For the last two months, I’ve been participating in Instagram yoga challenges. For those who don’t know what they are, it comes down to this: some yogi on IG hosts a challenge–that is, they post a flyer detailing the concept behind joining (heart openers, body positivity, using blocks and straps, etc), what poses will be the focus of each day, how many days in the challenge, who the other hosts and sponsors are, and what prizes there will be. Then, they send it out to the IG world, and other yogis or people wanting to dabble in yoga will repost it, follow the hosts, and post their pics of the poses each day with perhaps a caption with their reflection. And then others who are following or searching for yoga will see your posts, like them, comment on them, reach out to you, whatever.
I recognize that this all sounds very self-centered. Like you’re just looking for a way to exercise your vanity under the guise of exercising your body. And sure, for some, it may very well be. And to be honest, a little vanity is ok. And feeling good about other people appreciating you is perfectly normal and healthy.
But for most of the participants, I’ll wager, the biggest draw is the yoga. The feeling of accomplishment. The sense of community. The support in your endeavor. The feeling of growth. The belief that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Something important.
And I recognize that in our current societal climate, there is so much to think about and worry about that I imagine some who will read this will find it very silly or arrogant of me to say that doing yoga is important. That posting pictures of oneself online is important. And I respect their opinion. But I also think they’re dead wrong.
And here’s why:
Everyone is living their own life, full of hopes, fears, worries, issues, joys, frailties, and strengths. You never really know what anyone else is going through or feeling. You never know what personal hell they may be living in. We can see them from the outside, and possibly judge them, thinking we know how easy or hard their life might be just by how they carry themselves externally. But that’s such a falsehood, and a dangerous practice, judging others.
And trust me, this is coming from someone who is guilty of doing this many times. And guilty of it even up to very recently.
I’m not going to spend time and words explaining myself or apologizing for it. It is what it is. And I’m sure I will again cast judgement at some point. I’m not infallible, even if my intentions are true.
I will explain, however, how participating in these challenges have helped me see how wrong it was of me to judge myself and others, and that I was really judging others because of how I felt about myself. They say that bullies tear others down because of how they feel about themselves. I can absolutely agree because I know that because I found myself coming up short in so many ways, I projected my feelings onto others.
I used to look at other people, people with bodies that the mainstream would consider not just healthy, but ideal–thin, tall, beautiful–and automatically assume they were workout addicts, or starved themselves, or were too concerned with their appearance. I would see mothers who wore no evidence of having carried a child in their perfectly toned abdomens and think that they must have had tiny babies, or gone right back to crunches right after they gave birth.
I was jealous. I was hurt. I lashed out at them in my mind because I felt they were better than me. And not that they did anything to make me think that. I forced those feelings onto myself. They did nothing wrong by being who they were. And it made me feel like utter shit.
These feelings continued even into my beginning yoga challenges on IG. To anyone who knows anything about yoga or the yoga community (mostly in the U.S), will likely agree that it’s a very homogeneous group of people who are often the face of modern yoga practice. They’re young, white, thin, super fit, and female. They’re basically supermodels in yoga pants and downward dog. And these are the images I was at first inundated with as I began my IG yoga journey. So, at first I really struggled to feel included.
And as I struggled with feeling out of place, and that I didn’t belong in this exclusive club, I found myself having an internal struggle every day about whether or not to do my daily poses or just give up. For anyone who knows me, I struggle with self-doubt and perfectionism (as the icing on my mental illness cake), and so it was very natural and easy for me to convince myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t participate one day, or if I gave up on a challenge before it was over. It took a lot for me to keep going.
But as I kept going, something truly magical happened. I found myself actually a part of the thing I first felt shunned me. When I was sick in bed for three days and couldn’t do yoga, not only did my mind crave for my body to be up moving, flowing through the poses; but, so many people left me comments wishing me well, and telling me they hoped to see me back at it, posting pictures soon.
Me, someone who is relatively a newbie to yoga even though I’ve been practicing on and off for 7 years. I’ve never made it more than a couple months at a time consistently. I’ve always started hard and fizzled out. These people who I didn’t even actually know were not just holding me accountable, but were holding out their hands to me, propping me up, and encouraging me to keep going.
And sure, they were just words. And there’s so much in our word that needs actions, not just more words. But for someone who knows that the power of words can sometimes be stronger than any force out there, I knew that what these literal strangers were offering me was more meaningful than what it appeared as on the surface. And it was then that I swore to give back to this community that was helping to heal me.
Which leads me to a very specific IG yoga challenge. It was a challenge that promotes body positivity and respect for yourself and others. It also happened to be one that challenged its participants to capture and post their yoga poses while they were in their undies.
It was so worrisome for me at first. I was absolutely terrified that I was going to get a string of comments telling me to put my chubby self back in my clothes and never show off my nearly nude body to the public again. I thought people would ask me how I dared to think others wanted to see that. That I had no business baring myself until/if I was so much thinner and fitter.
But I didn’t. Not one single comment. Honest.
I did, however, receive many many positives remarks on how strong I was, how flexible, how balanced. How I rocked the shit out of a pose. Or that I was an inspiration for putting myself out there when someone else was too afraid. Me! A fucking inspiration! Knocked the wind out of me in a good way. Because I just saw me as some chick fumbling her way through learning new poses, building strength, and trying to find peace within herself. But the direct messages and comments kept coming through that others were willing to try yoga for the first time or yoga in their undies because I did. Because they saw something in me. Something I still couldn’t see, of course. But something that spoke to them, and moved them. And I’d be lying if I said their words didn’t make me so fucking proud of myself.
Because, you know what, I know what it’s like to not find yourself represented in mass culture. And trust me, being white, I know that there are plenty of people who find themselves far more underrepresented than I am. But being 5’2” and over 150 lbs., with DD boobs, thick thighs, and a pretty sizable rear end, no one was going to be walking down runways looking like me. And most women who are my size and shape are trying to do something about it.
So to have so many people say that because my body wasn’t “perfect” and I was still willing to show it anyway and now they’re going to do the same, I really felt honored. Because I felt what I was doing was nothing extraordinary. But to someone else, someone who may be having an even harder time than me with body image or fear, I WAS doing something extraordinary. And if it was the catalyst they needed to jump off that metaphorical cliff into sharing themselves with the world, I am so happy to have been a part of that.
So that brings me to now. I am participating in 8 challenges right now, with more to start up in the next couple days (some ending during in that time as well). I spend easily an hour or more practicing, photographing, posting, commenting, reaching out, responding. It’s become a pretty serious hobby for me. But in the maybe 20-30 minutes of practice I’ve done every day, I am feeling so many changes in myself. Obviously the change in my physical self. I’m toning up, tightening up, though not really losing weight. But I also need to do my yoga. I need to move. I need to push my body. Te feel like I’m doing something for myself. And also, shockingly for this introvert, I’m really enjoying “meeting” all these new people, and connecting to others. It’s really been helping with my mental health as well.
Because of the overwhelming positive response of my yoga in my undies, I’ve been doing nothing but yoga in my undies. Though this may change in the winter because I’m cold enough as it is in my clothes. For now, I post nothing but me, my poses, and my skivvies. And I will continue to do so for as long as it seems valuable and helpful to others with plans to reach even more people some day by hosting my own challenge.
I’m beginning to see that some cellulite or stomach rolls aren’t the end of the world, they aren’t the deciding factor of my worth. And if my lack of shame continues to inspire others to push themselves outside of their place of self-hate or insecurities or fear, I think it’s just as important as anything else people are doing for others. Because doing something for mental health is truly one of the most worthy causes there is, and I’m proud to be a part of it.