Is Your Yoga Practice Making You Harder On Your Body?

by Bee Gray

Believe it or not, yoga hasn’t always been about perfectly toned buns and sparkly outer space leggings: The practice has only recently been connected to materialistic culture and image. In the late 1800s, yoga began appearing in English literature, but it has roots dating back to around 3000 B.C.E.

Originally, yoga developed under the guidance of vedic priests and mystic seers called Brahmans. The central motifs were Karma Yoga, Wisdom Yoga, and the yoga of devotion. These days, after the shifting and reshaping of ancient traditions, This $80 billion industry often focuses more on having the right gear and less about an inner journey. And while we like a little Lululemon just as much as the next practitioner, the modern mode of buying, selling, and consuming yoga can actually reinforce body issues and shame instead of helping you heal from the inside out.  

So how do you know when your practice is doing more harm than good? We pulled together some quick questions to ask yourself. Hopefully, you’re already on the right track. If you’re not, maybe it’s time to consider the following and adjust the way you use yoga…

1. You feel obligated to practice and guilty if you don’t.

Don’t get us wrong here: Dedication is a vital part of caring for yourself. However, when you create a necessity —an urgency—or harbor feelings of guilt and shame for missing yoga classes, you’re punishing yourself. There is no yoga god marking you absent and therefore unworthy of your unlimited studio membership. When you think  “but I have to go to yoga!” also remember that you have to take care of your needs. Some days that means going to yoga, some days that means making a carefully cooked meal for yourself, or grabbing drinks with friends. Ask yourself: What do I feel right now? What do I need right now? You can’t write the answers ahead of time. Human feelings don’t run on a schedule.

2. You use yoga to justify “ bad” behaviors.

Ever eat a huge meal, lay on your back watching Netflix and slowly eating Doritos, and then think to yourself “this is okay because I’m going to go to yoga tomorrow”? Do you ever engage in behaviors that you feel aren’t  ideal and then balance them out with the act of doing yoga? Using yoga to purge after any sort of binge can be dangerous: It falls into the realm of compulsive exercise or binge eating disorder. When a person is suffering from compulsive fitness behaviors, they might use the exercise to lessen the guilt of binging. The exercise grants them permission to eat, and to gain back a “sense of control, power, and self-respect”.  If you weigh your cheesecake bites by how many yoga classes you will need to attend to “make up for it,” then you might want to rethink your habits.

3. You think one class a day isn’t enough.

We applaud your zest for yoga, but we need to ask you a few questions: Do you tend to take back-to-back classes, or attend yoga several times a day? Maybe your schedule is extremely open, more likely you’re avoiding friends, self care,y8 and other to-do’s by hitting the studio instead.  Yogis can use yoga as a self-sabotage behavior. Using yoga to burn calories, fight off hunger, or repress emotional discomfort are warning signs, and if you’re seeing them in yourself or another yogi you love, it might be time to get to the root of the problem and take a break to deal with it.

4. You judge your own performance.

It’s important that we go to yoga to actively grow compassion for ourselves. But the industry of Western yoga bombards us with images that tell us the point of yoga is to have washboard abs and visible thigh gaps, along with perfectly symmetrical poses. Focusing on critical awareness of your body—how you should, ought, or need to do yoga—will lend to feeling bad or good about your practice. Try not to judge yourself that way. Work to form an awareness of the stories you associate with your body’s movement, but stay away from analyzing and making value claims about how good or bad your yoga is. It’s a practice, after all—not a perfect.

5. You restrict your eating habits.

At this point “juicing”, cleanses,  and the practice of yoga have become fully intertwined. It wouldn’t be surprising if you walked into a local yoga studio, anywhere in America, to find yogis slurping green juice and showering themselves in chia seeds like it’s confetti. Restrictive diets are marketed to the Western world as ways for us to become cleaner, more whole, and less toxic. Sometimes we medicate our body shame with raw, paleo, gluten-free, and other fad diets. Food allergies and digestive issues are no doubt a real thing, but attempting to heal by going on a roller coaster of restrictions can be dangerous and nutritionally unsupportive. There is a huge difference between trying to nourish your body with foods and movement, and controlling your body by withholding resources. Orthorexia is effecting us at epidemic rates. It is the unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy food.

Think you have identified something and need help? Check out these resources for additional support: National Eating Disorders Association, Eat Breathe Thrive Brooklyn, The Body Positive.

Image Via Urban Outfitters

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