Typically, when you see pictures of yoga classes - whether in a magazine or on the cover of a DVD - the students are all slim, flexible and toned.
Such images replayed over and over could make anyone who doesn't fit into that category, or who is simply intimidated by the practice of yoga, to quickly say, "no way."
Fortunately, one woman has been working hard to change that attitude.
Anna Guest-Jelley is founder and CEO (Curvy Executive Officer) at Curvy Yoga, a training and inspiration portal offering classes, workshops, teacher instructions, retreats, a virtual studio and lots of love and support to people of every size, age and ability.
How did Anna come up with the idea for Curvy Yoga?
For years, Anna herself had struggled with body acceptance, yo-yo dieting, and overall self-esteem. She was one of those individuals who didn't think yoga was even an option.
But, after working on acceptance of herself and flipping her own body awareness paradigm, she discovered that yoga was a wonderful way to connect with her physical body and emotional self.
What are some of the differences between typical yoga and Curvy Yoga?
For one, there is often more use of "props" to enable poses that work for everyone
, regardless of shape, size, flexibility or experience. And, modification is widely accepted. Allowing students to change the moves to adapt to their own capacity is far less intimidating.
Remember, individuals of ALL sizes and shapes can struggle with body confidence and connectedness... whether you're a size two or a size 20. Curvy Yoga may just be an answer.
Now that Curvy Yoga has grown, there are classes all over the world, and you can find the class nearest you by using the class locator on the Curvy Yoga website
Listen in as Anna joins Lisa to share more about Curvy Yoga, how yoga has helped her accept and connect to her body, and how you can get involved - either as a student or a teacher - in Curvy Yoga classes.
RadioMD Presents: Naturally Savvy | Original Air Date: February 25, 2015
Hosts: Andrea Donsky, RHN & Lisa Davis
Guest: Anna Guest-Jelley
Whether you are new to the living healthy lifestyle or a healthy living veteran, this the place for the honest answers to your questions. Naturally Savvy with registered holistic nutritionist, Andrea Donsky and health journalist, Lisa Davis, on RadioMD.com
LISA: Hi, I’m Lisa Davis. Andrea Donsky is off today.
Yoga is something that I used to do regularly and I used to teach kids yoga and then I kind of fell off the yoga wagon and got on the Pilates wagon, but I want to get back and one of the things that’s really encouraging me is the wonderful Anna Guest-Jelley. She’s the founder and CEO, I love this, “Curvy Executive Officer” at Curvy Yoga.
ANN: Hi. I’m so excited to be here.
LISA: It’s so great to have you on. As a curvy woman, I think in the earlier segment, I talked about being 5’9¾”, so I just say I’m 5’10”. Size 12. Very shapely, I might add. You know, I think I would go to those yoga classes or even watch the videos and just feel like an Amazon and just feel out of place, so talk to us about your own experiences and tell us all about Curvy Yoga.
ANN: Yes. I really relate to what you just said. I also, when I first started practicing yoga, felt very out of place. I was almost always the biggest person in the room and I practiced for years thinking, “Okay. I really like this, but I feel like I’m just not getting it. Like, surely that will happen once I lose “X” amount of pounds,” which is really what I was focused on at that time in my life.
Over time, I started to see how being on diet after diet after diet was not working for me in my life and that I needed to find a different paradigm. That’s when I started learning about and started to practice body acceptance in my own life. What I found was that what was really helping me was yoga, how it had helped me learn to really connect with my body. And then, those two things kind of clicked and I realized, “Oh, maybe the issue isn’t my body having to change, but just that I need more information and maybe my teachers haven’t learned how to teach curvy-bodied students.” That is what prompted me to eventually become a teacher and start Curvy Yoga to really get the word out and get the tools out to people of all shapes and sizes, especially curvy people that, yes, yoga is absolutely for you.
LISA: That is so awesome. So, what are some of the differences would you say, in what you do with the Curvy Yoga versus just a mainstream yoga class?
ANN: Most likely, people are going to see a lot more use of props in Curvy Yoga classes. So we do everything that we can to make the poses work for everybody because I’m a huge believer that everybody can practice their own version of every pose, even the poses that feel really scary like headstands. There’s a way that you can work with dolphin at the wall or something like that. There’s always something that can be done. So, we’re really coming at it from this angle of, “How can you really make it work for you even if it doesn’t look like what everyone else in class is doing?” and it’s the kind of class where everyone is doing something at least slightly different which is usually different from the kind of mainstream class that you’ll run into.
LISA: I really love that. The whole idea of modifications and doing what your body is able to do. I’m terrified to do a headstand, so, apparently, I need to come and work with you.
ANN: Yes. Well, it’s scary and I mean, it’s one of those poses where you have to question if it’s really a great idea to be practicing it because of all the risks, but being able to find a way that works for you can lower peoples’ intimidation level for going to classes because sometimes people will think like, “I’m scared. Now, what if they do this? I don’t know if I even want to go to class.” So, if you have a resource, you know you can do something, even if the teacher doesn’t offer it to you.
