Redefining Success: Making a Big Difference in Self Love

This is part of a Q&A series featuring women who have found success on their own terms in the mindful age. For more stories like this, click here.  

Artist, yogi, and radical self-love enthusiast, Valerie Sagun is finding her way in the world by embracing her shadows and defying stereotypes. Ask the founder of Big Gal Yoga what advice she has for anyone enduring struggles and she’ll say, “Everyone’s different so it’s hard to give one standard answer for everybody.” Valerie’s unique way of seeing both successes and challenges is modeled on her approach to yoga: Honor differences, commit to discipline, and hold a vision. And like any avid practitioner, she encourages students of yoga—and of life in general—”to look inside yourself, but challenge what you see outside in the world.”

How do you define success?

It’s when you’re working hard. It’s not about reaching a goal you have, but taking a next step and being able to see how you progress at something you’ve worked for. 

What does a “fulfilled” life look like to you?

I know not everything can be happy all the time, but when I look back on my life, I want to feel that it was happy overall. It’s about keeping things simple, appreciating life, doing yoga, making art, and being with people who make me feel good. It’s what we all want.

What were the challenges you faced and how did you surmount them?

Getting over the mental part of talking myself out of things, and toxic thinking. I’ve had depression and anxiety. Yoga has helped me with positive thinking. I try not to overthink and I try to find ways to make myself happy.

What was the most difficult moment for you?

Everyone is trying to figure out what they want to do, everyone is trying to find themselves, and I’m not different. I had so many things I wanted to do but I couldn’t find a way to express them. I wasn’t sure about things. I was still learning.

I was frustrated and wasn’t making art I was proud of. That’s what’s what brought me to yoga.  My practice gives me another outlet. It’s a balance: I don’t have to do one thing and I can heal myself through different things.

What do you consider your #ActuallySheCan moment?

When I first started yoga, we were going to do wheel pose and I was really nervous about it—it seemed so far out of my reach. When I finally did it, it was with so much determination and a constant practice. If I’m determined and I want to do it I can. I understood that things take time.

What’s your greatest frustration with your goal of introducing Big Gal Yoga to the mainstream?

Trying to change the heavily media-influenced stereotype of what yoga is. It’s perceived for thin, blonde, white women. I know they’re beautiful but the media doesn’t show women who are bigger and who are of color. It’s not about perfection; it’s about practice and it’s about learning.

Through social media we can normalize what different bodies look like. My practice doesn’t have to be an amazing thing. I look like me and I can do yoga. Other people who look different from me can do yoga, too. Simple as that.

I’m starting off with a self-loving practice. Yoga has helped me to accept myself and love myself, and not have to worry about being different or looking different. That’s the way I’m trying to work through my practice and to tell people to love themselves through yoga.

Who are your role models? Why do you look up to them?

My role model is any woman who expresses herself and puts herself out there with the things she loves and enjoys. There are so many stereotypes put on women in general. I love women who are taking power over their own selves and their own bodies, accepting themselves, and creating positivity for other people for whom self acceptance is difficult.

What is the best advice you have received that you wish to pass on?

Be vulnerable. Be open with new people and new experiences. It’s something that I’m trying to work on and help others to be open about.

Written for ActuallySheCan by Julie Balter