I wrote this straight after a meditation that was supposed to calm me down – it didn’t. During meditation I found myself getting absorbed by my very active and confused brain. Admittedly, I am a little menstrual at the moment so some of the charge must be attributed to that. I often find that some of my more significant realisations come after similarly intense feelings, and I suspect the same here.

I came across a seemingly innocent website that offers yoga classes, retreats, teacher trainings etc. The images that I encountered came out of my screen and stirred a cauldron of emotions inside me. The varied and intense emotions were initially incomprehensible, and as I gradually began to unravel them I came to see that they were interrelated.

On one level there was strong reaction in relation to the thin women with perfect hair (mostly blonde), young, slim, white skinned, in sometimes very revealing clothing. I found myself frustrated that it wasn’t often that you came across the incredible variety of people who practice yoga. My mind made connections to the knowledge that this issue exists across the media.

I spend a lot of time enjoying what the Yoga Wide Web has to offer and, for reasons that I am yet unable to fully comprehend, this particular website pushed a button. Not only did I find myself feeling inferior, I experienced a deep and profound sadness.

Admittedly, part of my feelings may be in relation to thoughts on personal self-perception, and could have been related to the teenager in me who wants to look like those images so that all the boys fancy me, and all the girls want to be me. But more striking was my agitation around how Yoga is currently represented and how it has turned into this picture perfect thing done in picture perfect places by picture perfect people doing picture perfect poses.  At present I see three main reasons why this is deeply disturbing – the emphasis placed on ‘beauty’, the ignoring of issues around race, and, ironically, the neglect and disregard of the essence of yoga.

About ‘Beauty’

Like most other advertising, Yoga is presented with a flavour of ‘you could look like this’. It is true that Yoga helps you to feel better, though it is mostly because it helps us to be content in our own skin and see that we are allthe same in important regards.

I strongly believe that we do not really care about physical appearance as much as we think we do. The importance we place on our physical appearance is unfortunately fuelled by a complex combination of factors that would be a very interesting topic in itself.  Yoga philosophy reminds us that everything changes – everything ages (which although is inevitable and natural, has been deemed an unattractive quality), there will always be people who are going to be considered better, if not by one person then another, if not now then in the future.

A society that places so much value on physical appearance and material success is one that is a breeding ground for discontent and fear, and one that results in people feeling inferior and inadequate as it encourages us to measure ourselves in relation to others. This is especially poignant when such ‘successes’ are entirely misconstrued and the actual benefits of them miniscule compared to what we imagine. It leads us to a misguided belief that model will help us to be happier or more content. It won’t: we look like how we look, and the only way to feel better about it is to change the way we look at ourselves.

Aspirations around physical appearance are not only unimportant in relation to what matters most to the majority of people, but also unprogressive when considering the immense potential that human beings have to transcend some of the lower brain reactions that this matter encourages, and which the advertising industry consciously capitalises on. This response no longer serves us. Misconceptions surrounding this issue form barriers that limit our capacity to live peacefully both within and with each other.

About Race

My reaction to the Yoga website was about something deeper – I felt frustrated that it is usually white women who are presented as the face of Yoga. I have seen that this issue has been discussed, and I hope that it continues to be discussed until feelings of superiority or inferiority due to colour of skin no longer exists. Issues relating to race have wide implications and exist as further barriers that limit our potential as human beings.

To elaborate a little, much of the western world is diverse in culture, and this is far from well represented in the media. There are disturbing implications that manifest from this subject matter and which present themselves in various forms. An example of this is demonstrated in places where being fair skinned is considered more beautiful and has become an unconscious, sometimes even conscious, ‘white = success’ impression in people’s minds. I invite you to consider for a moment what the predominance of white, middle class, slim, gorgeous, young women or men may invite for you personally about your attractiveness, success, happiness etc., and what affect it has on your aspirations and drive.

Being an average looking, working class, Indian woman, I have had doubtful thoughts about my competence as a direct result of this matter and have found myself needing to resist the urge to compare myself to an ideal that I have created from false perceptions. The effects can be hindering whether to do with gender, shape, or race. I would rather not believe that the choice to use a particular type of person to be the face of yoga is the result of conscious decisions by managers, directors and shareholders. If and when it is, I don’t think it matters because I it’s such a small minority of people. I would like to imagine that the larger force is rather a result of underlying, deeply embedded inaccurate beliefs that exist in society due to residue from history.

Maybe controversially, I would argue that on some level this subject has the potential to produce feelings of guilt for those who benefit from it. We can feel guilty about the status quo even though our personal actions may not directly contribute to it. Sometimes we are able to justify actions or to leave rising thoughts unchallenged for the sake of ease or simplicity – our brain has an immense capacity to process significantly faster than we can sometimes keep track of.  Our inaction sometimes contributes to the status quo and I believe it is this that gives rise to the potential for sub/unconscious guilt. I am not suggesting that people are not well intentioned, rather that the issue of race and the psychology surrounding it is complex, and it is this powerful force that results in our pushing the matter deep down, causing an effect sometimes so subtle that it becomes difficult to see, and hence to resolve.

I hope to invite readers to consider, write, or talk about the implications of this subject, the limitations and benefits it may demonstrate, and how these may affect society as a whole. Small changes in the right direction are better than pretending that the issue does not exist. One way that we as a society can initiate steps in the right direction is simply by representing the real world – not the one that we have presently agreed as real. We need not to be afraid to consider the matter openly, and positively take the matter into our hands to represent society with the conscious intention to make it that little bit better, and to transcend from some of the associated fears and unfair advantages that we have created.

What is Yoga?

Lastly, the Yogi in me knows that the current mainstream manifestation of Yoga is exactly what yoga is not about and that in its current form it is if anything an obstacle that makes it difficult for people to work towards the peace and contentedness that the teachings of Yoga aspire to achieve. Let us introduce the use of a normal distribution of people representing yoga, rather than the maya or illusion that is currently presented. To the decision makers out there, let us include the normal in yoga and contribute to shape society to represent the wonderful differences amongst us and to take a positive step towards our potential as human beings.

Please share, I would genuinely love some views from males and females of all shapes and shades. Be gentle – I’m a delicate little lotus at the moment. Love.