Briohny Kate Smyth photographed by Robert Sturman

(Editor’s Note:  The Equinox video with Briohny Kate Smyth has garnered tremendous attention in the yoga world recently.  In less than a month, it has received over a million and a half views on Youtube.  Kathryn Budig, yoga star of “Aim True” a Gaiam Yoga DVD and the model in Naked Toe Sox ads, wrote an impassioned defense of Briohny for the Huffington Post.  Briohny Kate is becoming Briohny-Gate.  Liz McCollum’s passionate endorsement of this video is both thought provoking and inspired.  And makes us want to get our Vinyasa on, too.)

Recently, a video has been making rounds on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The video shows an apartment bedroom, where a woman is practicing yoga while her man sleeps in the bed behind her. When I first saw the video, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The amazing display of grace and strength while performing many advanced yoga postures (asana) was magical. I told myself that it was time to renew my dedication to my vinyasa practice, lying dormant in the wings as my Kundalini meditations took the spotlight. I shared the video with friends, with my boyfriend’s mother, with my own mother, who all shared my enthusiasm for the amazing display of physical mastery the yogini, Briohny Kate Smyth, exemplified.

Imagine my surprise to learn that many people were not feeling the same sense of awe and wonder I experienced. In fact, the video has been met with many angry reactions, comments, and messages. The posting of the video on Youtube has led to discussions of her body fat (one commenter notes that because she doesn’t have a visible 6 pack, she must be carrying some weight around her mid-section), her income (because no normal person could accomplish that without a personal trainer or private chef), and mostly about her attire (many comments, being of a sexually charged nature, aren’t fit to repeat).

Yes, Briohny Kate Smyth is practicing yoga in her underwear. To be honest, I didn’t notice right away. Perhaps photos of Bikram or B.K.S. Iyengar practicing yoga in very little clothing have distorted my ability to spot a scandal. When I did realize what Briohny was wearing, I thought it made sense in the context of the scene being portrayed. It seems quite plausible that a woman practicing yoga in the quiet of her early-morning apartment might be wearing lingerie, or pajamas, or nothing at all. I don’t know how she sleeps, why should I assume she has my taste in flannel and tank tops? Also, having struck yoga poses in pjs, in my bikini at the beach, and in out-of-the-way spaces at work, clothing is the last thing I’m worried about when doing yoga. So why are people so fixated on her clothing that they seem to be missing the beauty of her yoga?

American people have a very distorted relationship with the physical form. In many other countries, nudity still maintains its status as natural. Whether in the form of beaches, public baths, or scanty Carnival costumes, the physical form is considered nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, here in America the body has been turned into an object of shame and perversion. In a world where women cannot breast feed in public for fear of rude comments or leering strangers, is it any surprise that the thought of a woman doing yoga in her underwear, at home, in private, would create an uproar? Never mind that she’s alone, that she is exercising, and showing more strength and control than many of us could hope to achieve any time soon – because she is wearing underwear she must be doing something sexual.

As women, we are constantly judged. If we don’t conform to the body image presented in fashion magazines, we are considered overweight and unattractive. If we choose to work in the corporate world, we are thought to be ruthless and too masculine. If we choose to stay at home and nurture a family, we are thought to be unappreciative of the hard work that generations of feminists did to bring women into the work place. We are judged for being too fit (remember Michelle Obama’s arms?) or not fit enough, having too many children or having too few, wearing too much makeup or too little, embracing our sexuality or being prudish, being too smart or being “blonde.” It’s no wonder that so many young women develop self-esteem issues, body image issues, and myriad other challenges.

Yoga is supposed to be a gateway to meditation and self-realization. With hard work, we can develop a healthy and sound body that is capable of supporting the inner work yoga demands. While it isn’t necessary to be able to accomplish many of the advanced asanas that Briohny Kate Smyth displays, her mastery of these external poses indicates a mastery of her mind and emotions. How many of us have attempted Crow/Crane pose (bakasana) and fallen on our faces because we are afraid our arms are too weak to support us? Or fallen out of handstand because we are nervous or unfocused? Her ability to flow through so many intense postures so gracefully should be applauded.

Some people are watching this video and rather than seeing the years of work that Briohny Kate Smyth has put into her practice, they are commenting on her choice of attire. Instead of staring in awe at the strength and grace she brings to her practice, people are likening the video to soft-core pornography. Rather than finding inspiration to start or rekindle a yoga practice, some are sending her hate mail. I would ask anyone who finds offense at this video to look inside and ask themselves why. Spending a little time in the yogic practices of self-study (svadyaya) and truthfulness (satya) could illuminate some areas of the heart and mind that are in need of opening or relaxing.

(Editor’s Note:  In case you’re wondering, Briohny was once a pop star in her native Thailand.  See one of her music videos below!)

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