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Yoga Is for Every Body

makeover_leah.jpg
I'll say straight away that I shamelessly stole this title from an article that a friend of mine sent me about yoga. When I read it, the article really resonated with me but after a few more months of yoga, I think I've finally started to really understand what the author was getting at. When you're heavy like I am, self consciousness about your body permeates everything you do. In truth, that statement probably applies to almost every women I've met, whether she's heavy or slender, but the difference for the heavy person is that you feel like you're being judged in a less-than-postiive way all the time. So when you feel like you can't do something because of your size, it's like being cut off at the knees. That happens in yoga more than I would like. There are certain poses that I just can't do. It has nothing to do with tightness—it's about the size and shape of my body. Seated twists, for example. My legs are short and they're wide so getting one leg all the way over the other leg with my foot on the floor, and then putting my elbow on my knee just won't happen. When I realized this for the first time in a class I was mortified. It wasn't just that I couldn't do the pose, but that I couldn't do the pose because my body was all wrong. It brought back every size insecurity I've ever had because, of course, in my head the fact that I couldn't do the pose means there's something wrong with my body.

One of my biggest struggles has been to come to grips with this and to recognize that not all poses work for all body types, and that there's no shame in using props to compensate for short arms or tight hamstrings. Or that sometimes, certain poses aren't for you. The truth is, the "proper" yoga postures don't work for everyone.

I read somewhere that one of the goals of yoga is to push your body to the edge, and then relax into that edge. How you get there can be subtly different depending on your shape. If that wasn't the case, then yoga would only be for the select few who happen to have the body type that's most amenable to the poses. And I suspect that even for those folks, some poses don't quite work the way they'd like them to. Admittedly, it's not always easy to embrace this wisdom in the moment. When I attempt a pose that my body just doesn't want to do, I have to fight off the insidious sense that yoga just isn't for my body and remember that yoga as a discipline doesn't judge. It's benefit is for everybody and every body that wants to embrace it.


Comments

This aricle shows that yoga is for everybody :)

Our bodies aren't right or wrong, just different.

Great job, Leah! It's good to hear the more positive tone of your posts lately; I know you were frustrated for a while. But if there's one thing I've learned about yoga in my two years of practice, it's that it's a process! The more you learn, the more you realize you don't know; the more you can do, the more you realize how many poses are still inaccessible to you! On some days it's incredibly frustrating and it can feel like you're spinning your wheels, but in the end, that perpetual challenge and learning opportunity is what keeps us coming back to the mat! Keep up the good work--I'm rooting for you!

I am going through some similar issues.

After 14 years of smoking, I quit around a year-and-a-half ago. While I've always had issues with fluctuating weight, after quitting smoking, I really packed on the pounds, becoming heavier than I had ever been.

After a few months of just focusing on not smoking, I decided it was time to make some changes regarding diet and exercise.

After making slow, gradual changes to both diet and exercise, I am now eating no meat (occasional seafood) or dairy products. I do around an hour of power yoga everyday.

Yet, the weight is slow in coming off. I am tired of going to extremes, so this time, I won't starve myself or workout to the point of making myself sick. But, I struggle a lot with frustration, and feel pretty defeated sometimes.

Hang in there. If I can, you can too.

I too am a heavy person in the world of yoga and everything said in this is so true! My downfall has always been shoulder stands! My breasts fall in my face, and I can't balance all my weight on my shoulders! I am too bottom heavy! But, I've learned that in class, I can do a partial shoulder stand or even just legs up the wall while the others do their stands. I still benefit from the class, sometimes I just have to adjust my poses to fit my size. And then when it comes to down dog or something I am good at, look out! I'm one of the best in class ;)

I would agree that certain poses, like some advanced poses "aren't for everybody". But how are we supposed to judge whether we are just plain doing something "improperly" or simply not working hard enough to make reasonable progress? Certainly, yoga is not a competition, with others or oneself, but remember: "Practice, practice, practice and all is coming," said Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

I think there are a reasonable number of poses that the American yoga practitioner who started in his/her 30s can do. I suspect you are selling yourself short. Realistically, I believe you can do more, do you? Maybe not now, but with practice--absolutely.
Taken to it's logical conclusion, would your theory leave very few poses for a beginner to ever attempt? A possible consequence is you might be limiting your own progress.

