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The first time I vividly remember feeling ashamed of my body, I was 12 years old and at a weight-loss meeting with my mother (who had never weighed more than 100 pounds in her life), anxiously awaiting my turn for a weigh-in. It finally came, and I held my breath as I stepped delicately onto the scale. I had lost a pound and a half! Vindication! But as I turned to leave, still beaming, I saw an unexpected, out-of-place face: my sixth-grade math teacher. I felt a wave of heat wash over me, along with the strong desire to run away. It was humiliating enough being the youngest person at the meeting by a decade—even two or three. But being “found out” by someone I would have to face in school on Monday was too much to bear. I felt numb and disgusted with myself.
It took me decades to untangle from the shame I felt about my size. Like so many people, my parents were brought up to value thinness, and they passed that on to me. While trying to cajole me into losing weight, they reverted to stories of how fat people had difficult lives. And they were right about that in one regard, though maybe not how they’d intended: Fat discrimination is alive and well.
As I moved through high school and college and tried diet after diet (65 in total), I also started yoga. Someone had recommended it as a remedy for my chronic migraines, and I felt I had nothing to lose. I loved it. It was the first time I’d tried a movement practice for reasons other than weight loss. I didn’t have to constantly think about how many calories I was burning, so I kept coming back. But still I stayed at the back of the room, trying to be small.
Then in my mid-20s, something unimaginable happened. During an afternoon class, it was just me and the teacher, so I pulled my mat to the middle of the room for the first time ever. And then 10 members of the local university women’s soccer team came through the door, late for class. I considered an escape route, but there was none. There I was, trying to keep my belly from popping out of my shirt and pretending that I had the confidence to pull off the tight workout clothing I was wearing. And there they were, svelte and toned, looking like workout clothes were made for them. I was furious at how easy they were going to find yoga.
Except they didn’t. Turns out they were thin and fit, but not flexible and coordinated in the ways yoga asks you to be. We started to practice one of my favorite poses—a Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend—when I heard my teacher say, “See what Anna is doing over there? Do it like that.” I’m not sure I’ve ever had a prouder moment in my life. Someone was shining the spotlight on me for showing up in my body, this body, and doing my thing. This showed me some critical things: that I was capable of being present in my body and responding to it, that being connected to and not hating my body was possible, and that yoga was playing a big part in helping me get there.
My work with body acceptance started almost a decade after my first yoga class. But yoga had been laying the path the whole time, asking me to feel what was going on in my body in the present moment. I was catching regular glimpses of what a positive relationship with my body could look like. Yoga and body acceptance were working hand in hand to help me shift my story from one of Me versus My Body to a friendly, conversational relationship with my body. It was a dramatic shift from the thoughts I’d had for decades, like “I hate myself” or “I’d be better off dead.” For so long, I had equated weight loss with happiness. I began to wonder if that was actually true. And what if I could just start being happy right now?
Accepting your body doesn’t start only with your mind. It also starts with your body, with something as simple as feeling your feet on the floor or your bum on a chair. Once you shift into a body-led place, your body can guide you toward lasting change. Then, the magic is in being at peace with yourself, no matter your size.
About Our Writer
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga—a resource for yoga students and teachers of all shapes and sizes who want body-affirming yoga practices. As a writer, yoga teacher, and champion for women’s empowerment and body acceptance, Guest-Jelley encourages people to “grab life by the curves.”
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