Warning this post is going to be a little crass. These thoughts have been weighing on my mind this week.
After my Beginners yoga class on Monday, I had a student stop me with a few questions. This is totally normal with beginning yogis. Often they have questions they are a little embarrassed to ask in front of the group. I knew this student because she had attended class for a few weeks in a row. She had previously shared that she has a background in ballet. This background gives her a good baseline of body awareness and a strong focus on technique. She wanted to ask some follow up questions about bridge pose.
I will say there is a “great debate” among yoga teachers about whether or not to engage your glutes in bridge pose. I am a fan of using your bum to help you lift and support your hips. This engagement also helps draw your tailbone down and maintains safer alignment in your spine. For these reasons, I am pro squeezing the butt. This student wanted to know about when and how to engage your butt, not only in bridge but other back bending poses, to keep her back safer. She mentioned that this kind of muscle engagement is new to her because in ballet, “you don’t use your butt because you don’t want to have a butt.”
Now I was of the mindset that in our post Sir Mix-a-Lot and JLo era we were all on board with having a booty. But this moment made me realize that I was very mistaken. There are still areas of our culture where people are pressured to look a certain way or to fit a certain mold. That is pretty messed up.
My week of the booty continued when I was taking pictures for a workshop I will be hosting in January. The workshop is focused on the pose chaturanga dandasana or low plank. There is a habit of practicing what I call the “ass-up” chaturanga where the hips are slightly piked and the shoulders are dipped low. Naturally, I didn’t want to have an ass-up chaturanga in my pictures since I am leading this workshop on the pose. So I asked the teacher who was taking the pictures to mention if I lifted my hips too high. I think the end result photo is pretty good considering holding chaturanga is not the easiest thing to do.
But another person mentioned to me that it looked like my ass might be slightly up. To this I responded, “You know, I think it is just the fact that I have an ass.” I do! But we are not used to seeing yogis of different body types. Things are starting to change on that front; but most people are only familiar with the yoga-pants-model aesthetic.
All of this booty talk led me back to the Yoga Sutras. The concept that seemed to fit my current moment was Asmita, one of the afflictions of our mind. Asmita is false-identification of our True Nature as the mind, body, or senses. We often think of Asmita in terms of the ego. We connect who we are with things like our jobs, our bodies, our thoughts. But all those things can and will change over time. Our True Nature is steady and unchanged; it is the observer of our bodies and minds.
So does it matter if I have a booty or not? Not really. It is just one piece of the vessel that is carrying me through this life. Does it matter if you engage your glutes in bridge pose or pike your hips in chaturanga? Yes! Well, not really because any pose is just a shape. It is an exercise meant to prepare the body for the real work of meditation. I care as a teacher because I want to keep your body safe and feeling good. All of this to say, can everyone get on board with butts being ok?