And I know that just because somebody can stretch more than another doesn't mean that the more bendy person is "doing" yoga better.

But, how are you (we) able to distinguish between not putting forth sufficient effort and the proper amount of correct effort that would produce more visible/tangible results? Would more practice or vigorous effort produce physical changes that would increase your flexibility? Maybe...Probably. Would doing a warrier pose with the knee in a deeper lung work the quadraceps harder than barely bending the knee? Absolutely. Does more blood, sweat, and tears lead to the path to enlightenment--not necessarily. But I think it might provide you with some pleasant results that will increase your strength and flexibility and ability to do many more poses.

There's nothing wrong with your practice being a split between being "pure yoga" and sometimes a little bit of just plain old exercise. Sometimes my practice is mostly exercise because I may have a hard time focusing on a my thoughts. Other times, it's all yoga.

One of the main things to remember about yoga, for me anyways, is that it is not all about asana. My favorite mantra as of late is one of Hamsa Yoga, and it is "I am not the body, I am the soul." I've worked through alot of psychological problems with yoga. I am glad to see it has helped you as well in your struggle.

Wonderful, Leah! I'm so proud of you for mentally dealing with the thoughts and feelings that come up during asana practice, and talking yourself through it! You are right, yoga is a discipline. It is a way and a process for us to use to help us deal with thoughts and emotions that are damaging and negative. They come up for everybody, for different reasons, and yoga helps us to face these head-on.

You are also right that every body performs the asanas differently. No body, large or small can strike the same pose. The goal *is not* to hold a pose so that you look like someone else, but to find happiness and peace within yourself by peeling back the layers, and revealing your beautiful Self.

I've been practicing yoga for six years. I'm a small-ish person, but tend to carry my weight in my belly have short arms and legs and certainly don't have the classic long lean look of a yogi. In the beginning, I thought I would never overcome the challenges my body type presented. Over time and very consistent and disciplined practice, I found strengths and areas of flexibility others don't have. And as my core continues to strengthen and my belly leans out (its all the yoga, believe me), the poses that were once impossibly now come with ease. I'm even able to bind in a reverse side-angle pose! Of course shoulder stand will always be a bit more problematic for me than the skinny yogis and yoginis in class, but I may be getting something out of it that they aren't!
Keep it up. This yoga journey is truly satisfying.

Thank you so much for posting this. Although I do not count myself as particularly heavy being a UK size 12/14 I am much bigger than the women in the Ashtanga class I attend. And on "bad body" days, I do feel a little inadequate seeing everyone else twist themselves into every posture imaginable, when I have to constantly re-position my breasts to get my arms into position. However, when this happens, I smile, glance at the comforting image of Guruji on the wall and be pleased with the progress I have made.

I'am a heavy person too and I've just joined Yoga for a month and I already realised the difficulties in doing certain poses. My brohter make fun and said that Yoga is not for FAT PEOPLE. But my instructor always advised me to listen to my body and to do according to my best limit. After reading this article, I am more confident and believe that Yoga is for every body. The thing I enjoyed the most each class is having "sweat to the maximum". Well, we will lose weight for sure, sooner or later, if we never give up.

Leah, I've been reading your blogs with great interest - it seems we have a lot in common, especially our body type, the emotions surrounding it, and the difficulties with doing some of the poses. I really identified with what you said about being self-conscious all the time. I find myself being self-conscious just sitting in a meeting at work, let alone trying to do the pose you described or even Warrior I.

I have problems with a number of the poses for one reason or another related to my weight, the shortness of my arms or legs, or other aches that have stemmed from being heavy for so long. I find myself modifying quite a bit (I'm getting very good at it). I do get upset about it sometimes, because this is just one more thing I can't do "properly" or "right", but lately I've been laughing about it instead. I've found that when I laugh about a pose I can't yet do I find that I'm more determined to get there eventually. If I get upset, I'll be more prone to give up on yoga altogether.

My teacher has said she sees great improvements in what I can do in just the few months I've been doing it. Don't tell her, but I can see it myself sometimes. It takes me longer each class to drag my mat off for legs up the wall. :)

So to sum up, thank you for being so open in your posts and for helping those of us in the same "yoga boat" know that our troubles are more universal than we would think. Good luck to you!!

Hi,
I just started a few days ago and i know what you mean..i had trouble with a few poses but i'm goin to keep trying :)

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