The toughest challenges you’ll face as a curvy yoga teacher

4 min read

Being a fat, black woman in a fatphobic, sexist, and racist society means that I must face difficult challenges on a daily basis. The one place you wouldn’t expect to confront these challenges is on the yoga mat. In yoga culture, we preach oneness and love, but sadly, our words often belie our actions.

Since I have been teaching yoga full-time for more than 20 years, I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge about the human condition. Yoga mats often reflect what happens in the world.

We live in a culture that is rife with prejudice, judgment, and bias. All of us are affected by these conditions. Yoga mats and the yoga culture in general are not immune from the growing feeling of exclusion.

What people say when they see fat yoga students and teachers

As a student of yoga, I have seen people move their mats from me, stop speaking when I enter an area, and deny my abilities because of my size and skin color. My training, abilities, and authenticity as a yoga teacher and studio owner are continually questioned.

I don’t know if my skin color or body size is the cause of the prejudice and bias I experience on the mat, but it’s probably a combination.

The Assumption that You Are Not a Good Educator Because of Your Size

Students and teachers are often surprised by my knowledge and expertise. When I tell people that I am a yoga instructor, there is an air of amazement in the room. When students learn that I am a great yoga teacher, they feel confused.

Even though I am thin, white, and flexible, I do not fit into the stereotype. The most prominent yoga celebrities in our current culture are the ideals for the idealized standards of beauty – young, white, hypermobile, and attractive.

There’s a presumption that because I’m curvy, I’m not as good as my thin counterparts. It is as if spirituality, competence, and a small package of white can only be found in one. Yoga is one of the “non-judgmental,” most judgemental practices I’ve ever encountered. There are too many divisions based on body size, ability, and race.

It is difficult to get people to change the way they think about what a yoga practitioner looks like. Expanding our view is essential to creating a safe and brave space where everyone feels welcome and can take part.

Why I keep showing up and why you should, too

Yoga is within us all, and it is for everyone. The presence of a black, fat teacher encourages others to join you. Representation brings a feeling of security and support. All of us want to belong. To break down stereotypes about what yoga looks like, we need to offer more diverse images and classes.

I am a teacher who serves my community by teaching with my heart and showing up. I encourage other teachers to do the same.

How can you overcome these challenges? Keep your focus.

To overcome my challenges, as a yoga teacher with an abundance of body mass, I had to learn to ignore other people’s opinions about me. I must not internalize other people’s judgment and bias.

I want to shatter the stereotypes of what a yogi should look like. I can’t achieve this if I allow others to define me as a yoga instructor or how a yoga teacher is supposed to look. Every time a student leaves my class, another one walks towards me. They see themselves in what I do. Maybe a student who was too afraid to try yoga came to my class because they knew it would be a safe place for personal growth.

What is your Dharma or purpose?

In my yoga practice, my main goal is to build a bridge that will help us all understand humanity and the spirituality that binds us. I also recognize that those who judge other people based on size, class, gender, or skin color have much self-reflection work to do. That is their Dharma.

The opinions or thoughts of others about me are irrelevant to me or my goals.

Please remember that students are waiting to attend your classes because they feel represented by you, which makes them feel included and safe. The inclusion of all bodies is essential to the practice. Abundant yoga instructors help us explore different perspectives.

All bodies are good and can teach yoga. Remember always to be kind to both your students and teachers, as we’re all in this together.

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