How I Learned That Being Thin Is Not a Requirement For Being Good at Yoga

I don’t look like anyone you’ve ever seen posing in Yoga Journal or on Gaiam TV, but I’m good at it.
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Publish date:
February 5, 2015
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Tags:
fitness, motivation, yoga, confidence, body love, Curvy Yoga

The first time I took a yoga class in a mirrored room, I was shocked by what I saw.

What I saw was that I am pretty good at yoga. I don’t look like anyone you’ve ever seen posing in Yoga Journal or on Gaiam TV, but I’m good at it. There are some ways my body just will not fold because of its shape, but there are more ways it surprises me by doing impossible things.

I knew that yoga was a magic spell cast on me the day my Curvy Yoga teacher Joy (aptly named) said we were going to do a plank with one arm and one leg lifted. I had just seen a photo of this exercise a week earlier, and I laughed at how ridiculous it was. Then Joy said to do it, and I did, against all reason and my understanding of physics.

Every body, in every shape and size, has its quirks, especially once it has logged nearly 40 years of use. Mine holds fireballs of tension in my shoulders and lower back. I have fused vertebra in my neck and an arthritic tailbone. These things don’t limit my enthusiasm, but they make themselves known.

For example, I may never feel comfortable in Boat Pose — it just puts too much weight on that already damaged body part. I won’t attempt shoulder stands because it’s not worth the risk to my compromised neck.

But I’ve given up excuses like, “That looks hard,” or “I’ll feel silly.” The hard poses make me feel triumphant; the silly ones release emotional tension and check my ego. If I can’t find my balance one day because a cat is tripping me (why do they love yoga so much?), or if my muscles shake and give up in a pose I did easily a week ago, it all ends the same: take a deep breath and try again another day.

I started practicing yoga in graduate school in the mid-90s. It began as an interest in mindfulness and becoming more present in my body. Yeah, I thought my burgeoning New Age attitude was cool. Let’s stay up all night smoking cigarettes and talking about the Buddha. I knew nothing, but life was all potential, so why not try something new?

When I bought The Modern Book of Yoga by Anne Kent Rush, I had few preconceived notions of what “yoga” meant. I began to teach myself each pose in the book, groaning that I could barely clasp my hands behind me, celebrating a conquered Fish Pose (before my neck issues).

I continued like this for years, with a few videos, more books, and the occasional class to guide me. I found classes intimidating (I didn’t always have this rock star confidence), but I continued to practice at home and even got my husband into it. I did “happy yoga” with the beloved and maligned Steve Ross, tried Stranger-Flopsweat-on-My-Mat Yoga (TM), and craved prenatal yoga when I was pregnant. I subscribed to Gaiam TV so I could do yoga anytime I wanted.

When my daughter was around four months old, we were just on the brink of becoming comfortable with each other, but my nerves we still fairly frazzled from daily responsibilities. Up to that point, I had literally no time to myself.

I read about a new Curvy Yoga class just down the street from my house, and I called to sign up immediately. Committing to a Sunday yoga class when I was so immersed in mothering an infant felt like a slight betrayal at the time, but I had to have that hour. At the end of every class, I thanked Mamie for letting me go, and I thanked my instructor Joy for teaching me each impossible pose.

I assumed Curvy Yoga would be about modifying poses to fit the limitations of bigger bodies. Instead, my instructor focused more on teaching us to abandon mental limitations and explore what our bodies CAN do (with safe modifications when needed). Joy writes on her website, ”I am trying to remove the assumptions that people have about Yoga and just want a student to just be the in a space they have created and see how much more they are capable of."

In the first class, we all introduced ourselves and told briefly why we were there. I felt more welcomed and worthy than I had in other other class experiences. Like the time several years ago when bought a Groupon so I could try out a new studio. After class, I tried to get more information from the receptionist, and she very plainly told me she didn’t have time to help me. I was disgusted, and I didn’t go back. Curvy Yoga classes served my need to feel included in the practice, rather than impersonally directed.

Curvy Yoga messaging emphasizes “body positive” and “body acceptance,” concepts that I am totally on board with since I gave up trashing myself a few years ago. After practicing with Joy for a few months, I had no problem attempting “regular” yoga classes at my gym. Though my body size was at the large end of the spectrum, my abilities and motivation fit easily within the range of those around me.

Recently, Joy asked me if I had ever considered teaching yoga. It was like she had peered through the keyhole at my locked-away aspirations. Until I met her and witnessed the recent rise of Curvy Yoga, I didn’t imagine other people would allow me to lead them in yoga, even if I was perfectly capable of practicing on my own.

Now I see attitudes toward bigger fitness enthusiasts changing, and minds opening to the possibility of exercise role models in all shapes. When Joy asked if I wanted to teach and told me I had the right energy for it, she gave me permission to daydream about One Day.