Today I am so excited to share the wise words of Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga.
Okay, so it might just be me, but do you ever read something about self-acceptance, or hear about someone else practicing it, and think — how on earth do they make that happen?
I used to think that constantly, and I honestly still think it fairly often. Too often conversations about body- and self-acceptance can get caught up in the realm of the esoteric, works-for-her-but-won’t-for-me, or just flat-out impossible.
But here’s the thing: in my own, lived experience of practicing these things, they’re not nearly as inaccessible as they’re sometimes made out to be. They don’t require lots of time or money, nor do they require you to have a different body, be a different age, or not have whatever complex things you have going on in your life right now.
What has given me a foothold into a more practical, doable form of self-acceptance is yoga.
Hang with me a sec, lest you think I’m about to go right back into the world of myth and fairytale.
When I first started practicing yoga, I was just about always the biggest person in the room (usually by far), and I truly had no idea what the teacher was talking about when she said things like “Notice what’s happening in your baby toe in this pose.” I thought that was a metaphor, yoga-speak similar to “let your heart melt” or whatever else yoga teachers say.
Despite all these obstacles, something about yoga hooked me. I think it was the quiet at the end of class, which is something I’d never let myself experience before.
What I found over time, much to my total surprise, is that I began to be able to notice things like what my knee felt like when I bent it this much vs. that, or what it was like to take a shallow vs. deep breath. And as I started to build more access to my own experience, something clicked that I didn’t realize I was waiting to have click.
Because after years of practicing yoga, I’d also started to shift my approach to my body from chronic dieting to body acceptance. And even though I went to therapy and read lots of books, all of which were helpful, I still didn’t feel like I had access to information about what really worked for my body.
That is, until I tied self- and body-acceptance together with yoga.
It turns out that all those years I’d been practicing yoga and trying to figure out what my foot was doing in a pose, I’d be learning to have a conversation with my body and self. And that conversation is the root of acceptance — because it’s pretty hard to accept something you know absolutely nothing about.
If you want to give this a try yourself, here are a few ways to get started:
1. Find yoga that works for you: If you haven’t tried it before or haven’t found the right fit, I encourage you to look for a teacher that does work for you. Sometimes it takes a while to find a person you gel with, but that’s the beauty of how many teachers we have these days — someone out there will work for you, whether in-person or online. (You can search for a Curvy Yoga teacher right here and check out this blog post for tips on finding a curvy friendly yoga teacher if that’s something you’re interested in.)
2. Approach yoga as a conversation: So often movement, including yoga, gets wrapped around the axle of competition and achievement. As you may have experienced yourself, that is usually a path to discouragement and burn-out. I encourage you instead to approach yoga, or any movement practice, as a conversation. For example, during practice you might choose one question to open your practice, return to a time or two throughout, and close with. One of my favorites is: What do I need in this moment, and how can I meet that need?
3. Practice active listening: Active listening is something usually done with another person, but I believe we can do it with our bodies and selves, too. In a simple form, it’s listening and responding, showing the person that you’re listening. With your own body, after asking yourself a question, show yourself you’re listening by responding to the need you identified, or at least telling yourself why you’re not or finding a different way.
You don’t need a complicated or time-consuming yoga practice to use yoga as a way to listen to, tend to, and learn from your body. It never fails to surprise me how even a five-minute practice can shift my connection with myself (and if you want to try some short practices, you’re welcome to explore the free practices in my online studio). You can apply this same principle to 5 deep breaths, a walk, or whatever resonates with you.
Make your self-acceptance part of your actual life and it becomes something lasting and sustainable that can adapt and grow with you over time. It’s here, in the stuff of life, that we root into ourselves and our practices and create the lives we want.
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
Anna is the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit www.CurvyYoga.com.