Yoga teacher and writer Anna Guest-Jelley is on a mission to make yoga more accessible to people of all shapes and sizes—especially larger body types. Her new e-book Permission to CURVE: Inspiring Poses for Curvy Yogis & Their Teachers explains how to modify the practice to accommodate for the unique challenges that might be discouraging to plus-size yoga students.
Buzz spoke with Guest-Jelley about the book and about her popular blog and program Curvy Yoga.
Tell us about Curvy Yoga. Why did you see a need for it?
The mission of Curvy Yoga is to share body positive yoga with people of all shapes and sizes. I saw a need for it first from my own experience of practicing for about 10 years without much (or often any) help from my teachers to practice in a way that worked for my body. Over time, I realized that the problem wasn’t unique to me and also that it wasn’t my body but just that teachers are rarely trained to support bigger-bodied students. So I set out to first teach students and now teach teachers.
There's some controversy around the term "curvy." Why did you choose it?
I think any time we’re talking about bodies, there’s bound to be controversy. Many, if not most, of us have some emotional baggage around our perception of our body, and people seem to love or loathe any particular term in nearly equal numbers.
With that in mind, I chose the term “curvy” to describe what I do because I thought it was the most welcoming and positive term I could come up with that was also clear. What’s been interesting to watch unfold over time is how many people of every shape and size relate to both the term and the concept of Curvy Yoga; it’s definitely not only for larger-bodied students, but the term lets them know that they are welcome, which is the goal.
What's different about your approach to teaching yoga than other teachers?
My focus is always on accessibility, no matter what. I design all of my classes to support students wherever they are in their practice; I always want them to be able to participate in their own way. So no one gets asked to hang out in Child’s Pose in my class while everyone else does the “real” pose. My goal is to teach the individual expression of poses, not the “full expression.” I believe that this approach can build a lifelong practice for people of every shape, size and ability.
Of course, many teachers share a similar philosophy, so what may be different about my approach is that every aspect of my teaching, from asanas chosen, to sequencing, to prop incorporation, to languaging, to how students are welcomed into the class is designed to make people who never thought yoga was for them (specifically curvy bodied people) feel like they’ve found a community in yoga if they want one.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I decided to write Permission to CURVE: Inspiring Poses for Curvy Yogis & Their Teachersbecause my students asked for it. They’d been wanting a way to either get started in a home yoga practice or make their current practice an even better fit for them. So I’d say that students are the primary audience for the book, but I definitely had teachers in mind when I wrote it, too. Since the book is available digitally, it’s highly interactive. It includes 60-plus asana descriptions and photos. In addition, the book itself contains 15 videos for the must-see poses/sequences, and folks can also add on a video library with a video for every pose if they learn better that way.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
My hope is that the book can be a go-to resource for both students and teachers. The foundation of the book is the idea of practicing with radical self-kindness, making yoga an expression and extension of a path of body awareness and acceptance. I hope that readers can infuse that spirit into their own practice and also learn helpful tips on asana modification for curvy bodies.