A woman in a bikini doing a backbend, ribs showing and hipbones protruding: this image has been coming up in my FB feed lately, with the hashtag “Yoga Inspiration.” This isn’t the kind of yoga I find to be an inspiration. Instead, it makes me feel depressed. The too-thin woman in a yoga asana makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward in my body, which is much rounder and softer than hers.
In general lately, I’ve been feeling awkward and uncomfortable in my body. It’s changed over the past few months, in response to changes in my life. I feel thicker and denser, like I move slower. These changes are starting to affect my self-esteem and enjoyment of life.
As an antidote to my body image blues, I checked out a Yoga Rondeurs (which translates from French as “yoga roundness”) mini-retreat with Montreal-based teachers, Tara Lazanis and Suzanne Sirois. The Sunday morning workshop, starting at 9am and ending at 1pm, featured a gentle yoga practice, a presentation on body image and a yoga nidra practice, accompanied by harp from Hannah Brockow-Roberts.
I was feeling some anxiety before going, as I wasn’t sure if my body would be round or curvy enough for the workshop. I realize it was a ridiculous anxiety, but it’s how I was feeling. Fortunately, at the workshop, there was no sense of “qualification.” Every body was truly welcome. Nobody judged if I was “round enough” to be in the class. It was a welcoming, body-positive space – exactly what I needed.
There were women of all shapes and sizes in the session. A couple wore wonderful animal print tunics over stretchy pants, proving that bigger women can indeed have a sense of style. The class was bilingual, with Lazanis teaching in English and Sirois in French, which gave it a balanced feeling. Everything was well taken care of, structured, nurtured.
After the practice, we took a little break then settled down for a presentation from Equilibre, an organization that educates people about body image and weight.The positive and enthusiastic woman from Equilibre shared the organization’s definition of body image: “not what you look like but what you think you look like.” The presentation acknowledged that body and weight are complex, and provided some guidelines for health: don’t diet, change lifestyle, move for pleasure (for example, yoga!), eat whatever you want and enjoy it.
The Equilibre presentation pointed out how the beauty industry manufactures ideas of thin/fat to keep people consuming. She didn’t get into how yoga culture replicates the beauty industry, keeps people consuming yoga in the same way that the dominant culture dictates. Lazanis explained Yoga Rondeurs changes how we look at health and diets in our society. Yoga helps women accept ourselves in the body we have now. It recognizes that you don’t need to be thin to be healthy. Yoga Rondeurs doesn’t promote weight loss through yoga – it’s not about losing weight, but about changing the way we view health in our society.
The Growing Movement of Yoga for Round Bodies
Yoga Rondeurs is part of a growing “curvy yoga” movement in the North American yoga scene. Tiina Veer, founder of Yoga for Round Bodies and Lazanis’ teacher, spoke about this trend in a recent IAYB interview: “We’re still a very small contingent in the mainstream yoga community but I have see interest and conversation growing exponentially, especially in the past year or so with increased discourse around yoga and privilege. More teachers, studios, blogs and other yoga forums are beginning to explore the theme of privilege and yoga and it’s really opening our eyes about how yoga can be like an exclusive club. Many of us want to change that.”
For those of us who don’t have round body yoga classes in our communities, there are other ways to learn and practice. A new book by Ingrid Kollak, Yoga XXL, is a wonderful resource for those who practice yoga at home. The book promotes health – it’s not about losing weight. With practices for body awareness and self-reliance, Yoga XXL is an empowering and body-positive read.
Until the mainstream yoga scene acknowledges that images of emaciated women in bikinis and fancy backbends isn’t healthy for women, we’re going to need a body-positive alternative that is inclusive and realistic. The yoga for bigger bodies movement is essential in making the practice truly accessible to all.