The Myth About Yogi Bodies
Gain a fresh perspective on the misconceptions surrounding the physical appearance of yoga practitioners. This guide dismantles preconceived notions and emphasises the diversity of bodies within the yoga community. Discover empowering stories, expert insights, and practical tips that encourage a holistic approach to well-being beyond societal expectations. Redefine your understanding of yoga, focusing on the connection between mind, body, and spirit rather than conforming to external ideals.
By Liv Surtees / Jan 21 2024
A slim, incredibly toned woman wearing a pastel-coloured matching set, with her hair perfectly slicked back doing a bridge pose: this might be what you think of when you think of someone doing yoga.
Coined the “yogi body”, there’s a very specific idea that most of us have when it comes to what someone that does yoga looks like. Whilst this idealistic and overly obsessed image might actually be a representation of a very small percentage of people that do yoga (there’s certainly none of these people in my local yoga class!), it’s concerning that so many of us believe this is the standard for those who do yoga.
Yoga is one of the most healing, powerful, and transformative types of practice that you can add to your life. However, unfortunately, this false idea that those who do yoga should look a certain way is turning people away from stepping onto the mat.
So, why are we so obsessed with the “yogi body”? Why is this representation so far from the truth of what yogi culture actually is? Is there such a thing as the “perfect yoga body”?
the myth about a "yogi body"
Type “yogi body” into Google images and you’ll be confronted with endless images of slim, toned, tanned women (and men) in various poses.
This search alone is enough to tell us the myth that we’ve created surrounding yogi bodies. In the Western world at large, (yes, there are authentic studios and yoga practitioners out there, of course), we have cultivated an idea that those who practise yoga should or will look a certain way.
Social media and the digital world that so many of us spend a large proportion of our time on is largely to blame for what we think a yogi body looks like.
When I first went to India I saw firsthand what a yogi is, and trust me, it’s certainly not the airbrushed model you’re seeing holding a downward dog on your Instagram feed. I had never really looked into yoga or properly practised it before my trip to India, but after spending time more immersed in traditional yogic culture and being around yogis, I realised just how powerful this practice is in every aspect of life.
However, when I returned, eager to continue my yoga practice, locating a yoga studio that didn’t have a Western woman with the “perfect figure” plastered all over their social media or finding an online practice that encompassed every aspect of yoga rather than just seeing it as a great way to tone up, was incredibly difficult.
This is the issue that I’m sure many people can relate to: the true meaning and essence of yoga has been lost in the Western world (in most places), and we’ve perpetuated this idea that yoga is a great way to lose weight, tone up, or become more flexible, rather than a more holistic lifestyle that centres around spirituality and awareness.
What did I think a yogi body looked like? A man practising breathwork whilst moving his body by the River Ganges, deeply immersed in a powerful spiritual practice. What did I think a yoga body looked like after returning to the UK, due to social media and unrealistic Western body standards? A slim, toned, young woman who spends her mornings at yoga practice to get her workout in for the day before grabbing a green juice.
We’ve created the myth of the yogi body, but the reality is, true yogic needs to be upheld and appreciated. True yoga can be done by anyone and everyone, without even the thought of what their body looks like.
is there such thing as a "perfect" yoga body?
Do you think there’s a perfect body for walking? Do you think there’s a perfect body for someone that meditates? Do you think there’s a perfect body for swimming? Hopefully not! Yoga is absolutely no different - there is absolutely no “perfect yoga body” because it simply doesn’t exist: anyone and everyone can practice yoga and what their body looks like has absolutely nothing to do with that.
Whilst yoga can do absolute wonders for strengthening your body, improving your core balance, and helping you become more flexible (which may change the look of your body), that’s not what it should be about!
Collectively, we need to shut down this idea that there’s a perfect yoga body or that one of the main reasons people should practise yoga is to achieve a certain physique. Instead, we need to push back on the idea that yoga should focus on what our bodies look like.
Yes, yoga is about your body: it helps you reconnect with your body and find a balance between the mind, spirit, and physical body. However, it’s not about what you look like, what kind of body you have, and the aim is definitely not to change your body!
Let’s ditch the idea that we start practising yoga because we ask ourselves, “how can yoga change your body shape?”, and welcome the idea of asking, “how can yoga change my life?”.
how yoga can improve body image
Yoga and body image actually are closely linked, but not in the frankly negative and concerning way we might all think. In fact, yoga can help improve your body image, regardless of whether your body changes due to practising it.
One of the main focuses of yoga is connecting the mind, the body and the spirit, bringing a greater level of self-awareness and consciousness into all parts of our being.
Therefore, when we practice yoga, we shouldn’t simply be thinking of it as a great exercise to help us achieve our fitness or aesthetic goals. Instead, we should be focusing on connecting with the true purpose of yoga.
When we are able to bring awareness to our yoga practice in this way, we become more aware of our body and reconnect with it in a more spiritual way.
Essentially, we come to appreciate how our body feels, we’re able to lean into the pain and pleasure within our body, and we push what our body looks like to the back of our minds. It’s about how we feel, not about how we look! Therefore, we are much more likely to feel gratitude for our body and truly begin to appreciate it for what it is and what it does for us.
Additionally, on a more basic level, practising yoga on a regular basis helps us to get more comfortable with our body, and this includes seeing it more: this in itself can help us to improve our body image and become more comfortable and confident in how we look physically, even though the main focus of yoga is so much greater than the look of our physical body.
If you’re making an active effort to overcome body image struggles, doing activities in which you spend time moving your body but your focus is on something else can help massively. In yoga, your focus should be on how you feel, the emotions you’re experiencing within your body, and the effect that your body, mind, and spirit have whilst practising.
Therefore, it’s a wonderful way to become more body neutral because you’re becoming more comfortable within your body whilst directing your focus to aspects of your body and mind that don't include your physical look.
Personally, my experience with yoga has helped me overcome a lot of the body image issues I’ve held for years because it has helped me appreciate what my body does for me, allowed me to understand the feelings that arise within my body, and help me reconnect with my physical body, whilst taking away a focus on my physical figure.
if you have a body, you have a yoga body
The next time you find yourself asking, “what does a yoga body look like?”, instead of rushing towards images of young, tanned, slim women, direct your focus and think “a yoga body is everyone and anyone”.
Just because the Western world has cultivated this idea that yoga is somehow aligned with weight loss and achieving the perfect physique, we don’t need to buy into it.
So, ditch the Westernised preconceived idea of what someone who practises yoga is like and home in on the real purpose of this wonderful, spiritual practice.