Anna Guest-Jelley is one of the kindest people I know. She is one of the people who — even though she’d never met me in person — reached out to me when my Dexter died, offered comfort. She is one of the reasons I decided to start yoga teacher training, made me feel it was possible, that I was allowed. She gently guides my yoga practice and my teaching from afar, with her blog posts and videos and newsletter and emails, reminding me that not only are modifications acceptable, they are absolutely necessary, that yoga is truly for every body. She consistently reminds me that we can trust our bodies, love ourselves.
Anna has a new book out. I just got my copy in the mail yesterday and I can’t stop reading it. I was so happy when she offered to do a guest post, and I’m so happy to share it with you today, kind and gentle reader.
Anna’s bio: Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
Anna is the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit www.CurvyYoga.com
Why Yoga is Definitely Not About Touching Your Toes
Have you ever thought something like, “I’d love to practice yoga but I can’t because there’s no way I’m touching my toes?”
If you have, you’re definitely not alone! Pretty much everyone thinks that, or at least their own version of it. Many of us think we’re either too much of something or not enough of something else to practice yoga. And I totally understand why people get this idea. Mainstream representations of yoga tend to show thin, uber-flexible bodies in poses that look like they belong in Cirque du Soleil.
But I, for one, won’t be putting my leg behind my head anytime soon — at least not without a trip to the hospital.
Yoga for You
Here’s the thing about those poses: while they’re available to and work for a small minority of bodies, that’s not true for the vast majority of bodies. I’ll say that again because I think it bears repeating: if your body isn’t going to be doing those poses anytime soon, or ever, you’re not an anomaly. That is the truth for most bodies, by far.
I was pretty much the opposite of a sporty kid. I was a total bookworm who you’d be much more likely to find curled up in a corner reading than out kicking a ball around with friends. The primary times I moved my body were when I went to aerobics with my mom as a middle-schooler, already deep in the throes of what would become a multiple-decade run with chronic dieting.
So it probably isn’t hard to imagine what it was like when I first tried yoga. I had no idea what I was doing, and my body was (and still is) far from the slender, toned and flexible bodies on the videos I first practiced with. I live in a short, curvy body, and many of the traditional yoga pose instructions do not work for me.
Creating Your Own Path
For many years, I blamed myself for this self-perceived “problem.” I thought once I finally lost weight, got “in shape,” or otherwise made myself into a totally different person, I’d finally “get it” and yoga would work for me.
But then one day I had a thought that changed my life: “What if my body isn’t a problem?”
Mind = blown.
From there on out, I started to make yoga work for me, not the other way around. And eventually, I started to teach other people how to do the same for themselves.
What Matters in Yoga
I’m a huge Amy Poehler fan. In her book Yes Please she says something that has stuck with me ever since I read it. She writes: “‘Good for her! Not for me.’ That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”
This idea has changed so much for me, including in regards to my yoga practice. When I see someone doing a pose that involves something that isn’t currently available to my body (or may never be), I focus my attention on that. Good for that person! Not for me.
Yoga is a tool for self-acceptance and internal transformation. So it doesn’t matter if you get that via balancing on your nose or lying in quiet relaxation. You get to choose what’s helpful for you.
And you can start anytime, including right now. Taking one deep breath as you read this can be the start, or restart, of your yoga practice. Because just as it doesn’t matter what pose you do, it also doesn’t matter whether or not you practice for five minutes or sixty. What matters is creating a regular and sustainable practice that fits your actual life. Because having a practice that works for you will give you much more of what you’re looking for than wishing for a sixty-minute, five-days-per-week practice and never getting it off the ground because it’s not realistic for your life.
What matters is what’s good for you, not for anyone else.