You may have heard me talking about body positivity before, in some form or another. I'll sum it up: it does nobody any good to be all judgy on ourselves, especially not about our physical characteristics. It's even worse if people are all judge on each other. Most of us don't need any help being hard on ourselves.
So I was delighted when Sarah Harry, founder of Body Positive Australia, who is both a qualified therapist and a yoga teacher, agreed to write this guest post. She's (obviously) an accomplished yogi, but she's run into a lot of discrimination. I'd love to hear your thoughts too, especially as a student of yoga! Read on:
As yoga teachers we like to think of ourselves as inclusive and knowledgeable to adapt postures to each and every body who may wander into our classes. But that isn’t always the case. Just in the last six months I have been asked if I realised this was “an advanced class” (insert condescending tone) and on another memorable occasion a kindly teacher asked me if I was in the foyer to “collect the towels for the laundry” (that would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad).
All without a word of inquiry about my yoga experience.
The yoga teachers in question (from two different Melbourne studios) were just judging me on my body shape (I’m a curvy yogini) and sadly these aren’t isolated events.
So, here are my top ways to make sure you are being body positive in your studio and classes.
Don’t make assumptions #1 The curvy lass or gentleman in your class may be a total newbie or a seasoned teacher. A couple of questions or attention to their registration form should do the trick.
Don’t make assumptions #2 I once very much overestimated the skills of a young woman in my class who was sitting with so much flexibility and ease cross-legged that I assumed she was a pro. Not the case. There is an injury risk here.
Don’t ignore me. I was once in a Yin Class where I could not (like, not even close) get into the position the teacher described (reclining hero) and as I floundered she walked past me and pretended she couldn’t see me. ARRGGG. Please help me. Even if I can’t open my mouth to ask for it. Please have some modifications up your sleeve, they really are an essential part of making yoga accessible to all.
Curvy modifications aren’t scary. If I had to give one curvy modification for everyone to use it’s this; widen your stance. That’s right, in an amazing number of postures simply opening the legs a little wider (Warrior 1 & 2, Mountain, Forward bends can all be made sooo much easier for the curvy body by stepping the feet a little further apart, also giving more room for tummy’s and boobs)
The dreaded boob smoosh (sorry guys!) Just be aware that the bigger busted amongst us (even if not curvy) will struggle with some postures cutting off air supply (never good) So watch out in inversions in particular that everyone is comfy. I generally go for a simple supported shoulder stand or ‘legs up the wall’ which offer the benefits minus the asphyxiation!
Watch your language. One of the more annoying phrases used is “come into the full expression of the pose” or something similar. Banish that! Offering ‘options’ is the language I use, so that someone who struggles to get into that “full expression” doesn’t feel like they are hopeless or not doing it ‘properly’.
There are heaps of ways we can make our yoga classes welcoming, but often classes and studios are inadvertently intimidating places. A simple smile and welcome can go a long way to reassuring people they are in the right place to learn yoga or deepen their practice.
You can find Sarah on Facebook too.