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Here’s the story of a very young girl…

One day, walking home from school this coltish lass felt so good about life and about herself. She thought she was beautiful and felt like a supermodel, convinced that she looked fantastic as she pranced along the sidewalk like it was some kind of fashion runway. It was an excellent ten minutes – the length of her walk home.

Coming in through the back door, she floated to the bathroom mirror to admire her magnificence. And she was heartbroken. There was not a prominent cheekbone or feline feature anywhere in sight. She looked NOTHING like the models in her Dolly and Cleo magazines. NOTHING.

And combined with her blonde and beautiful best friend that all the boys adored, and her brother’s daily taunts about her looks, she spent the rest of her life trying to see herself clearly. Which was difficult, because every time she looked in the mirror the words “not pretty” resonated somewhere in the back of her mind…

This is my story, but it’s also the story of numerous other young girls. From a ridiculously early age our lives are spent being compared to other women – by ourselves, others or both.

Unless we hit the gene-pool jackpot, most women start their lives feeling insecure and “not good enough”. Even then it sometimes isn’t enough! I mean, a girl I went to primary and high school with was pretty, blonde and built like a bird. She was also very good at athletics, competing at a state level. She was very popular, too, and went out with the hottest guy at school. And yet this girl who seemed to have everything STILL didn’t think she was good enough, and ended up with anorexia.

Our culture places so much value on physical appearance, academic or sporting prowess, instead of emotional maturity and openness. As such, many westerners have barely any connection to their bodies. There’s so much living in the head, divorced from the heart. We think too much, we’re reliant on external gratification and live in a highly visual world where beauty is given a very narrow definition.

Finding yoga

It’s no surprise then, that when I found yoga I felt very happy and relieved. Because I discovered yoga wasn’t about how I looked so much as how I felt. How my body and mind connect and who I am when I strip away fleeting things such as labels, my job, and physical appearance. Who am I when I close my eyes to meditate and the visible world melts away? And who are you?

So I practice yoga (including asana, pranayama, meditation, yoga nidra, puja and more) and I feel good about myself, no matter what anyone else thinks. In fact, I find I don’t CARE about what anyone else thinks. Because yoga opens my heart. It connects me to myself and to other people and it’s about LOVE. It doesn’t separate and segregate and it sure as hell isn’t about what size clothes I wear.

Yet still, I struggle on and off with body image/not good enough issues. I did a guest post about such things over on BlissChick’s blog.

Yoga helps me very much with such things, and it gets a little easier every day to look in the mirror and not instantly think I am repulsive looking. Most women have this to contend with in some way or another, no matter how they look.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to go to a Mark Whitwell workshop. Fortunate, not just because of the wonderful yoga he has to share, but because he is a dyed in the wool Mother Earth worshipping feminist. He gets it in a way many women never will, and certainly few men.

Mark writes things like this about yoga:

…Yoga is every person’s direct intimacy with reality, an entirely abundant, regenerating, and nurturing power. This is yoga from the heart, for the heart, and it promises health, intimacy, well-being, and joy…

One to one intimacy is as close and as necessary as your breath is to your body. In fact the practice of this inherent union of breath and body allows for the inherent union in all relatedness. It is an utter pleasure and unquestioned continuity with everything. It is Ha tha Yoga, “strength receiving.” Actual and natural, non obsessive practice.

Mark spreads love, positivity, empowerment and damn good yoga around the world. And he gives marvelous hugs. He’s very real and approachable. He makes yoga fun and doable for those who might think it’s not for them.

And then…

Yoga and women get betrayed – by a woman!

There are people out there who call themselves yogis, and take the most external aspects of the practice and market that as a weight loss program like some kind of meal replacement product! Unbelievably, this is being fronted by a woman!

Yes, Tara Stiles, I’m talking about YOU and your Slim Calm Sexy Yoga.

I recommend reading Linda-Sama’s post about Tara’s latest efforts. I agree with Linda whole-heartedly and I find myself enraged by Tara Stiles.

So much so that I wrote this tweet:

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to discover that Tara had replied to that message with this piece of nonsense:

Wow. Just WOW. My reply to Tara was this (and then a whole lot more!)

I cannot tell you how frightening I find this approach to marketing yoga. Or rather, yoga-like movements that have been called yoga, but have nothing to do with the practice in any way…

Cheap shots. We’re talking cheap shots to the already fragile self-esteem most women have (and let’s face it, this is not being marketed to men!). Fired off by a so-called yogi to get people to buy her book. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I know a BUNCH of accomplished and deeply realised yogis who do NOT have a perfect body. They are not a size 00, and probably never were. You could not call them slim per se, and yet they are happy, wonderful, calm and sexy people. They are yogis with big, huge, juicy hearts and so much wisdom and compassion that you can’t help but feel better from spending time around them.

And we have wonderful men like Mark Whitwell teaching yoga in a way that’s accessible and beautiful, and more than anything, authentic and genuine.

Or brilliant yogis like Swami Satyananda who couldn’t give a flying f#ck about “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga”. Yeah, he was perfectly healthy right up until his death and look at that body! No ripped abs. No bulging biceps!

Then Tara Stiles decides to take advantage of the current fanaticism about weight loss using the name of yoga (but certainly not its philosophies) to line her pockets on the back of other women who already feel crappy about themselves. Nice way to align yourself with the sisterhood, Tara!

And nice way to sell out yoga and degrade its real benefits to those who don’t know any better.

Yoga = love = self-acceptance = giving

Just for once, I’d like to see famous yogis who are right into all this marketing business, using yoga to HELP this world. Help the planet and people in need.

I have no idea why there isn’t already an outpouring of yoga events put on purely as a benefit. I see it at a grassroots level, but not as big as something like Wanderlust for example. Imagine getting lots of wisdom masters to do dharma talks, meditation and asana practice FOR FREE. Yes, free! Anyone heard of a little thing called karma yoga or seva? Let the people pay to come and get the good stuff, and all of the profits GO DIRECTLY TO PEOPLE IN NEED.

Like the communities that lost their livelihood as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Or the Haiti disaster. Or the floods in Pakistan. Or just people who live in your community and are about to be evicted. Or whatever!

Imagine that, can you? I can. Those who came along would benefit from real teachings that aren’t in any way about physical appearance. And the money would go to people who need it. Why? Simply because they are human beings, like everyone else.

Yoga is about GIVING. Not taking. That’s how I get my calm and my sexy. I don’t need no special book and unrealistic promises to deliver that…

**More on this topic by me**

A little less ranty, and a little more rational… 😉


**UPDATE 3rd August 2011** To all the people still reading this topic and leaving indignant comments:
Please look at the date of this post. It was a year ago. My anger about this is long gone, but I still disagree with Tara Stiles’ approach to yoga very much. So do a lot of other people, both yoga teachers and non-yoga teachers. Now, if you wanna call me rude, go ahead. I consider this a highly passionate post, fueled by anger for sure. But not rude. Or unyogic. Of course you’re welcome to your opinions as I am to mine, but no matter what you write in the comments I ain’t gonna change my mind. I’d never do a Tara Stiles yoga class. This woman also runs a highly questionable yoga teacher training program that I’d never do either. So there it is. Go ahead, be a Tara apologist. I won’t stop you. But do remember this topic is over a year old and all of the main players have moved on…