When this image first started going around the social media circles, a friend shared it with me. And I'll admit that my first reaction was...
...because, as anyone who knows me will attest, I really have always had a deep fondness for these single-horned mythological treasures.
But my next thought was... wait... what is the message here, really?
When you really look at this picture, you might think - ooh, inspiring. This rhino refuses to give up no matter what because he is determined to be a Unicorn.
And then, if you really take a step back, you can see that there is something deeply, deeply problematic with this image and what is wrong with IT is what is, at its core, what is wrong with the diet and weight-loss culture. When looked at with a critical eye, this image beautifully illustrates exactly why we should take a step back from all the messaging we get about how we should all be trying to be thinner.
That adorable animal on the treadmill is a rhino, and a darn cute rhino at that. And yet, somehow he hopes that if he works hard enough, he'll become a unicorn. A unicorn.
Think about that for a moment.
Not only is he trying to become something else entirely - which we all know can never be possible, no matter how hard he works, but in this example - the creature he's trying to become doesn't even actually exist.
If that isn't an excellent summary of the diet and weight-loss trap that so many of us end up in, I don't know what is.
There is nothing heartwarming about this image. Actually, everything about it is heartbreaking.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we try so hard to be something we aren't?
The answer, for so many of us, is because we think our happiness lies on the other side of that dream. We think that if we could only be or have whatever it is we think we're supposed to be or have, then everything would just get easier.
But the reality is, the hardest and best journey you can take, is the one to accepting and loving yourself as you are.
Where that gets confusing for people is we think that if we accept ourselves, somehow we're giving up on the idea that we could ever change or grow or be healthier or whatever it is we'd like to be more of. But is that really true?
I can tell you, from experience....
I think, the opposite is true - that accepting yourself makes it even more possible to improve your health and well-being.
I haven't stepped on a scale in years. I couldn't tell you how much I weigh right now. But I do know that, through practicing and teaching Yoga, I am stronger, healthier, more fit. I can take deeper breaths. I have more stamina. I sleep better. I feel that I have more vitality. My posture is better. My focus and balance are better. And none of those "results" have required that I give up on who I am.
So, what's the answer, when you're looking for an image to motivate you to go after what you want and still accept who you are?
How about this one:
This is one of the quotes that really stands out to me from my most recent adventure: Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training.
Wow. What a wild ride. For the past 12 days I have been soaking up everything I can... so much knowledge about pregnancy, labour, birth, and motherhood. I've learned about vaginal birth and cesarean births, home births and hospital births, births with doctors, mid-wives, doulas, and births in the water and births with music, and so so so much more.
But I've also learned more than I ever could have thought possible, in an experiential way, about the power of community and connection - of being accepted exactly as you are in a circle of women that is healing and supportive and full of admiration, respect and reverence.
I've made lifelong friends - of that I am sure.
I've come away not only with knowledge of yoga poses and alignment and making the physical practice of Yoga safe for pregnant mammas, but I've learned how to offer tools to pregnant women that will help them in their labour, their birth - and beyond: tools to empower women to trust themselves, to accept their own power, to embrace and trust their innate intuition and inner authority and to have a pregnancy, labour, and birth experience that will be meaningful for them for the long term.
I've seen (and experienced), first hand what happens when women claim their power, when they stand up and say YES, I can do this. YES, I deserve unconditional love and acceptance. YES, I can be fierce. YES, I can forge my own path even when surrounded by dozens of people telling me how I should experience my life. And these are the tools I am excited to offer - not only to pregnant mammas in the prenatal yoga I will offer at the studio, but with all the people I teach.
I know that these past 12 days have not only changed my teaching, but also my life.
Yes, when women embrace their power - their innate inner wisdom - they are amazing to behold. And wow - what they can accomplish. I am moved and I am humbled and I am in awe and deeply, deeply grateful.
Have you ever had something happen, some turning point, that feels like it's been a moment in the making for a long long time?
That's how I felt recently, when I found myself on the back of a horse for the first time in almost 20 years.
It was a powerful series of events that brought me there, almost like signs - pointing me in that direction. But it was surreal.
I grew up loving horses. I loved being near them. I loved touching their velvety noses. The first time I got the chance to ride one, was on the beach when I was 10 years old. I cried. Pure joy.
A couple years later, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a close friend who owned horses. I helped her muck out stalls and we got to ride the horses a little here and there. It was one of the most memorable summers of my life.
