Yep, I am comparing the two.
(Although this ad is 13 years old, it's still relevant today... and I heard it's making the news again recently, which is weird since it's so old...)
I'm wholeheartedly against fitting a person's physical body in a predetermined box. Our media tells us (mostly women, but also men) what the ideal body type and look should be... and we're expected to strive for this. We know, anatomically, that only 5% of the female population, even with dieting and cosmetics, will ever fit the ideal body type. And yet still we get the message: "If you only try harder, workout more, wear a certain kind of makeup/clothing/hair style you'll look better and thus be happier". Every single media advert is based on making us believe that it is OUR fault that we look the way we do (so we should buy their product to help fix it).
I've finally made a connection with why I am so uncomfortable when I hear yoga instructors tell me that someday I will reach= a certain level of flexibility/posture/strength. It's the exact same concept of: "You can't do it now because you just haven't been practicing long enough/trying hard enough/practicing often enough", a blame the individual mentality.
Oh, for the most part it's done with only the best of intentions in mind, to motivate and reassure the student that progress occurs for everyone. At the same time there is a certain extent where I've found some (not all!) yoga instructors believe that their level of flexibility/strength/stamina is achievable by ALL students. Which implies that the only reason the student isn't there yet is due to their own internal faults.
I am a prime example. I'm thin, so I find people automatically assume I should be flexible. Ummm, far from it- as I've said many times it took two full years of regular practice to be able to *just barely touch my toes*. And yes I push myself adequately, thank you very much, I've learned the difficult way just how inflexible my body can be. Due to my extremely non-gumby body, I can easily pull and tear muscles and tendons when pushing through asanas or when they're overheated (um- hot yoga is a no-no for me). Sure I've made progress, but it is completely unreasonable to assume that even after a decade of practice (which will be three years away) that I will be able to fold forward completely in standing forward fold or seated forward fold, even if I practice every.single.day.
And I'm ok with that.
I've accepted that for me, my yoga doesn't have to fit a preconceived physical notion. I also know enough about anatomy and physiology to understand that not every person's bone and muscle structures are exactly the same, and therefore neither should their asana yoga outcomes should be the same. I resent the fact when I'm made to feel like I a) haven't been practicing often/hard enough b) haven't been pushing myself enough (umm several injuries should just be ignored right?) or c) I've just been doing it plain wrong. (Can you tell I had an experience at class last night?).
Last evening I had an instructor inform me that I can go further in "parsvottanasana" (intense side stretch), while she pushed on my back. When I informed her that "Nope, that's as far as I go" with a follow up of "It hurts" when she insisted, she informed me that I still had a curve in my lower back. Yep, that's my slightly curved spine she pointed out, how nice of her. A few more insistent adjustments and loud suggestions ("Why aren't you doing upward dog?" to my baby cobra's followed by insisting on upward dog stating that I would be hurting my lower back more with a baby cobra than an updog), resulted in my practice becoming about letting go of disappointment and anger and fighting the impulse to push my body harder.
I've had enough injuries that way and would hate to pull my achilles tendon or have intense lower back pains from too many strenuous upward dogs and savasanas.
When I approached her afterwards to thank her for her suggestions and time during class, it was to recognize for myself that she assumed even the most basic yoga postures were achievable for everyone and only meant well. (As if one hip opener is really enough to "open up the hips" for ridiculously tight people haha).
Her response was to point out that I had a consistent lower back curve in almost all forward folds and that what was holding me back: "You just have to work on not jutting your bum out". Um... My acknowledgement of "Yes, I actually have quite a natural spinal curve to my lower back" was cut off with: "Yeah, you gotta just work on tucking your tail bone in more".
At that I just thanked her and walked away. Obviously, it had never occurred to this veteran Ashtangi that some people actually have spines that are over-curved. No over tucking my tail bone is going to change the bone structure of my spine- it's not muscle habit that I stick my ass out, it's an actual spinal formation. I resent the fact that she implied I just hadn't practiced hard enough, long enough or pushed myself enough to achieve some external "perfection" that she felt would be the penultimate experience of the yoga pose.
I'm happy with what my body has achieved in the miniscule steps it has taken over the past seven years of regular, dedicated (mostly!) physical practice. I firmly reject the idea that all yoga asana is achievable and accessible to everyone should they just try hard enough/long enough.
Each person should not strive to achieve an "external yoga ideal" but should find what yoga looks like for them.
article copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com