At my last lesson, my yoga instructor and I started talking about “fitspo” images (“fit inspiration” pictures; often glossy, perfectly lighted, framed, and posed images of very fit people doing physically impressive—yet also beautiful—feats of flexibility and strength). As someone who is just starting in Ashtanga Yoga, I often find myself searching through Instagram, looking for fitspo pictures of yogis. It is inspiring, beautiful eye candy.

It is also completely fucking discouraging.

And hella unrealistic.

The images you see on Instagram are gorgeous. But they are also severely sanitized. Almost anesthetized. They’re clean. They’re serene. Everyone’s face is stoic. Everyone’s body fat hovers right around 2.3%. Nobody shakes. Nobody’s uncertain. Nobody’s trying too hard.

Ashtanga Instagram

A collection of screenshots just from this morning. Seriously, who the fuck are all of these people doing their practice on the beach? Is that a thing? That shouldn’t be a thing.

I’ve only been practicing Ashtanga for five months now. I love the physical challenge. I love the discipline. I love that the regular, consistent practice forces me to pursue asanas that I find difficult (and might try to skip had I been left to my own devices—So long, Wheel!). I love those rare moments when the spiritual aspect of the practice kicks in, and I feel peaceful, and strong, and non-judgmental, and calm. I start to think that I am one of those clean, bendy people in the pictures. That I am fitspo.

But, dude, for real? Yoga is kinda gross. Kinda really gross. When you contort your body into the kind of shapes and poses a physically challenging practice like Ashtanga makes you, things … happen.

Here’s what those perfect images on Instagram don’t show you:

  1. Farts. Yoga makes you fart. Anyone who has practiced yoga regularly knows that. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but, trust me, it is. Maybe all of the stretching and twisting and contorting of your body acts akin to twisting and squeezing a sponge. But instead of dirty dishwater, rotten egg farts come pouring out. (Yoga is a great way to regret every single food decision you have made in the last 24 hours, yo.) And, yeah, farts are funny. And you’ll laugh. But if you do it during a class, chuckle, maybe whisper a “sorry” to those in the Stank Zone, and keep going. Every single yoga instructor on the planet is totally used to farts (I’ve farted twice on my instructor. On her, you guys. She never cracked a smile. Didn’t even back away. Totally unfazed.). They will handle your stinky butt symphony with complete maturity and calm. You don’t have to run out. Promise.
  2. Sweat. Nobody on Instagram sweats. But yoga in real life? Man, that shit gets SWAMPY. I keep a towel next to my yoga mat at all times, just so I can regularly mop up. My instructor has actually had to wipe off my face for me in a forward bend, because when I bent over, the sweat filled up my nostrils, and I began drowning in my own salty effort. I don’t glisten. I pour. Crotch sweat, specifically. I don’t know why, but ashtanga makes my crotch sweatier than just about anything. I look like I peed myself (which I may have done a little, but this is ridiculous).

    Crotch Sweat

    I bought new yoga pants. I assumed they were made with sweat-wicking materials. They were not.

  3. Anus Talk. Bandhas (also known as “locks” or “body locks”) are a key part of Ashtanga yoga. Basically, your bandhas are the muscles in your pelvic floor and lower abdomen. You keep those slightly engaged at all times, and it improves your balance, your flexibility, and your stability. You can think about your bandhas in very dry, medical terms: by pulling in your perineum, or squeezing your urethra, or engaging your lower abdominals. But, again, in real life yoga, while the sweat is dripping into your ears and you’re cursing your grandmother for passing down her impossibly short limbs to you, medical terms don’t work nearly so well as nice, direct, anus talk. So, people talk about your anus. A lot. “Squeeze your anus.” “Engage your anus.” “Feel your anus pulling up.” “Are you squeezing your anus?” “Is your anus locked?” “Don’t drop your anus!” (My personal favorite.) The thing is, as weird as the anus talk feels at first, it very quickly just becomes part of the experience. Now, when I practice at home, I’m constantly reminding myself to pick up my damn anus. How’s that for Namaste?
  4. Weird Injuries. I’ve fallen into walls. I’ve fallen into chairs. I’ve fallen against and on top of tables. I’ve come millimeters away from violently elbowing my instructor in the nose. I’ve cut my wrist with my own toenail, and bruised the tips of my toes. I’ve knocked the wind out of myself. I’m not even particularly clumsy. It’s just that this shit is hard. And it’s a hard that you have to hold. And so I fall. Because gravity. And because sirsasana (headstand).
  5. Smells. The farts. The sweat. The crotch sweat. The hot room. The deep exhalations. The feet. Oh, god. The feet. You can taste the bodily fluids in the air. It’s a great reminder that we’re all just a half a chromosome away from flinging poo at each other in a zoo.
  6. Noises. Yoga classes are not silent affairs. Your body cracks, creaks, and crunches. You occasionally let out an audible moan or groan. There’s chanting to open and close your practice. You practice what’s called “audible breathing,” where you breathe only through your nostrils, and try to sound like an asthmatic Darth Vader. It’s noisy. And some of the noises are just. Well. Unidentifiable. You could hear a crack, and have someone look over at you with concern. “Woah. Was that your hip??” Uhhh. Honestly? I have no idea what that was. But I don’t seem to be screaming in pain yet, so let’s just carry on, mmm’kay?
  7. Queefs. Now it’s time to get real. A couple of things, okay? First of all, queefs do happen. Second of all, no woman on the planet enjoys queefing. They’re weird. They feel unnatural. They’re not pleasant. They make me feel paranoid about the status of my own vag. Third, I’m suspicious that having two children in close succession has made me more susceptible to the occasional queef. I mean, let’s face it. The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. That being said, I will admit it. Yeah. I queef. And there are times during yoga when I’ve queefed. Loudly. I’ve noticed that I do it more during what are called the “inversions”—shoulder stands that you hold for extended periods of time. I like to think that gravity is my queef nemesis during inversions. Like, perhaps I just always have some air trapped in my velvet pocketbook. Like, I clearly just go through my day with a little bubble floating in my lady parts. Like some kind of personal contractor’s level, helping to keep my box balanced. Maybe it’s always in there, but my relatively upright daily life just makes it hard for it to escape. Then, during yoga, I flip my hootch-caboose upside down, and suddenly the air in there can just float up. And out. I mean, that’s just science. (Maybe?) A queef is actually the perhaps worst thing that could happen to me during yoga (though, the stronger my pelvic floor becomes, the fewer queefs seem to be escaping). It’s the only noise I make that I actively try to pass off as a fart. A fart in yoga I can explain away. “Ha, ha. Taco Bell!” Sweaty vagina burps? Yeah. Pass.
Real Fitspo

Here’s some real fitspo for you. This was back when I first started ashtanga. My first successful attempt at reverse prayer pose. I was so excited about it, I asked my husband to take a picture of it. (You can see just how big of a shit he gave. Out of focus. No light. Didn’t even bother getting out of bed.) Chubby ass arms, sweaty bun, Target yoga pants, and brown house slippers? Check!

So, there it is. The truth. The non-fitspo picture of yoga. Honestly, I think about Ashtanga in the same way that I think about my children. They’re totally disgusting to every other person on the planet. But, damn, I love them. Sticky fingers, greasy hair and all. And I love yoga. In all its gross glory.

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