A few weeks ago I read a really interesting blog post about yoga and body image. The post really tugged on my emotions and got me thinking about how people of different shapes and sizes experience yoga and I feel compelled to respond to it.
I should start by saying that I’ve never been fat. I’ve only ever had a thin body with varying degrees of fitness. However I’ve struggled quite profoundly with my own body image and perception of my body. I’ve gone through long periods of hating my body and periods of tentative tolerance. Only recently have I begun to make peace with my body’s appearance and ability, and I truly believe that yoga has played a huge part in that.
I have spoken with many friends who are bigger than me, and they have told of similar experiences to those described in the article mentioned above. Hearing those stories was heartbreaking for me. Not only because I don’t like to hear about people being shamed or discriminated against because of their size, but because I find it upsetting that these people are being excluded from a practice that could truly help them to accept and love their bodies.
I find yoga to be an exceptionally healing and energizing practice. The reason I’ve stuck with it for so long is that it not only exercises my body, but it calms my mind as well. I’ve found so much peace and acceptance during sessions on my mat. It sounds a bit silly, but it’s the truth. Here are some of the ways that yoga has helped me to create a better relationship with my body:
– I’ve learned to focus on what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. I’ve learned to appreciate all the amazing things that my body is capable of and rejoice when I manage to reach a little further or balance with a bit more stability.
– Yoga is very introspective. It’s not a competition to see who can bend further or get into the most mind-bending poses. It’s about scanning your own body and working with yourself to create space and ease in each pose. It’s about noticing pockets of tension and gently working them out. It’s about easing into a pose over time, rather than cranking yourself into a certain shape.
– Over time, yoga has helped to tone my body. I’m much stronger, my posture is better and I feel more balanced than I did before I began practicing regularly.
It is my belief that yoga should be for everybody. There are so many different styles and types that there should be a variety of yoga that is suited for your particular body and abilities. It shouldn’t matter what shape or size you are, or how old you are, or if you have limited mobility. Yoga is a wonderful practice that should be accessible to anyone who wants to give it a go. And I find it upsetting that so many teachers and classes have turned it into a competition, or are peppering their classes with discrimination and shame. If you’re interested in trying yoga, but are worried about feeling left out, self-conscious or being discriminated against there are a few things that I can suggest.
– First of all, research different yoga classes in your area. Some gyms and yoga centres offer a variety of classes which target different groups. You might find that there is an awesome Fat Yoga class in your area, or a group that specially caters for people who are recovering from injuries. Do your homework and see what’s available.
– If you can’t find a specially targeted class, consider arranging a meeting with the teacher of a beginners class in your area. Chat with them about your concerns and highlight any areas that you are likely to struggle with. Then ask whether they can keep these in mind when planning the class. If they are rude to you or if you feel like you might be treated poorly during the class, don’t go.
– If there are certain poses that you find difficult or impossible, try researching some variations to common poses. Many of the most basic yoga poses can be targeted to different levels of fitness, strength or flexibility. Use these variations during class when you come to a pose that is difficult for you.
– Try practicing at home. I find it much easier to practice when I’m by myself. I’m less likely to compare myself to others and I find that I’m more focused on my practice when I’m by myself.
– Look for at-home yoga videos that are size positive. One of my favourite channels which I recommend to everyone is Yoga with Adrienne. I love her videos because she gives loads of variations of poses for different levels and her videos focus on achieving the sensation of each pose, rather than attaining the perfect form. She uses body-positive language and is really laid-back in her approach.
– Add a short meditation to the end of each practice, where you thank your body for all that it’s done and congratulate yourself on any progress. I find it’s also helpful to give myself a little pep talk on days when I feel as though I’ve gone backwards with my yoga. Taking the time to nurture yourself and doing that positive self-talk is very helpful.
Yoga is something that has helped me so much with my self esteem and body confidence. It truly angers me that certain groups are being left out of this practice because of their size and abilities. Yoga is for everyone, and nobody should be made to feel less-than when giving it a go.
Anyone you know with this problem, I HIGHLY recommend YogaVidya on youtube. I am size 18 and have a hormonal imbalance that makes it where I can not lose weight, but I still like to be in shape anyway. I do yoga using their videos as there is nowhere around here that gives classes. When I first started, their “Yoga for Complete Beginners” video was my BIBLE and the instructor’s voice is so soothing that the video actually put my husband to sleep once, lol. It is so low-impact that I really didn’t even realize how flexible I was getting, but before I knew it, I could hold every move like a pro and was able to advance to one of their more difficult videos. They also have an amazing online community on their website. It helps my anxiety, my depression, my back pain (thank you double d’s), and so much more. Yoga is amazing and is NOT size-restrictive.
Thank you so much for sharing this link. I have never checked out YogaVidya but I am now adding them to my favourites list.
It’s so awesome that you’ve found a resource that works for you. It’s an amazing feeling when you notice progress in your practice, and I’m so happy for you that you’ve also noticed that yoga helps with anxiety, depression and chronic pain. Having a great online community is also fantastic, because you feel more supported in your practice.
Thanks once again for sharing this awesome-sauce resource.
Thanks for this post Vanessa! My anxiety has been out of control recently and I think maybe yoga will help – but I’m a total beginner! I’m scared that going to a class will set my anxiety off again and I’ll have to leave 😦 I tried the beginner yoga video by Adrienne a few days ago (coincidentally) and it was pretty nice but gosh that girl is like a pretzel! I’m about as flexible as a plank of wood. Do you think that yoga has helped your anxiety?
I definitely think that yoga has helped my anxiety. Not only because of the exercise and the endorphins, but it has helped me to develop some great techniques that help when I’m feeling stressed. One thing that I’ve really learned through yoga is to have a greater awareness of my body. During yoga, you constantly scan your body to notice any pockets of tension and work them out. You make sure that your posture is supported, that you aren’t clenching your jaw and that your shoulders aren’t scrunched up around your ears. You are also encouraged to follow your breath and pay attention to the ebb and flow of breathing. I’ve begun to notice that I do this “scanning” of my body and breath during the day, and I’m quicker to notice when I’m becoming anxious and how that anxiety feels physically. It’s much easier to get control of it when I notice early on.
And don’t worry too much if you aren’t as flexible as the instructor in the video. Every body is different and yours might just need a bit of nurturing to loosen up. Keep on trying!
Thanks for the vote of confidence 🙂 I really intend to try some more soon. I’m also trying to keep fitter in other ways and that seems to help too. Keep it up!!