I began practicing yoga at the age of 15 in a local community center.
The class was led by my boyfriend’s mom, and it was super gentle and friendly for all ages and ability levels.
Fast forward 10 whole years of doing a practice at home via videos and online resources until I finally stepped foot in a studio. The truth is, I was so incredibly intimidated.
I have never been a super tiny woman, nor have I ever been super strong. I didn’t do sports when I was in school because I was a theater geek. So, I had never focused on developing my body beyond the shape that waiting tables and bartending had done. I was comfortable with my body until I started seeing the presence of the yoga community online.
When I started researching studios and looking at yoga communities on Facebook and Instagram, I was overloaded with images of tiny women in very little clothing, to show off their abs of course, doing death defying feats that seemed impossible for my body to do.
The aesthetics of the yoga community in the Western world seemed elite, and I didn’t understand why I didn’t see photos of various sized women celebrating their craft.
Let me stop for a moment and make something very clear—the problem in this scenario is not that the pictures are of tiny powerhouse women. The problem is that the view was so freaking skewed.
Where are the rainbows of bodies, colors and ages that exist in the yoga world? This made me more than uncomfortable with the idea of taking my practice beyond my living room.
In 2012, I finally got up the courage to go to a yoga studio for the first time. I went to two classes at local studios and felt like I was slapped in the face. What I saw in the lobby and in the classes themselves was a direct representation of what I had been seeing in the media. I felt so uncomfortable and so out of place. Being in this situation brought on feelings of shame at my body and made me question the whole practice.
I went just those two times and then went back to my home practice. I was so angry at the idea of marketing and advertisements having such an influential role in the conditioning of women that they were made to feel like—if they did not fit within a box—they needed to hide. I knew from that experience that there was no way that I could be the only one feeling like I needed to shy away from connecting with other human beings because I did not fit into some media idea of what a yogini looks like.
After continuing with my home practice for another two years, heavily practicing along with the amazing Katherine Budig and truly feeling connected to the need to Aim True (the focus of her teachings), I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I signed up for a yoga teacher training (YTT) course I found online in the summer of 2014 and decided that I would need to take classes again, in person, to get more of a feel for in-studio classes.
I gritted my teeth, prepared to turn my blinders on to the things I didn’t want to experience again and walked into Baltimore Yoga Village (BYV) for the first time. When I walked into this studio for a six-dollar community class, with low expectations I might add, I immediately felt a sense of being home. I went into the class, set up my mat and sat down a little nervously as people came in. I was completely astonished by the diversity of age, gender, size and ability that came through the door.
I was blown away by the fact that the teacher came up to me and introduced herself and asked me how I was feeling in my body. I will never forget how much Elizabeth made me feel welcome and held in this space. I ended up canceling my teacher training at the previous place I had signed up for and immediately inquired about a work-study opportunity and YTT at BYV and applied to their 200-hour YTT program, which I completed in 2015. Every day I feel so fortunate to have found this community, so rich and vibrant with amazing human beings.
The reason I want to share this story is to emphasize the fact that, while the internet is an amazing place, it gives us a skewed view of the real world. Nowadays, I love the online yoga community. I actively participate in Instagram yoga challenges under the username @wildhearts108 to spice up my practice and connect with people. And I love it. I have met real, true friends on the Instagram and Facebook yoga communities that I would never have met in person, and for this I am forever thankful.
We all just need to push past the boundaries and break through the stories that are put on us by advertising and societal judgments in order to flourish and find our people—our tribe.
I promise you, no matter where you are coming from or what you are interested in, your people are out there waiting for you and if you only stay brave enough to test the waters you will find them.
Author: Alica McNee
Apprentice Editor: Sarah Shin; Editor: Travis May