So, it's official! I've been accepted into a 240 hour yoga teacher training program that I've been drooling over for the better part of this year.
While my correspondence course with Aura Wellness Center gave me the foundation, this course will springboard me forward into the future I envision for myself as a Fat Yoga Teacher.
When I first realized that what I wanted was to share with others what I have experienced from yoga, I was terrified. I was (relatively) new to the concept of Body Positivity and had experienced this major transformation through my Yoga practice. I realized that to share my passion for yoga with others would bring me so much joy. But, I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable teaching. I wasn't sure.
The correspondence course gave me an affordable way and realistic way to start down the path. I earned my certification and my yoga knowledge grew significantly, but I also found that I was lacking the benefits of in-person instruction. I began attending Yoga Teacher development workshops and found rapid growth there. The real-life interactions with other teachers and fellow yogis and yoginis helped me much more than the material from the correspondence course had.
Through the workshops, I began to experience different teacher's teacher-training "style" and found myself drawn to a particular program. Since it offers part time hours, I can keep my office job while I attend the course, which is a major benefit. It's accredited and tax-deductible (yay!), but most importantly - it is not branded.
I'd found myself really reluctant to take a teacher training program for a branded yoga methodology, such as Bikram's, Anusara, and other varieties. What I wanted was a solid foundation in Yoga instruction that was customizable. So much of what I do with Yoga is outside the box. There are not many fat yoga teachers and my 'style' of Yoga is, by necessity, very different. I needed a teacher training program that wasn't going to try to shove me in a mold. The program I'd found described the approach as "Open Source". Which is, essentially, what I need in a teacher training program.
As you can see, it's exactly the sort of program that someone like me needs! So, I applied for the program and was recently accepted.
It's going to be an interesting winter for me. I work my day job Monday through Friday 7:30-4:30. School will be Friday's 5-9pm and then all day Saturday & Sunday. I managed to work out an arrangment with the day job to take half-day Friday's during the program, but even still - it's going to be pretty darn busy! :)
Yoga Bears starts back up in September as well. I'm so excited to get back into the studio and teach the Bears. They're such a fantastic group. It's also going to be really great being able to work with them throughout my training program, where I can practically apply the things that I learn, as I learn them. Talk about win-win!
Once I complete this training program, I'll be working full-speed to get a Body Positivity Yoga class series going, hopefully at a local studio or community centre!
I can't wait!!
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!
I had a difficult day on Saturday.
The responsibility for having such a difficult day lies fully with me, however I like to see days like this as opportunities for growth; to learn even more about myself and how to better care for my body and spirit through the practice of Yoga.
I've been offered some amazing opportunities, recently, to attend development workshops designed for Yoga Teachers to expand their knowledge and improve their offerings to their students at an affordable rate that makes these opportunities for expanded learning accessible to many. These workshops are led by highly respected Yoga Instructors in the local community.
These workshops have been an amazing blessing in my life. I generally get to attend at least two each month and I always seem to take away something really valuable from them. Some of the recent workshops I've attended have focused on topics like Mantras, Important Muscles in Yoga (like the pit of the abdomen, and the Serratus Anterior), the Sacrum, Yoga Mythology, and more.
This last Saturday, the workshop I was attending focused on some intersections between Buddhist philosophy and Yoga, particularly with relation to the Subtle Body. I had been particularly excited about this workshop because it sounded like it was going to get into some areas that I haven't had much exposure to, yet.
The topic of the workshop was fascinating. The instructor shared his views on the buddhist philosophies surrounding the Subtle Body, and how the energy channels that run through the body can be accessed through a practice of Yoga Postures. He spent over an hour on the lecture portion of the workshop and then began to lead us in a Yoga Posture sequence designed to help us light up these areas of our Subtle Body.
I'd had a gradually worsening headache throughout the first portion of the class. I had tried to ignore it so that I could pay attention to the instructor. But when the physical portion of the practice began, I became immediately discouraged when I realized that even down-dog was causing me pain. But, instead of listening to my body, I was listening to my mind telling me to do whate everyone else was doing. To not draw attention to myself by doing something different. Then the instructor began to lead a series of very advanced postures that were beyond my capabilities to do safely: advanced twists, arm balances, and inversions.
And that is when, emotionally, I just sort of shut down. I had been struggling with the warm-up portion of the practice already because of my headache. But as he began leading everyone in Tree Pose with half-lotus, followed by Warrior III, followed by a series of advanced seated twists, advanced Bridge variations and more... I was forced to face the fact that the entire sequence of postures he was teaching were too advanced for me to participate safely.
Normally, in the interest of self-care, I would modify each pose so that I could access the same intentions/energies of the practice through poses designed for my body. But my head was pounding I was so distracted by my discomfort that I was unable to come up with alternatives for most of them. So, I tried to do a few of them anyway, hurting myself in the process until finally - I just stopped. I did a few gentle twists, and squats, and rested, but all the while I was feeling sorry for myself and embarassed at my inability to "keep up".
While the instructor led the class in Shoulderstand and several variations, followed by plow pose, I rested in Legs-Up-The-Wall and tried not to cry from frustration. I hadn't been able to connect to my subtle body because I was focusing all my energy on how I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing. I felt embarassed and stuck. I had essentially trapped myself with my thoughts. By the time we got to Savasana, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically tense. I just couldn't let go.
After the workshop, I realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself at every single one of these workshops to "keep up". I was putting myself in the position of being the "spokesperson" for fat health. I was so committed to making sure I could "prove" that Fat Yogis could still be awesome Yogis that I had become totally disconnected with the entire reason I practice and teach Yoga in the first place: to experience (and share with others) the profound transformation that can take place when you accept yourself, and love your body.
Knowing that compassion for myself is what my Yoga Practice is all about doesn't always make it easier to put into practice. And in these moments, when I want so desperately to be a wonderful example of a Fat Yoga Teacher who can keep up with all the other Yoga Teachers, it can FEEL impossible.
This was a necessary lesson for me. In my excitement to be among my Yoga Teacher Peers, I forgot the most important thing about my Yoga: Acceptance and Care of my Self. I failed to care for myself when I got caught up in ego and competition and "trying to prove I could keep up" instead of doing what my body needed in the moment: which was truly to just sit.
It can take a great deal of courage to do your yoga differently in a class environment. I remind my students many times in each class I teach that it's OKAY if their yoga looks different. It's OKAY if they are resting during a pose that is not right for them that day and it's OKAY if they do a completely different pose if that is what they are called to do. It is easy to be compassionate with others. It is easy for me to remind my students to treat their body with care and listen to what their body needs. But compassion and care for self is something I find much more challenging than compassion and care for others.
Body acceptance, and body positivity are not something attained in the blink of an eye - if they are ever fully attained at all. Rather, this self-love is work. Hard work. Learning to truly accept and love and care for yourself, properly, all the time takes constant attention and diligence.
In retrospect, I learned a lot this weekend about how I have been approaching these Yoga Teacher development workshops. I'd been approaching them with a sense of pride and ego and "I can do what you can do". I learned that I need to leave that at the door if I am to get the most out of these experiences. I need to work even harder to listen to my own body - even more than I listen to the instructor at times. I need to self-care and ensure my body has what it needs to practice safely.
Most of all: I need to remember that my Yoga will always look different. Because I am different. Not better than. Not less than. Just different. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering about Yoga - that it is different for everybody and every BODY.
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.