There is a stigma in yoga that plus size, thicker, rounder people can’t bend as well or in fact do yoga at all. I know, I know any Yogi or Yogini reading this is going to automatically say, “That’s crazy! Why did you just state that?!?! Yoga is for everyone, why did you just say this!?!?!” I said it because it’s true. I hate that it’s true, but it is. I personally have to deal with it all the time. When my students first meet me, when I go in for an interview/audition, or if I am going to a yoga class at a new studio. Again, I’m not thrilled for the stigma that being a plus size yoga teacher brings…but, over the past year I have learned how counter the stigma. First, I go above and beyond to look, sound, and act professional…no sometimes I’m still as goofy as ever…but, hey A for effort? Second, I always introduce myself to my classes…if it’s a new session…new students…new anything…people know who I am as a person and not by how I look. Third, I teach my heart out in my classes…combining power yoga with a slow vinyasa flow yoga…lets just say I get emails the next day about how sore my students’s cores are…..combining restorative with reiki….I have people fall asleep during classes because they are so relaxed. Fourth, I stay as knowledgeable as possible on the different subjects, chakras, modifications to the different postures, and how the body moves from pose to pose. And last, but not least I always have a smile on my face through bad auditions to great interviews. A smile will automatically ease the situation and create a better zen vibe. Here’s the deal, I will never not be plus size. I can’t change my body structure, how dense my bones are, or people’s opinions towards me….but, I can change how I feel about myself and how I act towards people. This week I encourage everyone to take the rounder approach in yoga and in life and let me know if you enjoyed rounding your shoulders in paschimottanasana. Peace, Love, and Namaste 🙂
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…….The harder you fight for something the more it will mean to you….Fake it till you make it…” These are phrases that are said to you when you’re going through a rough time. It could be from the loss of your dream job, a long term relationship ending, getting into an argument with a loved one, being sick, or any other reason you can think of. Personally I hear this a lot (and even more in the past few months). And when people say this to you all you can think about is, “Why the hell is this happening in the first place? I don’t deserve any of this! I don’t understand…..” People go through a grieving process during these specific hard, rough and bad times. It’s how human beings cope with their own lives and the people in their live….and those certain situations. Even though I am only 22 I personally feel like I am 32 half of the time. For those who do not know….I have a few medical issues I deal with on a daily basis. I have Hashimoto’s Disease, Narcolepsy, and a very severe Vitamin D Deficiency. Don’t worry I will briefly explain all of them. Hashimoto’s Disease is an auto immune disease that breaks down and kills the thyroid gland. There is no cure for it and it could attack other parts of the body as well. To help manage the disease I decided to have my thyroid removed in December of 2013. Narcolepsy, well the form of it I have, is essentially the connections in my brain are slowed down due to extra fluid around my brain. So, this also causes me to become extremely tired during the day..and there is no cure for this either. Last, but not least, my body uses so much energy throughout the day…resulting in my very severe vitamin d deficiency. Which is also incurable. So dealing with all of these medical wonderful issues….life can be difficult some days. Having my thyroid removed has helped a lot. Before surgery I couldn’t breath well, due to my thyroid pressing against my vocal chords because it was so big. And not being able to breath properly meant my muscles were not getting enough oxygen to them, causing me to not walk as well. The vitamin d deficiency also caused a lot of muscle weakness and having a bum thyroid caused my tiredness from the narcolepsy to turn into exhaustion. Having these medical issues caused me to put on almost 70 pounds. So yes, to answer your question I am plus size…due to a few medical conditions. Being a woman in her early 20’s with 3 incurable medication issues/diseases, not being able to control her weight, walking like someone in their 70’s-80’s, having her hair fall out (due to the Hashimoto’s Disease), and looking stoned all the time (due to being tired…I have never taken any drugs) was very difficult. I felt like no one understood. I had a friend at the time say I just need to get over it. And really, a lot of people only paid attention to how I looked….and when I told them I had a thyroid disease their immediate reaction was, “Oh, ok now I understand….” Yes, it was hurtful….Yes, it’s frustrating….No, you can’t change how people act, but you can change their perspective for the future…..which I have been trying to do. So, how does this relate to yoga? Why, did I bring this up? Easily…this relates to yoga easily. I hear all the time from my students, “My doctor told me to try yoga…they said it would be a low impact exercise that I could do.” Doctor’s know more than I do about medical issues, but I know more about yoga than they do. Not all yoga styles are accessible for everyone. This is why I make it goal in my classes that all of my students succeed in class….The last thing I want to hear is someone saying, “I can’t do this!” Because once I hear this I know that they have completely shut their mind off from trying something new, trying a new posture, and just having an open mind. So to help with the keeping an open mind, I sometimes talk about my medical issues. No, I’m not ever trying to draw attention to myself…but, to show my students that yes you can do this. My famous line is, “If I can do this you can do this.” The final pose in a Vinyasa Flow class or a Restorative class is savasana. Savasana is final relaxation pose in yoga. Here is where you let everything go…..If you didn’t have as good of a class as you wanted, let it go in savasana….because lets face it, we all can’t have a good days all the time or have a productive yoga class all the time. But, who cares? Only you are judging yourself for it. So, how about the next week we do a challenge. Even if you don’t attend a yoga class…lay in savasana for 5 minutes at the end of each day. Lay down on your bed, arms comfortable to your sides, legs long out in front of you, eyes closed, and slowly take deep inhales and exhales. Let your mind become quieter on each exhale and create stillness on each inhale. Slowly let your mind drift away, your body become relaxed, and your judgement disappear. Become one with yourself, create love in heart, and I’ll meet you in savasana. Namaste Yogis and Yoginis.
