The Fat Yogini: Making Peace With Our Bodies.

Via on Apr 29, 2010


“I sensed that there was something going on behind the towering brick walls and I wanted to experience it.”

Last week my cousin sent an E-mail describing her day at the Kripalu Yoga Center. Her words evoked a memory of my drive by encounter with Kripalu and my first Yoga class.

I was visiting my grandparents in the late 80’s. During one of our leisurely drives that followed Sunday dinner, we passed the sign for the Kripalu Yoga Center. I begged my grandfather to turn into the driveway.

I was amazed at the massive structure that was situated on several acres of land that overlooked the Berkshire Mountains.

My grandfather explained that the facility was originally built as a Jesuit seminary in 1957. After the seminary closed the building stood vacant for thirteen years, the property was briefly considered as a location for a state prison before Kripalu purchased it in 1983.

As we quickly drove by I had the urge to leap out of the vehicle and run towards the building. When I expressed my feelings, my grandfather responded to my excitement with disdain. “That place is not for you.”

I wondered why it wasn’t for me. I sensed that there was something going on behind the towering brick walls and I wanted to experience it.

I wouldn’t encounter The Kripalu Center again until years later when my husband and I moved to Lenox, Massachusetts.

Before our boxes were unpacked I began attending Kripalu’s community classes, evening chanting and morning circles. I immersed myself in Yoga philosophy. At the time I couldn’t name what I was after, but it was the same feeling I had experienced while driving past the center with my grandfather.

I was present at author’s book signings, health classes and every seminar that I could get to. I volunteered in the mailroom in exchange for classes. If I wasn’t sleeping I was at the center.

The classes with asanas, (yoga poses) were the ones I avoided due to my weight. I was afraid to face my body on the mat, so instead I learned what postures where best for a wide variety of illnesses.  I read enough books to fill a library.

I attempted to become a Yogic scholar, but the imbalances within my own body never healed. As I continued expanding in all areas of Yogic philosophy, my body continued to expand too.

It was during this time that I ruptured a disk in my back while shoveling snow. An accomplished Yogini from Kripalu came to my house and helped me to recover by demonstrating gentle asanas, (yoga poses).

I was forced to inhabit my body.

Shortly after my back healed I decided to take my first class at Kripalu that focused on the physical poses.

Somehow, out of the long list of class choices, I managed to choose one that shined a spotlight on my body and my limitations.

I positioned myself at the back of the expansive room in-order to try and make myself invisible. What I didn’t realize is that long rows of bodies would block the exit door. I was trapped in this room by dozens of students, all of them men.

The teacher was accomplished. He twisted himself up into shapes that are only seen in magazines. The students were all dressed in tiny spandex shorts in-order to show all the definitions and alignments of the poses.

In an attempt to include me the teacher kept pointing at me and saying, “Yoga is not about competition. If all you can do is this, (he would then demonstrate some simple movement) then be happy. Meet yourself where you are.”

The room was broiling and quickly began to smell. I was sweating. The instructor circled me and shouted, “Embrace where you are.”

The students balanced on one hand and twisted themselves into alphabet letters.  As I watched their bodies form unusual shapes, I half expected their postures to spell words or sentences. I experienced it like a full body sign language that spelled out how ridiculous I looked. The message that kept playing in my head was, Fat Bitch.

The teacher was not mean. I could tell he wanted me to feel comfortable, but the more he kept pointing me out the more he brought my attention to what I could not do.

The worst part was when he kept adjusting my body. He had to step over rows and rows of sweaty half naked men to get to me. He had long skinny legs that gave his body a stork like appearance. “It’s wonderful that you are here. Keep trying. Just do what you can,” he yelled.

Even in the midst of sweaty bodies and the sea of yoga mats I was able to recognize that I was being offered a choice. I could accept my body and its limitations—which meant I had to be with myself just as I was, or I could continue to dislike my body.

Since this experience I have come to understand that acceptance is not a one-time deal.

I am reminded of this each time I roll out my Yoga mat.


Anita Johnston’s book, Eating in the Light of the Moon

Know Thyself: What is Beauty? Chelsa Komlo

The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self by Charles Eisenstein

Man Loses 365 pounds by doing Yoga.

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About Patricia Busbee

Thoughtful Yogini. Reflective Writer. Editor. Blogger. Artist. I was first introduced to Yoga at the Kripalu Yoga Center in 1998. I continue to study Yogic philosophy. I will always be a student. My other love is creative writing. I recently completed my MFA. My manuscript is a hybrid—a blending of memoir, creative non-fiction and poetry. My spiritual practice is similar to my writing, a blending of all my studies. Goddess Devotee. Kali’s Daughter. Bhakti. Working on seeing the sacred in all things.


27 Responses to “The Fat Yogini: Making Peace With Our Bodies.”

  1. Carrie says:

    great article loved it

  2. Elize says:

    'acceptance is not a one-time deal' … thanks so much for sharing this.

  3. theartbeing says:

    that was a short but highly inspiring articl;e thankyou. i am currently not in my yoga practice, havent been for years and havent wanted to go to a class because of what my body has become, but you have shared some really good insight here

  4. Powerful! Thank you for sharing. Love the insight from a student's persecptive and also for ideas on how to assist (not compound the issues) as an instructor.

  5. elaine says:

    Thank YOU!!!! So Beautiful!

