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I like celebrity gossip, cute jeans and expensive shoes. I eat meat, drink coffee and eat chocolate chips out of the bag, by the handful. I don’t love my ass, stomach or my thighs – in fact, I have a hard time loving myself, in general, let alone every jerk that cuts me off in traffic. Oh, and headstands terrify me.
My name is Krista, and I’m a yoga instructor. Or maybe a yoga heretic? Maybe both.
Before you call for 20 lashes with a wet yoga strap, allow me to provide some insight into my journey. How it came to be, and how my mat and my wine glass have learned to happily co-exist.
I was 31 when I returned home from India. I had spent a month training to be a yoga instructor in Dharamshala, the home of the Dali Lama. My teachers were, and continue to be, an inspiration to me. I came home ready to take on the world. I wanted to contribute to a rise in consciousness and share what I’d learned about the power of yoga and its social and moral codes for living.
Somewhere along my well-intentioned path, however, things started to get garbled. As I worked to become a “good person,” and a “good yogi,” I lost myself. Within six months of being inundated with mainstream Western yoga messages, or what I like to call highly marketable yoga trash, I started to see my lifestyle as shamefully superficial. According to what I was seeing in North American media, all good yogis should be vegetarians. I wasn’t. My yoga practice should look like a graceful dance. Mine was full of stumbles and thuds. I shouldn’t be so obsessed with shoes or enjoy late nights and cocktails now and again. Guilty on both fronts. When did yoga-shaming become a thing?
Soon enough, I became inauthentic, trying to adhere to all these messages. I was living and teaching the opposite of my yoga. The opposite of my truth.
If you asked 100 people what yoga is, you’d likely get 100 different answers. In my world, yoga is a lifestyle: it’s physical asana, it’s dietary considerations, it’s meditation and mindfulness, it’s cleansing techniques – all in the pursuit of figuring out who we are so that we can move toward a place of contentment, wellness and ultimately, enlightenment.
In my yoga, the yoga I was taught in the Himalayas, we examine the self and how it relates to and interacts with the world. Part of that examination is the act of Satya or Truthfulness. This is where things get complicated – I’ve been searching for my truth for years. I meditate, I practise asana and mindfulness; I want to nail this truth thing. But what happens when every cell in my body is telling me that right here, right now, my truth doesn’t align with the idea of truth that is pervasive in yoga culture? You know the truth I’m talking about; the one that’s perceived as “noble” and “moral.” The one that treats all things with kindness 100 per cent of the time – that expects us to be the perfect person.
What does the truth of a yoga failure look like? Here’s mine: About two years after returning from India, I stopped having fun with my yoga practice. I dug deep into my Indian texts and realized I have no desire to be perfect because I find “perfect people” boring. I have more flaws and vices than I can count (see paragraph one). And that, according to mainstream yoga culture, means I’m going to yogi hell. If I tether myself to the dogma so carelessly communicated by the popular, young, supermodel-like, mainstream yoga instructors and “experts,” I’m a curvy, hopeless, immature, selfish yogi. Take away my cucumber-infused water and beat me over the head with a bolster because I’ve just failed yoga class, screwed my karma.
But here’s the catch: I would argue that since finding my crappy truth, my authentic self, the one that is made up of flaws, quirks and mistakes, I’ve become even more aware of the areas I need to work on, to be a “better person.” Not a “perfect person,” but one I’m proud of.
Yoga is a personal practice; one that peels back layers of your flawed but beautiful self. Sometimes the layers are emotional or scary, painful or downright gnarly. But in yoga, there is no wrong side of the tracks. In fact, there are no tracks, at all. Don’t let people tell you what you should feel. If you stub your toe scrambling out of bed in the morning and grumble F-bombs on the way to the kitchen to pour your radioactive coffee and eat your bacon, it doesn’t make you a bad person or a horrible yogi. It makes you human.
In my teaching, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that people see me as a role model. So I try not to take myself too seriously. I laugh at myself when I biff it while demonstrating an arm balance. Why? Because a light heart and humour is part of my truth. If I’m out with girlfriends and a yoga student sees me, I no longer try to hide my wine glass. Being silly and laughing too loudly at inappropriate jokes brings me joy. And that’s the truth. Yoga should not make you holier than thou, nor should it make you feel shame.
The yoga I want to practise is the yoga of authenticity and acceptance. I’m a better and kinder person when I have the freedom to be who I truly am. Sometimes that includes meditation and tree pose; other times it includes sarcasm, a cheeseburger and a rigorous examination of Prince Harry’s unfortunate taste in women.
Krista Nymark VandenBrink lives in Red Deer, Alta.