Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body, edited by Melanie Klein, is a testament to the human capacity for rebirth in the face of great adversity. Klein’s follow-up to the groundbreaking book she co-edited with Anna Guest-Jelley, Yoga and Body Image, is a collection of personal essays written from the perspectives of different teachers and students. This powerful anthology highlights a range of experiences that, while different, are never at odds. Each story serves as a powerful exposition of resistance to cultural ideals of beauty, praise, and perfection.
As I turned the pages, I found myself moved—at times to tears. Certain essays reflected hardships I had lived myself, and others were far from anything that I (a young, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied woman) had ever experienced. Reading this book encouraged me to listen more deeply, to uncover where my own biases lie, and to deepen my understanding of and relationship to self-acceptance.
Each story serves as a powerful exposition of resistance to cultural ideals of beauty, praise, and perfection.
In The Rapunzel Game, yoga teacher and assistant professor of sociology at UC Irvine Sabrina Strings examines instances of racism she experienced in a teacher training. Her analysis highlights the fact that spiritual and wellness spaces are not immune to systemic racism. “There’s a cute new form of segregation taking the yoga world by storm. Here’s how I found out about it…” she begins.
In Saying Goodbye to the Inner Critic, yoga teacher and personal trainer Robyn Baker details how she overcame the perfectionist drives that led to her anorexia and exercise addiction. Having gone on to found a body-positive fitness studio in Orange County, Calif., she shares: “The fear of losing more of my life finally became greater than the fear of losing control over my socially defined ‘perfect’ body.”
In Kriya Yoga—Living Yoga, Jivana Heyman, yoga teacher and founder of Accessible Yoga, details how his yoga practice (specifically of faith/non-attachment and self-study/reflection) was informed by his work with people living with AIDS. He also shares how yoga helped him accept his sexuality, and how it continues to support his life as both an activist and a parent. “The concept of non-attachment became a touchstone in my life when my closest friend, Kurt, died of AIDS in 1995,” states Heyman. “He said that it [non-attachment] encapsulated all the spiritual teachings in one simple idea—releasing the material world and holding on to Love.”
In Dragons and Other Demons, Jodi Stock (LMFT) shares how yoga helped her reconnect to her body after surviving rape. In her own words: “I continued to show up on my mat. Slowly, I noticed that when asked to lift all ten of my toes or soften my fingertips, I could feel it. I could actually feel my body. I was in my body. And best of all, it was a safer place to be.” Later, she states: “...In truth, the deepest healing began when I welcomed the challenged parts of myself in. I work to tend and befriend the dragons within. And in doing so, I learn to love my gifts and care for my shadows.”
In How I (Didn’t) Get a Yoga Body in 21 Days, founder of It’s All Yoga, Baby, Roseanne Harvey, uses her own experiment with a three-week “yoga body” challenge to deconstruct the illusion of the perfect yoga body. At one point, she describes the “yoga body” as something to be reclaimed “...from Google, reclaimed from marketers, reclaimed from a fragmented culture that has mixed messages and ideas about women’s bodies.” She also speaks to the concept of a shadow body—that is, the perceived imperfections we rarely share with others: “If a well-rounded yoga practice involves getting to know our shadow side, shouldn’t we also get to know our shadow body?” she suggests.
Other contributors include: Cyndi Lee, Elena Brower, Lisa Diers, Pia Guerrero, Dr. Melissa Mercedes, Dr. Jenny Copeland, Tiina Veer, Dr. Beth Berila, Kimber Simpkins, Rachel Brathen, Dana Byerlee, Gwen Soffer, Lakshmi Nair, Chanelle John, Susannah Neufeld, Dana A. Smith, Lauren Eckstrom, Elizabeth Wojtowicz, Judith Hanson Lasater, Jessamyn Stanley, and Sarit Z. Rogers.
Yoga Rising, an apt title, explores not only how the contributors rose above challenges, but also how they were called into action. And it asks that we, too, come to see ourselves as yoga renegades. It speaks to the age-old adage that if we do not take up the task of setting ourselves free, we cannot help others do the same. As Klein puts it: “Consider this book as a collection of love songs designed to support your personal journey toward self-acceptance and, possibly in time, self-love while providing you with the support and care from a community dedicated to the same end.” She continues: “Together we can heal, uplift, and grow toward not only the possibility that we may all see ourselves as enough but the possibilities of collective and healing liberation.” Broken into five chapters, each chapter also contains prompts for self-reflection.
The variety of essays demonstrates that each of our paths toward self-acceptance and service will be different. But the bedrock and common thread of our rebirth is our combined strength. By exploring the hard issues related to body image, self-worth, and explicit and implicit discrimination, together we can rise.
Yoga Rising provides a resource and a road map for this.