I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, as some of you may be unfamiliar with my work at The People’s Yoga. I am the creator and teacher of Yoga for Bigger Bodies. This yoga class was created when I noticed the absence of support for people living in larger bodies. It was created because I witnessed and experienced negative body talk firsthand from the yoga world at large. Yoga, which was in my mind supposed to be healing and supportive, was in fact causing larger bodied people to feel segregated, unworthy, and shamed. Through my work as a yoga instructor, counselor, and body advocate, I have become aware of thin privilege and its pervasiveness throughout the yoga industry and society.
As we all know, fat bias exists. The yoga industry, which claims that yoga is about acceptance and compassion, continually participates in body hatred and weight stigma. Lululemon, for instance, has been known for telling consumers that their clothes “don’t work for certain women’s bodies” and Yoga Journal has never had a larger bodied person on their cover. You can find micro-aggressions everywhere. I consistently hear teachers and students talking about the food they need to burn off or the weight they have to lose. The perfectionism that has come with some of today’s yoga has led to serious body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and incredible amounts of shame. More importantly, this “unattainable” yoga has narrowed the perceived gap of who can and cannot practice yoga.
Body conversations can be heated and no doubt you have your own opinions. But, I believe that through yoga we can be present to and recognize our body privilege whether it is based on our weight, height, color, gender, or able-bodiedness. Yoga has not only helped me reclaim my body trust and acceptance, but it has given me the lens to non-judgmentally work with all bodies no matter their size or shape.
In Yoga for Bigger Bodies, we support open dialogue about what it is like to live in our bodies; we spend time focusing on poses that feel supportive and attainable. We laugh and we cry, and from this we have created an incredible community of yogis and yoginis.
As a yoga instructor, I feel like people look at my body for inspiration but also as a reflection and comparison of their own bodies. This is the part of yoga that I dread the most because I am anything but perfect. I skip out on my yoga practice, I drink, I get angry, I hate my body sometimes, I can’t do a handstand to save my life, and I sometimes don’t do shavasana. I recognize that the yoga I practice may not be the same as the yoga that might fulfill your soul and your body. Finding the style that fits you is incredibly empowering and life changing.
One of my students from Yoga for Bigger Bodies reflected on her journey saying, “I’m kinder and gentler to myself. I feel better about my body, and I’ve been able to get out of my head and live in it more.” This is the true practice of yoga and it is an honor to assist clients in finding this freedom.
My body might look different than yours and that’s okay. The experience that I have in my body might be different than yours and that’s okay. But, what makes us the same is that I too live in a body. I have had body hatred, injury, and trauma as well as love, joy, and enlightenment. And, because of my personal experience, I cannot tell you what to feel, but I can offer you pathways to the feeling experience. Everything else is up to you and what you open yourself up to. Because of yoga, I have begun to love, trust, and experience my body in a completely new way. I know that all beings can have that experience as well, no matter the shape or size. Yoga is not about being perfect. Yoga is about sitting in the discomfort of being imperfect.
I promise to honor and support all of my students in their journey with their bodies no matter the shape and size or whether or not you have body love or body hatred. Simply trusting in the body’s possibilities will bring you into deeper connection with yourself, your community, and your heart.
Much of my work is based off of the incredible work by Dr. Linda Bacon who is the leader and creator of Health At Every Size© (HAES). Along with HAES communities around the globe, I try to break down the idea that “thin” equates “health.” Health comes in all shapes, no matter what the medical world might tell you. If you want more information about HAES and its resources, please check out www.haescommunity.org.
Eve Ensler is right on when she says, “Be radical: Love your body!” This is not easy work because it is fighting against the systems that are setup around us and the habitual critics that lives within us. Finding radical acceptance for one’s body might take time and practice, but that is the beauty of Yoga; it is a practice. Let’s create a revolution, and let all bodies enjoy yoga and love their bodies no matter what they look like!
Join Yoga for Bigger Bodies teacher Julie Westlin-Naigus for a restorative, nurturing, and soul enriching YBB Retreat on June 12th-14th at Coastal Mountain Sport Haus. Come nourish your body, mind and spirit and invite changes that will continue to unfold once you return home! Registration ends on May 9th, so sign up now!