Yoga For Better Health

“21 ways your yoga practice can improve your health.

By Katherine Griffin

good for you

Much has changed since physician Dean Ornish included yoga in his groundbreaking protocol for preventing, treating, and reversing heart disease more than three decades ago. Back then, the idea of integrating yoga with modern medicine was seen as far-out.

Today’s picture is very different: As yoga has become an increasingly integral part of 21st-century life, scientists, armed with new tools that allow them to look ever deeper into the body, have been turning their attention to what happens physiologically when we practice yoga—not just asana but also pranayama and meditation. These physicians, neuroscientists, psychologists, and other researchers are uncovering fascinating evidence of how the practice affects us mentally and physically and may help to prevent and assist in the treatment of a number of the most common ailments that jeopardize our vitality and shorten our lives.

Dozens of yoga studies are under way at medical institutions around the country, including Duke, Harvard, and the University of California at San Francisco. Some of the research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. More studies are on the way, thanks in part to the work of researchers at the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, one of the first US research institutes to focus exclusively on yoga. And in India, scientist Shirley Telles heads up Patanjali Yogpeeth Research Foundation, which is spearheading studies large and small.

While studies of yoga’s impact on health are at an all-time high, experts say that much of the research is still in the early stages. But the quality is improving, says Sat Bir Khalsa, a Harvard neuroscientist who has studied yoga’s health effects for 12 years. It’s likely, he says, that the next decade will teach us even more about what yoga can do for our minds and bodies. In the meantime, the patterns beginning to emerge suggest that what we know about how yoga keeps us well may be just the tip of the iceberg.

1. Pain Reliever

Yoga shows promise as a treatment for relieving certain kinds of chronic pain. When German researchers compared Iyengar Yoga with a self-care exercise program among people with chronic neck pain, they found that yoga reduced pain scores by more than half. Examining yoga’s effects on a different kind of chronic pain, UCLA researchers studied young women suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an often debilitating autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. About half of those who took part in a six-week Iyengar Yoga program reported improvements in measures of pain, as well as in anxiety and depression.

2. Yes, You Can!

Kim Innes, a Kundalini Yoga practitioner and a clinical associate professor at the University of Virginia, recently published a study on how yoga may benefit people who have a variety of health risk factors, including being overweight, sedentary, and at risk for type 2 diabetes. Forty-two people who had not practiced yoga within the previous year took part in an eight-week gentle Iyengar Yoga program; at the end of the program, more than 80 percent reported that they felt calmer and had better overall physical functioning. “Yoga is very accessible,” Innes says. “Participants in our trials, even those who thought they ‘could not do yoga,’ noted benefits even after the first session. My belief is that once people are exposed to gentle yoga practice with an experienced yoga therapist, they will likely become hooked very quickly.”

3. Ray of Light

Much attention has been given to yoga’s potential effect on the persistent dark fog of depression. Lisa Uebelacker, a psychologist at Brown University, got interested in examining yoga as a therapy for depression after studying and practicing mindfulness meditation. Because depressed people tend to be prone to rumination, Uebelacker suspected that seated meditation could be difficult for them to embrace. “I thought yoga might be an easier doorway, because of the movement,” she says. “It provides a different focus from worry about the future or regret about the past. It’s an opportunity to focus your attention somewhere else.” In a small study in 2007, UCLA researchers examined how yoga affected people who were clinically depressed and for whom antidepressants provided only partial relief. After eight weeks of practicing Iyengar Yoga three times a week, the patients reported significant decreases in both anxiety and depression. Uebelacker currently has a larger clinical trial under way that she hopes will provide a clearer picture of how yoga helps.

