On July 12 at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego, a panel of community leaders joined together in an open and honest conversation about body image – what does it mean, what is our role as conscious leaders, and how do we make yoga accessible and welcoming to every BODY.

The conversation was a part of the Practices of Leadership Series, co-hosted by Yoga Journal, Off the Mat Into the World (OTM), and lululemon athletica.  The conversation was facilitated by Hala Khouri, co-founder of OTM.  More than a hundred individuals participated.

Below is a recap of the conversation listing six topics to perpetuate change.  These six topics impact all of us.  The panel discussion explored how we can use these topics to approach the future more consciously.

Leadership Panel

What is body image?

Melanie Klein, MA, Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies, powerfully kicked off the conversation by sharing:  “When we’re talking about body image, we’re not talking about our body, we are talking about the perception of our bodies.  Our body image is shaped by all of our experiences.  Body image is subjective; it fluctuates.  Everyone has a body image.  We all have body issues.”  What really landed for me is when she made the point, “You can’t hate yourself into a body you love.”


What is the definition of health?  What does it look like?

Melanie Klein, MA, writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College

Melanie Klein, MA, writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College

The panel explored how we need to create a more holistic perspective of what heath means.  Health looks different to different people.  Health is more than the ability to execute an advanced pose.  For some, it is simply connecting with one’s breath.  The definition is deeper than physical health.  We need to shift our focus beyond what we see, and look more holistically at the TRUE health of the entire person: body, mind, and soul.


What is our role as conscious leaders?

As yoga teachers, we are responsible for planting seeds of conscious thinking.  We’re in a powerful position, a privilege.  At times we can be blinded by our own privilege.  We have an opportunity to reflect something different and distinguish ourselves in the yoga industry by creating a means of transformation.  This is truly a watershed moment.  As change makers, it’s important to understand the whole system.  Until we do, it will never be transformational; it will continue to be transactional.  This is our practice of leadership: vitality.  We have a responsibility to step into our power.


What’s stopping us?

The panel discussed two key barriers: aspirational marketing and truth in advertising.  What we see today in magazines and photos is not reflective of our yoga community.  We (universal We) replicate mainstream images.  How can we be the first to make this change?  How do we redefine what aspirational is?  It’s not about getting rid of aspiration, it’s about redefining it and how we hold advertisers accountable.  As yogis, we play a role too.  How can we be more conscious of what we’re sharing?  How do we check in with ourselves: “What have I done to perpetuate this, to perpetuate the ideal of myself (in social media or in photos)?”

Carin Gorrell

Carin Gorrell, Editor-in-Chief, Yoga Journal


“Different images are inspiring to different people.  It’s subjective.  You never know what’s going to inspire somebody to get on their mat.”

 Carin Gorrell, Editor-in-Chief, Yoga Journal




How do we make yoga accessible and welcoming to every BODY?

The issues also came up of money barriers and finding the time and place to practice.  Twenty-five dollars a class is not accessible.  Ninety minutes is hard to fit in people’s schedules.  There are 20 million people practicing yoga and 80 million people who aspire to practice.  How do we catalyze a change in those numbers?  And, let’s not forget to focus on what IS happening.  A personal note shared by Justin, a participant, is that he sees more men, more black men, more gay men practicing yoga.  Let’s celebrate the progress we may not always see.


How can we each make a difference?

Be conscious.  Be courageous and compassionate in the ways we confront conflict.  Call people UP and not OUT.  Shift your focus.  Remember, we each hold a personal responsibility in creating change.


The next Practices of Leadership discussion will take place at Yoga Journal LIVE! Estes Park in September 2014.  The conversation topic will be: Power and Privilege.