The price of admission for being a woman and talking on the internet is harassment. It comes and goes in waves (often related to everything that is happening politically) and certain topics generate far more barbs from strangers than others.
Most of the time, I ignore the comments. Being human, however, means that not only do I sometimes feel compelled to look, but I also spend more energy thinking about them than I should.
I rarely need to answer. But in this case – when people come to me for being a yoga teacher – I absolutely want to.
I’m fat. I teach yoga.
These are facts about me and are not mutually exclusive. I’m actually fat, I teach yoga, and I happen to be a great yoga teacher.
It is this body that has propelled me through more than 500 hours of training to become certified to teach at the level I teach. I endured physical challenges that pushed me to the limit – 12 hours a day with 7 or 8 hours of movement each in a heated studio – but more, I endured countless hours sitting with the emotional, philosophical and mental challenges that the practice brings.
However, like the trolls who doubt me, I once had my doubts about my ability to do yoga with this body.
Before starting my first yoga practice in a studio, I sent an email to the owner. She was exactly the type of body you see in the mainstream Western media when it comes to yoga: long, thin blond hair, white. I asked her if it was okay to try yoga in that studio, with a fat body and all. I was seeking approval to bring my body into a space that, I am told, does not accept others like mine.
I felt good with his ‘yes’ to appear, and that student room was not what I expected. It was not a room of thin, luxurious bodies with leisure clothing. Instead, I found bodies of all shapes, sizes, abilities and – as far as it could be for a small midwestern town – colors.
We moved. We sweat. We breathe.
At that time, I didn’t know what the future held for me. At that time, what I knew was what it was like to put the body in front of the mind and let the mind judge the body: two principles that Western culture has confused in a way that true yoga practice seeks to unravel, unfold, unfold.
My body requires modifications to some yoga postures. But most of the bodies, too. Yoga postures – asanas – are not really an old practice. Yoga itself is a 3,000-year-old practice, but it is not a collage of forms translated roughly from Sanskrit to English animal names; instead, it is an eightfold path consisting of ethical practices, behavioral restrictions, mindfulness, meditation and breathing, supported by physical movements to keep the body still and stable enough to work deeply in the mind and breath.
Specific yoga asanas appeared only in the early 1900s, stylized after the gymnastics practiced by prepubescent boys. Unless it is your body, you will be making changes that allow your body to have fun and express itself in the best way in whatever form you are creating.
Learning how to adjust my body to the poses gave me power as a student, but more, discovering the joy of modifications helped me build a kit of teaching tools – one that those who did not navigate working on a fat body do not have access. I encourage the use of props, postures that take up more space in this world, to literally move the meat around when it is limiting its potential and desired range of motion. When a student enters one of my classes nervous, afraid of not being good enough or with the mentality that he is too fat, too inadequate, too inflexible, too uncoordinated, I can take advantage of my own experiences of being in that mentality you need and make sure they are perfect as they are.
This is yoga.
Fat is a reality of my body, but it is not one of the most interesting. It’s really cool that I can hold my body in a hand and forearm stop. May I flow pose to pose with grace and skill. That I never get bored doing basic poses because there is something you can always learn, from where to express more energy to how to involve the core a little more.
But yoga is not about my body. It’s about my body as far as my mind is concerned. It’s about my body as far as your body and mind are concerned, whether you don’t realize I’m fat, or whether it’s the fact about me that you’re fixated on.
I don’t need to prove my worth as a teacher or student by having a body in a certain way. I prove it by creating the right shape in my life.