We all think we know what the prototypical yogi looks like, they’re typically tall, flexible, and vegan. Yogis effortlessly performs eka pada sirsasana (foot behind the head) as a restorative pose or an arm balance. They get to know you by asking about your astrological sign, dosha, or lineage. They make their own cleaning and body care products from coconut oil, vinegar, and essential oils. What they do buy is fair-trade, locally-produced, and organic. We know all this about this person, because we follow them on Instagram and strive to be more like them—they are a yogic muse to their many followers.
But, here’s the thing: we were never meant to be Stepford yogis. Yoga is not a religion. It is not bound by rigid dogma. It is well accepted that there are many yogic pathways to enlightenment. Accordingly, honing the practice is not about closely following a strict set of rules; it is about sharpening our awareness and attuning our intuition so that we can make moment-to-moment choices that are compassionate, wise, and ethical. This has nothing to do with fitting the typical yogi mold.
You are still beautiful. I know this for sure because I have yet to meet a human being who is not. The fact that yoga magazines do not showcase the range of human beauty is their shortcoming, not yours.
Being flexible does not make you a better person. It does not make you a better parent, partner, or friend. It does not make you kinder, gentler, or more charitable. Perhaps the practice of mindful stretching cultivates some of these qualities, but achieving flexibility does not change a single thing that actually matters.
Working towards them is a part of your yoga journey and remember it's a journey. These tougher postures are about cultivating awareness, harnessing your energy, and preparing the body to sit comfortably in meditation. They take time, practice and patience. Sticking arm balances may mean you are stronger, but it does not mean you are more yogic. Give yourself the positive space and compassion to enjoy working towards them.
Different gurus and master teachers have come to different conclusions about what yogis should eat. Like other yogic guidelines, there is no rule that applies to everyone all the time. As yogis, we are mindful about what we eat. We are aware of where our food comes from and how our consumption of it affects other beings, the environment, and ourselves. We do the best we can with the resources we have. For some yogis the natural conclusion of this is veganism, for others it is not.
Tradition is treated as sacred material that should be left unaltered; however, it is unnatural for systems of knowledge to stagnate. Traditional knowledge has been passed from generation to generation—or from guru to student—and has constantly evolved as it has changed hands. If the people who came up with the roots of a traditional systems had the knowledge we do today, they may have arrived at different conclusions. The belief system a yogi subscribes to are fluid; they are based on the awareness, discernment, and the studiousness we practice on a regular basis.
Yogis are aware of the effects of substances on their bodies and the environment. One by one, look into the impact of the products you use, and consider whether using it is truly worth the consequences. Some of these products you will keep, some you will learn to use in a less harmful way, and some you will replace altogether with kinder, cleaner products.
This may be a sign that you are focused on living a yogic lifestyle rather than on impressing others and getting attention. Perhaps if you teach yoga, you must cultivate an online presence as part of your business, but do not confuse seeming yogic with being yogic. Being yogic is not a competition. It can’t be; there is no objective definition of that which describes a yogic lifestyle for all people.
So you don’t fit the yogic mould... So what! Let go of the need for validation and embrace your own intuition, awareness, and wisdom.
Written by Barbie Levasseur , Bay Area writer, yoga teacher, and mom.