Body shaming in yoga: not cool

Good morning from Sydney. Today is a beautiful day and I want to write about yoga. Yoga is not only physically enjoyable for me, it uplifts me emotionally. One thing that does make me sad though, is when people don’t think they can “do” yoga. I’ve heard all the reasons.. “because I’m not flexible”, “because I need to lose weight before I go to yoga”, “because I don’t have time,” etc. Today I want to talk about body shape and size.

The message I want to put across in this post is that yoga is for all. Everyone and anyone with a body can do yoga. Yoga can seem intimidating because all the insta-famous yogis around the world are so lean and look amazing in their yoga pants as they contort into impossible shapes. Yoga is totally not about how you look, or about what insta-worthy poses you can do. In fact, there is a movement for plus-sized yogis and so many of them are just as amazing as any other yogi. You can find some of them here. There will be some poses that you might have to modify because of your body size or proportions, and that’s okay. 

Yoga is for every colour, age group, shape, size, height, gender.
(I saw this gorgeous illustration on @xxivactive)

I had a bad experience in acro yoga once, over 2 years ago, and I haven’t done acro since. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a mix between acrobatics and yoga, and there is some Thai massage at the end. It’s usually done in pairs – there is a “base” who is the person who lifts, and the “flyer” who gets raised. When you first learn, there will also be a third person –  a “spotter” for safety.

I’m sure that there are people out there who went to one bad yoga class and have not tried it since. If that applies to you, I encourage you to try yoga again because there are so many physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Perhaps try a different studio, style of yoga, or instructor. Even if you do the exact same class with a different instructor, it will be totally different. Each teacher has a style and a vibe to them. Maybe you weren’t vibing with that particular teacher.

Back to my acro story. My friend Dee is always full of ideas and new things to try. We went to aerial yoga first, which was a lot of fun, and then we decided to try acro. Acro was a great way to bond with Dee and have a laugh! However, the body shaming happened on my second class. I was the base for one of the poses, and I couldn’t lift the flyer very high because our proportions were different. I won’t reveal the full name of the instructor, but her name is Vicky. Vicky decided to point out my abnormal proportions to the small group. She made a big deal of it, too. At the time, I laughed it off, but little did she know that it was something I was self-conscious about.

We didn’t end up going to any more acro classes because apparently my body isn’t suitable for a “base” and then after a while, I totally forgot about Vicky’s comment. Fast forward a couple of years, and the anger resurfaced itself during my 200-hour yoga teacher training, which I did in Nusa Lembongan (a ferry ride away from Bali, Indonesia). On our final week, one of our course leaders Lisa had kindly organised an acro workshop. Everyone was excited, and I normally would be too. However, the memory came back.

Body-shaming is avsolutely disgraceful
This adorable illustration of avocados doing acro yoga is by @huebucket

I felt really angry. “What sort of yoga teacher comments about a student’s body?”, I rhetorically asked myself. It was in front of the whole class too. What an un-yogi-like thing to do. I was so upset that I went back to my room and cried. I continued to cry that afternoon whilst we had a restorative yoga class. We all have our body hang-ups, and usually I don’t care about what others say, and just focus on being healthy and functional. However, what Vicky pointed out about my body (which I won’t mention) hit a sensitive spot.

How you look doesn’t matter and no yoga teacher should EVER make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about your body because every body is different. If those differences don’t allow you to enter a certain pose the traditional way, it’s okay. We all need to modify poses sometimes (no matter how long you’ve been doing yoga for) to do a pose safely and in a way that allows us to receive the benefits of a pose. A yoga teacher can and should teach you a modification, but it’s not okay to make fun of people’s bodies not only in yoga, but in any sport, or in life!

The triggering memory of Vicky’s words stopped me from attending what was a really amazing acro workshop from what I heard. At the end there was a savasana adjustment / Thai massage session, which I would have loved. The girls doing the teacher training with me were all encouraging me to come along to replace the bad memory with a new, good one, but I just couldn’t do it.

Since then, I came across Vicky’s name and photo on a studio’s website that I was interested in attending. I knew straight away that that was her. I have a photographic memory anyway (yeah I know, hate me) but when you have a bad experience, you get an immediate visceral response. I prefer not to harbour resentment and like to resolve things as quickly as possible, so I decided to email Vicky and let her know how she made me feel.

I wasn’t sure if I would get a response or not but all I wanted was for her to be aware that what yoga teachers say can really impact a student, even years down the line in my case. I did get a response and a backhanded-apology from Vicky, which attempted to justify what she said because she’d been told herself that she was too tall to be a “flyer”, so she didn’t really get the point. She later put a post up on Instagram about how “body shaming” is an overused term, which was a cheap shot and again reflects that she has not shown any signs of self-reflection.

In a subsequent email she advised that I shouldn’t be so insecure, and that body proportions are “interesting”, again completely missing the point and failing to acknowledge that what she said was insensitive and inappropriate. So… that was a real waste of my time, but we can’t change ignorant people. As we say in yoga – aparigraha – detach. I have decided to take the high road and not bother writing a further response.

Anyway, my teacher Lisa said she’d teach me some acro next time I see her and that no teacher should ever make a comment about body shape or proportions. I’m hoping that I can leave this negative experience behind because acro sure does look like a lot of fun! I’ve said my piece, and sadly Vicky will probably keep commenting on students’ bodies because she thinks it’s “interesting” without considering how it might make them feel. However, it’s good to have both good and bad examples of what a yoga teacher should be, and she is an example of a bad one that I take away with me. I’ll write another blog post on features of a yoga teacher another time!

If you’ve also had this kind of experience that put you off yoga or any sport, I’m sorry. No one should ever be made to feel like their body is not good enough or suitable for a sport or activity. Triathlon is another one for me – I’m not the typical triathlete shape, but I love triathlon… but I’ll talk about that another time. Sending anyone reading this love, light, and a reminder to love the body you’re in.

Take care,

Miko xx

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