I didn’t come to yoga because I wanted a yoga butt. In fact, when I started practicing, I didn’t even know what a yoga butt was. (I’m still not totally sure.) That being said, my body has definitely transformed from my 10-year physical Hatha yoga practice. I’m leaner and have a faster metabolism, my muscle tone is more equally distributed, and I have greater strength. I’ve gotten older, obviously, but I get sick less frequently and have greater endurance. I like my yoga body better than my non-yoga body, and I know that I am not alone. If you’ve been practicing for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed some positive changes in how you look and feel physically—it’s hard not to. Maybe it’s been as simple as shedding a few excess pounds, or appreciating how defined your shoulders have been getting from all of those chatarangas. Perhaps you have even noticed … your yoga butt.
I don’t think this, in and of itself, is necessarily a problem. I have always had a deep respect for the physical body, which is why I think Hatha yoga (by this, I mean the physical forms of yoga) spoke to me so strongly when I first started to practice. And I think it’s a beautiful thing for people to feel more positive and confident about their bodies, especially in a culture where we are often made to obsess about our bodily imperfections. Hatha yoga can give us a confidence in our physical form that can help propel us through the world in positive ways. But, what if we get too attached to our muscles, skin, and bones?
Over time, yoga masters and scholars have often warned about the danger of Hatha yogis becoming overly obsessed with their bodies. Georg Fuerstein even talks about it in his book The Yoga Tradition, when he says that “Narcissism, or body-oriented egocentrism, is as great a danger among Hatha-yogins as it is among bodybuilders”. Of course, the point of practicing Hatha yoga is not to have a hot body, but rather to use our engagement with our bodies as a way to stay present, and to prepare ourselves for deeper states of meditation. But in the process, we can build an attachment to the body, which, of course, will cause suffering when our bodies get injured or older, or when we just can’t rock handstand the way we used to.
What do you think about the role of the body in Hatha yoga? Have you ever caught yourself admiring your yoga body, and then wondered if that was antithetical to doing yoga? Do you have thoughts about how we can maintain a deep reverence for our bodies, while staying unattached to them?
Write in and tell us what you think!
Yoga has enabled me to become much more humble and much less attached to the image I had carried in my mind for years of what an attractive male body should look like. For me…yoga has been about letting go of so much ego and so much focus and worry about myself. Letting go of trying to be, look or live up to the bigger, stronger manly guy image… we men are pummeled with in America daily.
One thing that yoga has really made me aware of is.. what a physical system I am. Meaning…a self regulating of constantly dividing cells and functions that Im never even aware of. Much like the earth itself.
Like…what is my liver doing today….? My lungs? How does my left pinky evolving?
While in yoga a few years ago I remember not being able to hold a position like I had earlier..without the pain I now experienced. I thought of a photo I had seen of myself at 5 years old the day before. I remember having one of those ah ha moments.
When did my body become the body it is now and no longer the body it was then?
Never….and of course always. We are constantly never the same body as we were moments ago. Pressure over. End of contest!
So…we are not at all our bodies ever. Our bodies are not ever even our bodies.
Yet….the most important aspect is that we are a self… and we are not just along for the ride in our bodies. It feels like we are sometimes…but…look at a photo of you from the way past and then the next time you are in yoga remember who you were then and are now. When did you stop being who you were then?
You can be aware of your foot at the same time you are aware of an emotion…yet we want to see them as separate while at the same time we are conscious of both. Who is actually conscious of that experience? You…your body?
The beauty of it all is that we can grasp the non duality of our body/mind yet at the same moment be seduced by the mystery of who is thinking those thoughts as well.
Our sense of self is the product of seeing the world as an image of…..something…or as
a one who sees it… rather than a total sphere of experience.
Yoga makes us humble…and it makes us realize we are not our bodies as ‘it’ is always changing. In physical terms we are nothing more than a tiny stream in a huge river…and when we put a boundary around what is all contained within our skin…it all seems quite frivolous.
I’d like to announce my acceptance to the humble world of the human race! I find the sacred element that goes hand in hand with hatha yoga, ONLY through thorough attention to my body and breath. After drawing my mind in, only then may I touch the Absolute. I can momentarily access this place during pranayama, and meditation as well, but in this day and age, I can only make an attempt because I am not a sage, I don’t live in India, and I have accepted (and have to continually remind myself) that the moment I release complete attention to my physical body will be when I am through with it, and am in transition out of it! For me, t’s a practice to be practiced not perfected. I can only understand to a certain degree, the intentions to move beyond and rise above the physical aspect, but to demand perfection is where I will fall.
This is true: “Over time, yoga masters and scholars have often warned about the danger of Hatha yogis becoming overly obsessed with their bodies. Georg Fuerstein even talks about it in his book The Yoga Tradition, when he says that “Narcissism, or body-oriented egocentrism, is as great a danger among Hatha-yogins as it is among bodybuilders”.” -However… if one is honest and true in practicing hatha yoga, the doorway to what is beyond that is ever present and will not be missed or even dismissed. *No matter how long it takes.*
I teach yoga, and have to remind myself to trust in the power of what is beyond the physical all the time. THAT is what rules, not me! Not my instruction or knowledge. My instruction and knowledge are important in the process, but to me, Yoga is it’s own entity and I believe in it enough to trust that the rest will arrive when the time is right for each student. Even if I don’t teach what is “beyond”, I can introduce hatha yoga to people who will find their way, even if that means they leave me as their teacher and find someone else who understands and teaches more than what I have to offer. I encourage, rather than seek it out.
