Guest Post: Anna Guest-Jelley on Yoga and Body Image

Today, I’m honored to connect you with Anna Guest-Jelley, author of Curvy Yoga and bona-fide body image warrior. Spend even five minutes perusing Anna’s site and you’ll see that she is brimming with kindness, patience, wisdom, and generosity. Her philosophy of self-love and her drive to encourage women of all shapes, sizes, and ages to experiment with the transformative world of yoga make her an absolute superstar in my book.

Anna has agreed to tell us how, even after years of practice, yoga still boosts her self-image. Read on for Anna’s story.

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Why Yoga Still Helps With My Body Image

 

anna guest-jelley

I started practicing yoga almost fifteen years ago, and I’ve been pretty devotedly on the body acceptance path for about seven years. So it might be easy to think I never feel bad about my body anymore.

I wish.

What Comes Up

Here’s the thing: those old internal tapes about how much better my life would be if I lost weight? Or got taller? Or even just had a belly that wasn’t quite this big?

They’re still there. Even the get taller one, and I’m 100% sure that ship has totally sailed.

Thankfully, though, they have shifted a bit over time. They come up less often. And they usually hang on a bit less tenaciously now, too. Of course, this is primarily because I’m much better able to recognize them now for what they are – old programming – vs. what I used to see them as: truth.

Make that Truth with a capital T.

Other Differences

The other big difference for me now (as opposed to when I started my body acceptance journey) is that I understand how to feel what’s going on inside my body and use my body to make a change.

If you’re guessing this is because of yoga, you’re right.

Although my yoga practice started years before I began to work with accepting – and even loving – my body in earnest, I believe it paved the path for it. And I know for sure that yoga is what ultimately made it possible.

How Yoga Helps

Sometimes when I think about it, I find it funny that yoga is what helped me accept my body. Yoga – these days the domain of the uber-thin and flexible – is not what many people call to mind when they think of bigger-bodied folks like me. But I never could resist a surprise factor.

So it is that I take my curvy bod to the mat, moving my belly skin to come more comfortably into a forward bend, stepping my feet a bit wider to make space for my thighs in a standing pose.

Each time I do this, I reinforce trust with myself: I know what is right for my body and it is OK for me to take steps to meet my own needs, just as they are in this moment. By connecting with my body through yoga, I’ve been able to come into a relationship with myself. And it wasn’t until I got to know myself and my body that I could begin to shift my relationship towards one of acceptance.

In the past, I didn’t give myself that grace. I tried to force myself into poses, diets and clothes that didn’t fit, all in the name of becoming who I thought I “should” be.

But now, what surprises me (delightfully so) is to realize that none of that forcing ever “worked.” Even if I did lose a few pounds here or there, it rarely made me feel better about myself at all, and certainly not for long. There was always yet another struggle: to keep it off, to lose more, to get to the next pose.

Staying with My Body

Yoga teaches us that over time the practice becomes increasingly subtle. What brings us in the door — the poses — becomes less and less important as we become quieter inside, more adept at listening.

And that is why I continue to practice yoga as a tool for body acceptance. It’s the only tool in my toolbox that invites me to go deeper and deeper still into the ever-changing yet ever-constant reality of who I am.

And it helps me to see that I am whole, just as I am.

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Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga – a training and inspiration portal for full-figured yogis and their whole-hearted teachers. As a writer, teacher and lifelong champion of women’s empowerment and body acceptance, Anna encourages women of every size, age and ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.

Grab Anna’s free Quick Start Guide to get your yoga on today! And sign-up for her newsletter to keep up to date with all things curvy and yoga.

  • http://line4line.blogspot.com K-Line

    I started practicing Iyengar yoga when I was 18, in 1988 – long before it was trendy. In those days we had a very diverse class complement – most notably on the age spectrum as there were middle-aged and old women in the class. Actually, I was the outlier! Sure, some people were very slender and toned and flexible etc. Some others were not and that was completely normal. We all learned from each other.

    In the 90s, ashtanga and the “aerobic yogas” came onto the scene in a big way and I practiced those also (when I was cheating on my regular yoga, cuz I liked the vibe and everyone was young and gorgeous). They never worked for me, as a mechanism to find the essence of practice, and I did start to feel like yoga was being commoditized and somehow marketed to slender, young, insanely flexible/strong people – but more to the point – slender, young people with bodies that could achieve what very few bodies can. It was, for some, about ego clashing with ability. It was hard to find I’d practiced for so many years and there were things I still couldn’t achieve that some guy next to me could. And I had a very strong, flexible and balanced body!

    Where am I going with this?

    Now I’m in my 40s and I’m approaching menopause fast and furious and I’m having to use yoga in an extremely different way than ever I have before. Right now it is key for me in finding a new body acceptance. Sure, for me that means feeling ok about a midsection that is far less toned than it has been. But it also means feeling ok about how my body functions in the world. How it moves, how it is changing in response to huge biochemical change.

