Hello dear ones,
I think by now you know that I teach consent based, body positive, sliding scale yoga. Or at least, I try to. These are the values that I try to uphold in my practice and in my teaching. I’m writing over the next couple weeks about why and how I enact these values. Last week’s post about consent in yoga culture is over here. Stay tuned for thoughts on MONEY and why I teach sliding scale classes.
The yoga world (and the world in general) tells us that only one kind of body is okay. Look at any mainstream yoga publication and you’ll see scores of skinny bendy white ladies. Body and beauty norms are harmful to everyone! If you don’t measure up to these impossible standards (and who among us ever will?), media relentlessly shows us, tells us, and sells us an unending barrage of ways to make ourselves fit, if only we lose weight or change our diet or whatever, often under the auspices of “detoxing” or “getting healthy.”
But what if we reject those norms? As a skinny bendy white lady-ish person myself, I see it as my work to utilize my intersecting privilege to make more space, not less, for those who tend to be pushed out of the mainstream yoga world. Tiina Veer (founder of Yoga for Round Bodies) says, "One of the best ways teachers can serve their round students is to accept and claim ownership of their own privilege and internalized prejudice." Every day I see more and more inspiring people in the yoga world pushing back against the Lululemon robots that want to sell us gazillion dollar yoga pants alongside impossible beauty standards. (FTR, I'm not actually knocking people who happen to wear Lululemon. You do you.)
Right now I’m loving Jessamyn Stanley, Valerie Sagun, Amber Karnes and Dianne Bondy. These women have made a name for themselves through their online presence. Simply showing up in the yoga world in a bigger body, or as a person of color, or as a person who is older (or, or, or...) is an act of resistance against the systemic misogyny and white supremacy that tells us that only one kind of body is okay.
I asked in my classes this week “What is body positivity?” and as usual, you all have had utterly brilliant answers.
Removing shame from the yoga practice
Rejecting cultural norms about what a beautiful body is
Practicing yoga for benefits besides a “yoga booty”
Celebrating every body
Yes! Yes! Yes! I feel drawn to teaching in a body positive way because I’m always trying to create a space where students feel like they belong! When you come to my class, I want you to feel whole, complete, and accepted just as you are. I’m cultivating a space where I hope you feel connected to your own fundamental okay-ness.
I believe that I don’t know what is best for you more than you do. I believe that you are the arbiter of your own life, and by extension, of your own body. I believe that we are made powerful by having autonomy and self-determination over our own bodies. I believe that the body is a temple, and that by celebrating it and protecting it from harm, we create sacred space inside ourselves. And that is pretty amazing!
So how do I go about teaching yoga in a body positive way? The most direct way is that I try to never ever body shame in the words I’m speaking in class. That means I never make comments about bodies beyond what is necessary to teach a given pose or give a personal adjustment. This is a growing edge for me, a place where I am always trying to cultivate more and more sensitivity.
For instance, when cuing the drawing backwards motion of the head to stack it over the spine, I used to say “It’s like you’re trying to give yourself a double chin.” Maybe not a big deal to some, but why even bring up a feature that many people have felt self-conscious about? I am creative enough in my languaging that I can almost certainly come up with something to say that gets my point across without potentially shaming someone. So now I say, “It’s like you’re a turtle tucking your head back into your shell.” Clear enough, and free from potential shame (unless you're a turtle?).
I also try to practice body positivity by teaching to look for internal sensations rather than the external form of a pose, by offering modifications and alternative poses, and by incorporating the use of props.For example, if I’m teaching Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), I might say something like:
“Place your front hand on your thigh, or your shin, or your block or the floor. Only bring the hand as far down as you need to to be able to feel a stretch in the inner thigh and hamstrings of the front leg.” I’m not particularly interested in you getting your hand to the floor (external form); I’m more excited about you having an experience of stretching your leg (internal sensation)!
So go ahead and use a block if that's what helps you to find the stretch in your leg. A prop is not a crutch or a cheat. Props are pose enhancers! Utilize them as such. The classical poses all look the same from the outside but our bodies are not all the same.
I encourage you this week to try to modify your mindset and your practice so that your poses are in greater service of your body, rather than the other way around. How has your yoga practice helped to shift your relationship to your body? In what ways are you making your practice or your teaching more body positive?
I’d love to hear from you! And if you like what I write, sign up for weekly blog posts direct to your inbox by clicking here or filling in the form below!
NOTE: Many of my philosophical ideals around body positivity have come from the writing of Tara Brach, particularly her book Radical Acceptance, which I highly recommend. Much of my technical knowledge about how to make yoga more accessible has come from my own teachers, particularly Heide Grace, and from the work of Amber Karnes and Dianne Bondy. For more info I recommend the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Or you could just watch this badass grandma run sprints.