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In these selections from the new book Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body, yoga teachers, activists, and writers reflect on the ways yoga has helped them appreciate their diverse—and beautiful—bodies.
“I am a fat, black yoga teacher. Yeah, I said it! Being called fat can be worse than a racial slur. I’ve had to endure both, and what saved me was yoga … That week [of intensive yoga study] taught me that doing advanced arm balances didn’t have to be my thing. It also taught me that I needed to create a diverse yoga space, help grow diverse teachers, and do my part in making yoga more accessible.”
Founder of yogasteya.com, a website devoted to “yoga for all shapes, sizes, and abilities”
“When yoga teachers are ashamed of their aging bodies, they send a pretty powerful message to their students that says being young, thin, and hip are all that matters. Instead, [teachers] need to present themselves fully—wrinkles, gray hair, laugh lines, and all—and step into exactly who they are: wise and beautiful. I do see how difficult that is in a world where youthful beauty trumps all; to do that, we all need courage, strength, and good role models.”
Former Yoga Journal editor and co-author of The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health
“I found yoga five years after I had started gender transition, and a few years after I’d had chest-reconstruction surgery. It took the threat of dying young from AIDS for me to find the courage to transition from female to male; because now nothing was more frightening than dying, I could risk everything to live in authenticity … The gift that gender transition offered me was the possibility that it could be safe to be physically present in my own body. What yoga offered me was an actual pathway to get there.”
Spiritual activist and artist who teaches woodworking in Boston
“It would be a lovely Utopian fantasy to imagine that pregnancy would be a blissful respite from all the body pressures, a time to bask in some goddess-like glow … And you know what? For some women, pregnancy really is effortlessly like that. I swear. I have met these women … I am not one of them … It was my prenatal yoga practice that brought me to a place where my physical movement intertwined the threads of who I was with the person I was and am becoming. It’s still, and always will be, a work in progress. Yoga was decidedly and
definitely not about the weight I was gaining or when I would lose it.”
Co-author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby
“… By respecting the needs of my body instead of struggling in poses [as someone with cerebral palsy], I was able to focus on other things within the pose. I could focus and become aware of my breath, which in my mind is the foundation of yoga …”
Yoga teacher and advocate for disabled people
“My plan is to raise my daughter so she is strong, vulnerable, valued, free, and secure, and does not have to spend serious amounts of her conscious and unconscious life hankering over her own body image and self-worth. How to do this? I think you start by changing the language, bringing a conscious and critical eye to the media, challenging the capitalist business model …, and, most importantly, finding times and rituals to value the inner world.”
Kate McIntyre Clere
Wrote, directed, and co-produced the award-winning film Yogawoman (yogawoman.tv)
*Excerpts from Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body, (Llewellyn Publications), edited by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley, on shelves this month.