Yes, I'm Fat—I'm Also a Damn Good Yoga Teacher
In fact, I happen to be one damn good yoga teacher.
The price of admission for being female and vocal on the internet is harassment. It comes and goes in waves (often related to whatever’s going on politically) and certain topics ignite far more barbs from strangers than others.
Most of the time, I ignore the comments. Being human, though, means I not only sometimes feel compelled to look, but I also spend more energy thinking about them than I should.
Rarely do I need to respond. But in this instance—when people come at me for being a yoga teacher—I absolutely do.
These are facts about me, and they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I am fat, I teach yoga, and I happen to be one damn good yoga teacher.
It’s this body that propelled me through 500+ hours of training to become certified to teach at the level I do. I endured physical challenges that pushed me to the limit—12-hour days with 7 or 8 hours of movement each in a heated studio—but more, I endured innumerable hours sitting with the emotional, philosophical, and mental challenges that the practice brings.
Like the trolls that doubt me, though, I once had my doubts about my ability to do yoga with this body.
Before I stepped into my first yoga practice at a studio, I emailed the owner. She was exactly the body type you see in mainstream Western media when it comes to yoga: thin, long blonde hair, white. I asked her if it was okay to try yoga at that studio, fat body and all. I was seeking approval to bring my body into a space that I’d been told doesn’t accept ones like mine. (See: Why Jessamyn Stanley Quit Yoga at First)
I felt good enough with her 'yes' to show up, and that room of students was not what I expected. It was not a room of thin, luxury leisurewear donning bodies. Instead, I found bodies of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and—as much as could be for a small midwestern town—colors. (Related: What It's Like Being a Black, Body-Positive Female Trainer In an Industry That's Predominantly Thin and White)
We moved. We sweated. We breathed.
At that moment, I didn't know what the future might hold for me. At that moment, what I did know was what it felt like to put the body ahead of the mind and to let the mind judge the body: two principles that Western culture has tangled together in a way the true practice of yoga seeks to untwist, unfurl, unfold.
My body requires modifications for some yoga poses. But so do most bodies. Yoga’s poses—the asanas—actually aren’t an ancient practice. Yoga itself is a 3000-year-old practice, but it isn’t a collage of shapes roughly translated from Sanskrit to English animal names; rather, it's an eight-fold path consisting of ethical practices, behavioral restraints, mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork, with support from physical movement to keep the body still and settled enough to work deeply into the mind and breath. (See: What Does Om Mean, Exactly?)
Specific yoga asanas emerged only in the early 1900s, styled after the gymnastics practiced by prepubescent boys. Unless that is your body, you’ll be making modifications that allow your body to best enjoy and express itself in whatever shape you’re creating. (Related: I Started Doing Yoga Every Day and It Completely Changed My Life)
Learning to adjust my body for the poses empowered me as a student, but more, discovering the joy in modifications helped me build a teaching toolkit—one that those who haven’t navigated working in a fat body don’t have access to. I encourage the use of props, of stances that take up more space in this world, of literally moving flesh around when it’s limiting your potential and desired range of motion. When a student walks into one of my classes with nerves, with a fear of not being good enough or with the mentality they’re too fat, too unfit, too inflexible, too uncoordinated, I can pull from my own experiences of being in that precise mindset and assure them they are perfect as they are.
That is yoga.
Fat is a fact of my body, but it’s not the most interesting one. It's damn cool I can hold my body in a handstand and forearm stand. That I can flow pose to pose gracefully and skillfully. That I can never get bored doing foundational poses because there is something you can always learn, from where on a toe to express more energy to how to engage the core just a little bit more.
But yoga isn’t about my body. It’s about my body as it relates to my mind. It’s about my body as it relates to your body and your mind, whether you don’t notice my being fat at all, or whether it’s the fact about me upon which you’re fixated.
I don’t need to prove my worth as a teacher or student by having a body of a certain shape. I prove it by creating the right shape in my life.
Kelly Jensen is an editor at Book Riot and her own popular book blog, Stacked. She's the editor of two highly-acclaimed YA anthologies, Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World and (Don't) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health. Most recently, she's edited Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy (out 8/18).