When sleeping women wake
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.
OMG it really happened!
I'm so excited that the studio has come to be!!
We're open. We have classes. Things are happening! It's AMAZING!
Seeing this become a reality is a dream come true. And I have to admit that it feels pretty amazing to be surrounded by others who are passionate about this space and what we're creating that is so different from what has been done before.
Life feels like it's full to bursting with great things. There's been a lot of fear about making this step - and yet I couldn't be more grateful that I made it. And I couldn't have done it without my wife, Peggy, who has been so supportive and so helpful with looking at the bigger picture from a business perspective and helping to set the studio up for success. Forging new territory the way that we are comes with a lot of challenges. We don't fit the existing mold so we're making a new one. And for someone like me who likes to color inside the lines, this is no easy task!
But I'm confident that we've created and are continuing to create truly honours the Body Positivity mission: to make yoga accessible to every body.
This last weekend was the kick-off workshop in the Introduction to Body Positivity Yoga series and I have to admit that it was such a wonderful feeling seeing so many brave women taking a chance on me and what I had to offer. It's not easy getting the nerve to go do something new, in a new space and many of the students who find me and the studio come with a lot of trepidation. What if they really can't do it? Will they feel out of place or will they "fit in"? Will it really be for them?
And the best feeling in the world is the huge smiles that spontaneously erupt on their faces when they realize yes... they ARE welcome. yes... they DO fit in. yes... this space IS for them.... and yes... they CAN do it!
That is what makes it possible to push through any of my own anxiety or fear, any of my concerns about not "fitting in" in the broader yoga community, any of my fears of failure. Every single one of those smiles make it all worth while and proves that I'm doing exactly what I should be doing.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled across this quote by Julia Cameron, and it resonated with me so deeply!
My journey into, and through Yoga began with secrecy... something I was afraid to admit. And the more I embraced it, the more its gifts began to unfold.
My journey to becoming a Yoga Teacher similarly began from this place of secrecy (which, in this case, was just another word for fear). I was afraid to admit I was practicing Yoga 13 years ago. And I was afraid to admit that my dream was becoming a Yoga Teacher.
And yet, here I am.
How did I get here?
I faced my fear. I faced my fear of failure. I faced my fear of "not being taken seriously" (that one I still face somewhat regularly). I faced my fear of ridicule. But most of all, I faced my fear of my Self.
And just as the quote says, once I did face my fear - the rest has been surprisingly easy! My passion for Yoga (the practice and teaching) shines through everything I do. My passion for body-acceptance and self-acceptance is my guiding light. Most excitingly, every day I get on my own mat or the mat at the front of a class of students, I learn a little more about myself.
Teaching Yoga as a path to body-acceptance truly feels like my Dharma. It feels like my destiny. And all the work involved in building this absolutely DOES feel like play. How cool is that?
And to think...
If I had never faced my fear and admitted my dream, I wouldn't be here. Living it. That's something to be truly grateful for.
What are you afraid of? What path would you follow if you weren't afraid to admit it's what you truly want?
More fear, but more wonder too
Lately, I feel as though I've been talking about things like fear and courage an awful lot.
This isn't an accident. These themes are very present in my life right now.
When I walked away from the day job to pursue my Yoga Teaching dream, I had no idea how terrifying it would be. Well, actually, I take that back. I was terrified even then. The reality is that in a million (zillion?) years, I never would have thought that I would become an entrepeneur of any variety, let alone a Yoga teacher. And yet, that's what I decided to do. Talk about facing my fears head on! Since making the decision to see how far this dream can take me, though, I've had no regrets.
To be afraid, terrified even - but still know that what you're doing is exactly what you're supposed to be doing? That's heady stuff.
But something amazing keeps happening...
Just when I am most afraid or nervous or feeling the most like a big fraud, one of my students will say something to me that will completely blow me away. I had a moment like this during my last Sunday class. One of my students got into a pose that I'm sure she never thought she could or would. It made me want to cry (happy tears) to see the huge grin on her face. I know she surprised herself in the most awesome way! All I could think about was how inspiring the whole class had been - how great it had felt to lead these powerful, beautiful women in practice. It felt like such a gift. But after the class, she gave me the greatest gift of all. She told me that one of the things she loves the most is that just when things seem really hard, she just has to look at the big smile on my face and it doesn't feel so hard any more.
It wasn't the fact that she complimented me that blew me away. It was the simple truth of her words that brought home WHY doing this is so important to me, why I am so passionate about it.
