Instagram user @mynameisJessamyn — who regularly will grace your Instagram feed with a photo displaying her strength, flexibility, and grace as a yogi moving through her asanas (poses) — recently did a quick interview with New York Magazine’s The Cut, and dropped a valuable little quote worth reading twice… or three times, or more:
I just got a Groupon pass to our local Bikram studio when I was in graduate school and I loved it. I was always one of the bigger people in the classroom, but I think that Bikram is great because the size discrimination is very minimal. The teachers stick to a script and there’s less immediate communication with the instructor than there is in other styles of yoga.
Whenever I would go to other kinds of classes besides Bikram I always felt like I was spending $15 or $20 for a class to have teachers who think that I’m a beginner. When I moved I couldn’t afford to practice in studios anymore. As soon as I started practicing at home, this whole other world opened up for me, because when you’re in the classroom it’s really less about the instructors and more about the other students.
When asked to explain what she meant…
I get emails from people all the time and they say, “I’m worried that people are going to be staring at me,” and I’m always like, “They ARE going to be staring at you.” That’s just the reality of it. We live in a society where we are trained to think that being overweight is wrong so people are going to stare at you. They’re going to have ideas about you. The only thing that you can control is your reaction to that.
I think that the best way to really get comfortable in practice is to just start practicing at home. And to build that happiness that will be with you regardless of what studio you go to.
What makes me the saddest is that, in many of these cases, it is the people for whom a Yoga Practice (TM) is a status symbol who ruin it for the people who could get the most benefit.
Jessamyn gives a great interview, and it’s worth checking out here. And, because I was close to 300lbs when I first started practicing yoga, and will be a curvy yogi once again once I give birth to The Sproutly One, I can relate to what she’s saying – I’ve been there before, and I’ll be there again soon.
My early introduction to yoga wasn’t a class – it was a TV show that encouraged me to explore the different ways my body could move, even at a time (and size, for that matter) when I didn’t have much faith in my abilities. My practice taught me so much about how to move my body – through yoga I could practice my strength, balance, flexibility, agility, and endurance – that I felt more confident in trying other activities… like the other ones that resulted in my weight loss success. When I finally started taking classes, I went to a facility in Manhattan, where the instructors were as cold as ice and the room was always obnoxiously packed. I was the largest person in the room, but – like she said – I didn’t realize that until long after the class was over, and people kept marveling at my ability to keep up. (I’d been practicing for three years diligently for an hour and a half each day… why wouldn’t I be able to keep up?) When I look at Jessamyn’s advice, I realize – in hindsight, mind you – that this is how I built the confidence to be “active in public.” I learned to appreciate the value of being “active in private,” which then made the rest easy: my need to be active in public began to override my fear of being mocked or shamed in public, and I quickly developed a thicker skin for handling the outdoors. I benefit too much from being active to let a naysayer mess with my head.
Luckily, I never encountered one.
Jessamyn talks a lot about “typical yoga bodies,” and this is something I became more aware of the more I looked for yoga outside of my book collection. It does become more aspirational than inspirational, because we so desperately want to believe that “yoga is how she got that body” as opposed to “wow, it’s incredible what the human body – my human body – can do.” But your yoga mat – or your spin bike, or your exercise class – isn’t really the place to covet what someone else has. If anything, this should be the space where you shed away these feelings and emotions and focus on who you are at your core and what your goals are beyond a body type.
She also talks about the shortcomings of teachers who are only capable of teaching students who “look like them,” physically speaking. It’s worth noting that I would question these folks being “teachers” or “instructors” at all – a part of learning what it means to instruct bodies means including all sizes and accommodating for all physical challenges (because they all present in all sizes), and teachers who don’t invest in that aren’t much of teachers to me at all.
The most important lesson from her interview? None of this is specific to yoga, and all of us have self-conscious moments. The beauty of success, however, lies deep within our persistence and, in the face of fear, resilience. How dope is that?
What did you think? Do you have a yoga story?
Oh, and PS: If you’re interested in trying yoga at home, check out YogaGlo.com – 7 day free trial, and you can just watch the videos and try them at your leisure to see if it’s for you! (No affiliate link, no paid endorsement, I just use it regularly and think it’s a great resource!)