As a yoga instructor and yoga enthusiast, I find myself wishing that yoga was more inclusive, and represented by all people, for all people. There are times when I feel that I am part of the problem with the lack of inclusiveness. Not only am I a white woman who is privileged enough to teach yoga, but I also look like the ‘image’ of what a yogi often looks like. I’m thin, fit, and easy on the eyes. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t all of those things. It can be easy to seen superficially instead of witnessing the depth of my hearts and soul.
I worry that being all of those superficial things about yoga gives too little information about how I got where I am and how hard I’ve worked to be here. Sometimes, when we see and analyze another person, we can unintentionally apply our own vision, which can be skewed and far from the truth. So while yogis in pictures may look ‘perfect’ or like they’ve got the world’s problems solved, I promise you they don’t.
The reality is that not every beautiful human has had an easy life, not every strong body or mind has always felt that way, and not every yogi slide right into the splits. The people who succeeded at these things practiced and dedicated their lives to their process, and their history can often look incredibly challenging. I’ve found that yoga teachers can be some of the craziest and big-hearted people who have gone through unimaginable trauma.
I was not always fit, and I used to be so skinny in high school that I had to scarf packaged foods like boxes of snack cakes to gain weight for sports. Later in life, in college, I struggled with losing weight and trying to obtain this idea of ‘perfection,’ that I was even and unfortunately bulimic for some time. I needed a flat stomach again. Before everyone laughed at my thinness, and now, I wanted that thinness back. Much later in life, I would suffer from an injury that would change my life forever and bring me to this beautiful gift of teaching yoga.
Before becoming a yoga instructor, I tore a tendon in my right forearm while making a coffee at a serving job. I know, crazy to be injured by coffee, but looking back, it was God’s will. This injury took three years to heal, and it changed my life forever. I was forced to leave a job, that was unsatisfying because I had no choice; my body could longer do the tasks at hand even if I wanted it to. I left to travel for some time with the little money I had saved, and upon returning, was still injured. I couldn’t go back to serving tables, a cash cow, because that’s the repetitive action that hurt my arm. Instead, I began managing a restaurant, and I enrolled myself in a local studio training.
At the time, I did not have the money for the training and had to make payments on a plan. I figured I love yoga, so what’s the harm in learning more? Plus, I was hoping it would help me heal, as I was still very injured. I completed the training and won the injury settlement, and with that money, I spent a small fortune of it, around 11k total, to take off from work and train to be a 300-hour yoga instructor, my passion.
Had I not gotten injured, I’d likely still be working in that Michelin star restaurant, and yet there I was, in LA at an amazing yoga training with famous people who were child stars and back-up dancers. It could have been easy to feel very small and to judge others as “having it better” and not understanding my pain, mentally and physically. What I witnessed instead was seeing that other people, no matter what they looked like on the outside, had all also gone through the wringer. Drug addictions, death of a spouse, and even a child. Seemingly perfect lives, exposed to all their imperfections, in our sharing. I began to feel like I am right where I am supposed to be. Not only was I learning yoga, but I was also learning about love, spirituality, misconceptions of others, and healing.
Yoga can seem so superficial, but when you dig deeper, there’s always more. No one has impeccable balance in their standing poses, without having gone through the shaking, the doubt, and overcoming all mental and physical things in their lives. This is why I love yoga. It teaches you to be strong and to overcome life’s challenges without giving up. Yoga teaches you to laugh at yourself when you face-plant in crow and to smile when you attempt handstand holds to no or not much avail.
Yoga is not about perfection in the poses; it’s about the practice and the focus. It’s about the process and the path that each individual takes. It’s about healing ourselves and helping others to do the same. One of my favorite teachers, Siri Peterson, always says, “Everyone is a teacher, everyone has something to offer,” if you take a look around, I think you will see that this is true.
To me, yoga has something for every body, heart, and mind. There are so many unique and talented people teaching globally, and every teacher has something to offer. Everyone benefits from moving and breathing and practicing yoga, whether they can do handstands and have a million Instagram followers or not. When you begin the practice of yoga, you will do your version of the splits and inversions, and it will feel good for you, and that’s all that matters. We don’t need to be like anyone else. We need to be ourselves. If you’ve never practiced yoga or haven’t much, there is no better time to start then now.
Society deserves better than to suffer from mental fatigue from constant stress to be ‘perfect.’ We all need to learn to be ourselves, be authentic, and encourage everyone around us to be authentic. When we are genuine, we help others to do the same. So make crazy noises in class, try new things, and laugh and play, and fall and get back up, because ultimately, these things are what makes us happy, not trying to be better or more ‘perfect’ than others seemingly are.
By Jessica Waters
September 10, 2020