    Yoga has seen me through more than half my life and most major life changes (late puberty, pregnancy, stressful years of householding, illness and now menopause). Sure, it’s also been there through the uneventful moments and I am always grateful for it.

    • http://www.franticbutfabulous.com Heidi // Frantic But Fabulous

      I started at the exact same time and age, too! I took it as a P.E. class in college on a whim, and have been practicing ever since. I now take a community-based class associated with a local hospital where I am one of the youngest members. I love it because none of us are young and gorgeous ;) so we are all there for the practice itself. It’s been interesting to see the way yoga has changed for me as I have changed as well. I’ve learned which poses it’s OK for my body to sink into deeply and which ones need to be practiced “with intention,” as our teacher says.

      When it comes to tools for meeting yourself where you are, yoga is one of the best.

  • Monica H

    Yoga has also helped me a lot with body acceptance, as well as helping to make evident my own hidden prejudices and judgements of others so that I can let go of them.

    I am having several health issues right now that make it difficult to do many of the athletic pursuits that I love. Many times I can’t even make it through a “slow flow” class without spending time resting in child’s pose, and I have a shoulder injury so I have to skip all the chaturangas. But instead of feeling broken, the constant reassurance that wherever I am is OK, and that as long as I am breathing I am still getting everything I need, really helps me still feel whole.

    I am blessed in my studio to have a broad diversity of people. It is evident that yoga is not for the young and lithe, but for everyone. We have an idea of what ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ are supposed to look like, but there are only a few people who fit that image. There is an amazing 80 year old who comes regularly. Most of the instructors are in their early 40s, many are mothers with the telltale body marks and round tummies attesting to such. There is a yogini who can do utterly astonishing things with her body who is a size 10 petite apple shaped 50 year old that fits nobody’s image of a ‘yoga person.’ Seeing all of these diverse people engaged in this practice has really challenged my own vision of what it looks like to be healthy. These people can do extraordinary things, many of which I would not have imagined by looking at them. And they are not aberrant exceptions, they are just people that are attracted to the practice and the accepting aspects of the studio. And they are all beautiful.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Great article. I love the quiet *time* of yoga, letting my mind clear.

  • http://cronicasdobrasil.wordpress.com Malvina

    I remember wanting to hug the yoga instructor who suggested that women might want to do their forward folds with their feet a little separated, not right together. See, she said, yoga instructing (like many things) was designed and dominated by men and it still needed some adjusting. Yay! Not only did I no longer feel like I was going to fall over (these wide hips need a wider base, thankyouverymuch) but it was SO nice to have diversity of form acknowledged and supported in the practice. Keep up the great work!

  • Natalie

    I’m amazed at how a practice that is supposed to be about acceptance and learning about your own body can be turned into something that becomes exclusive and for only the bendy and beautiful. I practiced at a number of local studios that felt like an exclusive fitness club. I just didn’t feel like I belong.

    Now, I’ve been several years on a journey in Iyengar yoga. I love the idea that modifications can make yoga better for everyone. My teacher has practiced for 15 years and is still considered a student. I learned so much about what my body does and doesn’t do. It has been the single best thing for me.

    Thank you for bringing this practice to more people. Good luck!

  • Kristen

    I recently started attending a yoga class once a week. It has been a great thing – I started going to the class after having my second miscarriage in a row, because I needed to do something positive with my body, to feel more positive about my body. The instructor leads us in Iyengar yoga, and I only recently realized how fortunate I am to have chosen this particular class. I am in my late 20’s, and I am one of the youngest people in the class; the majority of my classmates are in their 50’s or 60’s, several of them have injuries or specific joint issues, and no one is competing with anyone else. My sister-in-law asked if I had a “goal” for yoga, like getting more toned, and I had a hard time putting into words how I feel about it. It’s about being flexible, about listening to my body, about releasing tension. It’s about knowing that yes, I am taking care of my body and it’s taking care of me, even though it doesn’t always do what I want it to do. It’s about accepting my body.

  • Erika A

    Thank you Anna for bringing your compassionate and encompassing practice to as many people as you can!

    Yoga has been a blessing for me as well, on my own journey of body acceptance. I love how many commenters have found peace in an Iyengar practice! <3 I started Iyengar practice in 2006 as a way to ground myself in a new city and state, during a period where my body was shrinking and I didn't always know how to use it properly. I stopped going but picked up the practice again in 2011 as I was in healing from a serious and body-changing illness. There were many days when I could hardly drag my tired limbs out of the "beginner" class, but the stillness and body-focus re-taught me how to listen to what my body already knew, be open to what it could learn, and connect all my parts. I am much bigger now than I was back in 2006, but I have my health, and when I come to the mat, I remember how capable I am at any size.