I’m No Barbie-Girl

Mighty JuliThe trajectory of yoga over the centuries has seen a variety of different practices, styles, and approaches. What was originally a method of exercise for elite, higher-caste men in order to sit longer in meditation to achieve enlightenment has been co-opted and altered for western consumption. We’re working on a more in-depth blog about this, so keep posted! But right now, I’d like to address the dichotomy in contemporary western yoga of body-image.

In our contemporary western understanding of what yoga means, we express terms like “union” or “connection” – to describe the approach of connecting mind and body, and sometimes soul. This is a very different approach than the traditional practice that Patanjali outlined of seeing the body as an abject material object to discard on the way to god-like status. Western yoga has adopted a mind-body approach whose history leads all the way back to the ancient greek philosophers, and is inspired by the American movement of transcendentalist individualism, illustrated by the romantic poetic works of Walt Whitman and D. H. Lawrence, and philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau.

Through these influences, westernized yoga had the potential to liberate us from the constrains of western culture’s obsession with attaining the perfect body ideal. It was headed on that track. Instead, through an explosion of commercialization beginning at the end of the last century, it has fed right into it. Today in the west, the most common image of a yoga practitioner is a skinny, feminine white woman in an impossibly-twisted position, wearing skin-tight trendy clothing. Where does that leave the rest of us who could benefit from a yoga practice that professes “freedom” and “body love?” Is freedom only available for those who can afford to purchase its accessories or strict food regimes, or for those who are impossibly flexible or skinny, or those who fit into racist standards of beauty? In her essay published in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice: A critical examination of yoga in North America, Melanie Klein writes about how she first got interested in yoga to help heal from the negative body-image that led her to anorexia, and then later as yoga bloomed into a full-forced commercial industry with yoga models at the forefront, she found it feeding back into those old thought patterns.

The industry behind the commodification of yoga is selling an impossible body-image back at us in order to sell more products, and make us feel dependent on material goods by creating feelings of low self-worth amongst yoga practitioners. I’ve heard other yoga teachers say that they don’t drink beer because it gives them a thick belly, or they talk about fat-burning yoga classes. It’s a shame that a practice that is supposed to be about loving one’s body has come to such body shaming proportions. The culture claims that fat is unhealthy, but they ignore the fact that so many people starve themselves, or exercise vigorously, or modify their bodies in order to look more like the image they see in magazines. In the west, we are taught to have control over our bodies, not love them. I love good food, and refuse to count calories. I also like to drink a few beers now and then. I refuse to comply with ridiculous expectations of what I should look like as a yoga teacher. At one point in my life, I tried to live up to these standards, but never succeeded, of which I’m glad. We can’t all look like Barbie, no matter how hard we try. I personally feel that carrying a little bit more weight feels healthier and stronger to me than when I was much skinnier. And it’s a misconception that bigger bodies cannot be flexible or strong. I’ve seen people much bigger than myself do a fierce ashtanga class.

I’d like to be able to say that I’m never ashamed of my body, but I am not outside the influence of societal pressure. There are some days when I look in the mirror and wish my belly was flatter, my legs less hairy, but most days I let it hang out, completely unfettered. And I love it the most when I walk into a yoga class and see it filled with people of all shapes, shades, sizes, and genders. I hope that my bodily expression is something that helps them feel more comfortable in seeing something of themselves reflected in the person guiding them through the class. My kind of yoga is one where people can work towards feeling comfortable residing in their bodies and minds, not controlling them, but feeling good about themselves as they are, and letting go of oppressive ideals and expectations.

Juli teaches Vinyasa Flow and Restorative Yoga at English Yoga Berlin.

What is the point of yoga- Yoga Styles Explained Part 2


Different styles of Yoga in BerlinMany people wonder, “Why should I do yoga?” And while this is an individual question, I think it’s important to understand what the point of the practice is before deciding to make it a part of your life.

In my last blog about Hatha yoga in Berlin, I talked a bit about the current “trendy nature” of yoga and why there seem to be so many yoga styles on offer. But the true goal of Yoga is to bring the practitioner into a state of perfect peace with themself and with the world. This cannot be achieved overnight. And so, to approach this goal, one spends a lifetime practicing this discipline. Although perfect peace is the most difficult state to attain, it is said that everyone can approach it through a sincere practice of yoga.

As mentioned in my previous blog, originally there were four different types of yoga created. These different types were created so that people were able to practice the kind of yoga that best fits them as an individual. The four original yogas are: Njana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.

The Njana yoga practitioners use the intellect to attain a state of inner peace. Their whole practice is about analyzing the world around them, and distinguishing what is real from illusion. This yoga is the best kind for people who have a need to intellectualize everything about the world.

The Karma Yoga practitioners strive to attain the inner peace state through action (Karma being the Sanskrit word for “action” or “to do”). Their practice is based on taking positive action without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds. This kind of yoga is best for those who need to live an active life and keep themselves constantly busy.

The end goal of our Hatha Yoga in English classes is to be able to meditate

The Bhakti Yoga practitioners use their emotions in order to attain their yogic goal. Bhakti is the yoga of devotion. This kind of yoga is said to be the best for people who are of an emotional nature and need to sublimate their emotions in order to attain inner peace. This yoga would concentrate on rituals, symbols, chanting. It is said that by doing so the practitioners channel their emotions to a higher state of being.

Raja yoga practitioners try to attain peace through meditation. But in order to sit down and meditate one must not only learn how to control the mental fluctuations but also to have a fit body that can manage to sit motionless with no pain for an hour. To be able to do the latter Hatha Yoga was created. This is the only type of yoga from the original ones that focuses on the physical body. I teach this kind of yoga because it addresses the body, mind and energy levels of the practitioner throughout his/her self-exploration towards inner peace.


What is Hatha Yoga- Yoga Styles Explained Part 1

Different kinds of yoga in BerlinToday it is very common to hear about many different kinds of yoga in Berlin. And with so many variations to choose from, it can get rather confusing. In truth, there were originally only 4 types of yoga: Njana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga. These yogas were created so that people could practice the kind of yoga that was most attune to their own character.


My Hatha yoga in English classes stem from the original Raja Yoga style. Raja yoga focuses on controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. The purpose of Raja Yoga is to attain inner peace through meditation. In order to do this one must gain control over the physical body and prana (or vital energy), so that meditation can happen naturally. Raja Yoga consists of eight steps. The third step (Asanas) and the fourth step (Pranayama) is what makes up Hatha Yoga. This is the only kind of yoga that actually deals with the body and the one that most westerners think of when the word yoga is mentioned.


All of the yoga styles that have to do with physical and mental control stem from Hatha Yoga. The kinds of yoga we hear about today in the Berlin studios around us have much more to do with marketing then with providing separate types of yoga. These types and names are more of a description of the teaching method. For example a Vinyasa flow class will concentrate more on teaching the asanas with a flow rather than remaining static in them. Power yoga teaching will work to make you sweat. Hot yoga will teach yoga in a (very!) hot room. And the list continues with no end. Last year, I even heard of bicycle yoga! After trying to figure out how such yoga would work and picturing headstands being performed on the saddle of a bike, I discovered that it was about riding bikes out to different places, getting off the bike and then practicing yoga. I must say that I was relieved!