If we talked to our friends that way…
I’ve always thought of our studios as judgment-free spaces, where people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are welcome and the only real rule is that everyone works at their own level and respects what their body is telling them on a day-to-day basis. That belief has made it much easier to start from scratch a few times, to walk into the studio after a lengthy absence, strip down to nearly nothing, and go sweat my ass off in front of a mirror in a room full of people, and to keep doing that day after day no matter how shy and introverted I feel or how I feel about my body. In turn, being able to come in and do that every day has helped me get through more than a few bad days where I haven’t felt good about myself, haven’t liked my body, or haven’t felt like being around people, and for those reasons (among others), daily practice has become a vital part of my regular self-care – I wouldn’t stop coming to yoga every day any more than I would stop flossing my teeth every day (and we all floss daily, right?).
Lately, though, it feels like there’s been a subtle change in the air, and not one for the better. I’m hearing a lot of chatter where people are tearing down their own bodies or gossiping about others’, and neither of those things is great. Someone who’s absolutely tiny saying they can’t go without a tank top because of their (non-existent) belly, for example, can make people who hear that compare themselves unfavorably and probably unrealistically to the speaker. Someone who looks like they may have dropped a few pounds hasn’t necessarily dropped it through yoga, it’s entirely possible that they’ve been ill in some way and are using the yoga as part of their healing process, and not only do they probably not want to talk about it, but even being questioned about it could make them uncomfortable enough to not come back, as well as – again – triggering unrealistic comparisons for those who overhear. Same goes for someone who looks like they’ve gained a few pounds: It may not be from partying or anything fun, and they may or may not be comfortable with it (but I assure you, they are aware of it and don’t need it pointed out). They may not even be coming to the studio in order to lose it, and assuming they want to and offering unsolicited tips to that end is at best presumptuous. As for those I’ve seen literally reach out and grab other people’s stomachs or hips while commenting on their weight, please stop doing that. That the people being grabbed haven’t reacted violently doesn’t mean that grabbing them is OK, it means that they have a level of self-control I aspire to one day have as well, hence the daily yoga.
As a general rule, the best thing to say about anyone’s weight or body in any circumstances is absolutely nothing. If you want to compliment someone, find a way to do it that emphasizes the yoga we’re all here to do – congratulate them on a beautifully executed triangle, or a perfect stillness between postures, for example, and leave it at that. Even if it’s your own body you’re critiquing, don’t. Pretend, when you’re talking to or about yourself, that you’re actually talking to or about your best friend, and act accordingly – not only will you contribute to a healthier, more welcoming environment in the studio, but you may even find your own attitude about yourself changing.