Yoga Isn’t All Sunshine and Handstands
Trauma and darkness often draws people to the mat.
In yoga, crow is not easy. It's one of the poses where you have to stack your entire body on your triceps with the balance, focus and grace of one of those taut, chipper, kombucha-sipping yogis you see showing off before class. Dana Falsetti is not one of those yogis. Still, she's made crow pose her bitch.
"I was thinking it would be impossible that I'd be strong enough to hold myself and then was eventually able to do it," she says. "It's those moments where I realized for the first time that it was in my mind." The 24-year-old yoga instructor's social media presence is saturated with images of her twisted into complex poses, close-ups of soft, fleshy folds, accompanied by captions reflecting on her practice and her body.
"I let the way other people saw me dictate my life," she says about her lack of body awareness before she got into yoga. Now that she's a titan in the community, her instruction has expanded into an overarching message about strength, stretch-mark appreciation, and how to accept trolls without inviting them into your psyche.
You've been vocal about approaching your yoga practice from a place of depression. That's something a lot of people can relate to—to seek comfort on the yoga mat.
I find it funny that the yoga we see commercialized is very happy—beach handstands and things like this—but in reality, for some of the most interesting people in the yoga community that I meet, the things that bring them to the practice are dark. I meet a lot of addicts; I meet a lot of people who have been through trauma and they end up in a yoga practice.
We walk mindlessly throughout the day, not really conscious of the way that we feel and the way things are impacting us. And we pretend it doesn't matter and like we don't internalize it. And then you come to your practice and you approach a challenging posture, you realize you didn't even know [those things] were on your mind until just then. Awareness of ourselves is what is so healing...you know who you are, you acknowledge your own bullshit, and then you can walk with that and not have it be a dark cloud that hovers over you.
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Depression and anxiety can crop up for more people in this political climate. What do you suggest for those who are feeling that way these days?
We're realizing that a lot of people have been being mistreated and we haven't been paying any attention. The conversation of awareness of yourself and then of your surroundings—a yoga practice will definitely give you that, so definitely get on your mat. Maybe start with meditation. Honestly if I could give a posture, it would be this: Sit down up against the wall and close your eyes. take a couple deep breaths. And move from there. And Trump sucks.
Is that your mantra?
No. I say, "No Trump while you're practicing, and deal with it after."
Speaking of internet trolls, I noticed so much positivity in your Instagram comments. There's virtually no trolling. Do you moderate the negativity out or are the yogis who follow you just this peaceful?
I don't moderate my comments. I don't delete comments unless someone is attacking someone. I don't get them that often, and I think there are a few reasons. One, I very rarely just post a photo. My posts are more about what I write than the image, and my captions always max out on length. I would like to think that it's a lot harder for someone to just sort of shit all over a post when I've bared my heart and soul.
Most of the time, the people who follow me directly are on board with it...Anytime it's not on my own page, that's a whole 'nother story. I get called out when a larger publication posts something, the top comment is almost consistently, "Good that she's happy, but why are we promoting obesity?" And that's so funny to me because I'm not talking about that at all. But because I'm just existing looking like this, somehow anything I say also means I'm promoting obesity.
Many people who do yoga post endless pictures of their bodies contorted into complicated poses. Where is the line between thirst-trap pics and ones that contribute to a community that encourages growth in the practice?
I don't know where the line is there. I think it's about the person who's posting and their intention. Social media has narcissism built into it. It's easy to get super wrapped up in that and I understand that. But for me it's about asking, What's the point of anything that I'm doing? [Otherwise] it's disrespectful to the whole practice itself to just be approaching it from a "what can my body do?" or fitness perspective. Because that's not all it is.
I notice you post pictures of your stretch marks sometimes. They are a weirdly empowering metaphor for growth to me. But why do you post them?
I personally post them just to help normalize and it's just a part of my own process. I share them because I know that other people look like that, and that other people have felt the way that I have felt my whole life...And my hope is that someone can see and go, That's beautiful to me, because we always see that in other people and not in ourselves.
I love the close up shots especially because sometimes I look at my own photos and it doesn't necessarily feel like I'm looking at myself. I see the beauty in the image. I see so much more than the words that I would use against myself.
Would you suggest that to others struggling with body issues—take a bunch of pictures of themselves and look at them?
I love it, and I do recommend it. I get that not everybody is there necessarily, and it might be a really difficult thing to do. I do think that at some point, it's a really helpful part of the process to do that kind of thing over and over again. Especially when you're feeling yourself: Just take a photo. I love to snap a picture when I'm home and I'm in a great mood and I'm loving the way that I feel. Then I have that little memory for the time I don't feel that great about my body, like, "Remember that time I felt hot as fuck?"
What do you say to people who to people who think yoga is just stretching?
I hear that all the time. I actually thought that a little before I really got into it. It's not just stretching. It's super hard and don't let anyone lead you to believe that it's easy in any way shape or form. It is physically demanding; it is mentally demanding. It is soulfully and spiritually demanding as fuck. And possibly one of the most challenging things that you could add into your life, but also one of the most rewarding.
And what do you say to people who don't want to try it because they think it's too hard?
Step outside your comfort zone. Bring yourself up to the challenge. See what's possible. No expectations.
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