If you go to enough studio classes, you will hear it said to someone, “You have a beautiful practice.” This used to really bother me. I’m sure that it was mostly due to the fact that no one ever directed that particular compliment at me. While, I love to move, I don’t think I’m necessarily great looking doing it. I’m not here to add to the backlash on pretty looking ladies with their beautiful yoga practices. I know regardless of how we look on the outside we are fighting the same battles on the inside.
When I hear people talk about “beautiful practices” it still pings against some sort of nerve in me even though my ideas around beauty has changed. You might say my baggage on this particular topic has been reduced from two checked bags to a small carry-on. I used to practice hot yoga in oversized cotton t-shirts for fear that people would openly vomit at the sight of my body in form-fitting clothing. And no, I’m not being hyperbolic. I actually thought I was that disgusting. I practiced yoga for years at home because I was afraid that I would do the poses so badly that I would be kicked out of class. I believed that my body and coordination of it was so flawed and broken that it wasn’t even deserving of in-person yoga instruction. When I finally got up the courage to go to a studio class five years ago, these beliefs began to change.
At the studio, I was surrounded with people who didn’t care if I had spandex on, if my mascara was running down my face, or if I was working out in my $5 cotton t-shirt. It was the first time and place I understood that I didn’t have to be beautiful or ugly. I could just be, and that was enough. So, when the “B” word was thrown around in the studio, my insides would scream, “Not here. Not in this place!” I didn’t want any of us to be beautiful. I just wanted us to be ourselves.
It’s possible that I’m taking this “beautiful practice” thing the wrong way. I’m the one that’s associating it with some sort of sexual attractiveness value scale. If you look up beauty in the dictionary, the word just means that something is pleasing to the senses. Well, God. “Pleasing to the senses” could be anything.
That is one beautiful plate of spaghetti.
Look at my beautiful pay check!
Have you checked out this beautiful thing called an air conditioner?
Last week I saw a newt crawling across the ground in the woods and I got really excited. I stood and watched it slowly traverse blades of grass as if they were mountains, and I even giggled a little bit at it’s slippery tiny feet. That was a beautiful newt. Yet, I didn’t want to take it out to dinner. If another newt would have walked by, I wouldn’t have tried to rank them in order of who was most attractive. I wouldn’t have said, “Um, we already have one hot newt here in the woods, GTFO.”
I’m the one that’s associating beauty in yoga with some sort of unattainable feminine ideal. As a yoga teacher, I see beauty in practice all of the time, and I’m not talking about those impressive, “wow” poses like handstand. My friend and fellow yoga teacher Carlene has a beautiful practice that was highly modified post-breast cancer surgeries and chemotherapy. She may not think it looked beautiful, and she probably just wanted to get back to Wheel pose. Yet, the attention she gave to her practice in the moment WAS beautiful. It also gave me a reality check about my own struggle with chronic pain in my practice. What if taking care of my wrists and finicky SI joint wasn’t a limitation or another reason I was separate from everyone else? What if being who you are in this moment was innately…just…beautiful?
My perspective on beautiful practices has changed. It was a phrase I thought isolated people, but I am finding that it is actually something that brings us together. Yoga has broadened my perspective of what is beautiful. For a time in my life, things needed to look a certain way to be valuable. The more I practiced the more these rigid definitions softened. I started seeing beauty in the world, and I’m slowly coming around to the idea that I am a part of that beauty too. Beauty isn’t reduced to a certain body type or technical skill. It can also encompass presence, authenticity, vulnerability, and courage. Being beautiful doesn’t mean we have to become aligned with an external ideal; it’s relaxing in to who we actually are. It’s a big relief for me, because it means that I don’t have to be super-flexible or even really strong. I just have to be in the present as I am.