“Are you ready to start your yoga journey?…….Do you need any special modifications during class?…..You’re not exactly what we are looking for, for our studio. Thank you for your time…..Is this your first yoga class?…” These phrases and questions are ones I hear frequently before or after I take a class…..when I meet a fellow yogi for the first time…or when I apply for yoga jobs. Of course no person or studio will actually say this out loud becuase I could sue them if they did. I have a feeling it’s because of my fluffy exterior, the roundness in me, and my larger than life stomach. So when I am asked these questions…I first respond with a smile…and than insert the following words/phrases…”Well actually I’m looking at continuing my journey, due to being a fellow yoga instructor…….I’ll take any modifications I need on my own thank you. Yoga props have been a focus in the classes I teach. Oh, yes…I’m also a yoga teacher…..No thank for even considering me. I am so humbled and honored!…..No this isn’t my first yoga class, I am also a yoga instructor…” These lovely interactions happen on a weekly basis. I guess not a ton of people are familiar that there are plus size yoga instructors…or maybe they think we are mythical creatures that live in far off lands with endless supplies of kobucha and chocolate? Well let me assure you, we do not live in far off lands with kobucha, even though that would be AMAZING and I would waddle there as fast as I could. And we don’t always stuff our mouths with chocolate…even though I wish I did…on a daily basis…in a dark corner so people wouldn’t judge me. Okay let me for a second give mankind the benefit of the doubt…maybe mankind is that clueless and they think thick people can’t bend. If that is the case? I’m not offended. I would take you by the hand and educate you on the practices of yoga. How yoga is an amazing totally body workout! And that ANYONE can do it. It will/would be a wonderful experience for everyone involved and we can make a day out of it. Now if you know how yoga is for everyone and you still are going to bash the beautifully round yoga instructor or any fellow thick yogi. That’s a totally different story. As much as I don’t like to admit it, being bullied (even at the age of 22) it’s hurtful. My harsh exterior will crumble in a matter of seconds. No one likes to be judged for their job, career choice, where they went to school, any medical issues they have, family life, their weight/height, and the list could go on forever. But, unfortunately it still happens….and will continue to happen as long as there are judgemental people around. So let me do a bit of damage control/educate mankind. Yes, there are plus size yoga instructors. Yes, anyone can practice yoga. It doesn’t matter if your tall, short, thin, or thick..use a wheel chair…have medical condititions that make walking difficult…or anything else that you would think could hinder someone from yoga. Plus size yogis can bend. I’ll use myself as an example. I love back bends, I practice back bends a lot, and I’m constantly trying to incorproate them into my classes. I can also flip myself upside down, sit on my knees and recline all the way back, and can get into the full expression of half pigeon….but, those topics are for another day. The main thing I want anyone reading this to take away is the idea of Non-judgement. Don’t judge me for how I look and I won’t judge you for being an asshole. See the action goes both ways. I’m not saying be hard on yourself for making assumptions, just be mindful on how your making those assumptions about people/places/things. With being more mindful, we can slowly get rid of jugdement and see someone’s imperfections and uniqueness….and that’s what makes a person beautiful….and that’s all that really matters.
So my advice this week is don’t judge, pour a drink, and ask someone to dance.
“Take a nice deep inhale and cleanse the body with an exhale….Open up your heart chakra and let the love flow into it….Focus your third eye on a warm beach, feel the wind in your hair, let the sun kiss your face, and completely immerse yourself into this new reality….Float your thumbs to third eye center, bow, and say namaste…” These cheesy words and strange phrases are how I make a living. I talk about breathing, how change is a good thing, how to love yourself in the good times and bad times, and create a positive and peaceful environment. If you guessed I am a yoga instructor….you would be absolutely correct. I am in love with my job 24/7 and the fact I actually get a paycheck is an awesome added bonus. I love going to work everyday, taking yoga classes throughout the week, and studying up on different postures. I get excited when Target has a sale on yoga pants or when I find a book of quotes I can use for my classes. I really don’t sound any different from any other yoga teacher out there…and in all honest I really am not that different from any other yoga teacher. But, there is one quality of mine that may make you do a double take when you meet me……and that quality is I’m plus size. Being a plus size yoga instructor has many upward facing dogs (ups) and lots of downward facing dogs (downs). Being plus size in society now a days can be difficult. There’s judgement thrown at plus size people in all different forms and non plus size people don’t understand/don’t want to understand why your not a size zero. Throw society’s judgement into a world of health and fitness, where you’are expected to be no bigger than a size 6-8, and all your work attire is very figure hugging….it turns into the yoga roller-coaster of life. Regardless of what size you are yoga is for everyone. I’ll be posting once a week, talking about the ups and downs of my personal yoga roller-coaster, more information on postures, how to meditate better, any light bulb moments that occur on and off the mat, and what it is like being plus size in a health and fitness industry. So keep calm, lay on your back, and close your eyes…..because the 22 year old, plus size, yoga instructor named Leah Richards (that’s me) will massage your eye drums with words and enlighten your third eye with a new perspective.