Discovering Self Love Through Yoga
Living life for right now
Photo Credit: Snowflake by AMagill
One of the things that the journey towards Body Acceptance has taught me is that "later" is not my life. My life is now. My life is is a series of precious moments not meant to be wasted.
I used to make myself all kind of "later" promises, only instead of "later", I used "when I am thinner", or "when I lose another ten pounds", or "when I am more confident", or "when I can wear a size 14 or lower"... and the list goes on and on and on, forever.
Are you sensing a theme here?
I think that the reason so many of us in bigger bodies or non-conformative bodies do this to ourselves is because everywhere we look the people doing the things we want to do seem to be thinner, more confident, happier, etc. And we tell ourselves we need to get to that place before we can do them too.
But I'm about to blow your mind here: that isn't the truth. It's just that media is really fucked up. Advertising and media is completely skewed to one particular body type and so that's what we SEE in television ads, magazines, billboards, and flyers. In real life, people of all shapes and sizes do awesome things EVERY day. So why can't we?
When I started realizing that I was putting off so many things I wanted to do or try because of my size, I also realized how much of life I'd been denying myself for so long. And why? Because I thought I would enjoy the activity more when I was thinner? Probably not. In my case, once I dug deep I discovered that it was because I thought I didn't deserve it until I was thinner. And that's really the kicker, isn't it? It often comes back to our sense of self-worth. That's when it hit me that my self-image needed some serious work. And it is work, don't get me wrong. It still is work, almost every single day. I haven't reached some sort of body-image enlightenment where confidence comes super easy. It's gotten easier. But some days, it's still really rough. And that's okay. It's all part of the process.
Every time I catch myself saying that I'll do something "later", I try to stop that line of thinking right in its tracks. Then I remind myself that if I had told myself that I would become a fat Yoga teacher "later", I probably never would have done it. And becoming a Yoga teacher is, easily, the best decision I have ever made. I had never dreamed I could be so happy and so passionate, doing a job I love right down to my tippy toes. And yet, here I am doing just that. Here's the cool part: Once you start living life for right now, you realize how awesome it is and it gets easier to get brave about doing things right now!
The bottom line is that you deserve happiness right now. You deserve joy and play and love and desire and wonder right now. You deserve to live your life fully in this moment. And this moment. And this one.
So I have a challenge for you: Today I want you to eliminate at least ONE "later" from your list and do it RIGHT AWAY. Whether it is the purchase of a new pair of jeans you've been putting off until you're a certain size, or signing up for a new activity, a new tattoo, a new hairdo, or saying hello to that person you've been crushing on. Promise yourself, today, that you'll pick ONE thing (or more) from your "later" list and do it right now. And don't forget to tell me in the comments what you're committing to do to live your life NOW!
And hey, you know, if Yoga is on your "later" list, babe - I got you. I'll see you on the mat!
"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
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.