4. Happy Day

It’s taken the development of modern technologies like functional MRI screening to give scientists a glimpse of how yogic practices like asana and meditation affect the brain. “We now have a much deeper understanding of what happens in the brain during meditation,” says Khalsa. “Long-term practitioners see changes in brain structure that correlate with their being less reactive and less emotionally explosive. They don’t suffer to the same degree.” Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that meditation increases the activity of the left prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain that’s associated with positive moods, equanimity, and emotional resilience. In other words, meditating regularly may help you weather life’s ups and downs with greater ease and feel happier in your daily life.

5. Stay Sharp

Asana, pranayama, and meditation all train you to fine-tune your attention, whether by syncing your breathing with movement, focusing on the subtleties of the breath, or letting go of distracting thoughts. Studies have shown that yogic practices such as these can help your brain work better. Recently, University of Illinois researchers found that immediately following a 20-minute hatha yoga session, study participants completed a set of mental challenges both faster and more accurately than they did after a brisk walk or a jog.

Researchers are in the earliest stages of examining whether yogic practices could also help stave off age-related cognitive decline. “The yogic practices that involve meditation would likely be the ones involved, because of the engagement of control of attention,” says Khalsa. Indeed, research has shown that parts of the cerebral cortex—an area of the brain associated with cognitive processing that becomes thinner with age—tend to be thicker in long-term meditators, suggesting that meditation could be a factor in preventing age-related thinning.

6. Maintenance Plan

A 2013 review of 17 clinical trials concluded that a regular yoga practice that includes pranayama and deep relaxation in Savasana (Corpse Pose), practiced for 60 minutes three times a week, is an effective tool for maintaining a healthy weight, particularly when home practice is part of the program.

7. Rest Easy

In our revved-up, always-on world, our bodies spend too much time in an overstimulated state, contributing to an epidemic of sleep problems. A recent Duke University analysis of the most rigorous studies done on yoga for psychiatric conditions found promising evidence that yoga can be helpful for treating sleep disorders. Asana can stretch and relax your muscles; breathing exercises can slow your heart rate to help prepare you for sleep; and regular meditation can keep you from getting tangled up in the worries that keep you from drifting off.

8. Better Sex

In India, women who took part in a 12-week yoga camp reported improvements in several areas of sexuality, including desire, orgasm, and overall satisfaction. Yoga (like other exercise) increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, including the genitals. Some researchers think yoga may also boost libido by helping practitioners feel more in tune with their bodies.

9. Cool Inflammation

We’re used to thinking of inflammation as a response that kicks in after a bang on the shin. But increasing evidence shows that the body’s inflammatory response can also be triggered in more chronic ways by factors including stress and a sedentary lifestyle. And a chronic state of inflammation can raise your risk for disease.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that a group of regular yoga practitioners (who practiced once or twice a week for at least three years) had much lower blood levels of an inflammation-promoting immune cell called IL-6 than a group new to yoga. And when the two groups were exposed to stressful situations, the more seasoned practitioners showed smaller spikes of IL-6 in response. According to the study’s lead author, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, the more experienced practitioners went into the study with lower levels of inflammation than the novices, and they also showed lower inflammatory responses to stress, pointing to the conclusion that the benefits of a regular yoga practice compound over time.

10. Younger-Looking DNA

While the fountain of youth remains a myth, recent studies suggest that yoga and meditation may be associated with cellular changes that affect the body’s aging process. Each of our cells includes structures called telomeres, bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that get shorter each time a cell divides. When telomeres get too short, the cells can no longer divide and they die. Yoga, it seems, may help to preserve their length. Men with prostate cancer who took part in a version of the Ornish healthy lifestyle program, which included an hour a day of yoga, six days a week, showed a 30 percent jump in the activity of a key telomere-preserving enzyme called telomerase. In another study, stressed care-givers who took part in a Kundalini Yoga meditation and chanting practice called Kirtan Kriya had a 39 per-cent increase in telomerase activity, compared with people who simply listened to relaxing music.

