"You're a yoga instructor? REALLY?" is often what I'm greeted with when I reveal to people that I've been a Bikram Yoga Instructor since 2008. This piece of information surprises most for two reasons. One: my full time job is stand-up comedian and I'm usually out and on pint number four when the subject comes up. And two: I don't look like a yoga instructor. At least not like the yoga instructors we're bombarded with on social media.
I'm thick-legged and a bit overweight. In class or on social media I'm not the lithe, beautiful, blonde woman bending herself in half with complete serenity and ease. I'm the chubby girl with the shaved head in the corner spilling out of her yoga shorts, red-faced and sweaty as I fold myself into whatever position is being taught at the moment. I'll admit, I do drink kale smoothies in the morning, but I also throw back whiskey at night. Yes, I'm a yoga instructor but I'm also a person of this world who likes some of the dirtier parts of life just as much as I like touching my toes. I'm not perfect. I'm human. A human who does yoga imperfectly.
Yesterday was International Yoga Day and it was celebrated across social media. I'm one of those people who loves Instagram for the reasons others loathe it. I'm in it for picture of food and people in impossible yoga positions. I find it inspiring. I look at someone doing a split on a mountain against a tree while holding a coconut and think to myself, "Maybe I'll be able to do that someday!" I post them as well. I wouldn't be a proper yoga instructor if I didn't have photos of myself on a beach in a yoga pose. It's what we do; it's out trademark move. We worked hard for our flexibility and, like anyone else, we like showing off our hard work. But I do believe seeing perfect body after perfect body on Instagram in the most beautiful and complicated of poses puts some people off. It gives people who don't do yoga the impression they have to look or act certain way to practice.
I've had people throughout my nearly ten years as a teacher tell me, "Oh, I'd like to get into yoga, I just need to get flexible first." Or "I'll try yoga as soon as I shed some of this weight." People see those pictures on social media and assume that's how all Yogis look. That we all popped into being as pretzel-folk. Most of the people I know who are super-duper flexible started out not being able to touch their toes. And some people who come to yoga broken from a lifetime of not moving or injury have practiced for YEARS and still can't touch their toes. That's ok. That's who yoga is for, the broken and the sick. In yoga there is no ending. It's called a practice because you can do it for the rest of your life.
As a person who lives a very Yin and Yang life, I struggle with my own identity as a yoga instructor. I used to be obsessed with being thin. I used to tell people I wanted to look like my fellow colleague. And finally a friend and nutritionist pulled me aside and said, "Abigoliah, she's Japanese and a former gymnast. You grew up in Ohio and fed on corn and pork until you were 20. You will never be the size of your own thigh." It took a couple more years for that to set in but it has. I don't look perfect in every pose and it's fine because I'm still trying to do the pose. Even the yoga instructors you see who look perfect and seem to live off green juice and praying on Mala beads have their secrets. I know a lot of people who found yoga as they were recovering from addiction. Others have used it to rehabilitate themselves after severe injury or illness. But on social media you don't get the back story, you just get the pretty.
I'm guilty of it too, but I love that my life is split between two worlds. I love pulling an all-nighter with mates one week and then spending the next two in the studio reversing the effects from one debauched evening.
I guess what it boils down to is we all aren't as perfect as we seem on social media so don't ever feel put off from trying yoga by what you see on Instagram. Now, if you excuse me, I have to finish this beer before bed. Got to be up before 9am class tomorrow. Namaste.
Abigoliah Schamaun is a standup comic and yoga instructor living in London. She'll be taking her new show, "Abigoliah Schamaun: Namaste Bitches" to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Find out more about her at abigoliah.com