Yoga is a vital part of my life. I feel so fortunate that it found me and I literally want to share it with everyone. However, sometimes I am acutely aware of how unaccessible it can feel to other people. Often I get the feeling that these inclusive constructs, poses and ideals can feel terribly exclusionary and only belonging to a very “special” group of people. I know I am not the only one who feels this way and have found great inspiration in Diane Bondy, Yoga International and the #WhatAYogiLooksLike campaign.
I decided to do my small part in the #WhatAYogiLooksLike campaign and will be starting my own version of the series with a set of interviews that I have planned to share here over the next few weeks. These interviews will showcase diverse yogis from all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds and reasons for practicing yoga. I am absolutely loving the responses I am receiving so far. You will be hearing from new yogis and ones who have been practicing for years. You will hear from ones who see yoga as a completely spiritual practice and ones who see it as completely physical. They are various ages, shapes and sizes and a wonderful representation of #WhatAYogiLooksLike.
I am sharing my thoughts first and you will understand a bit more about what motivated this series. The questions below are what our yogis will be answering. If you are interested in being featured, I would love to have you share your perspective. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.
When did you start doing yoga and why? I went to my first yoga class in 2008 after marathon training started to flare up and create new injuries in my body. I knew I needed help for: my tight hips, low back, and knee pain. I definitely found benefits for my body and pretty soon benefits for my mind starting creeping in. I gained more awareness of my feelings, thoughts, and actions. I had an excellent teacher who started introducing me to the other limbs of the yoga tree. My practice evolved to a different level after the murder of my father. I used meditation, the yamas and niyamas to begin my journey through loss and grief.
What myths or misconceptions did you have about yoga before starting? I thought I would be “bad” at yoga because I was so inflexible. I thought that I could eventually get “good” at it by approaching class with the same type of goal-achieving mindset that got me to meet my educational and running goals. I used to think that I was not doing yoga correctly if I did not come out of class dripping with sweat and progressing in poses.
What is your favorite pose and why? Supta baddha konasana, reclining bound angle pose. This pose makes me feel incredibly open and vulnerable, which I am learning to be OK with. I feel it is very grounding and calming. I love putting one hand on my heart and one on my belly. These are two areas that I feel are often in conflict with each other (my gut feeling and my heart), I have been working on getting them to be more in line with one another, so I practice linking up my solar plexus chakra and my heart chakra with my breath.
What are your thoughts on yoga and body image and has it affected your practice? Although I truly believe every body is a yoga body, that is not what is always portrayed and I would lie if I said that did not creep into my head sometimes and make me feel as though I was not worthy of this practice, especially in regards to being a yoga teacher.
One can be intimidated to see the Instagram yoga superstars who are: incredibly fit, thin, beautiful and overall, white. They are pictured doing “impressive” poses in bikinis on the beach and I feel like a complete fraud saying that I am also a yogini, and yoga teacher, but look nothing close to these portrayals of yoga.
It does bother me that sometimes I am one of the few people of color in a yoga class or particularly, at a workshop or training for teachers. I live in Southern California, where there is no shortage of diversity. However, I do not always feel like that diversity is aptly represented within the yoga community. I have to wonder why it can feel like yoga teachers are supposed to look a certain way and if this discourages others who do not fit this mold from pursuing an opportunity to share in the practice?
I have battled with some of these constructs mentally and even though it can shake my confidence a bit at times, I feel grounded in my practice and my right to be a yoga teacher. That has taken some time to build, but I know assuredly that I work on my practice both on and off my mat, and have the skills to speak from my heart and to share it with others. Yoga has given me the awareness that reminds me to focus on myself and what’s going on within the confines of my own mat. With that awareness, I am able to re-orient myself to my own practice and work within to be at peace with my own body, breath, heart, soul and practice.
Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification or any other form of your identity? Yoga is now a huge part of my identity. Yoga has helped me re-establish a spiritual life and journey. There was a time when I did not want any part of spirituality, God or healing in my life, but I truly credit yoga with helping me to work on this part of myself and go within to explore what these things now mean to me.
I feel that yoga is a compliment to my identity as a Mexican-American woman. Mexicans are passionate, spiritual, emotional, and generally seeking connections with others and with the earth. Mexican woman, particularly, seem to have an innate sense of connection to themselves and others and I see yoga as a beautiful way to strengthen that connection.
Many of us cannot picture our abuelas doing yoga poses, but we can remember them making us yerba buena tea when we were sick, looking us in the eyes and know instinctively that something was wrong, and using touch as healing to comfort us when we were sick. There is something incredibly yogic about these connections to me and I wish more of my own people would find how these things link together and compliment our upbringing. I truly hope to see more people of my own, and all ethnic backgrounds finding (and teaching!) yoga.
What do you love most about yoga? Connection. Yoga has helped me find and continue to explore a deep connection within my own heart, soul, mind and body. It has increased my awareness of my connection to other people, animals and celestial beings. It has helped form more honest, meaningful connections.
What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice? You do not have to be flexible, “good” at yoga, look a certain way, or be at a certain level to start (or at any point in your practice). You only have to have an open mind and step just a bit out of your comfort zone. Find a studio and teacher that resound with you. If the first class or teacher was intimidating, please find another one, immediately. If you are local, please join the inclusive community at Inner Evolution Yoga.
You can also start by trying some at-home practices through YouTube, YogaGlo or Yogis Anonymous. Please feel free to email me or comment if you would like suggestions of some of my favorite online teachers and practices.
Thank-you for reading. It’s not always easy to put my insecurities and fears out there, but I truly hope to encourage more people to do yoga and spread the message that yoga is for everyBODY.