And then, when I was around 15 years old, my family went back to the beach and mom decided to take us on one of those beachside horse rides. My mom, dad, and little sister were already matched up and mounted on their horses and the horse handler was getting ready to find me one when he told me something along the lines of.... "You know, if you're too fat, you can hurt the horse when you ride.... I better get you a bigger horse." and then off he went to find me a "bigger" horse. I rode that day - and cried again. This time, not from joy, but because I was devestated to learn that my fat body could potentially harm these animals I loved so much.
I was somewhere between a size 9 and 12 at that time in my life. Chubby, sure, but hardly huge! And it never occurred to me that the dude was being a jerk. Maybe he thought he was helping me? Maybe he thought that his little comment would "encourage" me to lose some weight since I seemed to love horses so much? I don't know. All I DO know is that I never went near horses again after that day. I couldn't stand the idea that I might hurt them.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a fabulous body positive blog: A Fat Girl and a Fat Horse
The day I found that blog was the first day I allowed myself to think about horses since that day at the beach. Suddenly, I was face to face with the idea that the dude on the beach may just have been wrong. That maybe my body wouldn't hurt the animals that I love so much. This blog showed me that there were many plus size riders out there. There are many different kinds of horses out there and many breeds are perfectly strong enough to carry a curvy girl rider. I mean, just think about the men with all that armor back in the day - or some of those big ol' cowboys!! There was just a lot of stigma against heavier-set female riders - just as there is a lot of stigma and stereotypes in Yoga.
After that, I kept running into people who rode horses, owned horses, or loved horses. They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. One day, when I was teaching a public yoga class I ran into a curvy girl who mentioned getting back into riding recently. We chatted a bit and then afterward I couldn't stop thinking about the idea that the possibility of riding again might exist. So I asked her if she'd give me some advice on where I could consider riding again... just to see.
This student called me one day to excitedly tell me about - of all things - a body positive place to ride just around 30 minutes from where I live. No way. But sure enough - there it was. The Grene Wode.
When I went to their website for the first time, I cried again. This time - with relief. They had pictures on their website of bigger-bodied people on their horses! Finally.
I took a friend with me and went out one day for a lesson and to meet the stable manager. Being on the back of a horse (a beautiful black Percheron named Tascha) again was amazing. Almost unbelievable to be honest. This experience has bloomed into a regular weekly lesson - and me offering Body Positivity Yoga classes at the stable! What a fabulous chain of events.
he picture at the beginning of this post is me with Tascha. You may not be able to see it - but I'm grinning like a fool.
I can't believe how time has been flying!! It seems like just the other day that I was planning for the holidays. Now, they've come and gone and we're at the beginning of a brand new year!
2013 was a big, and a hard, year - both for me and for Body Positivity Yoga. I launched my public group classes at the beginning of the year under a model of offering what I could, where I could.
Before I knew it, I was teaching all over the place. At one point I had ongoing classes in Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, Surrey, and occasionally elsewhere! Phew! It got exhausting but I also found that it was hard finding good, stable locations to offer classes.
Every space I got came with its own unique challenges. In the process, I learned a lot about what I found to be a really great space to teach and practice Yoga in and where the challenges to that space arose. I also learned that there are an awful lot of people out there looking for a gentler, more accessible Yoga practice - and only one of me! :)
And so, much much sooner than I thought I'd be ready, I began looking into the possibility of opening my own space. A place that could grow... and a place that could be a place to teach the Body Positivity Yoga method to other teachers so that I could offer MORE. And thus, a long term goal was put into place, hardly without realizing it had even happened.
My dream is to see Body Positivity Yoga grow and grow so that we can serve all the students out there who are tired of only finding Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and athleticized varieties of Yoga. Gentle is the new Advanced and the people who need Yoga most are not always looking to get the most extreme workout they can - they come to the practice looking for something else.... less stress... more connectedness with self, a way to manage chronic pain or heal from injuries.
And so I am very excitedly taking the first step to growing. And I'd like you all to come along for the ride!! :) Watch this space, my newsletter, and my Facebook and Twitter feeds for updates. It's going to be epic. Just you wait and see!
"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
So you might have noticed that Body Positivity Yoga is now The Fat Yogini. Let me tell you why...
Some days, it seems like just yesterday that I was practicing Yoga in my jammies in the early hours of the morning to a well-used VHS tape - in secret.
