There are more resources than ever about yoga for plus-size women. Green Mountain at Fox Run interviews Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga, about why it’s great for every shape, size and ability. Namaste!
Anna, why did you start practicing yoga?
I think some kind of bodily discomfort (pain, injury, inflexibility, etc.) brings many people to yoga, and that was certainly the case for me. I started practicing yoga because I was in significant pain from chronic migraines.
I was desperate to find anything that might help me, so I decided to give yoga a whirl.
How has yoga been an important part of helping you love your body?
Yoga has given me an actual tool to help me get in touch with and love my body. I can’t overstate how essential this has been for me. I’d spent years completely disconnected from my body, so when I started the journey to love it, I literally had no idea where to start. I was very unaware of how I felt – physically, emotionally, you name it.
So yoga really brought me into my body. I know this sounds silly, but it’s something we often overlook. If we’re not in touch with our bodies in a clear way, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to come into a warmer relationship with them.
This is not something that can solely be approached from the head/mind, although certainly things like therapy have been very important on my own journey. I truly believe without yoga, though (or some other form of movement/embodiment practice that you enjoy), I wouldn’t have been able to make the transition from loathing toward loving on the body acceptance spectrum.
What were some of your original frustrations around yoga?
While the stress-relieving benefits of yoga did help me tremendously with my migraines, it didn’t come without challenge. As someone with a curvy body, I assumed the people I saw on my yoga tapes were the types of people who “really” practiced yoga.
I felt like an imposter most of the time, and I assumed I wouldn’t truly “get” yoga until I reached some fantasy weight and became tall (never gonna happen for me) and lithe like the folks I saw. So my frustration really came from feeling like my body was the problem.
How did you turn yoga into something that worked for your body instead of trying to make your body work for yoga?
Over time, I just realized – “Hey, wait a minute. What if the problem isn’t my body?” That was a radical moment. From then on, I started gathering all the information I could (which was even more limited then, 12+ years ago) about how I could practice yoga that worked for my body.
What I learned was that the problem definitely wasn’t my body. The problem was that none of my teachers knew how to teach someone with a non-pretzel body, so once I began learning it for myself, I knew I wanted to share it with others, too. Yoga is a transformational practice of mind, body and spirit, and it shouldn’t be kept away from anyone, no matter their shape, size, age or ability.
You have been on 65 diets. Was exercise just another diet (e.g. just a means to lose weight) once upon a time?
Oh, definitely! I’d say for most of my life I saw exercise as something I had to do – or worse, something I should do. It never really occurred to me that some people do it because they actually like it.
What really helped me break that chain between exercise and weight loss was yoga. Yoga was the first form of movement I’d done that made me feel really good and that I enjoyed. Over time, it became something I did for the love of it, not for any weight loss goal.
Where can women who want to learn more about Curvy Yoga get started? I have some great resources on my site that folks can check out, including online videos, free podcasts and recommended reading/DVD lists. In addition, I host a list of teachers offering size-positive yoga on my site, including teachers who have been trained specifically in Curvy Yoga.
What are a few simple considerations for larger-bodied women who want to start doing yoga? I think the main thing is to know that yoga truly is for every body. That may not be the image we see in mainstream magazines, but it is a transformative practice that is available to you.
If you are looking for a class in your local area and don’t find someone on my list, you might like to call/email ahead of time and share any needs you have with the teacher. That gives you a chance to get to know them a bit.
Remember that there are lots of yoga teachers out there, so if you don’t find someone you click with on the first try, keep going. It can take a bit of trying, but you have the right to find a teacher who is welcoming and happy to help you practice safely and comfortably.
Anna Guest-Jelley, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is the Founder of Curvy Yoga, where she writes and teaches about yoga and embodiment as the foundations of a live well-lived (and body well-loved). She is also the Editor of Curvy Voices, a compilation of 36 stories about body acceptance and yoga (download it for free on her site).
Leave your questions/comments for Anna below!