In many ways, I feel more self-conscious now than I did 20 pounds ago.
After my first year of law school, I ended up in the hospital with various health issues. I was pretty familiar with yoga from DVDs I had been doing and I decided that it was time to get more serious about my health and develop my yoga practice.
I fell in love with yoga in a big way. (No pun intended.) I found that, no matter what else was going on, yoga was one of the few things that could make me forget about it all, if only for an hour or so. I was better able to manage my stress. My health began to improve. I lost weight.
I had become healthier and stronger.
Then, I felt the urge to share this amazing practice with others and spread the healing I had experienced. I did my teacher training at that same studio and it changed my life. I’m aware of how cliché that sounds, but things become cliché for a reason!
Many people have praised me for having the courage to drag my much heavier self into a yoga studio for that first time. “It must have been scary,” people often comment, thinking I’ll nod in agreement and laugh and recall a story about how nervous I was that first time. Frankly, I didn’t know enough to be intimidated. Before that first class, I had never read yoga magazines or shopped yoga gear at certain retailers that don’t sell clothing larger than a size 12.
It didn’t even occur to me to be self-conscious.
I had done yoga on DVD sporadically for years, so I thought that first time going to a studio would be no big deal. And it wasn’t. I went to a lovely studio that had yogis of all shapes and sizes, young and old, of all abilities. The teachers there were knowledgeable, tolerant and compassionate without being condescending. I felt accepted and nurtured. I also remained blissfully unaware that this was not how it is at many studios.
I have lost weight, but I, like most people, still do not look like the yoga models that are so frequently pictured in advertisements. Since losing weight, I’ve read countless yoga-related articles and seen countless advertisements featuring models that don’t look anything like me. I’ve been to stores that specialize in yoga merchandise where I didn’t feel very welcome. In my search for a new studio after recently relocating to a new city, I’ve been to yoga studios where I didn’t feel very welcome—not because of any lack of ability, but purely because of my size.
When taking classes as a student, I’ve had fellow students and teachers prejudge me, assuming I’m a beginner because I do not have the physique of a prepubescent boy. I’ve felt their eyes on me, evaluating.
The deeper I have delved into yoga, the more moments of self-consciousness and feelings of unworthiness I have had.
I don’t fit the mold of the size 00, extra, extra small yoga teacher. At the beginning, I didn’t know there was such mold and fortunately, by the time I figured it out, I had fallen too deep in love with yoga to let anything or anyone make me feel like I should stop.
I felt a strong need to share my experience to encourage to try yoga other people who might not otherwise do it, as well as to remind other yogis that yoga is about tolerance and compassion.
It seems almost silly to say, but treat yogis who are larger than you as you would any other yogi. Be nice, say hello, but resist the urge to assume they are a beginner (even though they might be) or to make a condescending comment about how great it is that someone their size is doing yoga.
Nobody should be made to feel that they are unworthy of yoga.
Everybody is worthy of yoga, because everyone can benefit from yoga. Yoga changed my health and every other aspect of my life, and I wonder what my life would be like had I read an issue of a yoga magazine and changed my mind about heading to a studio for the first time or if I had chosen a studio with a less welcoming, tolerant atmosphere. I feel sad for other people who did not have a great experience the first time they went to a studio, and decided yoga “wasn’t for them.”
Yoga is for everybody, silly.
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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana / Ed: Cat Beekmans