I see my students the way I want to be seen. I see them for their power and their struggles and their beauty and their triumphs and even their sorrows. I see their vulnerability and their grief and I see their fear and all of it is reflected in my own life, my own journey and I like to think that the way I teach Yoga is the way I love to feel: like a big ol' genuine affectionate hug and a whisper in your ear "You can do it. I believe in you. You're amazing!"
I worry sometimes that my random squeals of delight and pride halfway through my class might put people off. That when I stop and clap my hands and excitedly say "LOOK AT YOU! This is AWESOME!" that maybe it's not quite the "yoga vibe" that people expect... But it's who I am.
And as the quote above so eloquently says... it is not my job to worry whether people like me or not. It is my job to be there for them. For you. For the people who are coming to me for whatever it is they get from the class. Whether it's physical, spiritual, emotional, more, or all of the above.
And no matter how scared I get. It is those moments that I absolutely live and breathe this Yoga for. The moments when I am reminded that somehow, in some small way, I can make a difference. I can make someone feel seen... heard... accepted.... even loved.
That is what makes it easy to face any fear that may come up, any insecurity. You. All of you. Thank you for being so freaking amazing.
See you on the mat!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
This felt particularly poignant for me, today. As I move forward on this journey, each step seems to feel more terrifying than the last. As much as it is frightening, it is also joyful and exhilarating and wonderful. But this is really a metaphor for life.
It is when we are about to embark on the most exciting, happiest, most wonderful things in our life that we are most likely to pull back, to hesitate, to retreat, to run. And often that is because the idea that things could be so beautiful - could shine so brightly is absolutely overwhelming.
I am so grateful. To my teachers. To my students. To my friends. To my family. Your support, love, and faith helps me tap into my own inner courage and strength and keep walking this path. Which is, by the way, pretty amazing.
Inspired and Excited!
Despite a few glitches in the way my morning went, I have to say that the Platform For Plus Size event went very well!
The venue, downtown Vancouver's own Vancity Theatre, was really lovely. It was intimate and very well laid out. It gave the symposium participants the opportunity to actually connect with one another, which can be hard to do at a large scale event.
As for the speakers, my favourites were Christina Bianchini, Louise Green, and of course Jennifer Livingston. These women shared their own journeys from a place of personal experience and the message from them all was body-positive and inspiring. To quote Louise Green, "Live Life Now". And to quote Jennifer Livingston, "You are more than a number on a scale."
I have to say, after Jennifer's keynote, I am pretty sure there was not a dry eye in the house. She spoke about her journey to body-acceptance from a place that was both vulnerable and raw. I'm sure that everyone in the room could relate to her story. So many of us had people who told us that we'd "be so much prettier if you were thinner" . So many of us know what it's like to be bullied because of our size, weight, or appearance. It is sad and frightening how relatable this story is. And it is why I am so fired up... so passionate about sharing this body-loving journey with other people.
While working my Body Positivity Yoga table, I had some really great conversations and connected with some great people, including other local business owners who are working toward shared body positive goals.
And I'm super excited about all the new opportunities that this experience will bring.
And here's where I say that I hate to leave you all in suspense - but there are some very exciting announcements coming soon. Make sure you're subscribed to my newsletter and liking me on Facebook so that you can be among the first to know!
So, you may or may not have heard about what's been going on in Georgia.
So, I'll do my best to sum it up. An organization, which claims to be concerned about the childhood obesity rate in Georgia, has released an onslaught of negative, shaming, scare-tactic filled advertisements on billboards and in bus depots around the state. The type of advertisements they're running are distressing to say the least. If you want to see what I mean, here are some examples.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, that if the goal is to encourage a healthier lifestyle, shame doesn't work!! Self-conscious kids are more likely to hide, play video games, and lead quiet, sedentary lives than confident kids. If we raise our kids to be confident, then maybe they won't second guess themselves if they want to try out for a sports team or start up a fun physical hobby like cycling, jogging, hooping, dancing, or martial arts. The more our kids hate their bodies and themselves, the LESS likely they are to step out and do something new and different. I was a chubby kid and then a fat adult, and I'll tell you that I didn't start leading a more active lifestyle until I began to LIKE my body. I can't say enough how important this is. So, in response to S4L's icky tactics, a number of folks in the fat acceptance and body positive communities have taken action. Here's a couple of my favourites:
Marilyn Wann (author of the book FAT!SO?) began an online counter-campaign to S4L's shaming ads by editing submitted photos of individuals to include their own "I STAND" statement meant to inspire and encourage (NOT shame). You can see the photo and statement I submitted above. You can read more about this project here. And keep an eye on new STANDards (as they have been named) via her tumblr page.
