I recently had a new student who appeared apprehensive, yet curious about beginning yoga for the first time. When asked if she had any injuries or pain in her body, she replied that she did not. Soon after class begun, I recognized her body’s natural flexibility. Despite her ease in certain poses, she seemed quite discouraged in poses that required more strength and stamina. After class, I asked her how she was feeling. She replied, “Well, I’m bigger than the other girls and have more fat in my middle, so that makes it a lot harder. I’ll have to work on that.”
It is these moments that I am so grateful for my experience and training in the field of eating disorders and body image. I truly believe in health at every size (http://haescommunity.org/) and know that any body regardless of size and shape can practice yoga with ease and stability. I am grateful that I could respond to her with compassion, but also a firmness that did not fall victim to the body shaming trap.
“No, I don’t think your body size or shape is a problem at all. I do think you can balance your body’s natural inclination toward flexibility with more strengthening poses. However, feeling stronger doesn’t have anything to do with changing how your body looks,” I replied. She looked at me a bit shocked, probably expecting me to say, “You’re right. But don’t worry, we will get you down a size and looking fabulous in no time.”
Thankfully, I can respond with confidence that bodies of all sizes and shapes and abilities are just right for yoga. This is not to say that yoga is EASY for everyone, but with a disciplined practice or tapas, any body can work toward sthira sukham asanam, a steady yet easeful pose.
Whether you are a yoga instructor or student, here are some helpful tips and examples for avoiding the body shaming trap with yourself and others.
1) It’s okay to politely disagree when someone shames their body, by simply offering, “No, I don’t agree with the way you see your body and I don’t think the size of your body has as much impact on your practice as you may think”.
2) Watch out for joining in by body shaming yourself. Instead of, “Oh, I know, and my thighs are so huge that I could never do Warrior 1 correctly” offer, “I used to think that way about my body too, but now I know that the strength of my legs allows me to be more stable in Warrior 1”.
3) Let go of comparing bodies in yoga class. Rather than noting everyone around you, keep your practice on your own experience by staying connected to your body, mind and breath. When connected and grounded on our own mats, we can go deeper in our practice without effort and with more ease.
Loving shout-out to Jessamyn Stanley (http://jessamynstanley.com/) who provides constant inspiration for all bodies to practice yoga with joy!