Cultivating An Authentic Practice: Meet Pranidhi VarshneyJuly 10, 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 advisor, Pranidhi Varshney.
What is yoga’s impact on your body image?
Yoga has transformed my body image and my body itself. I committed to my practice after a time where I used exercise and food to manipulate the shape of my body. My body on the inside was struggling. Yoga was the start of my healing process. As my practice has progressed over the last several years, my body has taken on different shapes. It’s given me the courage to become more self-accepting, to face and investigate destructive thought and behavior patterns. By consciously working to shift these patterns, I’m moving toward fully embracing myself and others. I haven’t achieved perfection; the shifting of patterns is ongoing work, and is an essential (perhaps the most essential) part of practice.
In your opinion, what is the relationship between yoga culture and body image.
Contemporary yoga culture propagates a very narrow spectrum of bodies as ‘healthy and fit.’ It promotes asana practice as a means to achieve a certain look. It is absolutely our responsibility as practitioners and teachers to counter this. People of all shapes and colors are practicing yoga, and what’s represented in magazines is not the reality that’s going on inside most classes. As leaders in the space, we have the opportunity to opt out of the conventional marketing tactics and social media crazes that are currently dominating the yoga scene. We need to be promoting a message of healing, and that won’t happen if we continue to allow profit-driven enterprises to control the conversation.
What does body positivity mean to you?
Body positivity, to me, is full acceptance of one’s body at any given moment. As individuals and as a community, we tend to chase after internal and external body perfection. Not only do we want to achieve some manufactured idea of an ideal body shape, we also want to be completely disease and ailment-free, hence the current trend of continual ‘cleansing.’ These are manifestations of the same root problem. Body positivity is learning to embrace the joy of experiencing life through each of our specific bodies. It’s allowing ourselves to feel into each moment, and getting real when we face challenges with our bodies, consciously working to resolve issues while maintaining self-acceptance and self-love.
Who are your yoga role models (if any)? Why?
My yoga role models are the old school teachers, for whom yoga practice was not about image at all. I met Manju Jois, the son of Pattabhi Jois, early on in my yoga journey. He brings a sense of humor to the practice that I cherish and try to pass on to my students. I also have great respect for Nancy Gilgoff, one of Pattabhi Jois’ first American students. Both Manju and Nancy teach in a way that transcends body image, and they don’t expect aesthetic perfection of postures. Rather, they’re concerned with healing the body through breath, asana, and vinyasa, and believe that any student with any body can benefit from the practice. As young teachers, we need to stay connected to yoga’s roots. It’s easy to get caught up in the modern day yoga machine. By continuing to study with senior teachers, we have a better chance of keeping the heart of yoga beating strongly.
How does your work address body image issues?
For me, the work of addressing body image issues is done in small steps. I do my best as a teacher to embrace any student who walks in the door. I find a way to make the practice accessible to him or her, and I derive great joy from seeing a room of diverse bodies breathing and moving together. When I make practice videos, I make it a point to include students of diverse body types and skin colors. This is my way of challenging the prevailing notion that yoga is for thin, flexible people. I’m open with my students about my diet so that they, in turn, feel comfortable eating what nourishes them. Too many yoga students in LA feel pressured to subsist on green juices alone!
Pranidhi Varshney is a devoted ashtanga yoga practitioner and teacher, and the founder of Yoga Shala West, a community-supported ashtanga yoga studio in West Los Angeles. She teaches to share the deep love she has for ashtanga yoga and for all students who follow this path. She aims to cultivate, for herself and for her students, a sense of balance on and off the mat- simultaneous strength and surrender. Her goal is to inspire her students to build a regular practice, for committing to a practice is the surest way she’s found to live an authentic, compassionate life. She also has a deep passion for the arts, and has released an album of Sanskrit chanting. Through all her work, she aims to inspire, provoke, build community, and ultimately touch the heart.