Stretch Body Positivity in the UK ‘Yoga must be made to suit the individual, not the individual to suit yoga.’ T Krishnamacharya By Wanderlust Donna Noble will be discussing Yoga, Diversity and Body image at Wanderlust 108 London “Yoga must be made to suit the individual, not the individual to suit yoga”, T Krishnamacharya My introduction to the body positive movement happened by accident back in 2015. It started after I read an article about a plus size journalist who had an unpleasant experience with Yoga because of her size. Being the largest person in the room she was stared at by other Yogis and ignored by the teacher. This made uncomfortable reading. I was profoundly affected by the article to the point where I discussed the issue with a number of friends. Much to my surprise I was told “Either shut up or do something about it”. This was to be the start of Curvesomeyoga journey. I reached out to the journalist to interview about her, but schedules did not allow. However, fortunately I was able to interview Dianne Bondy instead. I was so inspired by what Dianne, Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti were doing for the yoga community in terms of diversity and inclusion. I have since had the pleasure of meeting Yogis – who along with my students inspire me to help make yoga inclusive and diverse. What is body positivity? Body positivity was created by black femmes, for those who felt marginalised. This was as a statement for acceptance and to carve out a safe space to exist and be seen. It is a movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others. “Self-acceptance and a belief in yourself regardless of shape, size or level of your yoga practice” What is body positive yoga? The term ‘body positive’ has a slightly different meaning depending on who you ask. However, its core message is one of self-acceptance and a belief in yourself regardless of shape, size or level of your yoga practice. I can’t help feeling that the mainstream media perpetuate the myth that only certain individuals with a particular body type practice Yoga. Essentially individuals that are tall, slim and who can get their legs behind their heads. It’s great to see this misconception is now being challenged. Sadly we are still behind the Americans, where body positive yoga is more established. Instagram has provided a platform for Yogis of all body types to share their Yoga practice. Since starting to teach body positive classes, I have seen that they attract a wide spectrum of individuals of various sizes, shapes, gender and ethnicity. “Everyone regardless of their size has some sort of disconnect with their body” The diversity of students within the class has shown that everyone regardless of their size has some sort of disconnect with their body. All they want is a safe, judgment-free space, where they can receive support and enjoy their yoga journey. The first thing individuals say to me regardless of size, on or off the mat is that they are not flexible – as though they need to apologise. They don’t realise that being flexible is not a prerequisite for Yoga, but that it eventually becomes a by-product. The flexibility of the mind is for me more important than achieving the flexibility of the body. All bodies are beautiful and should be normalized. When I teach, I don’t see size, colour or gender. I just see the Yogi. I hope that one day, all teachers and students will allow themselves to experience this level of neutrality. But trusting their body, they begin to breathe and move. It’s like they are given permission to relax into their body and just let go. Sometimes in their very first class, they are able to accomplish what they thought was impossible. To witness the awe on their faces is pure joy as the transformation begins. “A body positive class is about modifying Yoga poses for a wide range of body types” A body positive class is about modifying Yoga poses for a wide range of body types, as well as having an appreciation and understanding of some of the difficulties that a student with a larger body may encounter. These classes are not about separation. It is like having a pregnancy or chair yoga class, allowing students to enjoy the many wonderful benefits of Yoga that will cater to their needs and bodies and to know that if all they want to do for the duration of the class is lie on their mat in savasana then that is perfectly fine. That too is Yoga. We must remember that Yoga DOES NOT discriminate or make any assumptions about abilities. Yoga is NOT just a physical practice. Take a look at what some yogis had to say about their before and after experiences of yoga Body positive Yoga can appeal to so many individuals within society. Observe a child. Have you ever watched how children perform different asanas at different stages of their development? For instance, as they learn to crawl and walk, they do the cat stretch to strengthen their spines and when they’re learning to stand, they spend lots of time in ‘downward dog’ pose before getting on their feet. Children can inspire us in our yoga. Yoga is the most natural way for our bodies to move. If you have a body + do yoga = yoga body! — Donna Noble is a certified Yoga Specialist, Body Positive Advocate, Wellbeing Coach, Body Image Ambassador and Master NLP Practitioner. She is also the Founder of Curvesomeyoga and teaches various styles of yoga across the UK including body positive yoga, accessible yoga, vinyasa, hot yoga, chair, bed and aqua yoga. Donna Noble will be discussing Yoga, Diversity and Body image at Wanderlust 108 London this year.