It was a hot, humid day and I was really tired as I checked into my favourite yoga class, "power yoga" at YYoga in Vancouver. Usually in this class, I quickly go back to feeling better and in a good place mentally. But on this day things continually went downhill.
I entered the room for my yoga class and looked at the instructor and her gorgeous, toned and healthy body. The other women in the room looked similarly vibrant and beautiful. I glanced at my own reflection in the room's mirror and all I could see was my frizzy, frazzled self and the rolls of stomach hanging over my pants as I did the forward-fold position.
This feeling of inadequateness and shame was a rarity for me. I have been practicing yoga for over ten years and always felt my best self when surrounded by fellow yogis. My teachers have been inspiring, supportive and encouraging regardless of where I am in life, my size or flexibility. In fact, all of my teachers have taught me to be self loving.
The day that I had my meltdown in yoga, I knew those thoughts of comparing myself to others would get me nowhere fast. I understand and recognize we are all in our own unique place in life. Each person has a different experience. In my heart I knew this.
A few weeks later, I was at a party and overheard some people talking about yoga. One of the women in the group said she would never try yoga. The curvy woman appeared to be uncomfortable discussing yoga and even laughed at the prospect of taking a class.
This made me very sad. I thought about my one day in class when I felt unworthy of practicing yoga. The thought that other women may look at yoga as unattainable or "off limits" really shook me up.
Yoga has always been a safe place I could turn to in good times and bad. When my relationship of 15 years ended I moved to a new town. After I found a place to live, the next stop for me was to find a local yoga studio. I knew it was there where I could make new friends, heal my wounds and get back into better physical and emotional shape. I have always viewed yoga as a spiritual practice first and then physical. The people I have met through yoga have been everyone you can imagine in society. It is for me a wonderful sacred space.
How could a person's size stop them from participating in such a beneficial activity?
My mind started turning late one night in my PJs while surfing the Internet, I did a quick scan of "yoga clothes." All the big brands of yoga clothes came up and their largest size was 12. So what happens if a person is larger than a size 12? Does that mean they are not welcome to practice yoga?
The only yoga clothes I could find online that were above a size 12 were from stores that specialize in plus size clothing -- not necessarily yoga clothes.
When I opened any of the various Yoga magazines I usually read, I also noticed that the front covers are usually very lean women and men. Flipping through these magazines, I only saw more small-framed yogis.
I was starting to see how a person could easily see yoga as being for only the smaller sized women and men who can put their foot behind their head.
I turned to one of my favourite, very knowledgeable yoga teachers looking for more insight. Cindy Stockdale has been my teacher for several years and is now the manager at YYoga in North Vancouver.
"Yoga is meant as a spiritual practice and in the west it has become popular through certain celebrities doing yoga" Cindy said. "If you look at some of the founders of yoga, they have soft supple round bodies."
After I shared with Cindy, what I had overheard at the party and that woman feeling intimidated to practice yoga she commented, "There are so many different types of yoga, something to suit any level of physical ability and interests. Yoga should not be limited to people of a certain size."
We discussed my findings on the Internet and yoga brands that have limited sizing and of the yoga magazines which featured very lean yogis on their covers. Was this another reflection of society's values?
"Our society sets these unrealistic expectations of what a person should look like and what size they should be, it could be that the yoga clothes industry and these magazines are only a reflection of this" says Cindy.
My curiosity still peaked, I contacted one of the most renowned yoga teachers today, Seane Corn, she shared with me her thoughts on the topic of body image.
"It is unfortunate and unnecessary people would feel this way," Seane continued, "Yoga is not about a person's size it is about the sensation, what sensation can that person receive and their reaction to it? Ultimately it is about a spiritual connection.
"My hope is that regardless of size, gender or sexual orientation, yoga can be a tool to experience this world and planet in a more unified and integrated way. There are so many different ways to get into yoga. I would encourage anyone not to let the belief of size to get in the way of practising yoga."
When I asked what would be Seane's advice to anyone wanting to try yoga for the first time she shared this: "One aspect of the practice of yoga is that it can increase our flexibility, you do not need to be flexible to be in a class. Yoga meets you where you are at. If you want to decrease stress then yoga will meet you there, if you are seeking something else it will meet you there too."
I will continue to go to yoga classes on days when I feel great and not so great. Whether I am feeling big or small, Yoga has always met me where I needed it most and allowed a soft place for me to land.
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