Yoga is a practice for every ‘body’ regardless of size
Type #yogaeveryday into Instagram and you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘yoga’ is an exclusive club for thin beauties to parade the latest activewear. Their tight butts and perfectly executed arm balances are enough to intimidate even the most seasoned yogi.
“Modern media has perpetuated an untrue perception that only a certain type of person, with a particular body type, does and can practice yoga,” says Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Brigitte Kouba.
After a life-changing discovery of yoga in university, Brigitte was keen to share the benefits of yoga with others, but was overwhelmed by the pressure to be thin.
“I felt this incredible looming stereotype of what a yogi is. I didn’t identify physically with the person,” she says. “As yoga got more popular, I kept seeing that image. I kept saying, ‘When I lose 20 pounds (9kg), I’ll take a teacher training.’”
Instead of succumbing to pressure, Brigitte spearheaded the ‘body-positive’ yoga movement, co-founding the Yoga and Body Image Coalition (YBIC), an organisation that promotes an inclusive yoga culture that is non-intimidating and accessible to all.
Thankfully, a new wave of large and limber ladies are challenging notions of the perfect ‘yoga body’, making the practice more accessible to people of all shapes and sizes.
Instafamous stars such such as Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) and Valerie Sagun (@biggalyoga) are flooding social feeds with their voluptuous vinyasas and inspirational hashtags such as #yogaforeverybody.
Closer to home, Sarah Harry is paving the way for full-figured men and women to embrace the practice.
“I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years and working as a trained yoga teacher for the last three years, but I don’t have a ‘yoga body,’” she said in an op-ed for Mamamia.
“Truth be told, I’m fat. I have rolls, curves and wobbly bits. And that’s fine with me. I’m a Fat Yogini and proud of it.”
“I’m not alone in believing yoga should be accessible to all bodies, even those that don’t fit the image of a thin, young, white, able-bodied woman wearing size eight Lululemon pants. Yoga is a practice for everyone.”
Sarah is not only a yoga teacher, she is also a body image and disordered eating specialist.
“It was a shock to me that such a beautiful and ancient practice, which is based on pillars of compassion and reflection, has become a place for body shaming,” said the clinical psychotherapist.
Tired of the norm, Sarah teamed up with with Emily Doyle to launch Fat Yoga, a studio for “anyone who identifies as fat.”
“I started the first Fat Yoga class because I was keenly aware of the barriers to people with fat bodies participating in mainstream yoga classes,” says Emily.
“It wasn’t just about instructors who may not know how to offer support and modifications for fat bodies, or the fat-shaming talk, advertising and conversation around exercise and yoga; but the sense that you are different to everyone else in the room and acutely aware of it.”
Fat Yoga is breaking down the stigma one chatarunga at a time, providing a non-threatening space for people of all sizes to learn yoga and share the experience with “other fatties”.
The choice of the word ‘fat’ was intentional, falling in line with the fat activist movement and the idea that the word shouldn’t be used in a pejorative sense.
“Fat is just a characteristic, like ‘tall’ or ‘short’. It’s not a slur… I wanted to call a spade a spade, let people know that it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of or pretend didn’t exist or matter, and make it clear just who these classes were for,” Emily said.
The movement is also redefining what it means to be healthy.
According to Dr Linda Bacon, people need to start embracing the bodies they have rather than attempting to fit into the unrealistic stick-thin ideal that is promoted by mass media.
“We hear in the news all the time about an obesity epidemic and how people are dying of obesity,” she says. “It’s just not true. What is true is that people are heavier than they used to be but what’s also true is that we’re living longer than ever before.”
It’s not about promoting obesity, it’s about recognising that health is more than a physical trait.
“The problem with aligning exercise and weight loss is that then we put a whole lot of pressure on the only benefit of exercise is a way to lose weight,” says Dr Bacon. “The benefits of exercise are so enormous.”
Anyone who gets down on the mat regularly can’t argue with that – the mental benefits of yoga far outweigh a sculpted core. The practice can help us to relax, to breathe and most importantly to be kind to ourselves. It is a message of self-love that should be available to us all.
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