I’ve been doing yoga regularly for about a year now, and as someone who is still relatively new to the practice I often look at Instagram for inspiration and motivation. For example, I’m currently doing a 14-day “yoga challenge on IG that led to me trying a headstand yesterday for the first time!
Day 6: #sirsasana. Headstands are brand new to me (brand new as in… this is the first time I've *ever* tried one) I gave it a go with a little (a lot) of help from the wall 💪 #summerbumsup • • • Hosts: @hollybentley_yoga, @coffeeandrainbows, @natashaswinter, @casa_colibri, @mmaneevese / Sponsors: @aloyga, @liforme, @thebeginnersguidetoyoga • • #yoga #yogaeverydamnday #yogalove #yogachallenge #yogajourney #igyoga #fit #fitness #healthylifestyle #exercise #stretch #igfit #workout #inversion #headstand
While it’s amazing and inspiring to see the backbends and inversions these ladies (because, despite yoga having been a practice that was closed to women for a very long time, these days on the internet and in most yoga classes, the practitioners are a majority female) do, it only takes a few minutes of scrolling before you can’t help but notice that the most popular posters are thin, white, female, and decked out in the latest leggings from Lululemon or Alo.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and being a fairly thin, definitely white woman who is currently waiting on Fedex to deliver a Lululemon order, it’s not that I can’t relate to these graceful women even if I don’t have a body that could be confused for a model’s. But it doesn’t reflect the yoga enthusiasts I’ve encountered in real life. In the yoga classes I attend, none of us have six-pack abs. Many students are beyond their early-to-mid 20s (my mom has started attending yoga classes recently, for example). Some are black, some are asian, some are men, some are children. Some practice chair yoga or have limitations due to disabilities or sorenesses.
That’s why reading Jessamyn Stanley’s book Every Body Yoga was such a breath of fresh air. Part yoga guide and part memoir, she describes her own journey to body acceptance and how we can balance our desire to emulate the cool asanas we see on social media with a practice that is kind to and loving toward our own bodies. What I love about the book is that she doesn’t say “Practice in your most tattered gym shorts and don’t even look at Instagram or you’re not a real yogi.” She totally acknowledges that buying brightly-patterned leggings and taking photos of yourself in your best dancer pose can be fun and even helpful. It’s just that you don’t have to do that, and you don’t have to look a certain way, and that your practice is yours to grow and embrace.
If you like to look at athletes or yoga practitioners on Instagram, then Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) is a must-follow.
My strength doesn't come solely from yoga. And much as I appreciate the spoils of industry and capitalism, I don't think humans are supposed to exist in boxes. We're meant to frolic among the elements. In order to feel like a happy and functioning human being, I require quality time in nature- and when I'm home in the Old North State, that usually means I'm wandering through the hills surrounding the Eno River or splashing like a five year old in the streams. I'm not the most time efficient hiker and I'm a very lazy swimmer- but it's all good bc I'm not in it for the accolades. The joy I feel when I'm outside is unparalleled- it's the only place where I truly feel like my most authentic self. There's no way I could try to be a #ForceOfNature on my yoga mat without a distinct connection to the true forces of nature in our universe. My strength isn't just about moving my body- it's about making a connection to the power of this earth. #sponsored @rei Photo by my love @justincookphoto
Here are some other Instagram accounts that offer body positive inspiration for your yoga journey:
Dana Falsetti (@nolatrees)
It's amazing how much can change when you do. Most days I'm still in disbelief over the shift I've experienced. When you change how you see, how you talk to yourself, what lens you choose to look through, your whole reality changes too. Maybe it's scary to know we actually do have more control than we think – not always over what happens but always how we react and what we do next. I often think, what if I never gave myself the chance to try? My whole world shifted because I did. Imagine that. Photo by @michelesuits
Like Jessamyn, Dana is one of the most well-known body positive advocates and yoga practitioners on Instagram. She’s open about her past struggles with her body image and her weight, and even more open about her love for her body now. She’s also vocal about the ways that yoga marketing perpetuates a false reality that there is only one type of person or body that does yoga, and how wide and diverse the true range of practitioners is. She’s smart, funny, and insightful, and her yoga photos are interspersed with beautifully artistic photoshoots that celebrate her body and encourage you to celebrate yours.
A lot of the progress I've made since working out can't be seen by looking at me in clothes. I guarantee most people who know me think I look exactly the same. . . But when I saw those muscles popping in a video I made where I was just LEANING not even flexing, I was stoked. Yoga may seem like a tame activity to the uninformed, but it clearly isn't and builds some badass muscles. (Well I think it looks badass. Some of you have all that muscle is your right hand. 😂). °o°
I’ve only been following Ally for a few weeks but I’m already obsessed with her hilarious captions and inspiring posts. She often posts transformation shots that show how she has gotten fit and gained muscle over the years, proving that sometimes you need to gain weight to feel (and look) better. She’s also in her 40s which, while not old by any means, is much older than most of Instagram’s popular posters but that proves that there’s no age limit for a powerful yoga practice.