11. Immune Activity

Many studies have suggested that yoga can fortify the body’s ability to ward off illnesses. Now one of the first studies to look at how yoga affects genes indicates that a two-hour program of gentle asana, meditation, and breathing exercises alters the expression of dozens of immune-related genes in blood cells. It’s not clear how the genetic changes observed in this study might support the immune system. But the study provides striking evidence that yoga can affect gene expression—big news that suggests yoga may have the potential to influence how strongly the genes you’re born with affect your health.

12. Your Spine on Yoga

Taiwanese researchers scanned the vertebral disks of a group of yoga teachers and compared them with scans of healthy, similar-aged volunteers. The yoga teachers’ disks showed less evidence of the degeneration that typically occurs with age. One possible reason, researchers speculate, has to do with the way spinal disks are nourished. Nutrients migrate from blood vessels through the tough outer layer of the disk; bending and flexing may help push more nutrients through this outer layer and into the disks, keeping them healthier.

13. Keep Your Heart Healthy

Despite advances in both prevention and treatment, heart disease remains the no. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. Its development is influenced by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle—all of which can potentially be reduced by yoga. Dozens of studies have helped convince cardiac experts that yoga and meditation may help reduce many of the major risk factors for heart disease; in fact, a review of no fewer than 70 studies concluded that yoga shows promise as a safe, effective way to boost heart health. In a study this year by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center, subjects who participated in twice-weekly sessions of Iyengar Yoga (including pranayama as well as asana) significantly cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation, a serious heart-rhythm disorder that increases the risk of strokes and can lead to heart failure.

14. Joint Support

By gently taking joints—ankles, knees, hips, shoulders—through their range of motion, asana helps keep them lubricated, which researchers say may help keep you moving freely in athletic and everyday pursuits as you age.

15. Watch Your Back

Some 60 to 80 percent of us suffer from low-back pain, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. But there’s good evidence that yoga can help resolve certain types of back troubles. In one of the strongest studies, researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle worked with more than 200 people with persistent lower-back pain. Some were taught yoga poses; the others took a stretching class or were given a self-care book. At the end of the study, those who took yoga and stretching classes reported less pain and better functioning, benefits that lasted for several months. Another study of 90 people with chronic low-back pain found that those who practiced Iyengar Yoga showed significantly less disability and pain after six months.

16. Control Blood Pressure

One-fifth of those who have high blood pressure don’t know it. And many who do struggle with the side effects of long-term medication. Yoga and meditation, by slowing the heart rate and inducing the relaxation response, may help bring blood pressure down to safer levels. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently conducted one of the first randomized, controlled trials of yoga for blood pressure. They found that 12 weeks of Iyengar Yoga reduced blood pressure as well as or better than the control condition of nutrition and weight-loss education. (If you have high blood pressure, consult with your doctor and make sure it’s under control before you practice inversions.)

17. Down With Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that adults at risk for type 2 diabetes who did yoga twice a week for three months showed a reduction in risk factors including weight and blood pressure. While the study was small, all who began the program stuck with it throughout the study, and 99 percent reported satisfaction with the practice. In particular, they reported that they liked the gentle approach and the support of the group. If larger, future studies show similar results, the researchers say, yoga could gain credence as a viable way of helping people stave off the disease.

18. News Flash

Many women have turned to yoga to help them cope with the symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to sleep disturbances to mood swings. A recent analysis of the most rigorous studies of yoga and menopause found evidence that yoga—which included asana and meditation—helps with the psychological symptoms of menopause, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In one randomized controlled trial, Brazilian researchers examined how yoga affected insomnia symptoms in a group of 44 postmenopausal women. Compared with women who did passive stretching, the yoga practitioners showed a big drop in incidence of insomnia. Other, more preliminary research has suggested that yoga may also help to reduce hot flashes and memory problems, too.

19. Emotional Rescue

Recent studies have suggested that exercise is linked with increased levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with positive mood and a sense of well-being. It turns out that Iyengar Yoga can also increase the levels of this chemical in the brain, more so than walking, according to a Boston University study. In another study, a group of women who were experiencing emotional distress took part in two 90-minute Iyengar Yoga classes a week for three months. By the end of the study, self-reported anxiety scores in the group had dropped, and measures of overall well-being went up.

