I wholeheartedly dislike the fitness marketing tagline “New Year, New You.” I’ve questioned the combination of these four words, in terms of what they relay to readers and the implications they have. At its core, it’s an efficient way to bring about the false notion that getting skinny and being “healthy” by getting “skinny” is what we need after the holidays. It implies that the past year was worthless and this year we will get it right with our fitness resolutions. However you’d like to term it, goals, resolutions, even intentions (the new buzz word), can sometimes feel too firm and absolute, which may potentially set one up for failure if, for example, life circumstances change. Being open and willing to shift resolutions as the weeks and months go by, with continous kindness to oneself, may have longer lasting results.
As a yoga teacher, my profession is classified under the umbrella of “fitness.” I am expected to market myself strongly as someone who is a part of this field, which capitalizes potential earnings in the month of January. More than 12 percent of gym members join in January, compared to an average of 8.3 percent per month for the rest of the year. The practice of yoga, which is now undoubtedly a huge part of the capitalistic, western model is defined as fitness, and I am not here to fight against that specifically. I do question whether or not I am a part of that industry. Do I contribute to this industrial complex? It would be silly of me to claim otherwise. For example, I have made the conscious decision to teach at a gym, for reasons that are very personal. I have also made the decision to commit myself to just teaching yoga. Full Time. Whether I am teaching at a gym or at a yoga studio, people are there for the practice. I don’t question what the practice means to them. I teach. I am there practicing my teaching, honing and craft and earning a living potential. For much of last year, I felt myself conflicted between staying true to a practice that is based on equanimity, discernment and contentment and working within an industrial model that I often witnessed to contradict some essential components of this practice. However, the “yoga industrial complex,” a capitalistic and money driven market, had me so riled up recently that I decided to go offline for a few weeks to really think about the images that inundated my feed. I removed a lot of my own yoga (asana) photography as I felt that it did not give the full spectrum of what I consider this practice to be. I’ve learned that through saying no to the practices I don’t like in the current state of this field means I may face some financial setbacks as a yoga teacher, but staying true to my beliefs and working with organizations that align with my values is so much more rewarding. It’s what I prioritize. At the end of the day, as a full time yoga teacher, I need to live and be financially stable. But, that does not mean I will do or act in ways motivated solely by financial gain. (Perhaps, I would say otherwise if I were being sponsored by a multimillion dollar organization. But, I’ve asked a few close friends to make sure to smack me if I do.)
When I started my blog, I spent too much of my efforts and time on gaining social media exposure. A part of me wanted to be sponsored and be financially set so I may do what I love to do, practice yoga. I am extremely grateful for the connections I made and the opportunities I gained from it. With that, however, I was not always being true to my own beliefs. When I realized that some of my posts were inauthentic and were coming unwillingly, I had to put a pause on it and reassess where it was all headed. I have given myself the right to be discerning, thoughtful and opinionated with my posts. However, I realized that my discernment was evolving to judgement and my thoughts towards some in the industry disrespectful. Everyone is on their path and are given the opportunities and lessons as a result of their karmic seeds ripening or due to the efforts that they’ve put in during this lifetime. Without getting too much into existential and/or eastern philosophy, I choose to be an observer, without being harmful with my speech, thoughts and actions to those who choose the path that does not necessarily coincide with mine. This point of reflection led me to be more firm with where I want to go with my work. I was unmotivated to write, contribute and create. I found it useless and unmoving. In an age where image and video take precedence over the written word, I forgot that I started writing because it was therapeutic for me. It was a huge part of my healing. When my writing comes from a place of truth and love, it flows, such as this one. Those that were posted just to meet a weekly deadline, were just that, inauthentic. So, I decided to concentrate the last six months on growing, reflecting and seeing where I fit within this convoluted model. A huge life event really made me question my purpose. I took the time to bring to focus what I’d like to contribute to the betterment of global society during this short occupancy on planet earth. I’m not quite sure if I have the answers, but I have the tools and support to continue paving the way. Along this path, I welcome errors and failures. Likewise, with appreciative joy, I’ll greet the successes.
