Yoga, Activism, and My Body Does

My Body Does is the latest passion project of co-founders Jessica Andersen and Ashley Simon. It's a body positive community inspired by the inherent values of our bodies and all that they do. Some really exciting things have been happening for us at MBD: we had MTV News write an awesome article about us, several other media platforms are considering covering our story, and our Instagram is slowly but surely gathering new followers! I feel gratitude for the opportunity to support this project everyday. I thought I would share my story about learning to love my body as a vessel that carries me through life, rather than as an object that I needed to perfect, and how that relates to yoga, activism, and My Body Does.

 

Starting my yoga practice

I was first brought to yoga in my Senior year of High School. To be honest, my yoga practice was kind of an accident. I was bored with my regular routine and saw an affordable 30 days for $30 deal at a local studio. I began yoga at a hot studio and loved the sweaty powerful practice.  At first, I kept going back because I loved the workout and thought I would eventually get the "yoga body" - slim and sculpted. I admired the confidence of the other yogis practicing in their short-shorts and their cutoff tank-tops or sports bras. I thought that if I became a dedicated yoga practitioner, I would get the body, and consequently gain the confidence. 

Before starting my practice, I thought yoga was a workout class mixed with some guided relaxation. The fears I had associated with yoga were the same I had with any workout class. I was afraid it would be competitive and that I wouldn't be good enough. I was afraid I would be the only beginner and that people would laugh at me. I was afraid there would be really strict rules and that I would break one of them. I was afraid of a lot of things before walking into that first yoga class. Seeing the tiny hot yoga outfits for sale at the front desk made me afraid I didn't have the right clothes, the right body to wear those clothes, or the right body to do yoga.

I think my biggest fear was actually about the locker room after yoga -- being expected to shower or change and be okay with the possibility of other people seeing my body. This fear was not unique to yoga, it surfaced in an possibly exposing situation: gym class, pool parties, sleepovers, school sports. Society had taught me to identify my body's flaws and also how to shame myself into a place of near paralyzing insecurity. Despite this, I was able to get myself to yoga and even into the changing room. The first few times were brutal -- I was nervous and hid behind any corner or towel I could find. Then one day, after a particularly fun and encouraging asana practice, I didn't even notice that I was changing in front of people. I was entirely consumed by how great my body felt. I felt captivated by the way my body was sweating, the way my heart was beating, the way my body and mind felt open and calm.

The evolution of my practice...

From then on, my practice changed. I started to care less about the shapes of asana. Instead I was on the quest for a certain quality of mind and union with my body. The more I connected with my body through yoga, the less I thought of it as an object, and the more I thought of it as a partner. In a culture that is constantly sexualizing and objectifying the bodies of young women, I had fallen into the trap of seeing my body as an object that needed to be changed to better reflect society's acceptable standard of sexy or beautiful. My understanding of my body relied almost entirely on what it looked like. The very first thing I gained from yoga, was an actual relationship with my body based on what it was doing.

This new understanding would no longer allow me to view my body as an object. Instead, I began to notice the amazing uniqueness of the ways I could exist in my body, based on what my body could do rather than what it looked like. I started to appreciate how my body responded to physical activity by telling me to drink, eat, and rest. As I began to experience my body as a source of joy, the desire to change it's shape, the desire to fit into the category marked "beautiful", eventually faded away. While I used to view my body as an object I could alter for external validation, the compassionate movement of yoga helped me to connect to it as a living and dynamic thing that actually does things and helps me in so many ways.

Thoughts on the "Yoga Body"

Yoga helped me to think of my body as a living vessel that carries me through the experiences of my life. If yoga means "union" then I have to think that "yoga body" means being united with that vessel. A yoga body is one that has the support and compassion of the person living inside of it. This vessel comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities, genders, ages, etc, but none of these invented body categories can decide how you support yourself. Of course there are external forces like media representation that have a lot of influence over the ways you perceive your body, but none of these can decide if you have a "yoga body", the only thing that decides this is your practice of nurturing and supporting the needs of your body with the life force inside of it.

I do identify my body as a "yoga body". At most times, I feel secure in the union with my body. Of course, it's not all the time. I'm exposed to unrelenting body shaming culture, advertisements, and visual media everywhere telling me I need to change to represent some sort of ideal. When I need a centering force to bring me back to what's real and important, I often turn to my yoga practice.

Yoga as Activism

I identify very much with the word "decolonize". Though I am a straight, cisgender, thin, able-bodied, white woman, I've still lived my life understanding that people feel entitled to having opinions and expectations of my body. I'm supposed to want approval; I'm supposed to want to be beautiful. In actuality, these have never been my internal needs or desires. These have always been things imposed by the society around me. At times, the way some men treat me on the street leaves me feeling so alienated that my body doesn't actually feel like it belongs to me.

A lot of my personal activism is focused on trying to actively decolonizing my body. I consider the ways that I feel and the choices I make in the hopes that I can better understand the nature of what I want versus what has been habituated into my psyche. Through this understanding I hope to loosen the reins of an unbearably controlling culture and seize control over my body and the decisions that I make with it. My yoga practice has been a tool of decolonization. It has given me a skill set that helps me to hear the messages my body is sending me, helping me to connect to my bodily intuition and make decisions driven by internal signals and needs. Feminism has given me another tool set that I use to critically analyze the moments when I feel externally driven. Feminism and media literacy help me to recognize that the pressures I feel are part of a larger system, that I'm not alone in experiencing them, and that I have to actively dismantle the work the system's done inside of me before I can stand in my true power -- decolonized.

My Body Does

The My Body Does project has a lot to do with taking my personal form of activism, and sharing it with other people. I think that by combining self love with media literacy and feminism, we can all take steps to decolonize our bodies. Of course self love isn't going to solve all of the issues that lead people to lose body autonomy. But I hope that the communities we build can support other activists and politicians working to end the systemic objectification and control of bodies, especially black, trans, and female bodies. My Body Does is a community for people to do this work together, for people to affirm the values of their bodies in public, and for people to witness the ways that other people are using self love as activism.

Our first project is creating body positive affirmation stickers and putting them all over the place or giving them to you to put wherever you want them. I hope that we can grow into something more and look forward to seeing how this project unfolds. If you're interested in the project, you can follow us at the links below :)

MBD Instagram

MBD Facebook

MBD Twitter