That slender frame. The graceful limbs. The sinewy arms and dreamy facial expression – all arranged into an exquisite yoga pose, set against a jaw-dropping backdrop. We’ve all seen it a bazillion times from endless scrolling through Instagram: The Perfect Yoga Body. You want it. I want it. But how the heck do we get it?
As a visual medium, Instagram glorifies asana – the physical practice that the general public knows of as “yoga.” And it’s not by accident, either, that we see so much bare skin on display (guilty). That’s the very nature of social media content being mined for likes, comments, views, and shares.
In short, “Instagram yoga” reinforces everything that the fitness industry has always told us. Our bodies are not good enough. We must become skinnier. And the marketing couldn’t be any clearer:
Yoga sculpt! 12-week yoga burn! Lose weight with yoga in 10 days! Make yoga work faster!
“It’s a pet peeve of mine to see yoga teachers and studios advertising yoga for weight loss,” Birth Bright founder and certified pregnancy yoga teacher, Holly Wong, remarks. “To me, it can’t be further away from the true intentions of the practice.”
It’s not just mildly controversial to talk about yoga and weight loss in the same breath. Impassioned yogis will argue that asana is just one of the eight limbs on the path toward living a meaningful and purposeful life – and they’re right. But it’s impossible to crack yoga’s essence on the first go. For most, our initial encounter with yoga is through exercise.
A year ago, I did a hot yoga class in Singapore, where two of the girls were covered in silver foil-like suits. I was too embarrassed to ask what the outfits were specifically for. My speculation was, the girls wanted to milk all possible ways to obtain “the perfect yoga body.”
Exercise is good. After all, yoga is a lifelong road to self-care and self-love. But the quest to be skinny while dressed in tin foil inside a 105-degree Fahrenheit hot room is antithetical to yoga, and may be more akin to self-harm.
“Starting yoga for whatever reason can only be a good thing,” senior Virgin Active UK yoga and meditation teacher, Simon Avis, affirms. He further attests that after starting yoga, many of his students became more motivated to eat healthier, turn vegetarian or vegan, and in some cases even give up drinking and smoking.
“Instagram has made us so obsessed with asana, it’s important to realise that the yogis of 5,000 years ago used poses simply to bring the mind to stillness. They’d then spend several hours a day meditating.”Simon Avis, senior yoga & meditation teacher at Virgin Active UK
“My students who practise yoga regularly often say that they have a greater self-respect toward their own bodies, which in turn encourages them to make healthier lifestyle choices.”
It’s tempting to simply wave a #bodypositivity slogan. But unless we first address why there’s a body positivity movement in the first place, we won’t understand the fascination around The Perfect Yoga Body.
First, toxic fatphobia and diet culture are actively promoted within the fitness industry, where yoga is classified. Second, there’s no such thing as perfect; it just doesn’t exist. Third, Instagram sets unattainable standards heightened by increasingly sophisticated editing apps. Finally, it may well be that the fitness industry’s modus operandi (appealing to our deepest insecurities about our body) is misaligned with yoga’s (higher consciousness).
“I get a lot of queries from postpartum women on whether my classes can help them lose baby fat,” Wong shares. “I tell them that the goal of yoga is not weight loss. What (yoga practice) does is bring awareness to their body and mind. It helps them reconnect with their body again, know what it’s doing, and ease into some stretch and strengthening.”
“Of equal importance is its effect on mental health. We all know that being a mom is not easy, and yoga helps us stay present and be mindful of everything that’s going on around us.”Holly Wong, certified Pregnancy Yoga teacher & founder of Birth Bright
When I started yoga, I was sick in body, mind and spirit, convulsing with active withdrawals from drug and alcohol addiction. I couldn’t sit still. I was the furthest thing you’d imagine being the image of a yogi. Yet, yoga gave me a sense of immeasurable calm and serenity I badly needed at that point in my life. I was 68kg then.
Five years later, I’m 73kg, sharing the teachings of yoga with others. Does this make me a yoga failure?
A transformed mindset may not transpire over a 10-day “yoga weight loss” program. And it’s also likely that the touted physical transformation can’t be achieved, either.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is self-care. We need to get rid of the delusion that being healthy is a certain look, shape, or number on a scale. We don’t need to shrink ourselves or maintain a smaller body size in order to be worthy of yoga, or of anyone or anything. No amount of strength and flexibility and #yogaeverydamnday can substitute the workout required inside our mind and soul.
The Perfect Yoga Body is the one we have right now. It’s the one that takes us on a journey toward looking at our body without guilt or shame. It’s the one that teaches us: our worth isn’t determined by how our thighs look in a HK$900 pair of leggings.