20. Power Source

If you’ve felt the thrill of discovering you can hold Chaturanga for longer and longer periods, you’ve experienced how yoga strengthens your muscles. Standing poses, inversions, and other asanas challenge muscles to lift and move the weight of your body. Your muscles respond by growing new fibers, so that they become thicker and stronger—the better to help you lift heavy grocery bags, kids, or yourself into Handstand, and to maintain fitness and function throughout your lifetime.

21. Balancing Act

When you were a kid, your day included activities that tested your balance—walking along curbs, hopping on your skateboard. But when you spend more time driving and sitting at a desk than in activities that challenge your balance, you can lose touch with the body’s magical ability to teeter back and forth and remain upright. Balance poses are a core part of asana practice, and they’re even more important for older adults. Better balance can be crucial to preserving independence, and can even be lifesaving—falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people over 65.

Bringing Yoga and Western Medicine Together: Duke Integrative Medicine

Duke University’s Integrative Medicine department in Durham, NC, has lived up to its name by integrating yoga into medicine and medicine into yoga. The department is one of the only major medical centers to offer yoga teacher training. Its two programs, “Thera-peutic Yoga for Seniors” and “Yoga of Awareness for Cancer,” are taught by a team of yoga instructors, doctors, physical therapists, and mental health professionals.

These yoga teacher trainings accept about 100 people a year and involve elements of asana, pranayama, meditation, and mindfulness working together as adjuncts to the conventional medical treatments that patients may also be receiving simultaneously. Once training is complete, teachers can work on contract for hospitals and other health agencies.

Kimberly Carson, the founder and codirector of the yoga training programs, stresses that what sets the programs apart is their research-based approach: Medicine listens best when you speak its language, says Carson, a yoga therapist who has taught in medical settings for more than 15 years. “The evidence base is what the medical community listens to.”

Essential to the program’s success, says Carson, is the staff’s commitment to thinking critically about how they promote the benefits of yoga. “The quickest way to shut doors is to state as fact claims that aren’t substantiated,” she says.

Luckily, the evidence base for yoga and other alternative methods is fast growing, and Duke has been a forerunner in opening the lines of communication between yoga and medicine.

Turning Doctors Into Mind-Body Experts: Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

Located in one of the best academic medical centers and in one of the most doctor-friendly cities in the country, the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital is well poised to train new doctors to incorporate mind-body techniques into their practice. Its founder and director emeritus, Dr. Herbert Benson, pioneered research on the relaxation response as a powerful antidote to the stress response; he was also one of the first to illustrate that meditation changes metabolism, heart rate, and brain activity as a result of the relaxation response. This commitment to research is still what makes the institute stand out: Benson and his colleagues recently published a landmark study illustrating some of the changes in gene expression that can come from practices that elicit the relaxation response, including meditation and yoga.

Physicians at the institute help treat patients for everything from heart disease to diabetes to infertility. Individual therapeutic yoga instruction is offered as an adjunctive approach for a wide variety of conditions, both physical and mental. Darshan Mehta, the institute’s medical director and director of medical education, says that along with maintaining its commitments to research and patient care, the Benson-Henry Institute is dedicated to educating medical students and residents in integrative medicine. “Boston is famous for training leaders in medicine,” Mehta says. “We need to expose the next generation of doctors to the benefits of mind-body medicine. My hope is that after studying at the Benson-Henry Institute they’ll be able to at least recognize value in it and perhaps add it to their practices in some way.”