Ragen Chastain (professional level dancer and author of the popular blog Dances with Fat) began raising money for a campaign to compete with S4L. She raised the money needed, including a matching donation from More of Me to Love and will be putting up POSITIVE message billboards and advertisments to send the kids of Georgia a more body-loving message. Read more about her progress here.
I support both of these projects wholeheartedly and am so grateful to all of those involved in them for their hard work and their efforts in addressing the issue of fat shaming in Georgia.
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!
Wow, how time flies!!
I began this year, not with resolutions, but with determination to complete several goals I have set for myself. The most exciting, of course, is to complete my training and receive my Yoga Teacher 200 hour certification.
There's been a lot of studying, and I found myself getting absorbed in lots of extra materials that I acquired, which have been so helpful. But, the time has come for me to complete my first stage of training. My practical exam will be completed by Saturday and, once it and my other materials have been marked - I will be officially certified at the 200 hour level. Hooray!! This is a huge milestone and I am so excited to see it happen.
But that's not all I've been up to! Since October, I've been leading a gentle Hatha Yoga class called Yoga Bears, designed especially for a wonderful group of men from Vancouver's Gay Bear community. They are a warm and accepting group who never fails to amaze and delight me every week with their enthusiasm and growth in their practice. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them, and hope to continue working with them for a long time to come.
But, now that my training is coming to a close, I am finally making plans for the first Body Positivity Yoga™ Gentle Hatha Yoga Class Series (all genders). I've put a poll up on my Facebook Wall to see what days and times work best for those who are interested. Please do go there, like the page, and leave your feedback on the poll! Right now, Wednesday early evenings (6-7 or 7-8pm) are leading with Saturday mornings (10-11am or 11am-12pm) a close second. Once I have a clear idea of the most popular time slots, I'll work on nailing down the location, but it will most likely be Vancouver or Burnaby.
2011 was a big year for me. In the spring, a teeny tiny dream was born - to become a Yoga Teacher who specializes in leading classes for the OTHER people: people who have been curious or interested or even passionate about yoga but have not felt comfortable attending the classes available in their communities - either for fear of fitting in or concerns that the class material would be too intense or advanced for their level of ability. With care, I've grown that teeny, tiny dream into a reality. Launching the Body Positivity Yoga™ classes will be the result of a gigantic leap of faith in myself, and the continued determination to see my dream become a reality. And I have to tell you, it feels pretty amazing.
What I want is for my future students to see themselves mirrored in me and the other students in every class. Teaching the class as an out and proud queer fat femme Yoga Teacher, I hope to create an environment that is welcoming to all, so that no one has to fear "not fitting in". This yoga is about YOU. And YOU are beautiful and amazing - exactly as you are.
Looking forward to seeing you in all your fabulousness on the mat, very soon.
Walking the Talk...
Lately, circumstances have offered me significant opportunities to do what I have committed to do: listen to my body. And WOW - what a difference it makes when I do! In fact, the more that I give myself permission to honour myself, my body, and what I need in my yoga practice, the easier it becomes.
It may seem surprising, but when I find where my "edge" is, and back off just slightly - to say 90-95%, I find what is essentially the sweet spot. And it is sweet. Maybe my back knee is down instead of up in the low lunge that everyone is doing, and maybe I'm using a strap to pull my knee in tighter to my chest during a hip opener. No matter what the action is, or how different it looks from what everyone else in the class is doing - I find MORE expansiveness, MORE freedom, and MORE buoyancy in my body following the practice where I've been true to myself. I come away from each series of postures feeling stronger and more confident. This is what I have always done in my personal practice, I suppose I just needed to remind myself that being in a class doesn't change the fact that this is still my personal practice. That's what I tell anyone else - so I needed to give myself a little nudge to get back on track with walking the talk.
This IS the Yoga that I want to teach. This is what I want to share with people. Doing something different from others isn't always about laziness or avoiding something difficult. It can and should be about learning to listen to your body and doing what is right for you IN THIS MOMENT. Some days, you might lift easily into that back bend while holding your own weight up - and other days you might need to slip some blankets, a brick, or a bolster underneath you to support the opening you seek. What we really need to do is understand that just like our hearts, and our minds - our bodies needs vary from moment to moment.
Do you crave the exact same foods every day? Do you crave the exact same conversations? Of course not. Humans are a species of wild diversity and so doesn't it make sense that this diversity and craving for different and varied experiences would be present in our bodies as well?
Now, each time I come to the mat, I promise myself that today, I will act upon what my body needs without judgement, but with gratitude. My practice is just one of the ways I can honour the amazing gift of this body that allows me to do and experience so many wonderful things, and so I'm doing just that.
How about you
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.