That was actually a very long time ago; around twelve or thirteen years ago, though I am fairly sure that I've lost count by now. What I do know is that I was absolutely terrified to tell anyone I was practicing Yoga. I was sure that whomever I told would explode in guffaws of laughter at the idea of a short fat girl like me in Downward Facing Dog or Tree Pose.
But still, eventually I grew braver and knew that I wanted to talk about my experiences. And so I considered blogging. It was then that I came up with the name "Fat Yogini". I started blogging privately and called it "Diary of a Fat Yogini", sure that I would share it with someone, someday. Eventually, I did - but only with my closest friends.
But I continued to fondly think of myself as the Fat Yogini. It was a playful moniker that made me feel like I was reclaiming something that I once thought of as negative as a beautiful thing not because of itself necessarily but because it was a part of me. To my delight, that sense of self-appreciation continued to grow. And now, sometimes, I hardly recognize myself! And yet I see myself more clearly now than I ever did before.
And that is what makes this path to Body Acceptance, to Body Positivity so amazing, and so transformational. But it isn't without fear. It isn't without faltering. And I have days that are hard, too.
I'll be honest. When I began my path to become a Yoga teacher, I thought I was as confident as I could possibly be. I loved myself and had come as far as I could on this body-loving journey. Little did I know how much more growing I would do. That I still need to do. Reality check.
So, the process of naming my business has really been a sort of Evolution. It began with an idea. A dream. I wanted to share my story and bring this journey of a beautiful practice and a surprisingly aligned path to body acceptance together into a cohesive whole that people could relate to. I had a crystal clear vision of my dream but no idea what to call it so that other people would see it too. So I tried on one name and then another and finally settled with Body Positivity Yoga.
But then a friend recently asked me why I'd never claimed the name, The Fat Yogini, for who I am as a Teacher. His question caught me off guard, but once I could look past my fear of change and, to some degree - vulnerability, it also really hit home. I had been The Fat Yogini for many years. I just wasn't sure I "should" call my business that.
In the process of teaching, I find that I always have so much more to learn. I learn from my students. I learn from other teachers. But one of the most impactful things I've learned so far, is that the best thing I can do as a Teacher is to be authentically me, even when that is a bit scary. The time for "shoulds" is over. Teaching Yoga is about authenticity and vulnerability and recognizing that life, Yoga, and body acceptance are each a process - a practice, maybe even an evolution.
While Body Positivity Yoga is the Yoga that I practice and that I teach, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am. I have a story. We all do. My story is about The Fat Yogini. And THAT is what I am so passionate about sharing with all of you.
And so I have come back to where it all began. Only this time, there is no fear - only a feeling of elation and empowerment.
Lisa, The Fat Yogini
I am featured in today’s edition of The Vancouver Sun – one of the biggest local newspapers in the area! It’s great news! I was super-pumped for this article to come out.
Yet here I am, admitting to all of you that what I really wanted to do when I saw the article this morning, was cry.
I had a blast during the interview, talking about my passion for body positivity and yoga. The reporter jotted notes furiously throughout our conversation and verified several quotes. It was a surprisingly positive experience. I didn’t feel led in any way and I feel like the reporter took the time to understand my position.
After the interview, she sent out a photographer to take a bunch of photos of me doing yoga so they could pick one for the article. The photographer was nice, got me to relax, and got so many really, really great pose photos. The weather had cooperated. It was a beautiful day and my feet were planted on my mat on a huge expanse of bright green grass with a gorgeous blue sky above me and sunlight just lighting me up from head to toe. I felt like a supermodel! Especially as I heard the shutter clicking away and the photographer calling out “That’s just BEAUTIFUL!”. The whole experience felt amazing from start to finish.
Knowing that the article was scheduled for today's edition of the paper, I rushed to the store this morning to pick up my copy. The article is fairly well done, all things considered. I’m not in love with the title because the term “super-size” has negative connotations and subtly perpetuates the fast-food eating fat people stereotype. But in general, all of us who were interviewed for the article shared a common goal – to create a safe, healthy, welcoming space for people of size to get healthier, regardless of any weight-loss and I think that message came across in the article, edits and all.
But when I saw the picture of me, my heart sunk and I got that tight, restricted feeling in the pit of my belly. Here I was, looking at a picture of myself in the newspaper. Something that probably thousands (or more!?) people will see. And I don’t like the picture.
The photographer took just a very few frames of me in Warrior II pose from this diagonal-to-me angle. When he showed me the photos quickly near the end I loved almost every single one. Except that one.
