“I’m Not A Size Zero. Can I Practice Yoga?”: Anna Guest-Jelley Says “Yes!”

By Melanie Klein, Contributor

Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga — a training & inspiration portal for curvy yogis & their teachers. As a writer, teacher and lifelong champion for women’s empowerment and body acceptance, Anna encourages women of every size, age and ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.

She’s also hugely inspiring and a cutting-edge visionary. And I got the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about body image, images of yoga bodies in the mainstream media culture and her new book!

Hi, Anna! Thanks for joining me today. As you know, I’m an enormous advocate of yoga as a tool to specifically heal distorted body images and negate body hatred (among many of the other countless benefits of a regular yoga practice). I know you share this same intention in your teaching. Like you, I think yoga has the ability to transform us from the inside out. Unfortunately, lots of people who might receive potent benefits from yoga are afraid to begin an asana practice, let alone dip their toes into the rest of yoga. They’ve come to believe yoga is merely a physical practice, a form of exercise, available only to the limber, the supple and already toned. Tell me how your new e-book, Permission to CURVE: Inspiring Poses for Curvy Yogis and Their Teachers, helps bring every body to yoga.

Yes, we are definitely on the same page! I, too, believe that yoga can be an incredibly transformative practice – and I also believe that it’s been kept from too many people for too long.

My intention with Permission to CURVE is to lift the lid, so to speak, on ways that people of all shapes and sizes can practice with comfort and ease. The book is written specifically with asana modifications for people with curvy bodies, but I believe students who fall anywhere on the size spectrum can learn something from it because its true message is that yoga is a powerful tool for self-acceptance. I don’t think that’s something any of us hear often enough – or can hear too much.

Because the book is digital, it’s highly interactive; photos and videos supplement the written instruction so that people can learn in whatever way best fits their unique learning style. This is still a relatively new format for the yoga community, but I think we’ll see more and more of it in the future – especially for practice books. It only makes sense for students to see the poses in action to get a safer and more comprehensive feel for the poses.

Your book just became available July 9. What’s been the general response?

Oh, wow; people are really loving it! What’s been such a gift is that the people loving it are so diverse – they are every shape, size, age and ability. Some are yoga newbies and some have decades plus of practice under their belt. All are students and some are also teachers.

The common thread that runs through people’s feedback is how much they permission they find within the pages of the book – that not only is it okay to find a yoga practice that works for them, but that this is actually the entire goal of yoga – and now they have some practical tools to follow that path. And teachers are feeling empowered to support their students on that path, which is wonderful.

That’s incredibly inspiring and wonderful, Anna. You recently released another (free!) e-book, Curvy Voices. Can you tell us about it, including what inspired you to put together this collection? 

I definitely see the two as very connected. Curvy Voices is an edited collection; it contains stories from 36 incredible yogis (including a wonderful one from you!). My intention with this book was to create community – to share the many ways that body acceptance and yoga show up in people’s lives.

Too often I see the body image conversation cast as very narrow – as though if you haven’t personally struggled with something like an eating disorder, it doesn’t have much to do with you. But I think it’s broader than that; many of us are disconnected from our bodies for any number of reasons. And when we’re disconnected from our bodies, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to feel good about them and, thus, ourselves. This is where yoga is so helpful because it can facilitate that process of connection.

So my goal with Curvy Voices was for people to see themselves reflected in the book, to feel less alone in utilizing yoga as a tool for self-awareness and acceptance. And I believe it accomplishes that; the stories shared are so touching, and they showcase a wide variety of experiences – everything from loss to friendship to joy to illness to making yoga an integral part of your life.

That’s beautiful and I completely agree with you, Anna. There are plenty of people (boys and girls, men and women alike) that suffer from low self-esteem stemming from disappointment, if not outright dissatisfaction, with their bodies. And, in large part, that’s the result of the mind/body split as well as seeking external validation for one’s worth. Yoga can absolutely bring us back in touch with our bodies, our whole being. Like I mentioned earlier, yoga helps us to define our worth from the inside and out.

Ok, moving on. You website proclaims “A woman. A mission. A whole lotta curves.” That is absolutely right! You have a lot of exciting things going on right now. Can tell us about your upcoming Curve Fest and some of the other fantastic and inspiring projects, tools and resources you’re creating and offering?

