Emma here, and I’m going to let you in on my secret revolutionary agenda for teaching yoga. My agenda is Body Positivity, with a side of creating a better world.
When I teach a yoga class, I’m teaching breath, poses and mindfulness. But underneath all of that, I am inviting presence, softness and forgiveness for all the ways that we have abandoned our bodies, and the bodies of others. I am creating space for people to come back to their bodies, rekindle connection, and emerge with a renewed relationship with their bodies. This is how I am quietly working to change the world.
How we think and feel about our bodies is political and world-changing because it affects how we think about the bodies of others around us. It affects which other bodies we believe are deserving of care, attention, love or rest. It affects how we vote, what we buy, who we listen to, and how we bring up our children. Body Positivity as a practice can reshape how we see not only ourselves, but all the bodies around us.
It’s about unwinding our attention from how we look to what we want – what kind of world we want to live in. If we’re not preoccupied with our weight or shape or height or skin, what would we spend our time building? Body Positivity is about remaking our world, remaking our definition of beauty and worth, remaking our lives to celebrate the beautiful differences that we have and are.
Body Positivity was at its inception, a political stance. In the mainstream it has been whitewashed and watered-down to simplified slogans like “love the body you have”. Body Positivity was created by Fat, Black, queer women and femmes, and was intended as a political statement/practice for those whose bodies were the least accepted by the mainstream. Remembering this history, we can think of Body Positivity as a collective practice with a radical intention. Rather than mainly considering our perception of *our own* bodies, can we commit to accepting, loving or uplifting *all* bodies? Particularly those bodies that we might not see regularly represented in our world?
A Body Positive Yoga Practice does not need to include directives to LOVE YOUR BODY (has hearing that helped anyone actually love their body, ever?). Body Positivity is not about cheerleading or slogans. It is about presence and awareness, excavating old beliefs and cultivating new ones.
I rarely say things like “Love your body” in my classes, because it isn’t that simple, and it isn’t the point. You don’t learn to love something by being told to do so. You learn to love something by getting to know them, and seeing their wondrous and curious quirks! You learn to love something with presence, attention and consistency.
A few years ago my friend Simone shared a Body-Positive idea with me that I have never forgotten. It seemed like an idea to remake the world. It was revolutionary and ground-changing and incredibly simple. It was this: At the Jewish summer camp where Simone worked, they had one rule for the kids. NO BODY TALK. This meant that talking about other people’s bodies was off the table, including compliments (about clothes, jewelry, haircuts).
I was flummoxed.
“So the kids can’t even say they like another kid’s shirt?”
“No, because one kid getting attention for their shirt might make another kid self-conscious if they never get compliments on their clothes.”
I continued to prod.
“What about if you were wearing something really interesting, like a really unusual hat?”
“They can talk about that. They can ask questions. One thing we suggest is that they ask for the story of someone’s hat or shirt. That way it’s a bit more about curiosity than approval or status.”
I loved this idea for so many reasons, one of which is that it de-centres what is at the surface and asks us to look deeper. It’s easy to talk about someone’s haircut, but how are they actually doing under there? Body Positivity is not about just saying nice things to yourself or others; it’s about really getting to know ourselves, learning the deeper stories and hearing the difficult truths.
My deepest hope is that the practice of Body Positivity will help us recognize and celebrate the gorgeous differences in all bodies, and that out of that will grow the seeds for a better world.
Many of these ideas were inspired by Sonya Renee Taylor’s work, and her amazing book “The Body is Not an Apology”. What I am calling Revolutionary Body Positivity, she calls Radical Self Love. I really, really recommend her book.
Want to reflect a bit more on these ideas? I made you a downloadable set of journaling prompts for you to cozy up to with your pen for some deeper thinking and feeling.
And, if you want to be part of an intentionally Body-Positive space, join our 30 Days of Body Positive Practice, starting Jan 2.