Caring Health Care: Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program

The brainchild of Donna Karan, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee, and Beth Israel’s chair of integrative medicine, Woodson Merrell, MD, the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program seeks to strengthen the human element in hospital-based health care and to lessen the pain and anxiety many patients experience when undergoing treatment for cancer and other illnesses. Launched in 2009, the program offers a 500-hour training for yoga teachers and health care professionals in five healing modalities: yoga therapy, Reiki, essential-oil therapy, nutrition, and contemplative care. Included in the training are 100 hours of clinical rotations, carried out at participating hospitals and long-term care facilities in New York; Los Angeles; Columbus, Ohio; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“We’re bringing mindfulness into arenas where there is often only anxiety, panic, stress, and crisis states,” says Codirector Rodney Yee. “We all realize mindfulness and meditation are so important to daily life. This is a way to bring this to patients in a medical setting, to support patients’ needs.” For example, depending on the needs of the patient, a certified therapist might help patients do in-bed yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation that they can then repeat on their own.

Yee says he’s been amazed by the receptivity of the medical community toward the program. Old stigmas are dissolving, he says, and new attitudes are emerging. But it’s a two-way street, he adds. “The yoga community has our own work cut out for us, keeping up with the science and being open to addressing the issues that will affect yoga’s role in Western medicine for years to come.” – Katherine Griffin of Yoga Journal


Letting go of Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda,

Leap of Faith

“See that to-do list on your desk?

Grab it. Scrunch it into the tightest ball possible. Drop it in the bin.

This week, this thought has slapped me in the face, over and over again. I’m sure it’s a universal message that it’s time to get this out there: you mustn’t do what you should.

The entire week, I’ve been shrouded in “shoulds.” Every single person I spoke to layered their obligations on top of me—I should find the time to get to the health food shop, I should clean my bathroom, I should go for a run in the morning.

And now, beyond should, I must tell you all something: stop!

Forget it. Leave the shoulds at the door. Do what you want. Do the stuff that you jump out of bed for, and go to sleep thinking about. That’s what you’re meant to be doing. Anything other than that and you’re likely to be pushing the proverbial uphill, and sooner or later, you’re going to get so damn tired of that, it’s going to roll back on top of you.

I did exactly this. For years. My list of should’s was endless—I should be a corporate success, I should be lean and ‘fit’ (whatever that means), I should be debt free and I should buy a house. I should go to university and get only distinctions.

After years on end of this personal prison of expectation, I was exhausted, and desperately unhappy. My job was life-sucking. And while I earned a lot of money, I didn’t have enough leftover to buy my own house or get out of debt after the spending I did to feel better.  I felt so insecure about my body as my self-judgement only increased the more I didn’t meet my list of ideals.

The deficit between what I thought I should be and what I thought I was had became so big, I couldn’t keep pushing.

Eventually, I asked myself, if I wanted all these “shoulds” so badly, why was I no closer to reaching them? Why was life so hard? Why did I keep feeling like it was two steps forward and 44 backwards?

Each time I set a goal, I hit a wall and bounced right off in the opposite direction. It had to be more than a willpower issue. And it was—I was headed in the wrong direction.

What I realized was this: I didn’t actually value any of the things I was seeking.

I didn’t want a corporate job. I didn’t want to own a house and be bound to one place paying a mortgage for the rest of time. And my continual pursuit of these things got harder and harder till I was able to realize that truth.

The universe continually delivered metaphorical slaps—challenges, seeming self-sabotage, trip ups and missteps till I was able to realize I was way off track, and figure out exactly what it was I did want.

I quit my job. I made travel plans to cross the world. Then I did it twice again within the year. I was earning half as much, but suddenly I had more abundance than ever—financially, spiritually, physically.

If you identify what you truly value, what you truly want in life and then give yourself permission to go after those things, life gets a whole lot more fulfilling. And smoother.

You gotta believe that whatever it is, you want what you want for a reason—it’s your purpose. Respect yourself enough to go after it, and suddenly, life gets seemingly easier. Set your goals to be in alignment with your highest values, and they’ll most certainly be a little easier to reach.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. But they’re much easier to navigate, and they only serve to teach you that little bit more about why you’re here and what you’re working towards. There’s no longer a need for those universal slaps.

