Why I teach yoga to heavy people

Why I teach yoga to heavy people

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I am five foot tall and about 125 pounds and I teach yoga to heavy and round people.

I see myself as a heavy and round person.

I don’t know if I ever won’t.     

Positive body image and balance are a daily practice.

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Sometimes I feel like the chunky baby version of me. This feels like it was the only time it was OK for me to be chubby.

When I step up to Warrrior 1 on my yoga mat, I still feel myself heft or hoist my leg up to the front of my mat as though it were three times heavier.

When I twist in Marichyasana I feel like there’s a lot of belly and gut in my way.

And if I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the studio window I see something fat or wrong, inevitably in the blink of an eye.

I’ve thought a lot about it lately as I’ve finished my Curvy Yoga training and teach a lot of different sized bodies. I know on the outside no one knows why I connect with working with bigger bodies.  I don’t know if I really did until I sat down to write.

 Many people only know the Belinda of today with this yoga body and not the Belinda previously.

As a child I fluctuated on the thicker side. In high school and college I was somewhat athletic, playing basketball and even rugby. I hated running up and down the court feeling the weight of me bounce up and down – and not just breasts.

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Me with my grandmother. She was at one of her thicker moments.

Still, growing up in a tough urban environment it was easy for me to be OK with being strong and quick rather than thin or dainty. At least I told myself that. 

After college I became a little less active. I took a job in a career I wasn’t sure about. I just kind got blase about life. That included my body.

I got heavier.

 

I didn’t let myself think about it or own it. My mother and grandmother both had huge fluctuations in their lifetimes, growing more sizeable and then smaller.

“At least,” I would say to myself, “I didn’t get as big as they did.”

As though, I was better in some way.

As a child, my grandmother used to feed me seconds and thirds all the time.

Eat up, she would say.

She was a Depression-era baby. She was proud to be able to provide and believed in eating everything on your plate.

But in the same evening after dinner, or during dessert, she’d say “You’re getting fat.” 

She also was fond of saying it in public, at a dinner event or holiday celebration.

Me and my mother in 1999.

Me and my mother in 1999.

“Yes, she’s beautiful. Her hair is lovely and she’s so light-skinned. But she’s getting chunky.”

I never said anything. I would just put my head down and look away.

I was confused. My grandmother was heavy at times in her life. But she talked about people who were overweight, whether they were in church or on TV as though they were bad people, lazy people, sloppy people.

 

My mother went through a decade or more fairly heavy. I know that she was carrying emotional weight as well as physical weight. We didn’t have money. She was raising two children. We had survived a lot of physical and emotional trauma together.

She didn’t talk about her weight gain. My mom never talked to me about mine. We stepped delicately around it, complimenting the color or pattern of of blouse or how stylish our hair was.

I recently found this article and barely recognized myself. Photo was taken in the fall of 1995.

I recently found this article and barely recognized myself. Photo was taken in the fall of 1995.

 

Both these people raised me to not let being a female or a person of color define me or limit me.

They taught me I am more than this body. I am an intellect, a spirit, a creative and talented being. 

 

But tolerance and acceptance wasn’t extended to that level of inclusivity.

Instead, that same smart, creative me was fat and sloppy.

I developed a silent shame under a timid smile.

I learned to walk the path of my life in defiance of and not as a declaration.

I lived my life despite my body and kind of in dislike of it.

I loved the inside of me, but the outside of me? Not so much.

I settled for positive self-image if not body image.

Here I am teaching the first Just B Yoga classes in 2010 at the Shabazz Academy.

Here I am teaching the first Just B Yoga classes in 2010 at the Shabazz Academy. I don’t particularly like the photo – from my hair to my belly.

 

I didn’t really notice that until teaching Yoga 2eXceL. 

My perception of my body hasn’t changed while my body has.

The most I’ve weighed was probably around 170. I stopped stepping on the scale because it hurt. How heavy I got shouldn’t matter. It’s how I internalized the message and how I treated myself that was the most unhealthy.

While my body may look smaller today on the outside, I live inside the memory of the body that was flawed and bad. Even though I’ve been doing power yoga for 15 years, I’ve been a robust yogi, shall we say?

As I started teaching I had to accept and after a while, embrace, my imperfections so that I could be genuine with my students. All our bodies are different. I had to be willing to stand before a group of people and show body acceptance. That means accepting when my belly roll instead of be flat, or when the inner thighs of my yoga pants would wear thin because they rubbed together so much.

I’m still faking it until I make it. But it’s a practice, not a perfect.

Today’s 46-year-old body is a new manifestation of my being. It isn’t anything I’ve sculpted. Finding and living my practice has shaped the inside and outside of me. I feel free inside of it and enjoy letting it move.

Still the frame feels foreign sometimes.

I see the person my grandmother called fat, standing at the front of the yoga class calling out poses. I feel my body modeling the poses in my students’ bodies.

I also sense and connect with the defiance and strength of spirit of my students.

I love seeing how empowered someone feels after accomplishing something simple that they had always told themselves they couldn’t do.

And they don’t have to change their bodies in order to do it. They don’t have to fix or shed or trim or “improve” a damned thing in order to explore balance and strength and calm.

Positive body image and balance are a daily practice.

Positive body image and balance are a daily practice.

 

I mean it when I say come to yoga to be comfortable in the skin you’re in. If you are coming to lose weight or “fix” something my class isn’t the one for you.

But if you want to come and learn to truly feel what it feels like to be inside yourself – all of you – your sex, your race, your spirit, your weight…then by all means I’d love to have you.

I’ll always be a rounder, thicker me – in my memory and maybe again in my lifetime in my body.

But I’ll never speak about myself, silently or otherwise, with shame.

Fake it until you make it ya’ll. It’s a practice.

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