As a Body Positive Activist and a Body Positive Yogi, I get asked the questions, “What is body positivity?” and “What is body positive yoga?” a lot.
The Body Positive movement is so near and dear to my heart and I don’t think I could offer yoga any other way. If yoga today is only for a select few who to fit into the narrow mould of a Yoga Journal cover model (white, thin, cis, able-bodied, affluent), then I am not interested in it.
I want our yoga practice to heal us. I want our yoga practice to be a place where we feel safe. I want our yoga practice to be a place of radical self-love. I want our yoga practice to be inclusive. I believe in the power of yoga to heal and transform and I believe that everyone should have access to the benefits of yoga. This is why Body Positive Yoga is so important to me!
First, let’s talk about Body Positivity. When I started practicing yoga, I didn’t think it was for me. I didn’t look like the other people there and I was always the biggest body in the room. So once I started teaching yoga, I wanted to make it a safe space for other people who might feel like yoga was not for them. Back then the Body Positivity movement wasn’t as popular as it is now. I didn’t even know about the term. Over the years the movement has grown and changed to become more inclusive and intersectional. A move in the right direction in my opinion.
As an evolving movement, everyone’s interpretation of body positivity might be different, but at its core the term represents the idea that all bodies are worthy of self-love, self-care, and acceptance. It includes the idea that all bodies are allowed to feel beautiful, regardless of their colour or jean size or health status or how attractive you personally find them to be. Although the mainstream media has been focusing the Body Positivity movement on feeling beautiful in our bodies, I am more interested in finding ways to love and respect our bodies, even if we desire for our bodies to change. This allows for space in the body positivity movement for someone who might still want to lose weight, or for someone who might be ill, or for someone who wants/needs to modify their body.
How does body positivity apply to yoga?
Yoga is for Every Body! Everyone should have access to the benefits of yoga! Yoga is not just asana (the postures), which yoga in the West tends to focus on. If one can consciously observe their breath one is practicing yoga. I have worked with people who are in palliative care. People who are unable to get out of bed and are in so much pain from cancer and the healing power of Yoga Nidra (a guided relaxation) has been the only thing they found to relieve that pain.
For me Body Positive Yoga is so much more that just body size. Yes, there is a lot of focus on body size in the Body Positivity movement as a push back against Western yoga’s focus on thin bodies and because of North America’s fatphobia erasing bigger bodies from movement based activities. If we never see larger bodies being physical, then we start to believe that it isn’t possible for larger bodies to be physical, to be healthy, to be an athlete, or to be a yogi. Here are some great resources proving otherwise:
Fat Girl Running – A blog about being an active larger girl in a thinner world via the individual yet universal sport of running.
Louise Green – Louise Green is a globally recognized plus size athlete, trainer and advocate with a leading voice at the forefront of the Body Advocacy movement.
FabUplus – FabUplus is a health, fitness and lifestyle magazine dedicated to women with curves. Their goal is to empower, encourage and inspire women to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what your size.
Body Positive Athletes – This is a closed Facebook Group forming a community of people who believe that the term ‘athletic’ defines a lifestyle and not a body shape or size.
Jessamyn Stanley – Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher, body positive advocate, and writer based in Durham, North Carolina.
As a Body Positive Yoga Therapist I do my best to make sure I know as many variations and modifications of poses as I can. And I make sure offer those modifications to the poses in a way that doesn’t sound like the are a lesser pose. I also like to affirm at the beginning of the class that each student has full permission to move their body in the way that feels right for them. I believe you know your body best and you know what works best for your body. Throughout the class I will also encourage you to listen to your body and modify your poses so that you are maximizing the benefits for your body while minimizing the risk of injury.
I also use Yoga Sutra (The Book of Yoga) cards in class to help me know whether people are comfortable with hands on adjustments. The cards offer an opportunity for learning something new about yoga philosophy and then the students are invited to place the card face up near their mat if they would like hands on adjustments. Or face down near their mat if they would like to be left alone today. This way the student doesn’t have to communicate verbally and I will still check in with the student before putting my hands on them even if their card is face up. Knowing the people and the bodies in my yoga space helps me to make my classes safe. This is one of the reasons I have moved away from offering drop-in classes and now only offer pre-registered classes and workshops where people can let me know about any issues or concerns beforehand and then we can work together to make it the safest most beneficial practice for them.
I am also very aware of the language I am using during class. I never want to use body shaming language in the class, like “to burn more calories do this” or “if you are trying to lose weight try this”, or even calling a certain expression of a pose “the full expression of the pose”. The benefits of an asana practice can be experienced and felt in any variation and any body. And I want to make sure that I am using non-gendered, non-agist language, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and LGBTQ+, body positive and body ability positive language.
I strive for the space that I create for yoga to be a space to:
- Appreciate your body for everything it can do and everything it does for you
- Notice where your body is strong and capable and focusing on that
- Feel your body as an ally, not an enemy you have to be at war with
- See your worth as more than a number on a scale
- Redefine health – My definition of health includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I know you can be healthy at any size. If you are not familiar with this topic look into “Health at Every Size” by Dr. Linda Bacon.
For my business I have guiding principles that help to frame how I operate a body positive business:
1 – Honouring the Tradition of Yoga
I always strive to offer a practice that holds reverence for the lineage, history and culture from which yoga arose. I do this by studying the philosophy of yoga, knowing the history of yoga and the culture in which it arose as well as how culture has shaped what we know as yoga today, including the history of colonialism in India. I also do this by stating at the beginning of my workshops and retreats that I honour the path of yoga, I honour that it is an Indian tradition and I thank my teachers for guiding me on this path. Yoga is not mine. It is something I honour and offer to others.
2 – Unceded Chief Drygeese Traditional Territory of the Yellowknives Dene
I always strive to recognize who’s land my services are being offered on. So when I am home in Yellowknife I will state at the beginning of workshops and retreats that I thank the Yellowknives Dene for allowing me to offer my services on the unceded Chief Drygeese Traditional Territory of the Yellowknives Dene. When I am traveling, I take time to learn whose land I am visiting and will thank and honour them at the beginning of my workshops and retreats.
3 – Anti-Oppressive Space
I always strive to make the spaces I create as anti-oppressive as possible and this is challenging since we do live in oppressive spaces. I focus on making my spaces:
- Patriarchy resistant;
- LGBTQ+ positive; and
- Body and ability positive.
And I acknowledge my privilege. I can’t possibly have all the answers on how to make my spaces anti-oppressive so I always welcome conversations on how to achieve this.
4 – Accessibility
I explore ways to make my services as accessible as possible, including, but not limited to:
- Offering free classes;
- Offering classes-by-donation;
- Offering classes from which proceeds will be donated to a cause; and
- Offering to work with individual for whom cost is a barrier to make my offerings accessible.
I do all of this because I believe feeling safe, and this includes feeling free from oppression as much as is possible, is so important to helping us to heal. And as a Yoga Therapist, I want your yoga practice to be healing. I believe that through yoga we can heal ourselves and ultimately our world.
Thank you so much for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts. What does body positive yoga mean to you? Did I miss something? Why is body positive yoga important to you? Share in the comments below.
P.S. If you want to watch a little video of my talking about Body Positive Yoga you can do it here.
P.P.S. If you want to practice Body Positive Yoga with me, you can get started with Body Love Yoga Cards. Body Love Yoga Cards is designed to get you started on your yoga journey as well as your body love journey. And you if you are already on your way, it will help you continue on that path! With Body Love Yoga Cards you are committing to a 10 day practice. It’s made for people just like you who feel like they don’t have enough time for their yoga practice.
Big shifts can come from small changes! Get started today!