Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Risk being okay with where your body is right now."

I don't know what it's like where you are but here in Boston it's a cold Saturday morning and Anna and I are off to a day-long yoga/meditation workshop at North End Yoga. (If you live in Boston and you're looking for a place to practice, they aren't cheap but are cheap-ish and the space is beautiful. I really recommend anything taught by Sarah Sturges. She is made of awesome.)

So I hope you're having a lovely weekend but since it's cold out -- lets all enjoy a little righteous irritation, shall we?

I'll admit it -- I read Yoga Journal. Sometimes this gets me derisory looks; a couple of my yoga/meditation buddies have made comments to the effect that "I can't stand that magazine any more" or "I just can't read that -- how can you?" Most of the time, I advocate for my reading material and I feel justified in doing this. YJ and I have had an on-again/off-again relationship for about ten years now. I started reading it back when I was fresh out of college and just getting interested in yoga at the behest of my then-girlfriend (who I now realise probably had ulterior motives coming out the wazoo, but we're not here to discuss that right now.) Back then, YJ made me feel awful: the models made me feel inflexible and fat; I didn't understand the jargon; the philosophy passed me by (although I thought it looked awful nice); and the recipes left me cold. So I gave up. Not the yoga; just the magazine.

Tree pose without a tree in sight!
I rediscovered it on an impulse buy about three years ago and have had a steady subscription for the past two years. When I picked up that second "first time" issue, I'd gained confidence in my practice. Yeah, the models still made me feel a bit inflexible and podgy but -- hell, who wouldn't feel inflexible and podgy looking at these folks? and I regularly saw letters from other people expressing the same opinions and the models seemed to get a bit more...normal looking. There were even folks of color and the occasional guy which was just awesome. The jargon no longer either left me cold or confuzzled; having been to a few studio sessions and had a regular home practice for about two years, I knew what they were talking about. Even better, I knew how what they were talking about felt: I knew how good that hip-opener felt; I knew how awesome it was to lie back in shavasana when you thought you weren't going to make it through that last vinyasa; and I knew how great it was to finally not fall out of Tree.

I'm not a "find a community" kind of person; I don't go looking for groups of folks who are like-minded because, honestly, I don't expect to find them and I don't know if I'd want to hang out with a room full of people who think the same way I do! I like hanging out with folks who push my buttons every now and then and agree on the important things -- Doctor Who is awesome; Spuffy need never have happened; and John Barrowman is candylicious -- and we can argue the rest out later. Still, I was glad to have YJ show up crammed in my mailbox every few weeks as a reminder that there was a larger yogic community in which I could be more involved if I wanted.

Until this month. This month, I happened to flip open my February 2011 YJ and find the article under the heading "eating wisely" (hardeharharhar) called "Measure for Measure," by a regular contributer named Dayna Macy. Now, apparently this short article -- only probably two pages if not split up by ads -- is an excerpt from a larger book by Ms. Macy called Ravenous. If there were any justice in the world, she would have been forced to call it If You're Not Skinny, Don't Show Up at My Studio: or, My Happy Journey to Obsession.

I read the last few paragraphs of the article first because I have, like my father, a habit of flipping through all publications from back to front. Don't ask why; I don't know. And I came across this little gem:
"Weeks, then months, pass. I begin to lose weight--5 pounds, 10 pounds, then 20, then more. I start buying clothes one size, then two sizes, smaller. Yoga poses that were once extremely difficult become more possible, and more fun." 
And I'm thinking, "Wait. This sounds just like all those crap women's magazines I don't read because, well, they sound like this. This sounds like my coworkers when they're having a bad day and I wish my MP3 player went up louder. This sounds....awful." Lose weight and do yoga better? like some kind of magic formula? Uh -- no, no, I think not.

So I flip back to the beginning of the article and read the whole thing. Twice. Then I find Anna and make her read it just to make sure I'm not crazy.

Editors of YJ, why? What were you thinking? This is the worst possible advocation of weight loss that I have ever read and I've read some doozies. If this is an excerpt from the book and the rest of the book is like this it should instantaneously be remaindered in order to avoid bolstering the incorrect, self-harming thinking of thousands of people suffering from eating disorders! What were you thinking? Publishing an article like this, that implicitly says, "If you are overweight, yoga is not for you -- you won't do it right" is an insult to those of us who don't look like your cover model.

Crow pose. No crows, I know. Disappointing.
If I dropped 20 pounds, could I do some yoga poses more easily? Yeah, I'm sure I could. You know what would also make it easier? If my left wrist wasn't shot from years of typing and handwriting. If my back didn't give out on me at odd moments. If I hadn't sprained my left ankle three times in eight months. And if I didn't get intensely nauseated in inverted poses due to some long-term inner ear problems. Are you or your author going to suggest that I should stop doing yoga because I will probably never do a perfect arm balance? I sure as hell hope not -- because I'd have absolutely no intention of listening to you. So I can't do shoulder balances; so I can't do a perfect Crow: so what? Patanjali isn't going to appear out of my mat and bitch-slap me.

And, yes, I read the additional interview with Ms. Macy that went up on the YJ site a few days later and, no, I have no intention of reading her full book to find out what the "full" story is because, frankly, I don't care. The excerpt was so profoundly offputting that I can only say I hope she has found fulfillment through her chosen path and I hope no-one else does.

On the upside, I can say that in reading the rest of the magazine -- which I did after waiting a few days to calm down -- I found nothing else quite so horrific. There was a great article on meditation by Sally Kempton; some neat stuff about car rentals; and a nifty little alignment/anatomy article about twisting triangle and your knees. (My knees hate twisting triangle; I don't know about you -- I wish you happier knees!)

There was also a few page feature on the YJ 21 Day Challenge. For those of you who don't know about it: it's exactly what it sounds like: 21 days of free yoga routines, meditation and pranayama audios, and recipes from YJ, all online, to help bolster or create your home practice. I've been cherrypicking routines from there since the 10th and some of them are really awesome; I've also discovered two new teachers, Rebecca Urban and Elise Lorimer, who I dearly hope have done standalone DVDs 'cause they are just fantastic stuff.

Anyway, in the midst of the little puff piece -- and it is a puff piece, pretty self-admittedly -- there's a interview with Jason Crandell, one of the teachers who is doing routines for the Challenge:

[What if you're] Too chubby? [the interviewer asks]
"If you're letting your weight keep you off the mat, you've got a self-esteem issue," he says. "Ignoring your body won't help; doing skillful things with your body in an asana practice will make it easier to nurture the kind of body you have now."
Well, thank heaven the teachers are smarter than the editors.

Edit: In all editorial fairness, I have to say that neither Anna nor myself made it to the workshop. A late-breaking anxiety attack on my part and girlfriendly sympathy on Anna's part prevented both our attendances. I still think the studio is awesome; I do suggest you check it out; and I'm sorry I can't give a more positive review of the whole thing 'cause I wasn't there!


Barbara said...

Just discovered your blog - what a great post. And I like Dr Who too :O)

KarraCrow said...

@Barbara: Welcome! Nice to have you stop by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It isn't my normal style of blogging -- as I'm sure you can tell! -- but, honestly, the article just irritated me so badly that I felt I had to say something. I hope to be blogging more about yoga in the near future.

And it's always happy to hear from another DW fan!