My birthday yesterday got me thinking about aging yoginis….me in particular, but in general the use of youthful yoga images in the Western media to sell a product…yes, let’s admit it, yoga in the West is mass-marketed and a brand name in some cases.
Feminists say that the older woman, that is, a woman over 40, is invisible in modern society. I’ve read more than a few articles about how older Hollywood actresses believe that there are few good roles for the aging actress in a culture obsessed with youth and Botox.
I will throw the question out there: is Western yoga culture guilty of the same offense? Think about the covers of your favorite yoga magazines and the pictures that accompany the stories inside. Think about the ads for yoga products. How many wrinkles can you count? Indeed, how many rounder bodies do you see, the more zaftig, Rubenesque forms?
Vanity Fair has a slide show on famous yogis and yoginis (thanks, Marilyn!) and while the photos are fabulous and I was glad to see master teachers like Desikachar, Jois, and Iyengar, I noticed that there weren’t many older women. Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa was featured, and I’m assuming that Trudie Styler is over 40 since Sting is in his mid-50s, but where are all the older women? Surely Vanity Fair could have found more than two…or am I just being overly-sensitive? And if I am being hyper-sensitive about it, so what?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m getting tired of seeing the young, skinny, cellulite-free bodies in Yoga Journal and other yoga magazines. I want to see people in my age group and older featured in the articles, and not just in articles about “senior yoga” in chairs or yoga in nursing homes! And I certainly don’t want to see a 20-something yogini demonstrating the asanas in an article about yoga for menopause! I want to see older yogis and yoginis as cover models, wrinkles, saggy breasts, and softer bellies included. But I guess we’re not the right demographic age group — after all, it’s all about who buys what.
I plan on practicing and teaching yoga the rest of my life and the current collection of popular yoga magazines just don’t appeal to me anymore. I used to read Yoga Journal cover to cover and save each and every issue — now I barely skim it and it gets recycled very quickly. At least the YJ interview in the latest issue (ahem…on the last page) features Patricia Walden, an “old” yogini. My favorite yoga magazine is ascent, founded by Swami Sivananda Radha — you can count lots of wrinkles in that magazine!
You may have seen the movie Calendar Girls where “old” Helen Mirren and her “old” friends take off their clothes for a fund-raising calendar. If someone somewhere would do a calendar like that featuring us older yoga bodies, honey, sign me up! Sing the Body Electric!
I Sing the Body Electric — Walt Whitman, 1900
“…This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but myself and it…
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice…
Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul…”