Haha – thank you! Yes, it’s a busy and exciting time over at the Curvy Yoga HQ! One of the things I’m really thrilled about is CurveFest, which is my upcoming teaching tour. I will be traveling to 7 different US cities, connecting with folks I’ve had online friendships with for years as well as spreading the word that Curvy Yoga is a movement, and our movement continues to grow.

Another project that is continuing to expand is my Curvy Yoga certification options. This is just such a joy for me; I love knowing that Curvy Yoga is expanding to local communities! This fall I’m offering an online option for people who want to keep teaching their current yoga classes but want to make those more accessible for curvy people. My hope is that this can be a win/win – more options for curvy-bodied students to practice and more students in teachers’ classes. And next spring, I’ll be offering a 200hr program for people who are not yet teachers but want to be. To learn more about the various certification options, please click here.

I absolutely love the Curvy Yogis, Represent! photo gallery on your website. We don’t get to see a lot of these images in the larger yoga culture, certainly not on the glossy mainstream yoga magazines. Why do you think that is? Do you think that’s a problem? If so, how can we change this trend?

Thank you, and I agree! Anytime I need some inspiration, I go check out the gallery.  It was our first community project over at Curvy Yoga (Curvy Voices was the second). The community of lovely readers and students and I decided to put it together in response to a larger conversation about media representations of yoga, which rarely incorporate images like the ones in the Curvy Yogis, Represent! gallery.

I think the reason we don’t see these images in mainstream yoga magazines is the same reason we don’t see them in other mainstream media – they’re not really created to reflect reality but to encourage us to buy something. And what sells better than making you feel bad about yourself?

So this gallery is an attempt to reclaim some ground for the many, many of us who are out there on our yoga mat, at home and in classes. Solidarity is an incredible thing; the more of us who come together, the louder and more powerful our voice can become.

I love that, Anna. I hope everyone takes a look at the Curvy Yogis, Represent! gallery. And I hope to see it grow. Yogis come in every shape, size, color, exist at every level of ability and span the age spectrum. Not only do lots of people shy away from the mat because they think they’re not limber of flexible enough (“I can’t put my ankle behind my head so I can’t practice yoga.”), but lots of people think they can’t practice because they’re not a size zero. Not only do mainstream yoga covers show little variation in what a yogi looks like, most yoga photography focuses on women that can easily slip themselves into a pair of size zero (maybe size two or four) jeans. We rarely see size 8, let alone size 12 or 14 (or up) as a yoga body. It sends the message that only certain bodies can (and are allowed) to practice yoga. I think that when we see the same thin, toned, limber, young, white, female “yoga body” over and over again, it excludes people and closes the door to people who are interested in a yoga practice but don’t meet those qualifications. Instead of being inspiring, it can be demotivating to far too many (and it mimics the self-esteem busting formula of the dominant culture).

And every body is a yoga body. Every body should be encouraged to find the practice that fits them. I’m so thrilled you’re leading the way in expanding people’s “permission” to practice yoga and having conversations like these. We need more open and honest conversations within the yoga community about these issues.

Where do you see yourself and Curvy Yoga in ten years?

Whew – well, Curvy Yoga is already growing so far beyond what I imagined it when I first started it. But I believe we’re starting to see where it will be in ten years – which is moving from margin to center. My goal and hope is to see it become second nature – classes offered in every town, incorporated into 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher trainings and the rule, not the exception, that teachers offer pose options for every body type in their classes.

What a world that will be!

Thanks for your time and your beautiful vision for yoga’s future, Anna. You’ve been incredibly generous- not just to me, but to all our readers! Anna is offering a $5 discount on her new book, Permission to CURVE. Use the discount code “INTENT” when ordering online to secure your discount.

To stay up to date with all things Curvy Yoga, be sure to sign up for the newsletter – it’s free! You can also connect with Anna on Facebook and Twitter.

Cross-posted with permission from Intentblog.com

Related Posts:

How Yoga Makes You Pretty

Nude Yoga for Body Acceptance

Feminism, Body Image and Yoga

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