my hands on my waist feel something slightly firm.  I’ve even got suggestions of the start of paired vertical lines on my abdomen (rectus muscles?)

But like any crash diet, it was painful and boring and when the effects are no longer being admired and the commitment no longer a novelty, the tendency is to forget about it.  I simply don’t want to make time to do 100 sit-ups, 200 crunches, 100 leg-raises and 2 minutes plank every day, let alone extend this so that I can make some form of ‘progress.’  If anyone is so motivated for the sake of two little lines on their tummies, they are – quite simply – vain.

I need to be getting more out of my exercise.  And preferably I need exercise that I can get more out of at home, while the sprogs are (at best) in bed, in a bit of lounge 3m by 4m and with little in the way of specialist equipment.

Suddenly I’m no longer surprised that so many Mummy-types choose yoga.  I sigh and start to google.

Stereotype City.

‘Weight-loss yoga.’

‘Work-out that tones your butt, abs and legs’

This sort of headline came out tops in every search.  ‘Stress-boosting’ and ‘mind-energising’ and ‘feeling good’ were there too though, so hope was not lost.

And there are hundreds – literally – of videos to choose from.  Although of course, they heavily feature slim women with manicured eyebrows, magazine bodies, sports bras and frequently make-up, demonstrating a range of work-outs.  The one exception I’ve found so far was a video narrated by a man, though with a sculpted female following his instructions in front of an ‘atmospheric’ fire.

Other exciting locations include the desert and underneath various trees.  There is a surprising absence of ‘sunset’ films (google stills of yoga and there are hundreds); presumably it doesn’t work too well for the camera.

But there are plenty of other irritating features: ‘soothing’ Muzak riffs; camera shots that are too busy admiring the woman’s body to pan out and show you the shape you’re supposed to be copying; commentary that feels patronising (‘just sit it out if it’s too hard for you’) or else dismissive (‘just flip up here, like this’ as her toes elegantly tickle the backs of her ears).  Some of the exercise routinres around my level are labelled ‘hardcore’ in  some sort of amusing marketting bid, which is helping to make up for smugness lost when I am feeding strawberry tea to my kids.

But do you know the worst thing?  That I am enjoying it despite myself.  To go with some of the jargon:  there is something satisfying about getting ‘deep’ into a pose; getting your body to relax when it is, in a way, under stress; to pushing it deeper.  Alone, in my room, not worrying about people watching, I find I can get into the state they call ‘flow.’

In fact, I might be finding my exercise outlet:  it’s making me feel great.  I’m feeling toned despite sillhoette-altering side effects not feeling like the main advantage.

The only problem is that I’m distracted by a trick of the light: being the sort of person who is interested in yoga might be something with which I never, completely, come to terms.


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