There’s no doubt about it – the image of a slim, attractive, able-bodied white women can sell a yoga magazine and a pair of expensive leggings. Fashion brands and media conglomerates capitalise on this age-old marketing technique that uses carefully crafted images of perfection to push a product and sell a lifestyle. The end result? Yoga clothing catalogues, magazine covers and Instagram posts celebrate and elevate one yoga body above all others.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Back in the early 1990s, yoga was still very much a fringe pursuit that hadn’t even touched the edges of pop culture. When I was working at a major Manhattan book publishing company in 1993, my boss sent me to a yoga class to scope out a teacher who had pitched a book on yoga. (That my boss sent a freshly-minted, university grad to research the possibility of a book on yoga testifies to just how seriously the subject was taken back then.)
The basement studio (if you could call it that) on the Lower East Side was carpeted, it stank of patchouli and the middle-aged teacher had sweaty armpits and long, uncombed hair. She was slightly overweight, had tight hamstrings and wore a green floral kaftan over her pink sweatpants. If a hollow back existed back then, she surely couldn’t do it. But she was a good teacher. She was kind to everyone, took the time to get to know her students, and lived a life steeped in yoga philosophy.
She was probably not someone you’d expect to see in 2018 grace the cover of a yoga magazine or own a popular Instagram account with thousands of followers.
Some 300 million people practice yoga worldwide today, according to the International Yoga Federation. Yet the mainstream depicts only a tiny subset and arguably one rooted in fantasy – a socially-constructed, celebrity-obsessed, size zero, whitewashed type. The naked truth is that yoga practitioners come in all shapes, sizes, genders, jobs, abilities, and disabilities and they have a wide variety of goals that brings them on the mat, be they physical, mental or spiritual.
But pop culture hides them because they aren’t pretty enough, they aren’t thin enough, and they aren’t bendy enough. The result? Rigid, unreal assumptions of what a yoga practitioner actually looks like.
triyoga’s motto has always been “everyone triyoga” and yet I can see “everyone” hasn’t always been represented whether that’s on triyoga’s website or in printed material. Now is the time – and I hope other yoga studios, clothing companies and media groups follow – to change this representation and move in another direction.
To this end triyoga has launched a social media campaign called #weareyoga that is dedicated to the diverse array of yoga bodies previously un-represented in the depiction of contemporary yoga. Last month Alessandro Sigismondi, an internationally known yoga and movement photographer took the photos of dozens of students like Adi, the blind practitioner who lost his sight due to a genetic eye condition when a teenager; to Nick, the priest who as a person of faith still enjoys the spiritual aspect of yoga.
I first met Alessandro nearly 10 years ago in Mysore, India, where he was making a living photographing Ashtangis and their extraordinary feats of balance, strength and flexibility. He readily admits his part in the proliferation of idealized yoga images, as do I in my own personal practice and how I have chosen to share it on social media. We both decided it was high time to showcase something else – what it is to be human in all our beautiful, flawed forms. We want to elevate ALL yoga bodies.
The hope is that the #weareyoga manifesto becomes a global movement, freeing yoga students of all shapes, sizes and colours from the constraints of filters, digital alteration and unreal depictions. triyoga has already begun posting images on its Instagram and Facebook feeds, alongside captions that tell a story about these every day yoga practitioners from their silent struggles to the triumphs that have transformed them.
Would you like to join the revolution? Share your own #weareyoga photo and story and tag triyoga so we can all see it.
For this is yoga. You are yoga. We are yoga.