This post from Tiny Buddha on self-love was very timely.
I attend a weekly yoga class. I continue to learn so much from this experience. But what I find most valuable is how much I learn from it. I am very grateful for my Teacher, and yet sometimes what I need to learn that day isn't the focus of the class - but something else entirely. This week, my lesson was a valuable reminder on how to treat myself with love and compassion.
Yoga is not a competition, and it is not intended to be, look, or feel the same for every body. Quite the opposite, yoga feels different for each of us because we, ourselves, are unique. Yet, I have to work very hard every week in class, surrounded by slender people, not to 'prove' that I can keep up with them. That's not what this is about. It takes a great deal of effort and mindfulness for me to remain focused on my own experience. Sometimes, that means that I need to check my alignment in a mirror. But, as any larger bodied yogin can attest to, mirrors can be deceiving when aligning a curvier body. I may feel shoulder stacked on top of shoulder and hip on top of hip in Half-Moon, but my body doesn't make the same smooth straight lines that the bodies next to me make.
This last class, I pushed myself too hard. I was very focused, and I could feel that my body needed me to back off, but I didn't listen. Today, I can feel the excess lactic acid build-up in my muscles that is my body's way of reminding me of this valuable lesson.
It is foolish to compare ourselves to others in Yoga, no matter what shape or size your body is. I don't need to prove that I can do each asana exactly the same way as everyone else. In fact, I shouldn't. It shouldn't be exactly the same, because I'm not them. I'm me. And I love me and my curves and this amazing body that I have been blessed with. I feel strong and balanced. So what if I need to lower my back knee to the mat during Crescent pose? If that's what my body is telling me to do, then that is the best choice I can make in that moment.
I've been practicing yoga among the slender for years, now, and I still have to work at this. It's not automatic. It's not easy. I have never had a cruel word spoken to me in a yoga class, but I still sometimes get distracted by feeling "different" or out of place. That's not what Yoga is about, and this is just one of the many reasons why I am so excited to be on this journey to becoming a teacher!
I look forward to sharing Yoga with other women who want to experience yoga in a loving accepting environment - with a teacher who has been there, and who understands that being a curvy yogini is not the same experience and comes with its own set of challenges, and also its own gifts.
As I was reminded this week, I will remind all of you who are following along with me on this journey:
This is YOUR yoga. It is not your teacher's yoga, or your fellow yogi or yogini's yoga. It is not the author of that book's yoga or that magazine's yoga. It is you and your body's yoga. All you have to do is listen... and honour what your body is telling you.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” -Buddha
My Story - the Long Version
When I first discovered yoga, I was 250lbs and miserable. I was unhappy with my body, not because I was fat, but because I felt unhealthy. My energy was low, all of the time, and I was frustrated by the idea of giving yet another "diet" a try. I'd been diagnosed with Plantar Fascitis, and my doctor had made it crystal clear that, in his opinion, it was weight related. The plantar fascitis made any sort of impact activity very painful, even gentle walking on a treadmill. I was not satisfied to simply give up.
I'd done the yo yo diet thing, and was really over it. From unit-based diet plans to replacement shakes or packaged meals, nothing I ever did seemed to make a difference. But I figured, if I wanted to feel better in my body, I needed to find a way to bring more movement into my life. On a whim, I picked up a yoga beginner's kit: a mat, two blocks, and a strap in a lovely shade of pink, and a two-vhs tape se - AM/PM Yoga for Beginners (with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden). I began using the tapes daily, stumbling out of bed bleary-eyed and still in my jammies for the AM routine, and winding down for bed with the PM routine. For months, I did only this, and I felt my body change.
I didn't drop a bunch of weight, instantly, or suddenly drop three dress sizes. But, what I did notice was improved balance and posture. I felt a growing connection to my body. I was aware of myself. I was aware of how my body moved, and became increasingly aware of what my body wanted and needed to feel good. Happily, after a few months, the pain from my plantar fascitis went away.
I began broadening my horizons, trying different yoga DVDs, and learned that I was pretty flexible, and that as my body awareness grew, so did my confidence on the mat. I was learning what it felt like to be aligned in a pose, to feel strong, grounded, and balanced. And so, I stopped worrying about what the people looked like in the video I was watching and instead kept my focus on my own body. My collection of yoga DVDs grew and my yoga practice deepened.
One day, I was browsing the internet, looking for something different. I decided to search and see if I could find any yoga podcasts. I stumbled on a Yoga Teacher who was offering yoga classes in podcast format, Hillary Rubin. I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow along without watching on a DVD or Video, so I tested myself by first doing my yoga to a video, but facing away from the screen. I surprised myself at how well I knew the poses I'd been working with. I didn't need to watch after all! I began listening to Hillary's classes and found that almost overnight, my yoga practice deepened ten-fold.
With the podcasts, my practice became more consistent and dynamic. I learned more about the yamas and niyamas of yoga. I began to develop spiritually and emotionally, off the mat, in ways I never expected. Every day I got on the mat, I walked away having learned something new about myself. Eventually, I looked for other podcast offerings. I found Hillary's friend Elsie Escobar and began using her podcasts almost daily. After a while, I also discovered Faith Hunter. I have so much gratitude to these podcast teachers who were my first experience into the real depth and beauty that yoga would bring to my life. So to Hillary, Elsie, and Faith - my deepest thanks and gratitude for your offerings.
After practicing with the podcasts for a few months, I finally plucked up the courage to attend my first live yoga class. A class was beginning in the gym in my office, and I knew it was a 'now or never' moment. That first class, I was terrified. I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb. Every other student in the class appeared slender or fit, and they were dressed in body-hugging yoga branded clothing that seemed designed just for them. Here I was, in my sweat pants and tee shirt, worrying about the way my tee shirt flies up exposing my belly in down dog and the class hadn't even begun yet. The teacher did not seem to treat me any differently, but I felt so self conscious. As I began following along to the teacher's instructions through the class, I noticed that I was keeping up. I was sweating visibly and my clothes weren't like theirs, but I was doing just fine. I have to admit, though, I really didn't want to go back. I felt too out of place. Fortunately, I had paid for eight classes, and was determined not to throw my money away by quitting. I did some hunting and found some plus-sized yoga clothes - which helped a great deal as the shirts designed for yoga tend not to fly up over ones head, a huge relief for me personally. The selection may be limited but clothes designed for yoga really help me to be less distracted by clothes being out of place and more focused on what i'm feeling and experiencing. And so, I continued to attend this live class (and still do). Over time, I worried less about what I looked like and began to find that quiet inner place where yoga becomes my own and the bodies of the other people in the class became less of a distraction. And so, to my teacher, Ariel Pavic, whose weekly class keeps me grounded, challenged, and aware - I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
At this point, though, the podcasts began to feel too repetitive for me. While the teachers were constantly uploading new content, I was ready to branch out and develop my own personal practice. Thanks to all the wonderful teachers I encountered, I had a solid foundation to begin. I also studied the practices of Megan Garcia, author of Mega Yoga, and Meera, author of Big Yoga which affirmed the most important lesson I learned as a fat yogini: that no one but you can really know the best possible way to move your body. These pioneers of plus-size yoga are my inspiration. Their words were my thoughts, and the material that they bravely offered the world as bigger bodied yoga teachers helped give me the courage to pursue my dream.
To all those who encouraged me, believed in me, and did not even blink when I told them I wanted to become a fat yoga teacher, you all have my deepest gratitude. This idea was borne of a teeny, tiny, baby idea, one that I was almost too afraid to tell anyone about - but the people who love and support me made me realize that there was no reason I could not take this step. I appreciate each and every one of you.