By Laura Burns
The Body Positive movement has created a shift in how we view the relationship between our bodies and our minds. Body positivity affirms that each of us deserves to love and respect ourselves regardless of our size, race, ability, and gender expression. For some who have been taught they’re less because of their body, this may be a complete reversal of thought! Yogis struggling to accept and love themselves can truly benefit from asana class steeped in body positivity. The change in perspective can help them reap the benefits of yoga to improve their mental and physical health for life-changing results in and out of the studio.
When I began to explore yoga I couldn’t find instructors trained in working with folks in bigger bodies like mine. I desperately wanted to improve my connection with my body, learn about yoga, and create a lasting practice to benefit my health and wellness. I attended class after class with instructors who didn’t know what to do with my body, so they either ignored my needs completely or over-highlighted me in a strange attempt at making me feel comfortable. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. These experiences were incredibly disheartening. I wanted the yoga high after class, the epiphanies my friends were having mid-down dog, the joy of experiencing alignment and strength in my body! Instead I had negative experiences time and again, ultimately deciding that I just wasn’t made for yoga and spending the next 10 years avoiding yoga completely.
I eventually found my way back into yoga class, teacher training, and created Radical Body Love Yoga to bring accessible body positive classes to people who don’t feel comfortable and safe in traditional yoga spaces. Radical Body Love Yoga combines body positive philosophy and accessible asana options to create a comprehensive practice that helps foster students’ love, respect, and acceptance for their bodies. Through body positive cues, sequences, and pose options, I encourage students to explore and honor what their bodies can do in each moment without comparing themselves to other people or their past selves. The following are 3 tips for incorporating body positivity into your yoga practice!
It’s about the benefit of the pose, not how it looks! Every pose is challenging for someone. Your pose doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You may easily slide into Child’s Pose and feel comfortable, safe, and happy while the student next to you is in pain, uncomfortable, or feeling anxious. There is always another option to reap the benefit of the pose. For example, Child’s Pose is a resting pose designed to help you feel calm, comfortable, and safe by creating a delicious C-shaped curve of the spine. Folding forward can be challenging for folks with larger bellies and feel unsafe for those dealing with trauma. That same C-shape can be achieved by sitting comfortably and gently tucking chin towards chest. For more support the forehead can come to a stack of yoga blocks to create a restorative posture that suits most bodies.
Props are your friend. It sounds simple, but many classes are not taught from a supported starting point. Try flipping the script and starting from the most supported version of the pose and then adjusting as you go. Start with a block, dial the height down, and let go when you’re ready. The important part is that you’re in control. For teachers, starting everyone with props means that people can try it with support and then continue or opt out. There’s no awkward walk across the room when you realize you really do need a strap for this Extended Big Toe, and many seasoned students find that they enjoy using props as well. Props are not for ‘those who can’t’, they’re a great tool to enrich everyone’s practice.
You’re the expert. Often there’s an emphasis on pushing through, working harder, or finding the full expression of the pose that can lead you past your edge and mean a physical injury or feeling like you’re not doing enough. Give yourself permission to recognize that you’re the expert on your body. You know when you’re at your edge, when you don’t need to push any harder, and when you need to not push at all. It doesn’t matter what the teacher says, if you trust yourself to know your own limits and needs you will gain more from class and have a better experience.
These tips are just the beginning! There’s a whole world of body positivity and yoga out there for you. Remember to be kind to yourself and always give yourself permission to give your body what it truly needs.
This article is published in September 2017 issue of Natural Awakening magazine. To learn more about Radical Body Love Yoga, visit radicalbodylove.com. Laura teaches four classes weekly at Studio NiaMoves in the Houston Heights. Register online at niamoves.com.