Here’s the truth: I did not want to do yoga for a week. I was asked if I could try it out — you know, for the story. It seemed interesting. What would happen if someone who couldn’t be bothered with yoga committed to do it for a whole week? Alright, I thought. I can do that. It was just one week, after all, and how long does a yoga sequence take? Twenty minutes? Piece. Of. Cake.
For some background on my relationship with health and fitness, you should know that yoga has never been challenging for me. It’s not like I’m on some weight loss journey looking for the next accomplishable physical feat to shed some pounds. (I know, I know, that’s usually how these articles go.) In fact, my philosophy on that is actually very anti-weight loss. I don’t ever exercise for my metabolism, BMI, or calories later consumed. Instead, I exercise for the experience of it; and enjoying my exercise has kept me coming back almost every single day.
I’m a fitness instructor (for five years and counting) and self-proclaimed HIIT addict. I’ve been to dozens of studios and tried hundreds of classes. Some of these classes were yoga. None of my favorites, however, were yoga. Jumping, throwing, and swinging heavy weights are more my thing. Hanging out upside-down in downward-facing dog? I was bored just thinking about it.
But I embarked on the weeklong journey regardless. I’d already conveniently signed up for a class called “Drunk Yoga,” which is exactly what it sounds like — yoga with alcohol. I figured this was the perfect foray into a drudging week of the practice.
To my surprise, I had a wonderful time. The instructor at Drunk Yoga, Eli, was incredible. She was positive, free-floating, and fun. Her philosophy on the practice was far from the image-focused, competitive, and altogether judge-y personas I’d seen in the yogi world. During the class I felt relaxed and uplifted. Granted, the wine played a part in that; but I attribute most of it to the atmosphere she established.
Alright, I thought. I can do this. I was beginning to like yoga. During the class, I was in touch with my ability to relax, my ability to sit with discomfort and laugh through it. The flow felt intuitive, the benefit wholly individual. Yoga could be whatever I needed — I realized that a good yoga class should be catered to fulfill the movement you crave in the moment. I felt challenged and strong and accepted and enthused. Arriving back home afterwards, I was inspired to cook something delicious and finish a project I’d been neglecting.
So I was optimistic. On day two of my adventure, I did an at-home sequence.
Often, my job requires I write about health and fitness topics. As a result, I’m always preaching things like, “Yoga can be completely free! You can do it anywhere!” So I figured I’d put my money where my mouth is and test it for myself.
Turns out that you can do yoga for free. You can also do yoga in your pajamas, without a mat (because mats are expensive), in the company of your roommate’s dog. After floating through 20 easy minutes of stretches and planks, I was at ease.
Yoga, throughout the week, did a fantastic job at making me aware of my own body — how it moves, how it feels, where it needs to be stretched. Some days, yoga awakened me to knots in my muscles and imbalances in my core. Other days, it showed me that I had more energy than I’d believed or that I needed a day to rest.
But after that first at-home yoga class, I made a crucial error — I browsed YouTube for another yoga video to try. What I found was a collection of videos littered with chatter about weight loss, toning, and obtaining what they called a “yoga body.” I was peeved — more than peeved, actually. I was pissed. Why did everything related to exercise have to involve changing how you look?
If I learned anything from the yogis I’ve chatted with and the classes I’ve actually enjoyed, it’s that yoga and hating your body should not intersect. Yoga is about acceptance. Acceptance of the current situation, acceptance of something challenging. Acceptance of others’ energy and acceptance of yourself. Rejecting your own body — whether to lose weight, get rid of cellulite, or look like that girl you’re jealous of on Instagram — has no place in a successful yoga practice.
Sure, you can build strength through yoga. But that strength is supposed to be additive, not subtractive: That strength is for you, to build you up, to take through to the rest of your life. Yoga is not meant to erase or mitigate natural, comfortable bodies.
I continued the practice throughout the week, selecting various videos of varying intensity. Some left me sweating and sore while others left me calm and empowered. Even though I’d only done yoga for a week, I felt I understood more about the practice than I had before. Yoga is not just some wellness trend from which you can extract a pretty Instagram and toned thighs. Yoga is not something you need Lululemon or a weighty bank account to indulge in and benefit from.
Instead, yoga is a practice that teaches you things — about yourself, your body, what you need. It taught me (as basic as it sounds) to live in the present moment. What it should not ever do is criticize. And it took years of feeling criticized by yoga for me to realize that was why I never enjoyed it from the start.
Commercialized yoga tried to make me insecure; it ruined the practice. Instead of trying to change how you look in order to like it, let go of the negativity and try something that could help you feel confident in your body without beating it up.
Holly Van Hare is the Healthy Eating Editor at The Daily Meal with a passion for podcasting and peanut butter. You can listen to her podcast Nut Butter Radio on iTunes and follower her health food Instagram @eating_peanut_better for more.