Monday, May 14, 2012

Yoga For Every Body, Interview with Anna Guest-Jelley

Curvy Yoga Founder, Anna Guest-Jelley
I came across Curvy Yoga while browsing the internet for information on plus-size yoga positions. It was surprising how little I found online about plus-size yoga. Thankfully I stumbled upon an inspiring and insightful website, Curvy Yoga. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, yoga instructor and writer, Anna Guest-Jelley, offers a great deal of guidance to yoga enthusiasts worldwide.

When did you begin to practice yoga? What were some of the challenges you faced?

I have a vivid memory of when I first started practicing yoga my Freshman year in college. I'm in my college dorm room (where there was justenough space for a yoga mat between my bed and my roommate's. 
I'm in Down Dog, although I barely know what that is (and feel like my arms might soon snap off). I'm also really in the moment (for lack of a less clichéd way of saying it) - feeling my hands on the floor, feeling myself breathe, feeling my body as a whole for perhaps the first time in my life. 
I realize this sounds like the start of a movie on the Hallmark channel, but please bear with me for a moment. All hokieness aside, that was a moment that has really stayed with me, even though I only recently brought it back into my conscious memory. 
You see, I grew up almost completely detached from my body. As that girl who was always bigger than the rest of the girls, I quickly learned that being in my body didn't get me anywhere. And even if I'd somehow changed schools or something, I wouldn't have been able to escape that message because I got it at home, too. 
My mom took me to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was 11.

So for me to be in my body - to just feel good and not self-conscious or self-loathing - well, that was monumental. 
It was from that moment on that I got hooked on yoga. 
At what point did you decide to teach yoga?
I practiced yoga primarily on my own at home with VHS tapes for several years. When I did venture out to class (rarely!), I never felt like I was welcome or that I fit in. No one else's body looked anything like mine. And my teachers, while sweet for the most part, just didn't quite know what to do with me. 
I figured the problem was all me. 
Clearly, yoga was for thinner folks, so once I lost x amount of weight (which would surely be by next Tuesday, right?), I'd be good to go. 
Except, next Tuesday never seemed to roll around. Or, at least, the "right" Tuesday never did. 
For some reason, though, I continued to practice - holding out for that magic moment. At the same time, I started to finally address my history of bouncing between either binging or dieting. I was so tired of that struggle; I hoped against hope that there could be another way, but I was far from convinced that there was. 
As both of these processes continued to take shape, they began to speak to each other. As I became more in tune with my body in relationship to eating (i.e. eating when I was hungry and what I was hungry for vs. following some predetermined diet rules), I also became more in tune with my body on my yoga mat. 
And that's when it hit me: the problem wasn't my body!

I'll say that again because it was like the biggest lightning bolt moment imaginable: the problem wasn't my body!
The problem was that my teachers just didn't know how to teach me. And my search for relevant information was pretty much exhausted after one quick online search.

And so began the seed of the dream that I would teach the yoga I'd always wanted to find.
Please tell me about Curvy Yoga.
Curvy Yoga is body positive yoga for people of all shapes and sizes. It was born out of my own practice but has grown to be so much more. 
My vision is for this to be available all over the place so that whoever wants to can try yoga on their own terms - in a safe and welcoming environment. 
On my website, I share lots of yoga resources for curvy folks, including free podcastsvideos (use the code "Curvy20" to save 20%), options for practicing poses in a way that works for you and a body positive blog about yoga, body image and all the cross-over in between. 
I've also recently started offering Curvy Yoga Certification for yoga teachers. So you might see it popping up in your neck of the woods soon! Or, if you're a yoga teacher already, you can bring it there yourself! 
Anna Guest-Jelley in Downward Dog pose
What advice do you have for beginners who want to practice curvy yoga on their own? 
Find good resources that are tailored for curvy bodies. You can certainly use any of the things I linked to above from my site. In addition, there are a few great DVDs available from other teachers. I have them linked on the Resources page of my site.
I think my other advice is to give yoga some time and approach it with an attitude of curiosity. Even if you practice with excellent resources, it can sometimes be challenging to get into a groove with yoga if you're not used to it. But don't let one awkward moment slow you down. Watch the videos above for another way to practice the pose. If you go to one class and don't connect with the teacher, try another. And even another. 
If you want additional help, don't hesitate to be in touch. I'd be happy to share what I know! 
What is your favorite yoga pose?
It's hard to narrow it down to just one! I love shoulder openers of any kind because, as someone who spends most of her day at the computer, my shoulders are often t-i-g-h-t! I'm also a big fan of hip openers like Pigeon - pretty much for the same reason.

Ultimately, though, I've got to choose a restorative pose. I think these poses, which work to quiet our oft-stressed nervous system, are the essence of yoga. My fav out of these is definitely reclining bound angle pose. So good! 
Anna Guest-Jelley is the Founder of Curvy Yoga, where she writes and teaches about yoga and embodiment as the foundations of a live well-lived (and body well-loved). She is also the Editor of Curvy Voices, a compilation of people’s stories from around the world about their journey with loving their body through yoga. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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