Remember all those times you said you would eat healthier, then a night out with friends and you’re standing at the pizza stand at 3AM? Or what about the times you said you’d get to the gym after work, but a late meeting and a phone call from a friend and you’re clean out of time?

These are little communiques to you that what you’re saying you should do, you really shouldn’t. You’re off path. Perhaps social connection and time with your friends is higher on your values list than the gym?

Accept it. No judgement. Move on.

So as long as you catch yourself saying “should,” that’s exactly what and why you “shouldn’t”. You don’t truly want that thing or that goal. Because if you did want it, you’d be out doing it, getting it—you wouldn’t be sitting there feeling bad about something you’re not doing.

This is the thing about values, we pursue them with unmatched vigor and enthusiasm. Nothing gets in the way.

Do not mistake this for a case of “harden up.” I am not trying to give you a kick in the ass to get up and get going. I am trying to get you to recognize that your life demonstrates what you value—you relentlessly go after, are intrinsically motivated and continually achieve the things that are most important to you. The things that you honestly value; the things that truly nourish you.

Going after anything outside of that is a mistake.

Those things, the things you feel you “should” do, you find yourself reading motivational memes and calling upon others to motivate you toward. You create challenges to get you to stick with something and penalties for failure. Almost always, you’ll come up against an obstacle (a great example is an injury) and it will set you back.

Almost always, you’ll self sabotage your efforts and will find you can never quite get to the finishing line. You’re forcing an apple through a keyhole. And why? Cos someone said that’s what you “should” want, or your layer of shit is so thick you may actually begin to believe it yourself.

Do things because you have a true desire for them, a true resonance with the process and a relaxed surrender to the journey. Don’t do the things you have to force yourself to do. They’re the things you truly, deep down, don’t actually want. And they’re the things that truly, deep down, probably aren’t that good for you.

Continuing to try to live with one set of values while retrofitting yourself into a collection of socially-conditioned and role-driven expectations will only bring you heartbreak and disappointment.

So how do you clear away the layers and find what you’re truly meant to be doing?

Look at your life, and without concern for the roles you play (mother, husband, daughter) ask yourself:

  • What do you spend your money on? You never cringe at paying for things you truly value. You tend to think and worry about the cost of lower priority items or services.
  • Where, what and on whom do you spend the most time? You always seem to run out of time for the things that are not important to us (think of that hard, long day at work, when you get to 6PM and you think “oh I should have gotten to the gym, but now I have a dinner engagement at 7PM”… the gym is not your priority.)

Start to watch the themes pop out—you’ll know what it is you really must do. Once you’ve written it down, you’ve given yourself official permission to do those things.

So do them. Align your life around those valued things as your foremost priority, and delegate the rest to someone else (better yet, find someone who’s high priority is your low priority rubbish).

And if you ever feel like you’re getting buried under expectations, roles and fears, keep in mind the following:

Continual pursuit of the “shoulds” will be your downfall. Remove the roles, remove the expectations. Clear off your shit.

Get down to who you truly are, what you truly want and get after that stuff.

That’s the way to success, happiness, and personal fulfillment.” – Joelle Collard


Letting Go of Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda. ~ Joelle Collard

Why & How to Practice Tree Pose


“One of the loveliest yoga poses is Tree Pose (Vrksasana). It’s a beautiful balancing act with a multitude of variations for all levels.

Tree pose can help improve your balance, and it strengthens your thighs, calves, ankles and spine. It’s also good for stretching the inner thighs, chest and shoulders. Plus it can relieve sciatica, as well as reduce negative effects of flat feet.

While there are a number of physical benefits, Tree Pose also improves concentration. As a student, you can immediately notice how your balance improves when you focus your eyes on a single point (Drishti). If your eyes or your mind are wandering, chances are you won’t be able to balance.

