Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy

Over Use of “Real” and Reverse Shaming

In a negative light, gross generalizations are often known as racism, sexism, classicism, ageism etc. But what about the gross generalization of “real”? I am talking about all the talk of “real yogis”, “real women”, real men” etc. It is usually followed by a picture of a human that is termed to be “real” or “unreal”. Usually the users of the world mean well. They are trying to make a point that the images in the media do not portray the culture as a whole or that yoga should be inclusive.  While this is true, making a gross generalization about what is “real” also does not  represent the whole spectrum of humanity either and causes more harm than good.


Recent Examples of not so great uses of “real”:

This came from an article on yoga selfies and how they are bad because they do not portray real people:

The real people are my students with Multiple Sclerosis doing their best, the busy Mums who just make it to class on time to take a breather, the students undergoing cancer treatment who want to make friends with their body again, the young women with severe anxiety who require so much courage to show up, the overweight people who can’t touch their toes, the students in their 70s trying something new, and the divorcees trying to get their life back on track. These people all wear clothes, none of them can do the splits or stand on their head because they don’t care. – See more at: http://yoganonymous.com/end-yoga-porn-focus-on-real-people-stop-the-selfies?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter#sthash.S0zR3uSF.dpuf

I don’t fit this description at all. As a matter of fact, this doesn’t describe 90% of the people I know who practice yoga. Does that mean that none of us are real?

Mind Body Green just did this article entitled,  “This is What Real Women Look Like After Giving Birth , which again was supposed to start a broader discussion on women and body image. However, I did not look like any of these women after giving birth. Again, am I not “real”?

I have gotten e-mail responses to pictures on this site regarding “real” yogis. I once had a picture of Kino MacGregor  as my banner on the Ashtanga Picture Project Facebook  page and someone said that she was not a good representation of “real yogis” and proceeded to talk about her outfit.



What about these dudes? They have on about as much as she does, are they real yogis?






The next example of the over generalization of “real” pushes my buttons the most.   I recently was speaking to someone on Facebook who said they were going to start a Facebook group along the lines of “real yoga for real people”. I asked them what constituted “real”? They proceeded to talk about people who are too busy to practice every day, people who are not skinny, people who cannot do fancy poses etc. What makes these people more “real” then the people who make time to practice every day? What makes these people more “real” then the people who have skinny genes or that enjoy working out or having their body looking a certain way? What makes someone who cannot touch their toes more “real” then a person who can put their leg behind their head?


All the people that are often labeled as not being “real” are actually very real. They have walked this earth in human form and they have the same feelings as all other humans. Over use of “real” can cause feelings of shame for the people being singled out. I used to work for a yoga studio that decided that they wanted to change the direction of the business and provide yoga that they felt was more accessible to normal or “real” people. When I came to class and did anything that was outside of the repertoire of poses deemed as part of the new more accessible sequence, the owner and trainer would try to shame me into not doing those poses anymore. “Why do you feel the need to do that?” “Ask yourself why you need to do that pose”  “You are intimidating the students”.  The funny thing was, when they would teach the class, they would say stuff like, “shine your brightest” or “be your best self” or “work your edge”.  How come that did not apply to me? Why couldn’t I be “real”? Why was it wrong for me to shine?

The next time you think about using the world “real” in this context, take a moment to think about the people you are leaving out. The people you are shaming. These people are just as real as you and their feelings also get hurt for real. Just because a girl wears a bikini on Instagram, can do a handstand or wears a size 0 does not mean that she does not have feelings just like you and that your words do not sting.

Also think about your argument or the point you are trying to make and how this use of “real” impacts your ability to be effective. Their are many “unreal” people who can be and are powerful fighters for fair representation of all walks of life in the media and yoga. You totally cut those people out of the loop. It  should be viewed as a human issue. Diversity is good for everyone. When you signal out “real” and “un real” it does not help diversity because diversity includes all people.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.


  • Nadine

    I appreciate this conversation. I am twice a single mother who 4 years ago endured a PTSD inducing custody battle and has endured their fair share of hardship. When I began practicing Mysore 7 years ago, I mopped the studio floors and cleaned the bathrooms cover my tuition until I received free practice as a teacher. After my separation, I returned to waiting tables to supplement my income as a yoga teacher, and eventually was able to give up the food service work when my teaching class load reached an astonishing 20+ classes a week. I get very little child support and have managed to raise two amazing girls. I also have an able body and an advanced asana practice which has absolutely NO BEARING on my status as a ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ ‘yogi’. I have a regular practice, am hella dedicated, and work my a$$ off. The Yoganonymous article referenced is an example of typical dualistic nonsense which ironically distracts from the ‘real’ work of yoga. Keep your drishti on your own mat folks. I unsubscribe from sites such as Yoganonymous, as many of their technical yoga info is inaccurate and unprofessional and the bait-and-click articles such as this lower my vibration and make me feel grumpy. I like to make references about raising my vibration. It makes me more of a real yogi. 😛

  • Paula

    Love this! Shaming generalizations only create more inequity, up there with “real” is the term “authentic” as if either pejorative/elitist uses of these words to describe a persons character mean anything but to elevate or degrade another.

  • Shankar

    I think that a lot of people, including the author and myself, need to do a lot more practise before they understand what’s real and not real. I don’t know what a yogi is; but I would associate progress in yoga with a reduction in positioning one’s self as a victim.

  • Tabatha

    This is such an interesting conversation, but remember, it’s not inclusive to yoga. The “real” woman debate has been around for a bit. I understand the idea that sparked it and resonate with it, that you do not have to fit a certain type or look the way that media portrays in order to be “real”. I do think that it gets taken to the extreme, discrediting those that do happen to fit the type and disqualifying their work just because they look the way they do. There is a lot of judgement, regardless of how “real” you are, I think that we’ve got to remember to keep our practice internal and get out of the habit of comparing ourselves to others.

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