February 14, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty-Part Deux

Looking Pretty Versus Feeling Beautiful

Originally posted at Elephant Journal. Read How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I: The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and the Beauty Myth

Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, is a holistic system that addresses the whole person- physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Ultimately, the intention of yoga is to unify body and mind. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition that values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body. The result is what is referred to as the mind-body split. Susan Bordo describes this duality in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, p. 144:

I will begin with the most general and attenuated axis of continuity, the one that begins with Plato, winds its way to its most lurid expression in Augustine, and finally becomes metaphysically solidified and scientized by Descartes. I am referring, of course, to our dualistic heritage: the view that human existence is bifurcated into two realms of substances: the bodily or material, on the one hand; the mental or spiritual, on the other.

Not only has our total being been split into the mind, or intellect and the body, or material, but they’ve been ranked in a hierarchy. Of these two planes, the mind has been, and continues to be, more highly valued than the body, a realm deemed synonymous with the “unpredictable” and “dangerous” realm of nature and the feminine. In addition to the devalue of the physical body, the intellect has been placed in charge of controlling the body. In essence, enforcing the will of the intellect and trampling over the body’s innate ability to communicate.

How does the body communicate? Through feeling or sensation, of course.

And, let’s face it – as a society, we’re awfully disconnected from feeling in general and what we’re feeling specifically. This is made evident in Peggy Orensetein‘s latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, a hilarious and frightening foray into the last decade’s emerging princess culture. She cites countless studies and interviews numerous experts on body image, sexuality, gender development etc. She states:

According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who studies teenage girl’s desire,”They respond to questions about how their bodies feel-questions about sexuality or arousal-by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.

As I pointed out in How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part I,  according to veteran yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, everyone wants to look pretty, or look good according to a culturally constructed and myopic standard, in order to feel good. But as Orenstein and Tolman detail, pretty is not a feeling. Pretty is an outward aesthetic based on an elusive and ephemeral ideal.

Even those that meet the cultural criteria don’t necessarily feel good, one of the endless promises made by the externally imposed beauty standard. In fact, Bryan Kest says “You can’t enjoy how pretty you look if you don’t feel good.” Even if you look like an advertisement in Vanity Fair or Yoga Journal, the supposed prizes “pretty” entices us with can’t be enjoyed without a deeper connection, a feeling of wellness, wholeness and/or self-love.

As Tias Little recently wrote:

When the outer look dominates a yogi’s practice, the feeling within the interior gets overlooked and can drive her to fits of obsession. Denying and defying the flesh is tied into acts of self-punishment and abuse. Self-acceptance is critical. And what is necessary is a critical eye for what the industry—yoga or fashion—displays as slim, sexy or perfect.

When practiced devoid of competition and an intellectually determined agenda, yoga provides a route to complete wellness. Yoga is able to quiet the mental storm, shift our focus inward and away from all of the messages that tell us that we’re too (fat/hairy/pimpled/dimpled/flabby/old etc) , and cultivate a conscious relationship with ourselves.As my yoga teacher, Anaswara, instructed us in last night’s practice to “make choices based on how you feel, not on what your intellect or ego desires.” As she pointed out, “The Body doesn’t lie. Be honest with yourself.”

How often have we tuned our bodies truth out in order to pursue the beauty norm, or the beauty myth, enforced by our culture? Have we exercised too much? Have we eaten too little? Too often, women and girls, and increasingly men and boys, have forced themselves into a one-size image of beauty that lacks the diversity that makes the human race miraculous and special.

My Tantric Dance of Feminine Power teacher, Nita Rubio, encourages her students to “let go of the pretty,” or the external veneer, in order to tap into the wealth of sensation offered by the body. This is where personal power and innate bodily wisdom can be accessed.

As we practice breath and asana, we also practice forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, understanding and self-acceptance. This ultimately leads to self-love and self-love is a feeling.  It’s a feeling that blossoms outward. It allows us to love ourselves unconditionally and therein lies true beauty.

What’s your intention? To look pretty or feel beautiful?

Photograph of Drown the Dolls exhibition painting, “Bride Close Up” by Daena Title. On exhibition at Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City, CA extended until February 26.


  1. […] How Yoga Makes You Pretty (Part II) by Melanie Klein […]

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  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by namastaytowel, Yoga_Harmony. Yoga_Harmony said: Feminist Fatale » How Yoga Makes You Pretty-Part Deux: Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, … http://bit.ly/fwKHXb […]

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  3. […] Cross-posted at Feminist Fatale. […]

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  4. As the mother of two little girls I understand hown detrimental ‘pretty’ is. It is often difficult to convince them that it isn’t the dress that makes the beautiful but the girl inside that does. It is also difficult when you struggle with the same self image issues. It is hard sometimes to go against society where you are judged by appearance first.
    Yoga makes you beautiful because you are peace with yourself and others.

    Comment by Carolyn — August 11, 2011 @ 6:02 am

  5. […] Feminist Fatale’s column on how yoga can help us create a different notion of pretty. […]

    Pingback by On yoga and attractiveness « hopebordeaux — August 12, 2011 @ 12:14 am

  6. I find the new trend of studios that combine yoga and spinning classes almost schizophrenic, representing the schizophrenic message to women. When I attend spinning classes, the leader is always exhorting students to go faster, increase the resistance, and work harder. The spinning class mantra is “You get out of it (i.e. calorie burn) what you put into it.” And “Don’t let your body control you. You are the one in control.” As if you and your body are NOT the same things and your body is something to be controlled and punished, I guess for all those extra calories you consumed. Then you leave the spin class to join the yoga class. There the mantra is to “get in touch with your body.” The leader tells you that this is not a competition and the breath as a link between the mind and the body should be the focus. I think these two classes together show the mixed message our society gives to women. We should be Zen-like and in touch with our inner selves and accept our inner beauty, but at the same time, that inner beauty and inner self should be naturally thin. Self-controlled and not prone to excesses, like consuming a pint of Ben & Jerry ice cream in one sitting.

    Comment by SandraR — January 22, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

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