So seeing that particular photo in the paper set off a major internal rant. And so the monologue of negativity began: This angle is wrong! Warrior II is usually pictured from the side. I'm squinting and not smiling. It looks like I'm straining, not at all easeful in the pose, even though I was. I was squinting into the sun which was probably the reason for the scrunched not-smiling face. My belly looks all soft and relaxed in front, in spite of the fact that my core was engaged, making it look larger than it normally does, my alignment looks funny but I know I set up the pose properly. Where is all the beautiful grass and sky and trees that surrounded me? I really don't like the angle...
It seemed neverending and I was sure that I could never run out of bad things to say about the photo, which is kind of counter to the entire point - which was to show realistic images of me, a fat yogini, doing yoga. One of the things I was most excited about was the chance to be a source of some real representation in media of what is possible in a larger body. So why was I freaking out about my belly looking large when that is exactly the point of it all?
And the answer to that question is this: because I've spent many more years hating my body than I have loving it.
Self-love is hard. It’s not like you snap your fingers one day and you suddenly love your body. Body acceptance and body-love and confidence are things that have taken a great deal of work and that work isn’t finished. It probably won't ever be finished. It’s a journey. And, just like any other transformative process, some days are going to be easier and some, harder. And so, today, it's a harder day.
I have never felt so exposed or so vulnerable as I do today. But putting myself out there is exactly what I want and need to be doing. It’s what I am passionate about.
Putting myself on display, as a fat yogini and Yoga teacher is how I show the rest of the world that being fat doesn’t have to stop you from living your life or following your dreams. It is by being willing to be highly visible, by walking the talk, that I hope to inspire and motivate others to live life fully and completely, right now.
The truth is, I probably would have felt uncomfortable no matter which photo they chose to print. Because it's really not about the photo at all. It's about the fear of living my life unapologetically within a society that expects me to be embarrassed and ashamed of my size.
And so, I am going to do what I advised in the previous article. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to breathe right through the discomfort. Because I am also aware that this article represents a turning point for me and my teaching. I am on the cusp of setting up public group classes. Things are happening and momentum is building. What began, for me, as a teeny tiny baby dream is becoming a reality. And that is the magic and the joy of this process.
So I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m reminding myself that I am strong, I am confident, I am beautiful, and I am okay – exactly as I am. I’m reminding myself that I am safe and that this is just one more awesome step in the journey to living my passion.
And, once I’ve broken through the discomfort, I know that what I will feel is proud: proud of myself for doing what I love, for standing up for what I believe in, and for following my dreams – no matter how scary that path is sometimes.
This coming Wednesday is Love Your Body Day! Amazingly,, this will be its 15th year!! How awesome is that?
While I encourage you to love your body every single day of your life - it often is helpful to have a special reminder that you are perfect just the way you are., and that the advertising and representations seen in popular media are not at all a true reflection of what your body should be.
Loving your body, in a society that trains us to think of our bodies as never good enough, is hard work! It isn't usually something that you just flip the switch on and suddenly start thinking "I'm FABULOUS" every time you see your reflection in the mirror. Usually. I'm sure it happens for some people, I'm just throwing it out there that for most of us, it's a practice. And it takes commitment.
To illustrate this, I wanted to share something that I experienced recently that reminded me that this is a journey - every single day.
I recently had two new yoga experiences, both of which I had been avoiding to a certain degree for some time: hot yoga and an intermediate detox flow class that one of my favourite teachers offers several times a year. In both cases, I had been intimidated on several levels by the idea of going. On some level, I'm sure I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up, and on another level it is always scary going into a "new" yoga environment as I once again walk into the class as (usually) the only fat yogini in the room. I tend to be cautious, dipping my toe into new experiences a bit at a time.
The reality is, that I am almost always pleasantly surprised by my experiences. I just sometimes need a little nudge to get me there.
With the hot yoga, it was one of my Bear students who provided the nudge. He was going and offered me a free pass to check it out with him. We made arrangements to meet up for a hot yin yoga class, which felt accessible to me.
With the detox flow class, I knew it was going to be challenging, but my instructor, Ariel, was very encouraging and told me I could totally handle it. She nudged.
I was surprised by both of these experiences.
At hot yoga, I discovered that while the heat was intimidating when I first stepped into the studio, that I found it pretty soothing once we got into the poses. And, I didn't feel self concious about sweating because everyone was sweating or expected to sweat in hot yoga. I had borrowed a yoga mat towel and found that because I wans't worrying about sweat making my mat slippery (or the ick factor of dripping all over everything), that I relaxed about the sweating and actually enjoyed it. Who knew!?
