Photo: Emily Gnetz
Since we’re still in the month of June and my previous post seemed to resonate with quite a few people, I wanted to make a point and state that body acceptance is for everyone. This isn’t about getting to a certain weight, or looking a different way. Rather, it’s about how you feel in your own body. I believe this is important to teach people because, for a lot of us, the idea of “body acceptance” comes with hitting a “goal weight”. But, what does that prove? And, if you’ve ever hit a “goal weight”, how did you feel when you reached it? The “radical” idea of accepting your body as it is, in the shape and form that it is in NOW is very, very important, and has begun taking up a good part of my thought process in the last few months. When I used to work out, I was always doing it with the goal of burning off calories and making my body fit into a size which was hard to maintain. I was so focused on getting to something else, and I never really enjoyed my body in the moment. As a matter of fact, I was never in the moment because I was constantly consumed with fear of gaining weight, or eating the “wrong” things. My workouts and diet were not to make my body “feel good” but to make sure I was the smallest I could be because that was the accepted body size for my age. I was so consumed with fitting into clothes, and making sure I was on time to workout classes and I never really took any time to check in with myself to see how I was feeling in that very moment. Sure, I can say that was what I was doing, but it isn’t true, and I can no longer lie to myself or anyone else about it.
Clearly, I am not the only one who has struggled to accept their bodies as they are. But, there are those who have worked very hard to accept and love themselves and are strong in mind and body. A few weeks ago, I was looking through Tumblr, and landed on a Yoga page that featured “curvy yoga”. As a fellow yoga enthusiast, I was intrigued, so I clicked on the link to see more and stumbled across Anna Guest-Jelley, who has her own Curvy Yoga studio and website: Curvy Yoga (www.curvyyoga.com). I found her website, and overall attitude, very positive and affirming. Anna has created a safe community for yogis of all sizes to come & practice. Her website features free videos, as well as a paid membership that will allow a yoga practice to be created specifically for you with mentoring from her, as well as many other fantastic features! I was so inspired by her attitude and her story I decided to reach out to her and asked if she wouldn’t mind sharing her thoughts with us here at Cushy so she can keep spreading the love to those who might not be aware of what “curvy yoga” can do for them.
Liz: You said you had been on over 65 diets in your lifetime. Could you give some examples of what those diets entailed? I know that I took part in a lot of food restriction and punishing workout regimens, and was wondering if that was the same for you?
Anna: Oh yes, definitely! Those were big for me, too. I did just about every version of food restriction there was! In addition to that and punishing workouts, though, I also took a variety of medications and supplements that purported to enhance weight loss, including one called (I kid you not) Overnight Weight Loss. This probably goes without saying, but that didn’t happen!
Liz: What brought you to yoga in the first place?
Anna: I had chronic migraines, and a few people mentioned to me that yoga might help. As anyone with a chronic illness knows, people are always telling you things you should and shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t know anyone practicing yoga at the time (this was in the late 90s), so I took this advice with a major grain of salt. However, I was so desperate that I was willing to try anything! I’d only ever done movement before to punish my body to lose weight, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it at all. But I did -- which was shocking, but welcome! I think one of the major reasons for that is that I didn’t come to it specifically for weight loss, so I was able to be more curious and engaged in the process.
Liz: I’ve found that I keep coming back to yoga, even if I don’t do it for long periods of time, I somehow find myself back on the mat. What made you decide this was the exercise for you?
Anna: I really came to yoga to listen to my body and relieve the tension of those migraines. I was absolutely not expecting that to develop into body acceptance; I wouldn’t have even said that was something I would have wanted at the time. But it turns out (at least for me) that the more you’re in conversation with your body, the more you learn about it and its needs and come to respect and respond to them over time. It’s that conversational relationship that keeps me coming back to yoga.
Liz: What made you decide to create Curvy Yoga?
Anna: I practiced yoga for almost a decade almost always as the biggest person in the room -- usually by far. I’d hear teachers’ instruction to do things like “bring your belly to your thighs” and think, “What if you’re already there?” So I figured I’d finally “get” yoga once I lost x pounds since everyone else there was thin. Over time, though, and as my body acceptance journey got started and grew, I had this moment in class where I thought, “Wait, what if my body isn’t the problem here? What if my teachers just don’t know how to teach me?” That moment changed everything for me and made me realize that I wanted to share that same information and freedom with others.
Liz: What was the reaction from people when you started Curvy Yoga? How did other curvy yogis react to your studio?
Anna: The vast majority of people have been so happy about it -- relieved, even. When I started Curvy Yoga, I had the sneaking suspicion that I couldn’t be the only person on the face of the earth who wanted to practice yoga comfortably and safely in a curvy body. That turned out to be even truer than I ever could have imagined.
Liz: When did you decide to take this online for others across the country/world? And what has the reaction been like?
Anna: I started teaching in-person, but after a year or so I started a blog. The reason I did that is because I thought it would be fun; I enjoy writing, and I wanted to share and connect. I had no idea how it would grow and ultimately become a way for both students and teachers to meet and support each other from all around the world!
Liz: What advice would you give a young woman who is interested in yoga, but might feel as though her body type doesn’t mesh with what she sees in the ads for a yoga studio?
Anna: I really encourage anyone starting yoga to approach it with curiosity and as an experiment. The beauty of how many yoga teachers and styles we have today is that it’s very possible to find something that works for you. The challenge is that you don’t always find that with your very first class. If you approach this as an experiment, though, telling yourself you’re going to try several different teachers and styles to see what works for you, it makes the process more enjoyable and less personal, in the sense that you don’t blame yourself if you try a class that isn’t for you. That’s simply data -- “Oh, this class isn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean another one won’t be.”
Liz: If you could tell your younger self something that you know now, whether about dieting/body acceptance/happiness in general, what would it be?
Anna: It’s hard to know what advice my younger self would have been able to hear and take to heart. One thing I think might have intrigued her, though, is the idea that there is more than one way to relate to your body. At that time in my life, the only way I knew how to relate to my body was through an adversarial lens. I viewed my body as a stubborn burden that wouldn’t bend to what I wanted it to be. I think the me back then might have been interested to know there were other options available.
Liz: Do you have anyone that you look up to in the yoga world? Or, anyone that you hold in high regard in regards to loving your body as it is, and for all that it can do?
Anna: Oh, of course -- so many people! My yoga friends are also my mentors and teachers in so many ways. I study with Erich Schiffmann and Angela Farmer whenever I have a chance; I love learning from people like them who have been practicing and studying for decades. My best friend is one of my body acceptance sheroes; she approaches her body with such grace and kindness and has taught me so much!
Liz: Favorite pose?
Anna: I find myself saying almost every pose is my favorite at one moment or another, haha! One of go-tos, though, is Reclined Bound Angle. I love how supported and relaxed I feel in that pose. It’s a great opportunity to settle into being with my body.
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. She is also 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 CurvyYoga.com.