Diet Culture Within Mainstream Yoga Spaces

Yoga is a spiritual practice that was created to train the body and the mind to self-observe (2012). This practice allows you to increase your awareness over your body and mind, which has been proven to be helpful in the treatment of disease and mental health. This sounds nice but in the last few years, yoga has become more than a practice for spiritual development, with a bigger emphasis on someone’s physical development.

The emphasis on yoga as a form of exercise has created this disconnection of its original purpose of connecting the body and the mind. Now, people use yoga as an elitist way to affirm their health and wellbeing in a superficial way. This is what most people would refer to as “Mainstream Yoga”.

Diet culture and wellness culture naturally play a role in the development of mainstream yoga. Most advertisements for yoga include cis-gendered, white, able bodied, smaller bodied, “fit” women (with the occasional cis-gendered, white, able bodied, “fit and healthy” man). Which has led a lot of people to believe that they are not worthy or good enough to even try to pursue yoga, because they don’t meet the physical criteria.

Well, I’m here to tell you that yoga doesn’t have any criteria and that we need to remember what the whole point of practicing yoga is!

Body Positive Yoga

I definitely see that on social media, the term body positivity has shifted from its original intent of being really inclusive of marginalized bodies.

But when we talk about body positive yoga, we really refer back to that original meaning of the movement. It’s about developing a culture of equity where everyone feels included. This means, not feeling like you have to fit the “Yogi” stereotype in order to have a yoga practice, because truthfully, so long as you can breathe, you can have a yoga practice.

For the yoga teacher, the goal is to reduce the power dynamic between the teacher and the student so that the students can start to feel that they have a sense of agency over their body. That they have a sense of autonomy and that they are the expert of their body.

Yoga should be empowering

You should never leave a yoga class feeling disempowered. No matter how much or how little you can do, no matter how your body needs to vary or adapt or pause to suit you, you should always be leaving a yoga class feeling refreshed and connected. Mainstream yoga has implied all of these expectations as to how yoga should look like and what you should be able to do. It forces us to hierarchize all aspects of yoga, which reinforces the idea that we will never be good enough until we get to the top and can do it all.

We live in a world where we’re made to feel not good enough, all the time, so, when we come on to our yoga mat, we want it to be a place where we can find kindness and compassion. It’s a place and time of day where you can practice gratitude. Most teachers encourage a culture of using props because realistically, we all need props and there’s no shame about needing them! Our bodies change, they age, they get injured, so, how can we invite all this stuff in, like gratitude/kindness/compassion, if we aren’t meeting ourselves where we are at that day?

“The yoga mat is a place where we can find kindness and compassion.”

How can Body Positive Yoga help me towards my journey with Body Acceptance?

So much of diet culture is about the “shoulds”, which sets unrealistic expectations which is where we tend to fall short.

So, when we get onto the mat, it’s a place where we can get out of our head and into our body. It’s the same as intuitive eating! It all relies on our interoceptive skills.

The sensations that we feel in our body like:

  • What does hunger feel like?
  • What does fullness feel like?
  • What does satisfaction feel like?

We can develop those same skills on the mat, because it really is that place of tuning into what sensations feel supportive and nurturing for us and what sensations feel disrespectful and unsupportive to our bodies.

The journey to healing our relationship with food and our body, is trying to move away from the judgmental space into the curious space. You want to learn more about yourself and how you respond to different situations. Every time you show up on that mat, you can check in from that place of curiosity and compassion as opposed to criticism and judgement.

Yoga as a means to develop resilience to a world of expectations

Yoga, like all other things, takes PRACTICE. Because yoga has been portrayed as some sort of elite form of movement, we feel discouraged and don’t practice.

But, when we practice something like meditation, you’re showing up every day and trying to surrender to whatever outcome is going to take place that day. We sit down for meditation, and we don’t know what the heck we’re going to find!

We don’t know if our mind is going to be racing, we don’t know if we’re going to find stillness, but we show up anyway. And we keep showing up because each time you are understanding your body and mind more and more.  It’s not about motivation, or whether you are trying hard enough or if you are being committed enough. It’s about doing it from a place of actually wanting to, as opposed to this external place of “should”.

Remember that it requires resilience to be able to withstand a world, that’s always going to be telling us that our body is wrong. So, routinely showing up on a yoga mat is really, really helpful in finding that resilience.

How to get started on your Body Positive Yoga Journey

How long will it take me to see the benefits? How often should I be doing yoga?

First, if you want to try yoga, remember to practice it for what it is and see where it takes you. Diet culture brings us into a very perfectionistic space and it’s really easy to fall into the trap of “okay, so I want to do yoga, I need to like do an hour every day for it to be significant”. But let’s practice lowering the bar without setting any expectations and just practice yoga for the purpose of mind body connection.

  • Start small: Start with only 10 minutes. This could be 10 minutes per day or 10 minutes per week! Start with something digestible and realistic until you feel you are ready to add it to your schedule more frequently. OR, keep it at 10 minutes per week/day if that’s what works for you and that’s what you enjoy.
  • Intentionality: Be intentional with the type of yoga you choose to consume. We can very easily be led down the path of what mainstream yoga looks like. Seek out more inclusive and accessible yoga teachers and studios.
  • Supportive online accounts: Follow yoga teachers that demonstrate diversity within the yoga space and don’t reinforce perfection.
  • Do it online/from home: A great thing about covid is that yoga has become more accessible to people with internet. You don’t have to walk into a studio and feel like you “don’t belong”. Enjoy live or pre-recorded classes from the comfort of your home.
  • Try it with a friend: find a friend who is as likeminded as you when it comes to seeking inclusive yoga spaces. Find online classes, do them together and support each other!

CONCLUSION

By incorporating Yoga into your life, it is allowing you to learn how to tune into a safe space and learn to start trusting yourself through. Every day, when you wake up, you get to decide that you want to do this again, you get to decide that you want to connect with yourself and practice self-love and trust. Don’t let the messages and portrayals of mainstream yoga prevent you from trying it in a supportive and inclusive way!

“Yoga is a lot more diverse than we are allowed to believe. “

Online weight inclusive yoga classes – I HIGHLY recommend Gilliam McCollum at https://www.gillianmccollum.com/

Looking to find Food Freedom but don’t know where to start?

Check out my FREE Class to learn more about my Guilt Free Method so that you can find food freedom and feel good in your body.

🎙 Access the full PODCAST episode here!🎙

Check out my most recent podcast episode with Gillian McCollum where we talk about mainstream yoga and diet culture, and how you can use yoga to shift your mindset towards body acceptance. Click the links below to listen:

Need support?👇

The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating. Our mission is to help as many folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!

We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.

Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian and Founder of  The Balanced Practice

Resources

The New York Times. (2012). The Purpose of Yoga. Retrived from: https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/12/is-yoga-for-narcissists/the-purpose-of-yoga

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