I like the way you talk about this as being part of a process that starts with the body and then takes us elsewhere … That feels very true to me.
This post is related to physical asana practice (sort if ) About 18 months ago I began to focus more intensively on deeper diaphragmatic breath and bandha with most of my asanas (relatively). Over the past several years my preference of class was challenging vinyasa, i.e. Yoga Works, Venice, CA. Many great blissed out yoga sessions as well as some depletion afterwards. Since this deeper breath practice and some lifestyle change, aging, different city, etc. my practice has changed. I do not get the opportunity to take level II/III vinyasa regularly, my personal practice is very consistent and now I teach yoga 5X a week so am not practicing there. Nevertheless, when I have a chance I go to a level II+ class I feel very strong, my endurance is great, and I do not feel the kind of depletion I remember 7 years ago when my vinyasa practice was regular? I am convinced it is the breath and bandha, would love to hear if anyone has recognized similar subtle strength. In addition, as my practice is now mostly my personal practice, maybe 1X week vinyasa I am at my lowest weight of my adult life, my energy is clear, rarely feel low that’s not to say low emotionally, life has actually been far more challenging, death of a loved one, economic pressures, difficult relationship, etc. but rarely do I feel physically depleted. Go figure.
As yogis we project our understanding of reality onto the body. There are many expressions of hatha yoga dependent on the depth of consciousness. On the coarse level of mind, hatha yoga is a sophisticated mindbody discipline, on a subtler level a preparation for deeper ‘spiritual’ work with prana and the mind, on a very subtle level it releases constrictions in thebodymind that allows non-dual awareness to reveal itself immediately.
Having practiced yoga for over 15 years I have watched my understanding of what the body is change and mature until it is easy to experience that there is no body , our body is all of space just clearlight, and yet hatha yoga is a sophisticated bodymind discipline that tones the buttocks quite nicely, a preparation for sitting still, and a process of revealing non-dual awareness!
Beautifully said, John. At once succinct and remarkably rich with much wisdom to unpack. Thanks for sharing!
I am in the beginning stages of a project called, Yoga expressions. My intention is to help break this myth of an ideal yoga body or form of practice. We are looking for photos and story as to your expression of yoga, and it is not limited to the Asana portion of the practice. The response has been great and I have photographers and designers donating their time and energy to help with the project. I will begin with my students who are “to fat, to tall, to inflexable, to old” and see where it takes me.
I looked up the definition of ideal.
1 ideal flying weather: perfect, best possible, consummate, supreme, excellent, flawless, faultless, exemplary, classic, model, ultimate, quintessential. ANTONYMS bad.
2 an ideal concept: abstract, theoretical, conceptual, notional; hypothetical, speculative, conjectural, suppositional. ANTONYMS concrete.
3 an ideal world: unattainable, unachievable, impracticable, chimerical; unreal, fictitious, hypothetical, theoretical, ivory-towered, imaginary, illusory, idealized, idyllic, visionary, Utopian, fairy-tale. ANTONYMS attainable, real.
I have been so inspired by Paul and his teachings and have started my own blog, http://www.trueconfessionsofayogateacher.com. There are more of us leaning away from the ideal body and form of an asana yet there are still those wanting to make it a competition, focusing on form rather then function. So nice to have another outlet of like minded people.
Love this – thanks!
Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valler is an expression of all that’s bogus with the scene. A genuine nefarious group of people operate it, and the intention is to pay their morgate o n a big fat Corporate American dream not about re-tribalizing eachother. Lets get together and explore ancient ancestral pahtways to unity and whole earth healing. Their trip is based on toxic corporate support and magnetizes women whov’e pimped themselves to the Usury process. Everytheing wanderlust offered excep the “Casbah Tea Kitchen” exuded a superfical and energetically appallng vibration. BOYCOT T this event!
yoga is amazing! I had body issues all my life and now my only issue is awareness..I’m so aware of how my body feels each moment that I don’t like doing anything that will make me feel …low energy, tired or anxious! Yoga healed my chronic back pain of 8 years, it has made me a stronger athlete, and as a Yoga teacher I am constantly surrounded by the most amazing people! Yoga has changed my life so much BUT yes it is hard to let go of body image, but Yoga has definatly helped me! I had my first/only child 5 1/2 years ago and my body has been the largest, and smallest in these past years! I did enjoy it when shopping for clothes was easier because my thighs and glutes were similar to my tiny waste. Now I am struggling again with the fact that my pants are all tight in the glutes and thigh area, everytime I try to find a new pair of pants I can’t, WHY don’t they make pants with bigger inseem in the thigh and glute area but keep the waste small!!! O.k. even though this is frustrating my Yoga practice is allowing me to aceept that it just is what it is and I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been! I am absolutely loving everyone’s feeback on this subject! I will truthfully say I am at better terms of accpetance of my body than ever before because of my Yoga practice but I will admit, it’s a practice, I am aware of this and I owe that all to Yoga! I have been dabbling in Kundalini Yoga for the past year and I LOVE IT!! I do find myself wanting to do the more challenging Yoga to but I like to switch it up, and it’ s funny because I teach quite a bit of theraputic Yoga and I’m always teaching how important it is to BREATHE!!! After reading this I know that I need to bring even more gentle Yoga into my practice and definately more meditation!! Thanks for all the wonderful feedback….if interested check out YogaRoundup.com I was able to attent this event in August and it has been life changing!! It was free this year, next year there may be a small donation but I think that everyone would get something out of this event!!! Accept and just breathe…