What a yogi is … not.
I’ll never forget it — about 5 years ago, I got a facial for the first time. It was a wonderful experience until the very end. The aesthetician asked me what I do for a living. At the time, I was teaching yoga and writing for a local newspaper. This was her response:
“Oh honey, you’re a yoga teacher. You can’t have those pimples on your chin.”
I wish I could say that I said something back like, “Oh, it sounds like you think yoga teachers are perfect … well guess what [BIATCH], they aint. … And that’s NOT what yoga is about.”
Actually, I’m glad I didn’t call her a B, and glad I didn’t say ‘ain’t,’ since it’s not a word. BUT I do wish I could have set her straight by letting her know that yoga teachers are just like everyone else.
Instead, I’m pretty sure I giggled an insecure little giggle and went on my way, feeling ashamed for having some frickin’ zits on my chin. It was the first time I realized that – to some people — we yoga teachers, or “yogis,” have this stereotype surrounding us…. That we’re perfect.
If I could go back to my 23-year-old self who was driving away in my car feeling low, like some kind of fraud of a yoga teacher because my hormones were acting up and manifesting on my chin in a few little baby pimples, I would tell me to remember what being a yogi really is, and what it is really not. …
Being a yogi is:
Being imperfect, and embracing that. One of the reasons I think I fell in love with yoga is that my mat was almost like a refuge from my perfectionism. It was a place where I felt strong yet vulnerable, free and unencumbered by the pressure I always put on myself to have my shit together, and to honor my truth … to really be me. Because let’s get real here – TRUTH is – none of us have our shit together all the time. It may look like some of us do, but we don’t. We’re all just doing the best we can here. And when it comes to teaching yoga, well that’s a whole other ballgame. When I accept the fact that perfect is unrealistic (and quite frankly, boring and fake), I am a much better teacher, and I think that energy of acceptance can be felt by my students – I hope. I’m now convinced that a full life is indeed a messy life.
Being a yogi is not:
Having your shit together all the time. No. That’s not real. And if you’re like me, you may have found yourself in conversations with people who say things like, “Oh you just have it all together,” and you’re like, “Are you f-ing kidding me? HAHA.” or maybe you beat yourself up for not knowing what you’re doing all the time, and then compare yourself to people on social media… easy to do. Quite honestly, if I ever felt like I finally had it all together, I would question myself and dig a little deeper.
Being a yogi is:
Riding the waves of feelings, thoughts and emotions. We are human beings – we can choose to sleep our way through life and numb out with drugs, alcohol, sleeping around, disordered eating (whether it’s restriction or binging), over-exercising, too much tv — you name it — to just kind of be here, without much joy or much pain. OR we can choose to feel everything. This is a choice I have to consciously make everyday, and since I am not perfect, I sometimes just don’t do it. It’s a lot easier to just pick your numbing mechanism of choice and just kind of float around, isn’t it? But is that why we’re here? I’m a firm believer that the answer to that question is a big fat NO. When I’m practicing yoga from an authentic place of love within myself, it helps me to wake up and to stay awake, to everything – the pain, the joy, the heartbreak, the freedom.
Being a yogi is not:
Feeling blissful and calm all the time. Again, this is real life – not la-la land. I think yoga teachers especially are often looked at as people who are not supposed to be anything but blissful and mellow all the time. Yes, yoga (and meditation!!) are so valuable when it comes to helping to separate our thoughts/feelings from ourselves, and not let them own us, and be able to identify false beliefs we carry around with us everyday. It helps us to be less reactive and more intentional.
BUT part of being human is to feel, I just have to say it again. And if we are really alive, we are feeling it ALL. It is all ok and it is all a sign of being alive. And yoga is certainly not living life like some kind of robot who never has a bad moment or a bad day (or bad year).
I think the hardest part is not judging yourself, allowing hard feelings or uncomfortable thoughts to define you or eat you alive, and that’s what yoga and meditation helps me (and can help you, if it isn’t already) do. Instead of, “I am angry,” I like to look it as, “I feel angry.” Because, at my core, I am not an angry person. I don’t believe any of us are, actually – it is simply a human emotion that some of us may feel more or less than others. But if I never got angry, again, I would start to wonder what’s actually going on and what I may be suppressing or numbing out.
Being a yogi is:
Connecting to & honoring the body. I am confident that my yoga practice helps me to stay more connected to God, to my true self, and more grounded and at ease in my skin. It has given me a greater appreciation for my muscular legs and thighs, and actually, my entire body. It has helped me to look at my body as a temple, literaly, a place to house my soul — not something that needs to be picked apart, weighed, fixed or changed. It has instead helped me to look at it as a tool to express myself, and my appreciation to God and the universe, instead of something that my head is just connected to. And I feel like, regardless of sex, we all deserve that — our bodies are not burdens… they are just right, right now, as they are.
And in my opinion, eating is a form of yoga practice when it is done with love, compassion and without any kind of shame or guilt. To me, when it comes to food, being a yogi is connecting to and honoring the body’s hunger (another beautiful sign of being alive!) and fullness cues, and giving it what it is truly needing, whether that’s a big salad with chicken, lots of avocado and some quinoa or a really delicious burger with melty cheese & some French fries. Neither one is better than the other. And to me, trusting the body, joyfully eating, and finding the balance between eating for nutrition and eating for pleasure is part of what it means to be a yogi.
Being a yogi is not:
Only eating vegetables and hummus, and looking good in yoga pants. If that were required for me to be a “yogi,” I wouldn’t last a half day. Take my cheese and bread away from me and I will cut you. And if the goal of a yoga practice is to look good, the point is completely missed as it is being used just as another one of those numbing mechanisms to help keep us floating on the surface of life.
In all seriousness, I really dislike the association that people have with yoga and veganism or clean eating (crinnnnge). By the way, did you know that no one actually knows what clean eating means? That’s because it literally means nothing – it’s bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I love veggies and I love hummus, but again, we are alive here, and shouldn’t that include eating all delicious foods?
Being a “yogi” is not about deprivation. To me, deprivation like restrictive eating is going against one of the principles of yoga – Ahimsa (Non-violence). It is enacting violence on yourself, and maybe even other people, to deprive yourself from experiencing pleasure that delicious food (and sharing it with others) can bring. Eating an extremely restrictive diet does not make anyone a better person and it is certainly not being fully alive. And it is definitely not healthy for any part of the whole person (mind, body, spirit). Yes, eating more plant-based foods is great for our bodies and for our planet, but that does not mean we should ONLY eat plant-based foods and we are bad when we don’t. It kind of goes full circle with feeling ALL emotions – when we allow ourselves to eat ALL foods that we want, when we want them (otherwise known as intuitive eating), we will probably feel more awake and more alive … I know I do.
Man, I could go on and on with what I think a yogi is and isn’t. But I think I’ll stop here, because I have a tendency to never stop writing once I get started. I hope this resonates with some of you, and maybe even helps you to be less intimidated of starting your own yoga practice, if you haven’t already. Have a great weekend.
With love and light,