Michael Hayes (@buddha_body_yoga)
One thing that’s often missing in yoga posts on instagram: props! Whether it’s blocks, a strap, or a bolster, there seems to be this unspoken rule that if you can’t do the full, unassisted expression of a pose, you don’t post it. Not Michael. His photos are full of helping accessories and modified poses that make yoga accessible for older, larger, and injured people. Plus, they’re interspersed with fun and inspiring quotes to give you a motivation boost before a tough practice.
Valerie Sagun (@biggalyoga)
Day 26 of the #SelfLovingYogis yoga challenge Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / One Legged Pigeon Pose / Mermaid variation with question: What is something you are working on mentally to love yourself, and something about your physical body you are working on loving more? Mermaid pose is my favorite pose! Its not a traditional pose but i do still love it and of course i cant resist anything to do with mermaids! This is an advanced variation, so if you can't go this far yet stay in Pigeon Pose. Begin on hands and knees, bringing the left knee up to left wrist, and swing the left foot under the right hip. Walk the right back to open up the hips, dropping the pelvis towards the floor. If you need support, place a block under the left butt cheek to support the hips up. To come into the deeper variation with the half backbend, grab onto the back right foot, bringing it in closer to hook the inner elbow around the foot. Reach the left hand up, bending the elbow, and bring the hands together holding on. Check out the others for other variations. Mentally I am trying to work on transforming my anxiety positively. Using the stuff that I can obsess and over think, and use it to an advantage of bettering myself and the people I care about. Physically I've been trying to get over and love and accept more is my double chin 😅. I am accepting of the majority of my body, but I keep obsessing about the little extra chub under the chin. I'm just telling myself to chill and be accepting of it. We all are working on accepting the little and small parts of our bodies and minds. How to join the challenge: – Repost the challenge flyer. – Post a photo or video of yourself in the daily pose of the day. – Tag hosts @BigGalYoga @round_the_way_gal and @curvygirlmeetsyoga as well as the sponsors @stardancerdesigns @lovedarianjane @rainbeaucurves @bombsheller @justcurvesactive and @inked_yogi1974_ everyday in your daily post. Leggings by @bombsheller 💣
Valerie Sagun was one of the first people to start posting about yoga and body positivity on instagram. Her honest, uplifting captions and near-constant smile would make anyone want to give their best downward dog a shot. She’s inspired many other body positive yogas and folks who don’t fit the “lululemon mold” to share their practices online, and has surely inspired many more to start their own practices which maybe one day they’ll share with us. Plus, not that it matters what you wear when you do yoga, but she has one of the most fun and vibrant yoga wardrobes around.
Steph Gongora (@casa_colibri)
It's #StartSomethingSunday & what I'm going to talk about may get me in trouble, but @nolatrees inspired me. . Ever looked at a company's Instagram page & felt like it's just so far away from you? Don't fit in? Unattainable cool kid's club? . You experience this desire to stand strong in yourself, & yet there is this tug at the bottom of your belly…"not good enough, not thin enough, not ( ) enough." . . I once wrote a post about being Honored when apparel companies come to me excited about my butt, curves, tattoos. WHY? My honor shouldn't revolve around being a token. & am I really helping with this LAUGHABLE attempt to showcase diversity when I am only an inch off from their typical midline? I will always own my privilege & recognize that I am not a 1/100th as marginalized as many. I may have locs, tats, & a little swing to my step, but it would be a lie to say that I'm adding much diversity to an ad campaign. There are many, MANY companies that perpetuate body shame/a narrow definition of beauty. Look at big players like @lululemon & @aloyoga & the rise to become the Mecca of online yoga clothes despite the portrayal of practitioners highlighted on their pages. Skinny, bendy, white women prancing around on the beach in perfectly clean pastels. It WORKED, but at what price? Even though we all see it, joke about it in text groups, many of us still find ourselves waiting for the next season's colors that we really don't need, searching for the approval we are never going to get from a pair of fucking pants & businesses that just want your 💰. . . I'm guilty of it. I'm even co-hosting a challenge right now where Alo is one of the sponsors, even though some of what they do, how they market makes me uncomfortable. Maybe they are improving, but is it enough for me? . It becomes a question of hypocrisy & where I want to put the weight of my account. If something doesn't vibe with my ideals, why do I want to throw them my support for some pretty colors? There is no good answer why, & that should be all the answer I need to make better choices in the future. . . HELP ME put my money where my mouth is. What are your favorite INCLUSIVE, BODY POSITIVE brands?
The thing that makes me close out this list with Steph’s page is less about her images (although they’re gorgeous) and more about her words. You know how a good yoga teacher makes you leave class feeling like you can do anything? Like, sure I can’t do a flying pigeon today, but someday? That’s how I feel about her posts. Whether she’s giving toe tap tips, sharing poetry, or making an empowering statement about menstruation, her thoughtful captions combine with her amazing poses to make you want to do what she does, and make you believe that you can.