As we rolled into 2018 and the strong campaigning to increasing members and student numbers began, I chose to take note, but veer very far away from marketing or organizations which use subtle fatphobic sentiment, through body shaming and policing, as key ways to bring in folks who might already be feeling bad about themselves and where their life choices have taken them. With this strong, widespread, misused and unquestioned tagline of “New Year, New You,” I stand firmly to not contribute or be a part of the discourse of making people think that their old self, their body, their being is NOT enough. Most of us have the tendency of adopting negative habits or go back to ones that are familiar. We mostly let go around December with all the holiday hoopla. But, the essence of what is you — YOU — is still beautifully you and resides deep within. I am not saying that we shouldn’t work hard to bring back healthy daily routines that work for us or get back to the gym or the yoga studio. Not at all. After all, when we are the best versions of ourselves, it just feels amazing. What I am suggesting is moving away from the language we use in this industry, to instill these habits from a more body positive, non-shaming perspective. The reason why we have to go through an annual marketing campaign, showing “skinny” model-like bodies which most of us will never acquire or desire to — but somehow jump on the bandwagon anyway — is because the current model is NOT working. Making people feel bad about themselves and setting unrealistic expectations just for January leaves so many hanging off the sides of that bandwagon until one day, they go back to their previous habits, and voila, “back to my old self.” This then, reminds the person that they were right. That, they were not enough! That they couldn’t. That they cant. Maybe next year. 2018 wasn’t my year. 2019 surely will be! By already suggesting to people that they are not enough, we are not inspiring them, but instead, moving them further away from their potential. I propose meeting potential clients and students with compassion, kindness and messages of “enoughness.” Perhaps this is why I have an issue with yoga being classified under fitness. There is a huge disparity.
Thursday evening, as I walked in to Crunch to teach my first public class of the year, I realized how full the parking lot was. I went into my class with about 30 people, half of them early, settled and ready to move. I was met with many unfamiliar and motivated faces. This made me so happy. As a yoga teacher, this means exposure, and this means numbers. This is, GOOD! But, it truly made me rejoice that so many people had decided to practice yoga and that I would be able to use this special platform to share my reflections openly. I put my yoga block down, sat with them and the first thing I said was “New Year, Same You.” I welcomed many to their first yoga class with me and welcomed back my regulars. There is a grander reason that we were all in that room together that evening. Some laughed and some looked around awkwardly, probably wondering where I was going with my monologue. It was different from most times, as my regulars are used to me beginning class with postures and warm ups. I observed some of the body language which indicated to me that some were in agreement and others confused. My message contradicted the “New Year, New You” sentiments they’ve been exposed to through mass media. As we then started to move from pose to pose, I made a conscious effort to make the class inclusive. It is challenging as a teacher to remember the sequence, speak efficiently, kindly, clearly and keep a room of 30 people at various levels engaged, aligned and breathing. But yesterday, my main goal was to keep everyone in the room feeling loved and content with themselves. In savasana, I ended class telling them that the essence that is them has not changed — not with this class, nor by the year changing from 2017 to 2018. That essence remains solid and unchanged. Our habits change, and due to this we might observe changes within ourselves. However, it is ok to step into the new year as the “old” you. Coming into it aware, with soft and flexible intentions, with a good support system, a community who will hold you accountable and let you thrive the way you are. This practice, if done with some regularity, brings us to a state of awareness and realization, discerning what serves and what does not. Yes, at the end of the day there is a great physical component of asana that is healthy and conducive to fitness and strength. Yes, we break a sweat. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes not at all. Sure, let’s even call it a workout! To me this practice is multifaceted. Going into this New Year, I hope the psychological and spiritual elements of a yoga practice will fare as importantly as the physical, and perhaps we’ll slowly shift away from the over-emphasis on “fitness.” I also hope — and I’ll do my part as a teacher — to remind all of us to practice from a place of contentment (santosha) and desire for healthy change, ignoring the loud marketing that tells us otherwise. New Year, Same Badass You. Better habits. More discernment.
Since this practice is a lifestyle choice and my career, I choose carefully where I teach. I am at Crunch because many years ago when I was feeling unhealthy and 40 pounds heavier, I walked into the New York location on the East Side and I remember vividly their “No Judgement” signage everywhere. Their classes felt inclusive to me. At Crunch we pride ourselves on “positivity”, “inclusivity” and “fun”. This is a place where I want to offer and grow. My home studio, One Down Dog (ODD), stands by a very identical philosophy as we make sure whoever walks in through those doors feels welcomed, loved and undeterred from what can be sometimes be shown as an inaccessible practice, especially through social media, clothing lines and studios that portray an unfair representation of this practice through challenging, inaccessible postures. Body positivity rather than shaming is what gets people in the doors of ODD and keeps them there. Body policing and shaming has NO space in my classes nor at the places I choose to work. As someone who has worked for many years on making sure I get to a place of physical, emotional and mental well-being, triggers of fat shaming especially do not serve me. To be able to accept the beauty that is me and the “enoughness” that is me requires that I stay grounded around people and communities who do the same. In a city that generally does otherwise, find a space that values you as you. So friends, as you step into your new year routine, remember that you are beautiful the way you are. You are enough the way you are. You are welcome to my classes the way you are. May this year be one of authenticity, joy and grounding for us all. See you on the mat.