Body Divine Yoga: Meet Danielle Prohom Olson

August 6, 2015

The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is committed to building conscious community and highlighting the work that inspiring yogis are doing in their local communities and beyond. We’re pleased to introduce you to Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s active partner, Danielle Prohom Olson.

What is yoga’s impact on your body image?

I could no sooner stop doing yoga than stop brushing my teeth – it is essential. If I stop doing yoga I start to feel FAT. Now I’m not referring to anything literal, like poundage, cellulite or belly rolls, I am referring to a feeling – a general body unease, a feeling ungainliness, of not being right in my skin – that I associate with ‘fatness’.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.56.10 AMFor years, I projected these feelings out as dissatisfaction with my physical appearance. Popular culture and media icons told me if I could just look a certain way (i.e. lithe and lean), then I would feel sexy and good. But make no mistake, I had to earn it. But by paying more and more attention to how I looked on the outside, I became disconnected from my body. I lost touch with what I felt like from the inside out. I began to think of my body as just an image – and how it measured up.

But thank Goddess, yoga changed all that. Year after year, class after class, I walked out into my day or night feeling released, cleansed, and recharged. And – get this – even though my weight had not changed an ounce – I felt beautiful. And I realized the joyful experience of being alive and embodied had nothing to do with what I looked like from the outside. It was already inside of me. I merely needed to loosen my diaphragm, take some deep full breaths and stretch.

That’s why rolling out my mat is as essential to me as brushing my teeth. Without it my shoulders begin to creep towards my shoulders, my jawline and hips rigidify, and stubborn knots of angst build up in my flesh. This hygiene of emotionally cleansing my body has become essential to my well-being.

So now whenever I start to feel ‘fat’ (whether brought on by hormones or being saturated with one too many images of yoga bodies) I know it is time to return to my mat and release the accumulated stress held in my tissues. Yoga is how I reconnect with the essential state of my body. Those simple moments of being present, aware of my breath, feelings and sensations, restore me to a state of bodily satisfaction. I feel present and alive in the world. My body is a yoga body.

Does yoga promote diverse, positive, and loving body image?

Yes! Yoga has been shown in countless studies to be a powerful therapeutic tool in promoting increased feelings of well-being, self esteem, and confidence – yet it is consistently sold and subverted in popular culture as a methodology for getting fit, losing weight and achieving the ‘yoga body”.

The link between media exposure to unrealistic standards of beauty and body image disorders is well established. So why is it that so many yoginis who agree on the importance of” body love” continue to promote classes, workshops and retreats through some idealized and acrobatic variation of the yoga body? I’m not saying we need to post unflattering pictures of ourselves on the internet -but we’ve got to start getting it. These kinds of unrealistic images have been repeatedly shown to be exclusive and oppressive to the psychological and physical health of women.

So yes, I think we all bear a responsibility to create more realistic imaging of the yoga body – we need to find another more inclusive and inspiring visual language to communicate what yoga is or means to us -than the yoga body.

What does “healthy body image” mean to you?

Most of us think the yoga body as existing outside of ourselves on screens, advertisements and magazine covers. But it exists within us as well. Every thought or emotion we’ve experienced in response to viewing it’s image has shaped our biology. Body image isn’t just a mental construct that floats around somewhere in our head or consciousness, it expresses itself, for better or worse, in our bodies.

And if we consider that feelings of inadequacy, self judgment or shame have been repeatedly shown to have detrimental effects on our immune systems, heart rhythms and cellular functions, we can begin to gain a fuller perspective on the yoga body’s true cost to our health.

That said, I’m not sure if we can have a really healthy ‘body image’. Its important to keep in mind that any representation of the body, even it is diverse, picturing people of differing body weights, ethnicity or abilities – is still nevertheless an image -and it keeps us entrained in a way of viewing the body as something exterior to our inner selves and inner experience.

How does your work address body image issues?

I’ve been writing about the intersection of yoga and feminism that is the ‘yoga body’ for several years now and in that time I’ve watched (with great dismay) it’s stratospheric rise as a mass media beauty icon. Today, as rates of body dissatisfaction and depression continue to soar, it’s time to make a follow up film titled Yoga Body, Yoga Barbie because nothing exemplifies the beauty myth better than the white, young, slim and sexy yoga body.

I want to create a film for online distribution that will deconstruct the yoga body in the light of beauty myth, examine its cost – but most of all – offer solutions.

I want to profile the yoga teachers and therapists, body positivity activists, writers and teachers of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, who are rehauling the public image of the yoga body. Most importantly, I want to share the stories of young women themselves. The new yoginis who longer enthralled by the lure of the ‘yoga body’ are living freer, healthier and happier lives. Talking directly to their peers about yoga, they are out to promote a new paradigm: Yoga Body =Body Love.

I agree with writer Carol Horton, that if we want to overcome the yoga body and the “powerful brand magic that suffuses contemporary yoga culture”…” we’re going to need to step up our own, alternative game – and invite others to play along with us.”

So that is what I am seeking to do with my work -and in this film – to create a new kind of branding magic that redirects our attention towards yoga’s true potential as a tool for self-empowerment and well-being.

Short Bio:

Danielle Olson is an award-winning film-maker, a yoga teacher who is completing her certification as yoga therapist and the author of the popular blog Body Divine Yoga. Motivated by the desire to share information that provides tangible, positive benefits to our lives, she is passionate about using media – and yoga- as an agent for self-empowerment and social change.

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