  6. bessiejulia says:

    Great post! I totally agree about acceptance. The more I practice the more I visit self-acceptance on the mat. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Mahita, I'm so glad you chose to share this wonderful story with the world.

    I hope you also saw these reactions on Facebook:

    Bob Weisenberg– I had the great pleasure of reading this piece before, and it's still one of my very favorite Yoga stories.

    Sarah Quirino–This one really touched me.

    Carrie Tynan Barrepski–I love it

    Melisa Dube–Wonderfully inspiring story that parallels every struggle we have in life and the way in which we often times avoid or resist rather than just accept where we are. Great article.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Mahita, I'm so glad you chose to share this wonderful story with the world.

    I hope you also saw these reactions on Facebook:

    Bob Weisenberg– I had the great pleasure of reading this piece before, and it's still one of my very favorite Yoga stories.

    Sarah Quirino–This one really touched me.

    Carrie Tynan Barrepski–I love it

    Melisa Dube–Wonderfully inspiring story that parallels every struggle we have in life and the way in which we often times avoid or resist rather than just accept where we are. Great article.

    Bob Weisenberg

  9. Mahita Devi says:

    Yes, my heart is filled with gratitude. I am honored by all the heart felt comments.

  10. Mahita Devi says:

    You are very welcome. I keep coming back to that place of choice each time I practice.

  11. Mahita Devi says:

    Thank you Elaine for the comment.

  12. Mahita Devi says:

    Thank you Donna for taking the time to post a comment.

  13. And isn't that the cutest little Ganesh (Elephant God) you've ever seen? Reminds me of "Babar's Yoga for Elephants"

  14. EcoYogini says:

    this is an awesome post. and you're right- acceptance is revisited… as it should be.

    I love my little round fertility goddesses that I have sprinkled around my home. A nice reminder of what beauty truly is, internal. :)

  15. Karin says:

    I really appreciate the sharing of this moving and honest story. You are inspiring to anyone hesitant about wanting to step into a yoga practice, self conscious about appearance, performance or any reason. Self acceptance for who I am, where I am, at any moment is a reminder I'm grateful to receive; and sharing the effects of instructors good intentions, shared loudly, is greatly valuable as well – I thank you!

  16. Mahita Devi says:

    Karin, what a powerful response. Your words are very healing and helpful. I needed to hear them. Thank you.

  17. Mahita Devi says:

    EcoYogini, I have several of those in my house too.

  18. Catrina says:

    I am a health coach and I love working with women and body issues because that is a challenge I have faced and many of the amazing georgeous women I know face too. When we put limitations on ourselves because of how we feel about our bodies it is obviouse that we are infliciting harm on ourselves and other females. Acceptance starts from with in but it sure does help when other women around you are self accepting and do what ever they want with all their beautiful "flaws".

    What amazes me so much is that no matter how many times we talk about self acceptance it hasnt really sunk in on all levels. Self acceptance is a practice and for me it may even be a lifetime of practice till I really turely get it. I think because of my challenges with my own body have helped me to help other women I It seems that your are doing the same for you too.

    Wouldnt it be wonderful if all women began to practice this challenge of self acceptance and love so that we may all begin to shine together and help our younger generations of women not have to face these same challenges?

  19. Mahita Devi says:

    Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for the work you are doing.
    I feel so much gratitude for the all women that took the time to respond. Seeing all these posts together is very healing.

  20. Mahita Devi says:

    Chad, I think that the class was part of a specialized retreat that was being offered at Kripalu. Most of the men were young if I remember correctly. I thought I was going to one of the community offered classes but made a wrong turn somewhere.

    Yes, most of the classes I attend are 95% women.

    For me the weight loss has come by learning to listen to my body, which translates into healthier food choices and learning to understand the difference between cravings and true hunger.
    But the process is ongoing. Everyday there are choices that go way beyond food and diet.
    It was hard for me to get started because I felt like I had such a long road ahead. I had to make peace with where I was.
    “Not all Yoga teachers are equipped to work with the obese.” I think this is true but I am hoping this changes because obesity is most certainly on the rise. I think that people are uncomfortable attending classes due to the current images that are mirrored back to them by the health and beauty industry and unfortunately in the yoga community as well.
    Also, body image issues and acceptance are not just the issues of overweight people. There is a lot of pressure put on people, especially women to look a certain way.

  21. Thank you! A very inspiring article.

  22. Somehow I just landed on this today. LOVE THIS LESSON. Learning it myself, daily. Best wishes to you on your journey!

  23. toonmonk says:

    So wish your site was more sharable.. if you post a link in FB images don't show up no into text. not smexy. :(

  24. gin says:

    when i moved countries, i had a hard time finding a yoga teacher and was going from class to class. despite being really skinny and have done yoga before, going to a new class is very daunting and i felt all that you have described (wanting to be invisible, conscious of other students, cringe whenever the instructor adjusts me). i nearly lost my temper at one who kept highlighting my scoliosis problem in the class. in essence, no matter what your size, everyone feels the same way walking into a new class :)

  25. Jo says:

    Great article. And a good reminder to those who teach movement that you might not be facilitating the feelings you think you are doing through the way you choose to cue. It’s such a brave thing, to take your place on a mat and give it your best shot when you already don’t feel at home in yourself. Om and hallelulajah to everyone who is THAT brave. Welcome to the yoga family, we have a space thats EXACTLY the right shape for you, whatever your shape may be.

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