Yet falling is how we learn and grow. Truthfully, it’s inevitable that as you try harder variations, you may wobble or lose balance. The good news is that trees are made to sway in the wind. So if you fall, you just try again. You learn how to observe your balance without judging your performance. Falling is part of the experience.
Here are 5 Steps to Finding Your Tree Pose:

1. Start in Mountain Pose, or Tadasana, with your feet hip distance apart. Spread your toes like roots into the earth and gently shift the weight side to side.

2. Bend your right knee and bring the sole of the right foot onto the left thigh, the heel in the inner left groin. Engage your left quad and resist the foot with the thigh.

3. Place your hands on your hips and lengthen your tailbone to the floor.

4. Set your gaze on a Drishti a few feet in front of you, either on the floor for easier balance or straight ahead.

5. Feel free to bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra (palms together in front of your heart), or raise them overhead.

If this variation is too challenging, try placing your foot on the calf instead of the thigh. Or keep your toes on the floor and just place the heel above your ankle. When you’re ready, lower your foot back down with control. Try the other side without judgment. It might be different than the first side, and that’s OK. Remember, don’t judge yourself. Just be willing to try and try again.” – Gigi Yogini


Yoga : Not just for young skinny white girls

Picture someone who practices yoga, who do you see?

Did you picture a young, beautiful, flexible, thin, Caucasian woman? Do you think she can recite the Bhagvad Gita in Sanskrit while doing a one-handed handstand?

Yes, there is a Yogi stereotype and it makes me cringe. Where do I fit in? Can a size fourteen black woman fit in amongst what the media has created as the ultimate yoga beauty standard?

What about Yoga for the rest of us? What about the non-white, size 14, over 35 year old woman, who can’t fit into anything Lululemon (well maybe the headband)? Just sayin’. Whenever people meet me and I tell them I do yoga they seem shocked and even judgmental about my size. Then I kick up into handstand and I say: take that.

Every Yoga teacher training I take I am awash in all of this.

I instantly feel out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin, my brown skin. It has come to my attention that not many black folk do yoga, let alone train teachers and own a yoga studio. I am certainly in the minority. I like to think of myself as a trail blazer. I have never seen a yogi like myself on the front of Yoga Journal. The images perpetuated by the media seem to set the same ideal we see in fashion magazines. I thought Yoga would help us step aside from all of this.

Come as you are to your mat!

My first yoga experience was practicing at my mother’s side at the age of six. I rediscovered it in my late twenties after years of killing myself in the gym trying to look perfect. Yoga has taught me that I am perfect just the way I am. Yoga has helped me deal with growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive household.

I am not all those horrible things I was called when I was growing up.

Dianne 3

I am a beautiful divine being deserving of love and happiness, even if I feel look like I don’t fit. Yoga has helped me break the cycle of abuse that so many people find themselves in. I am happily married to a wonderful man who cherishes me. We have two beautiful children together.

As I step into the future of yoga, I step away from lots of things, and evolve the practice of my own heart. What I will remember is what I tell my students all the time; stand in your own power. Root down through your feet, firm your legs, lengthen your spine and open your heart to the possibility that you are perfect as you are no matter what the media or society tells you. Sometimes we lose sight of that and we get caught in that idea that yoga is a function of beauty, when yoga is an expression of beauty, discipline, sacrifice and love. Yoga teaches us to feel with our hearts and experience with our bodies.

Remember everyone can do yoga. We breathe, we feel, we stretch, and we connect fully to ourselves, even if we don’t look like a supermodel.


Originally posted at – reposted with permission.


Dianne is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance, the founder of, has had extensive yoga therapy training, is a columnist for the Elephant Journal, owns a studio, runs yoga retreats, trains yoga teachers, has a devoted husband, two small boys and not enough sleep. Dianne is big, black, bold and loves all things yoga. Try to keep up with Dianne on FacebookTwitter, and or download one of her FREE podcast on iTunes.

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