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Why the "Yoga Body" Stereotype Is BS

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Scroll through Instagram using the hashtags #yoga or #yogaeverydamnday and you'll quickly find millions of awe-inspiring photos of individuals striking some pretty amazing poses. From handstands to backbends, these often tall, mostly slim yogis and their enviable poses on the world's beaches and mountainsides inspire FOMO in athletes of all kinds.

But there are other women who use their social practice to spread a more profound message—one of self-acceptance amidst retouched photos and unrealistic ideals of what beauty and strength look like. With every photo these women upload, they remind the world that yoga is for every body, and in doing so they're fueling a body positive movement that encourages women to love themselves unconditionally, both inside and out.

Yoga Is More Popular Than Ever, and alongside your traditional Bikram and Vinyasa classes, more body positive classes—which invite people of all shapes and sizes to appreciate and embrace their curvy, fuller figures—are popping up throughout the country (for example, "Fat Yoga" Tailors Classes to Plus-Size Women). And as part of the mission to promote the idea that yoga is accessible to everyone, teachers, practitioners, and advocates around the world are banding together in groups like the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, which aims to change the stereotype of what a typical yogi looks like.

One such Instagram evangelist—who has already amassed 114,000 followers, thanks to her body positive messages—is Jessamyn Stanley, or @mynameisjessamyn, a yoga teacher and self-described fat femme. "There are a million ways people feel too inadequate to practice yoga, and those are fully based upon the fact that the only widely publicized 'yoga body' image is that of a thin, affluent white woman, which is often the only type of person yoga companies and studios put active effort into attracting to practice," says Stanley. "This is a shame, because yoga knows no size and is completely unrelated to the lame beauty ideals that are heralded by the media and society at large. Yoga asana (physical poses) can and should be practiced by everyone."

Stanley, who began practicing Bikram yoga in 2011, was teased mercilessly about her weight growing up, leading to body shame and depression for the vast majority of her childhood and young adult years. It was her yoga practice that began to push her out of her comfort zone while lifting her spirits and invigorating both her mind and her body. "From a physical percpective, the best part of practicing yoga is the constant change. It's not easy, and even the basic poses can knock the wind out of my sails, but I love pursuing goals which take me out of my comfort zone. Yoga is always exactly the medicine that I need, no matter what is going on in my day-to-day life," says Stanley. 

 

A photo posted by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) on Sep 4, 2015 at 2:43pm PDT

Fellow yoga teacher Dana Falsetti, who, as @nolatrees, has built up an Instagram community of nearly 43,000 followers by debunking the bizarre body ideals that are often associated with yoga in the western world—simply by posting pictures of her own practice. "In the yoga world, some might say my size as a teacher and student is taboo, but I strive to show others there is no such thing as a 'yoga body.' It's really such a silly concept when you think about it, being that yoga is a spiritual and truly internal practice with external manifestations." (Find out How to Transition Between Yoga Poses with Grace.)

Falsetti first begain practicing yoga in May 2014 after struggling with severe binge eating for years and reaching a weight of 300 pounds early on in college. "I thought if I could get control of my weight it would be a start towards something better, so I started working out, brought awareness to my bingeing habits, and dropped about 70 pounds. But no matter how long I looked in the mirror at my 'new' body, I felt exactly the same inside. I went to my first yoga class unknowingly searching for something more. What yoga gave me was a new way to see and eventually accept myself."

Originally, Falsetti began documenting her practice via social media as a way to prove both herself and others wrong by showing she could be strong. But "the more I started to see myself in photos, the less it was about proving myself. Instead, it turned into me being transparent and enhancing my own happiness and appreciation for my body. Now I see how necessary that really was, not just for myself, but for so many others to believe that they too could do the same."

 

A photo posted by Dana Falsetti (@nolatrees) on Aug 25, 2015 at 6:04am PDT

The fact that both Falsetti and Stanley—along with countless other body positive 'grammers, like Valerie of @biggalyoga and Brittany of @crazycurvy_yoga—are openly sharing their journeys on social media, and can empathize with the challenges, stigmas, and negative feelings those with body image issues face has led to the exponential growth of an online community of love and acceptance. "Many people have commented that by sharing my yoga photos I've helped them to become more content with their own body quirks," shares Stanley. "To me, those are the most important interactions—helping people come to a place where they can fully accept the present moment and their present state of being. Whether or not these people know it, their struggles are not all that different from my own. I love knowing that we're building a diverse tribe of healthy, body positive people."

In addition to inspiring countless people online every day, Falsetti and Stanley have now teamed up to grow the body positive community even further by offering yoga workshops around the country. From breaking down beginner inversions to teaching backbends for all ability levels, this dynamic duo is taking their body positive message off-line and into the real world, creating another powerful way for them to spread their message of body acceptance. Says Falsetti, "Early on I thought my body would limit my practice, but eventually I learned that only my mind sets limits." (Psst... Take Our 30-Day Yoga Challenge to Get Your Om On!)