You Never Need to Wear Skinny Yoga Pants
Yoga Journal, which is the long standing print magazine for yoga professionals, and the yoga community, is owned by the same parent company that publishes Clean Eating magazine. So there’s a lot of intersection in the writing and the journalists between them. And I find it very problematic. Extremely problematic. But that’s capitalism, right?
You’re listening to Burnt Toast. This is the podcast where we talk about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting, and health.
Today I’m chatting with Jessica Grosman! Jessica is an experienced anti-diet registered dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating counselor, weight inclusive health practitioner, and yoga teacher. She is on the faculty of Yoga for Eating Disorders, where she teaches the popular compassionate and mindful yin yoga series. And she’s a co-founder of Anti-Diet Culture Yoga, a platform with a mission to keep diet culture out of yoga spaces by providing training and educational opportunities for teachers.
So, as you can probably guess from her bio, Jessica and I are discussing the intersection of diet culture and yoga today. This was such a fascinating conversation for me, because I truly did not know the extent to which yoga has been colonized and appropriated by white people and diet culture. If you have a fraught relationship with yoga, or have had that over the years like I have, I think you will get a lot out of this one.
I do want to acknowledge that Jessica and I are two white, privileged ladies having this conversation. I’m very aware that in order to divest from yoga from diet culture and white supremacy more completely, we need to be learning this from people of color. We do shout out some of those voices towards the end of the episode. But I would love to know who else you are learning from—post suggestions in the comments so we can continue this conversation!
If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe, rate and review us in your podcast player! It’s free and a great way to help more folks find the show.
Keep sending in your questions for Virginia’s Office Hours! If you have a question about navigating diet culture and anti-fat bias that you’d like to talk through with me, or if you just want to rant about a shitty diet with me, you can submit your question/topic here. I’ll pick one person to join me on the bonus episode so we can hash it out together.
PS. Also hi new subscribers/listeners! I think a bunch of you found me through Julia Turshen’s podcast Keep Calm and Cook On. I have loved her entire series on Unapologetic Appetites and was delighted to join her for this conversation.
Post-Publication Note from Virginia: After this episode aired, a listener let us know that Jessica’s Instagram contains some old content that may be triggering to folks in eating disorder recovery. I don’t expect Burnt Toast Podcast guests to align with me on every single issue; I also don’t expect podcast guests to have lived their lives free from diet culture influences (if I did, I’d have no one to interview!). And I find tremendous value in the conversation we had on this episode. But I wanted to offer this word of caution for folks in the Burnt Toast community who are in recovery. Please take care of yourselves.
Episode 52 Transcript
Hi, Jessica! Why don’t we start by having you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your work?
My work is primarily patient-focused nutrition therapy, and I work to help individuals reestablish a comfortable connection with food and body most often after years of living and diet culture. I am a member of ASDAH, the Association of Size Diversity and Health and use HAES principles in my individualized care. I’m also a yoga teacher, as I mentioned, and really love bringing together all sorts of ways to help people feel comfortable in their body.
I think you’re our first yoga teacher on the podcast and today that’s going to be our focus — this intersection of diet culture and yoga. I think for a lot of listeners, this probably isn’t breaking news. We’ve all kind of seen the Lululemon version of yoga, and the Gwyneth Paltrow / Goop version. I think a lot of us may assume that diet culture has been baked into yoga from the start. But is that true or do you see this as a more recent co-option of yoga?
I want to start by asking you if you know what the word yoga means. So I want to spin this question back to you.
I feel like I knew this when I did a lot more yoga, and now I’m going to fail this quiz.
It’s okay! Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “to yoke” or “to join.” So right there, the word yoga does not mean acrobatics, leggings, green juice, restrictive diets, or any other stereotype that has been portrayed in the media through diet culture. I want to acknowledge that right from the start that yoga has nothing to do with diet culture in its origin.
I’m going to give you a little history lesson here. There are eight limbs of yoga, with only one being the physical practice of yoga, the poses and postures that we see so often. In the classic, traditional sense, yoga really is about the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. The physical practice of yoga was developed to help rid the body of distractions, of impulses, to be able to sit and meditate. So if you think about kids in a classroom, we know that if we want kids to sit and concentrate, first we let them get all their energy out, and they run around on a playground have play time before they’re able to sit calmly and concentrate. Yoga, the physical practice of yoga, is in the same vein, to give the body time to rid itself of the distractions to be able to turn inward and sit and focus in meditation.
I love that framing and I’d never thought of it that way. And nothing you mentioned has to do with weight loss or changing your body size or shape. So when did the shift happened?
So, yoga was brought to the west from southern Asia about 100 years ago—and notice I said Southern Asia and not India, because yoga’s inception was not just in the land that is currently India, but all throughout southern Asia. So we want to give respect and honor to those lineages. But it was brought to the West about 100 years ago by a Russian woman named Eugenia Peterson who later changed her name to Indra Devy. She was an actress and a spiritual seeker who traveled to India and became the first female student of Krishna Macharia, who was considered the father of modern yoga. He created the posture-based yoga practice, the physical yoga that was influenced by martial arts and wrestling and British calisthenics. Remember, this was in colonized, British-occupied India. And so Indra was able to bring her yoga studies to the west with her when South Asians were not able to come West due to the Immigration Act of 1924, which set quotas for immigration from “less desirable” countries. Indra came back to the west, came to Hollywood dressed in saris and was emulated by movie stars and Hollywood types seeking exotic practices from the East to keep themselves young and beautiful. This was the start of the modern wellness movement and with yoga at the core.
She’s like a proto-Gwyneth Paltrow.
Exactly. And you know, how ironic that she was on Gwyneth Paltrow land?
So, the Western conception of yoga has always been more linked to diet culture. We wouldn’t have called it diet culture back then, but certainly this idea of the body and controlling the body.
I would say so, especially in the yoga space that is full of white practitioners. I think South Asians in the West practicing yoga that are coming from that lineage, from their motherland, it’s a different type of practice. But the yoga of diet culture is very whitewashed.
Let’s talk specifics about how that manifests. What are some of the most surprising ways you’ve seen diet culture infiltrate yoga?
Yoga is part of wellness culture and wellness culture is that friendly guise of diet culture which is rooted in capitalism. Yoga in the West is rooted in capitalism. I can tell you that working as a yoga teacher, to earn a living as a yoga teacher is not sustainable in our capitalistic society. There’s just no way to go about doing that for most people, other than those elevated—and I’m going to use air quotes—“gurus” of yoga, the ones that we see in the ads for Lululemon and all of the other brands.
So yoga studios—we have yoga studios in the West, not so much in South Asia. But yoga studios in the West are for profit,