As a yoga teacher I’ve been asked lots of shades of this question. Will yoga make my thighs thinner, my ass rounder, my stomach flatter or my arms more toned? Will yoga help me lose weight or detox from Christmas? I get asked far more about how yoga can change the way you look than I ever get asked about how yoga can change the way you feel. For a practice that at its core is spiritual in nature, some days it really feels like yoga has lost its way...
So, what do I tell people when they ask me these questions? Well, I could pander to their wants and simply say yes. I could use my background in nutrition to talk about the calories burned in any physical activity and how this in combination with a healthier diet can make a difference. I could show and recommend certain poses that work on the particular areas they wanted to target – perhaps turning my role from yoga teacher into more of a PT. Or, I could say the thing I truly believe – the one that doesn’t answer the question in the way that they want, and possibly doesn’t win me an instant fan, but that hopefully plants a seed for personal growth and change.
I answer by talking about self-love - how for me, the biggest benefit I’ve received from a regular yoga practice has nothing to do with how I look, how thin my thighs are or how toned my arms are. That for me, it’s taught me how to love myself, and to not worry so much about all my many imperfections. That getting on my mat day after day, week after week has done more for my self-esteem than having skinny thighs ever could.
To be perfectly honest, I rarely think about my toned arms or flat stomach as a benefit of yoga. Yes, they can result and yes, they are nice to have, but I know that without the inner change they would never have been enough to make me feel good about myself. Before finding yoga there was always something else I wanted, needed and had to change in order to be happy about myself. If it wasn’t my arms, it was my breasts, or my nose, or my hair or the fact that I didn’t have those jeans that I saw a super-hot girl wearing.
Now, I know that those things don’t matter. That people don’t love you because of your shapely booty of the size label in your clothes. How you look doesn’t define you and being skinny doesn’t equate with being happy. Yoga forces us to take a good hard look at ourselves, sit with ourselves and be ok with everything exactly as it is. Yoga teaches us that everything is perfect, and most importantly that we are perfect exactly as we are.
So, if you want skinnier thighs then maybe yoga isn’t for you. I hear that bootcamps are fun and hot pilates is the new rage. If you want to feel good about your body exactly the way it is, then definitely give yoga a try – you can thank me later!