I decided to try using the yoga towel when I went to the detox flow class as well, and found that, once again - I was way less "stressed" about sweating. Another thing I learned at the detox class was that I don't give myself nearly enough credit for my capabilities sometimes! Yes, I was the only fat yogini in the room. But, I also noticed that when I had to modify something it was not because I was not capable or strong or flexible, but because my body just isn't shaped the same. So, my thighs hit my belly sooner than for someone else because I have more thigh and more belly. So what? When I skipped a down dog or did knees down for plank, was I getting a less effective or less meaningful experience than my down doggin', plankin' classmates? Of course not! My abs were working hard, my arms and shoulders were working hard, and I was squeezing and twisting and getting all the same actions in my body.
In both of these experiences, though, I learned something mind-blowing.
I learned that it's okay to sweat. Maybe people don't realize this, but there is a lot of imagery and jokes out there making fun of the fat person working out that picture them just sweating buckets. I know very few bigger-bodied people that are not self-conscious about their sweat. I imagine it's for the same reason that those same people may feel self conscious wearing sweats in public or not having makeup on or eating any food in public that could possibly be construed as "unhealthy": it's because we try so hard to avoid looking like the stereotype, so that we can avoid being judged.
And really, it's bullshit. Everyone eats. Everyone sweats. Everyone likes to be comfortable. So yeah, sometimes I'm going to be kickin' it in some sweatpants, or enjoying a hot dog outside at the beach, or sweating when I work out - just like any other person. It doesn't make me a "bad fatty". But it can be hard to overcome that mental patterning.
So what if I sweated it out more than anyone else in the room? Maybe I did... maybe I didn't. I felt like I was just drenched from head to toe. So what? All that I can control is how I view myself and how I treat my body. And my body LOVED the sweating.
The more I sweated it out, the more liberated I felt. I was sweating! Buckets! In PUBLIC! And it felt great. I felt empowered.
Yeah yeah, you say. It's just sweat.
No, my friends. It's not just sweat. It's freedom! Just like it's freedom to wear what you want, dress how you want, eat based on the choices you make (not the choices made for you), and live your life with utter and complete abandon.
And this is why I practice yoga.
Every time I get on my mat, it is an opportunity for me to check in with my body, and how I feel about my body. Do I feel frustrated with my body or its abilities? Do I feel solid and supported? Do I feel embarrassed or unstable? When I begin my yoga practice, I become one with my body - with everything I am feeling physically and with my thoughts about my body as they pass by. It's an important touchstone. It helps me to be aware, and to adjust as I need to - whether that adjustment is needed in the pose I'm holding or the mental patterns I'm stuck on.
Over this past week, I realized I was stuck on my own issues and hangups and fears about sweating. I broke free from that mental pattern. Another little victory.
But the work isn't finished. It continues every moment of every day, with every breath I take and every single time I step on my mat.
It's a hard and beautiful journey to love your body. Journeys are better with good company. Travel with me. We'll do this thing - together.
One of my teachers, Ariel Pavic, pointed me in the direction of Gil Hedley's work recently, and I had the great pleasure of reading his article, "How I Fell in Love with Fat" which was published in Spirituality and Health magazine in the winter of 2007.
The article was heady and wonderful, written from the perspective of an intellectual who sees the magic in the human body. His work is unique, unlike anything I've ever seen. He offers workshops and seminars that intersect biology and energy. And in this article, he talks about the wonders of the layer of fat in the human body - of adipose tissue.
I wasn't sure what I was going to think at first, but as I read the article, I discovered that what he was describing was beautiful.
Fat is not just something we "put up with" in our bodies. No, fat does so much more than that. It serves a purpose, multiple purposes and, as Dr. Hedley points out in his article, it is what creates the body's unique shape, especially in women.
How amazing to realize that what makes us look like us and not near clones of one another is the very thing we are so constantly at war with.
It was profound and wonderful to look at fat as a living organ of the body with a biological, and spiritual purpose.
When I read his "Parable of Fat's Creation" he'd written for the article, I was dumbstruck. It so poignantly spoke to the beauty of fat, and made me think about my body in a completely different way. I transposed his words onto the image he'd chosen for his article to share with you all. The combination of this wonderful image by Richard Wilkinson (an image I've loved for some time) and Dr. Hedley's Parable make a powerful combination.
I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have!