How Sarah Sapora Discovered Kundalini Yoga After Feeling Unwelcome In Other Classes
The influencer discovered that Kundalini is body-inclusive compared to other styles of yoga commonly practiced in the west.
The first time Sarah Sapora took a Kundalini yoga class, she burst into tears. As is often the case, the practice had brought up an emotional response. "At the end of the class I felt like the smallest human being on the planet and also the biggest most powerful version of me humanly possible," Sapora, who's now a Kundalini instructor, recalls.
Up to that point, Sapora hadn't felt moved during a yoga class, in fact, she hadn't felt like yoga had a lot to offer her at all. When she would occasionally dip in to community classes or tag along to classes with friends, she felt like an outsider because of her plus size body and her instructors' teaching styles. "I just felt clunky and physically unwelcome and I felt like I was 'out there hanging,'" she says. "I'd be struggling to reach my toes or move my body and had no idea what modifications were and what was available to me, and I didn't come across teachers who were proactive in teaching and demonstrating and showing."
So when she kept noticing people that she follows raving about Kundalini, she was intrigued but hesitant. "I remember asking a mentor that I trust, 'hey will I be okay in this class, will I be safe?' which Is my way of saying 'will my body be okay here, will I feel welcome here?'" she says. "And I remember them saying that all you need to do in Kundalini yoga is show up and breathe, and just to have an open heart." (Related: Yoga for Beginners: A Guide to the Different Types of Yoga)
She ended up loving Kundalini's emphasis on meditation, mantra, breath, and movement, and kept coming back to classes. Still, she was skeptical when her mentor suggested that she train to become a Kundalini instructor. Sapora decided to go through with the training figuring it would give her a deeper understanding. Halfway through, she had a change of heart. Today, she's a Level 1 Kundalini yoga teacher. In addition to hosting live workshops, she's creating free resources and videos with the intention of teaching Kundalini to others in a 'safe, relatable, and size-friendly way.'
During the 7-month training, Sapora made a point to speak up for people who might feel uncomfortable in a yoga class, as she had once felt. "I was the only plus-size body in the group of students and that gave me a really gorgeous opportunity to advocate for persons of size and marginalized bodies in class," she says. "Right from the beginning of teacher training, I very tenaciously would say things like 'I can't do that, help me to figure this out' or 'What about bodies that can't do that, how do we do that?' It was so cool that it gave me the opportunity to remind other teachers that marginalized bodies of all kinds, whether it's age or able bodied-ness, or size, or anything deserve to participate in practice." (Related: This Influencer Wants You to Know That Reformer Pilates Is for All Body Types)
Diana Wassef, Kundalini instructor and designer behind Emily Cremona, agrees that Kundalini is inclusive. The style of yoga uses tools like movement, breathing techniques, gazes, hand movement, chanting, and meditation to address energy blocks, and anyone can take a class, she says. "For one, there are no levels, it's open to all," she says. "If you have any medical condition, any injury, you're your own teacher and there's no hands-on adjustment." Teachers often briefly explain what to expect at the beginning of class, informing any beginners that Kundalini can bring out emotions like frustration and euphoria, she says. Yogi Bhajan, a Kundalini master who introduced Kundalini in the west, is often quoted to have said: "We have chosen a way of life to welcome everybody, to love everybody, to inspire everybody and to uplift everybody."
For her part, Sapora emphasizes inclusivity, both in and out of Kundalini. She creates reflective posts on Instagram and is organizing LIFELOVE, an upcoming size-inclusive personal growth event. (Related: This Woman Has an Important Reminder for Anyone Who Feels "Silly" Doing Yoga)
Sapora doesn't see her initial experience with yoga as a flaw of yoga itself, but rather the competitive nature of westernized yoga. "Often in western yoga experiences, the emphasis is really on the perfection of poses, which is why I feel that so much of contemporary western yoga is not body-friendly," she says. "If you're unable to do the movements or if they're challenging to you, it can feel like you're not welcome in the practice. And that's not the intention of how yoga was created." She believes it's partly up to teachers to change that. "As teachers we have a responsibility to not just teach people who look like us," she says. "We have a responsibility to serve all bodies in their practice and to get out of our own ego mind and understand how we can connect and serve with more bodies."