The Yoga Fight: Why Yoga & I Are “On a Break”


The Yoga Fight: Why Yoga & I Are “On a Break”

I have a confession to make. I haven’t been practicing yoga.

But I HAVE been flossing. Every night.

Sometimes, too, I do put on some sweet tunes and roll around on my mat for a while. In the five-to-twenty minute range. I just can’t bring myself to feel bad about it.

It’s not an issue of discipline. Note the flossing. See, yoga and I have been fighting for a while. There have been insults: moments of disconnection. She’s been bossing around my hamstrings and poking me in the belly. She has started telling me I’m not good enough the way I am, that I need to adjust the angle of my foot, or that I need to draw my low ribs in more, or that I should be thinking about my bikini body as summer comes.

Then there was Yoga Barbie. We haven’t spoken since Yoga Barbie.

There’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes, usually to yoga teachers, but sometimes to people who just practice a lot. It’s called “falling out of love with yoga.” There’s a whole website dedicated to it. It’s very painful, and there’s no known cure, but there is support, and it’s been shown that taking a few days/weeks off can really do good for the relationship.

In the time I’ve taken away from my practice, I’ve been looking at it from a distance. I see the empty inspirational quotes on my Facebook wall, I see large yoga studios firing people for talking about spirituality too much, I see instructors talking about toning my bikini body, and then, of course, there’s Yoga Barbie. I just can’t wrap my head around Yoga Barbie. Yoga Barbie is the ultimate betrayal. I have to keep saying it so that I know it’s real. Yoga Barbie.

As I’ve expressed in this blog before, yoga really rescued me. As a young teenager, terrified, anorexic, and disconnected from my body, yoga gave me a chance to close my eyes and breathe into the body that I had, to love the body that I have, without trying to turn it into something else. Yoga gave me permission to move authentically, to get stronger on my own terms, and to trust my gut. It helped me understand and connect to my buddhi mind, the mind that observes the mind, and lavished me with gifts like meditation, Hindu mythology, headstands, and a community that says “hi” with hugs rather than handshakes.

Yoga culture is blowing up. I appear to be in pretty much the first generation where people in large numbers are choosing yoga teaching as a career. I know more yoga teachers than I’d like to admit that are running themselves ragged trying to make ends meet as independent contractors with no labor rights. We try to hold it together in class with nothing but a smile to glue together bodies that want to crumple up in a pile and cry.

Then there’s Yoga Barbie: the representation of everything yoga helped me to get away from. She upholds and perpetuates the idea that there is a perfect form for a yogi or a woman which is, of course, skinny and blond. Her body can be molded into any shape by anyone except the subject herself, the Barbie. She has no control or agency over her own sexualized, proportionally incorrect, plastic body. And she has a chihuahua.

Perhaps, though, I’m putting the blame in the wrong place. Perhaps it’s not yoga’s fault she is becoming such a lucrative industry. Perhaps those moments of moving around on my mat to old-school Alicia Keys and waiting until I feel brave enough to go out and look for a teacher I trust are exactly what I should be doing right now. That way, when I go back, I can start from the beginning again. Maybe, you know, as some people have been saying, Yoga Barbie really will encourage young girls to get into yoga.

No. No, I take that last part back. Even if it does, it will be encouraging those young girls for all the wrong reasons, and creating a culture in which yogis will be expected to be skinny white girls willing to be bent into any shape someone else wants. In turn, that will discourage anyone who doesn’t feel white or skinny or bendy enough from trying yoga at all. So no. No to Yoga Barbie.

Yes, though, to yoga. Yes to the yoga where you close your eyes and move because it feels good. Yes to exploring your own body on your own terms, yes to deepening your relationship with yourself. Yes to the yoga that encourages you to be who you are that day, regardless of shape, size, color, injuries, or your big ol’ bleeding heart. Yes to the yoga teachers learning from their own mistakes and leading people to a better (less plastic) world. Yes to the people who are strong enough to uphold these values with their voices, a power Yoga Barbie could never have.
I believe yoga and I will make it through this. Like any big fight in a relationship, it’s a good time to move forward, to learn more about each other and accept each other on deeper levels than we ever have before. For me right now, that means taking some space, listening to Alicia Keys, and flossing every night. In that way, at least for now, I’m saying yes to yoga.


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