LISA: It seems like, because we’ve spoken before, and just looking at all your great material, Anna, that this has really helped you love your body and I am so big on the “Health at Every Size” movement and I just think it’s so encouraging what you’re doing.
How has this affected your relationship with your self-esteem and your body image?
ANN: I mean, it’s been completely transformative and what I think happened for me is, when I first started working on body acceptance, I was reading books and going to therapy and journaling and all of that was so helpful. I couldn’t have done it without that, but it wasn’t until I brought in the piece of the body—so, being able to connect with my body, feel what it needed, figure out how to meet those needs--that I could really accept it. Sometimes, I’ll explain it as this kind of a friendship. So, if you think about becoming really good friends with someone, it’s pretty much impossible to do that if you don’t know anything about them. The same is true for your own body. Until I could really start to feel what was going on and connect more with my body, I couldn’t accept it—really.
LISA: And, I think in our culture, we make it so hard for women, of any size, really, to connect with our bodies because we’re trying to make everybody feel bad about themselves. “You’re too thin. You’re too fat. You’re too this…” I remember in high school, I was so skinny--this was in the 80’s—that the jocks used to tease me and call me Olive Oil because I have really frizzy hair, so I would slick it back and put it in this like kind of high ponytail braid thing. It was not a good look, but still. So, I’d eat peanut butter sandwiches late at night and then, of course, as I got older I put on weight and I filled out nicely, but it was really hard, you know? And then, I’m like, “Geeze, I’m too thin. You’re too fat. When are we just going to be okay?”
ANN: Right. I know. When I first started the Curvy Yoga, I thought that the only people that would be interested would be other curvy-bodied people, but, much to my surprise, pretty much from day one, I’ve always had students of all shapes and sizes and it’s for exactly that reason that you said, because I would have women write to me and say, “You know, I’m a Size 2 and you’re a Size 20, but I totally relate to everything you’re saying about feeling disconnected from your body, not loving your body, feeling like your body’s not right for yoga, etc.” and that really opened my eyes to what you said that so many of us, due to media, family or whatever institutions, are getting the message that we need to be turning to the external to sort of fix our bodies and I think what yoga can do is turn us to the internal, no matter what our shape and size is, and help us really be with, and accept, our bodies.
LISA: It’s so true. You know, yesterday, I saw this interview with Ashley Graham, who’s a plus size model and she was in Sports Illustrated in a paid advertisement, but she’s the biggest model. I mean, I thought, “Wow, she looks…” Her swimsuit, man, her curves are banging. I mean, she looks amazing. So, I reached out to her and she’s going to come on the show. I’m really excited, but do you think it’s starting to change more with more plus size models? I hate that term, but that’s what they call them.
ANN: Right. Yes, I know what you mean. Yes. I do. I definitely see that. Both in that world and I see in the yoga world that the conversation’s growing around size diversity and getting more people into the practice and I think that’s great. We just have to keep it up.
LISA: Yes. We do. So, tell us. Where can people find your classes, Anna?
ANN: Yes. So, I teach locally in the Nashville area, if anyone is listening from there. But if you go to CurvyYoga.com, we have a class locator and we have teachers all over the world and you can look and see if we have someone in your area.
LISA: Oh, cool. Now, in order to become certified, you have to already be a yoga teacher and then you take some extra classes, is that correct?
ANN: That’s right. There are two avenues. So, there’s one for people who are already yoga teachers and that training takes place online and then there’s one for people who are not already yoga teachers to become them and that takes place here in Nashville and information about those is on the website.
LISA: And, tell us a little bit about Permission to Curve. I love that. “Inspiring poses for curvy yogis and their teachers” and also Yoga and Body Image: Twenty-five Personal Stories about Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body.
ANN: Sure. So, Permission to Curve is something where I was talking about earlier. You could find resources to sort of figure out how to support yourself in the practice even if you go to a local class where you’re not getting that information. This is the book for that. So, the book has 60 plus poses in it. There are photos; there is video of quite a few of them and a video library available. In that book, I really break down all the different steps: ways you can support yourself, props you can use so that you can use that information in your own practice or in local classes, whatever it is that you’re doing. So, that’s a great “go to” tool that you can refer back to at any time.
And then, Yoga and Body Image, that is a collection that I co-edited with this wonderful woman, Melanie Klein, and we have 25 stories in there from all different kinds of people including Alanis Morissette and Seane Corn, who is a very well-known yoga teacher.
LISA: I love Seane Corn.
ANN: And, it’s all about peoples’ stories about how yoga helped them accept their body. It’s wonderful because they are so diverse in their stories that I think anyone can find at least some commonality with one of the stories.
LISA: Anna, you are absolutely fabulous. Give us your website one more time.
ANN: Thank you! It’s CurvyYoga.com.
LISA: Great. And you can also follow Anna @CurvyYoga and speaking of following, you can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RadioMD and @NaturallySavvy.
Anna, thank you so much. This has been so great. I hope you all check out Anna and Curvy Yoga. Have a great day and stay well.