Here's How Diet Culture Hijacks 'Actual' Yoga
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Hi and thanks for reading! I have taken a hiatus from blogging over the summer and I’m happy to be back writing about the things I’m passionate about.
Today I am choosing to discuss a topic that has been on my mind for some time. First, I’d like to explain what I mean by “actual” yoga. The beautiful and ancient practice of yoga was developed over 5,000 years ago in India. In short, it began as a spiritual development practice to unite body, mind and spirit and enhance self-awareness.
The actual poses or postures (“asanas” in Sanskrit) of yoga were developed to help people feel more at ease in their bodies to then be still, focused and practice meditation.
In my opinion, at its roots, yoga is a practice to help people develop a sense of internal wholeness and harmony within, so they can then show up in the world from that grounded place.
Fast-forward thousands of years later when yoga made its way into Western cultures and, in many studios, gyms and other places of practice, it started to morph into something that isn’t true yoga. This is where I think the wires got and continue to get crossed between the world of yoga and diet culture – as soon as yoga becomes about competition, Instagram, trying to make the body look a certain way, burning calories, punishing the body, wearing certain types of outfits, or what we ate or didn’t eat that day -- it’s no longer actual yoga.
It’s in fact yoga hijacked by diet culture. It becomes empty, shallow and disconnecting (from our bodies, ourselves and each other), just like everything else about diet culture.
Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or starting out (or maybe starting to consider trying yoga), I think it helps to be aware of the signs of a diet culture hijacking, especially if you really want to practice true yoga! I’d like to illuminate some differences between actual yoga and diet culture:
Yoga is a stress management tool.
Research shows that yoga can help reduce and manage stress, anxiety and depression symptoms. Actual yoga -- including breath work, postures, meditation and relaxation -- can be a wonderful practice to help calm the mind and nervous system, increase acceptance of self and others, and simply make life more manageable. I believe that if every human had some type of actual yoga practice, our world would be a much calmer more harmonious place.
Diet culture increases stress.
Dieting, punitive work-outs (or "yoga practices") and forever chasing a body ideal is so stressful on a human's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, health. Diet culture may promise better health but in fact it makes human beings' existences way more stressful than they are already are!: There's food obsession and preoccupation, inflammation from food restriction and over-exercise, being detached from and in disgust with our bodies, and the list goes on. And it's not just on a personal level but a collective one - people in larger bodies experience the extreme stress of weight stigma on a daily basis.
Yoga is internally guided.
Yoga is about connecting and working with the body, and staying in communication with the body at all times, so its cues are honored. It's about finding an edge between ease and pain, and never going beyond our unique edges. It's a practice that starts on the inside and is meant to be fluid, intuitive and flexible. A teacher's directions are meant to be secondary guides and our bodies primary guides. And our yoga practice is meant to change as we change! There are so many types to choose from -- restorative, yin, gentle, power, and so on -- and we are allowed to choose the types of practices that feel best in our bodies and minds. With that, there can be an ebb and flow, between life seasons and even from day to day.
Diet culture is externally guided.
Diet culture is all about following rules, practicing rigidity and doing it "right." It tells us our bodies are not to be trusted to tell us what they need and that we need to adhere to a specific workout regimen (or "yoga" practice!) to "succeed." It tells us that if there is no pain, there is no gain, and that if we ease up, we are weak and should be ashamed. It tells us that hot, power yoga practices are the only ones that "count." It tells us there is only one acceptable type/size of body and anything else is wrong or inferior. Like I said above, as soon as yoga becomes about ignoring the body, trying to punish the body, manipulate body size, or focusing on what a pose looks like on Instagram (or anything else externally driven) it's simply not actual yoga anymore.
Yoga is about nonviolence.
One of the guiding ethical principles ("Yamas") of yoga is Ahimsa, which means nonviolence towards others and ourselves. It is a practice intended to be approached with curiosity, kindness and nonjudgemental awareness, which helps to foster self-compassion and compassion for others. It is inclusive of all people - all sizes, all genders, all races.
Diet culture is violent.
It conditions us to believe that there is a superior body type, and anything that is not that needs to be worked on, punished and changed as soon as possible. An easy way to spot a diet culture hijacking in a yoga class or practice is if a teacher is talking about things like burning calories, getting a "beach body" or encouraging students to push past their bodies' boundaries. That will cause harm on all levels. That is not yoga.
Thank you for reading – feel free to comment and tell me your thoughts about yoga and diet culture! If you’re interested in practicing with me, please visit the yoga page.