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A Mat of One's Own

Weeks before I picked up Girlvana, I went to my first hot yoga class and was embarrassed by the buckets of sweat pouring out of me (especially next to the even-keeled yogis who moved through the flow with light dew on their brows). After reading this book, I got a mat of my own with the understanding that yoga isn’t about looking cute, it’s about taking a moment to be in my body, to be with myself.

The exercises peppered throughout the book are less intensely instructional than gently encouraging. Through simple, casual, and low-pressure guides, Maz turns yoga and mindfulness exercises that I’d previously found intimidating into something I feel confident practising with intention.

Girlvana by Ally Maz is both a book I wish I had read when I was a teenager and one I’m grateful to have found at the age of 25.

While Mid-twenty-year-old-vana doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, this guidebook to self-love and yoga will resonate with readers well beyond their teens. Girlvana empowers readers to take up more space and make the world a better place. Ally Maz applies the traditional Eastern principles of yoga to a modern Western context, discussing how the virtues of yoga can help navigate a world overwhelmed by the media’s precipitation of self-criticism in young women.

The author shares her personal experience with disordered eating and trauma, introspectively detailing her journey to self-compassion through yoga. Her relatable voice illustrates yoga as something accessible and inclusive to everyone, never condescending the reader for not already having mastered the warrior pose. As someone who loves yoga but has also felt judged and out of place in studio classes, I appreciated the author’s emphasis on yoga as an act of patience and acceptance.

Girlvana also includes educational sections that speak to the origins of yoga and its appropriation by white cultures for capital gain. Yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry, most of these dollars benefiting white folks who have appropriated South Asian teachings and practices. I was glad to read this acknowledgement, but I feel that more recognition could have been paid to the violation of India and Indians through the white-washing of this spiritual practice. As the author doesn’t shy away from sharing personal experiences in other chapters, I would have welcomed an acknowledgement from Maz about how she has personally benefitted from her white privilege in her yoga practice.

Maz touches on white privilege, intersectional feminism, and allyship, encouraging readers to use whatever privilege they might have for good. The author promotes values of compassion, equity, and kindness in an accessible way that would have inspired me when I was younger and looking to role models for guidance. Plus, she gets real about important stuff that not every teen gets to learn, from periods to consent.

While this is a book targeted at teens, I resonated deeply with the content. In a sea of self-help books touting cure-alls, Girlvana stands apart, never pretending that yoga will “fix” the reader — that isn’t the goal. The author mentions that feelings can be hard, and talking to a counsellor, therapist, or trusted adult is a great start when working through some of the tougher subjects. Young women are shamed for feeling their feelings, being in their bodies, and taking up space; by framing these experiences as healthy rites of passage, this text creates a safe space for positive change.

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