• Every Body is a Yoga Body.

    When Michelle Bowler came across some less than kind comments on an image we shared on instagram late last year, she felt the need to speak up and help educated those who were leaving negative comments. The image was of the amazingly talented, body positivity activist, Valerie Sagun. The negative comments sparked our desired to start a much bigger conversation about the concept of body shaming in the world of yoga. So, we reached out to Michelle and asked her to write a blog post for us related to this subject. This is what she shared:

    Who does yoga belong to? And why does it matter what size you are in order to do yoga?

    I’m a yoga teacher and student in a bigger body. I’m also a Legal Aid lawyer and a mum.

    I have a same sex partner and we have 4 kids – a singleton and triplets. I’m on Instagram and one of the things I love seeing in my Instagram feed is diverse families. Seeing gay dads and their kids and their stories gives me joy. Seeing people managing with twins or triplets or bigger families gives me some much-needed strength. And seeing people with lives that are different to mine makes me think.

    I also deliberately cultivate a diverse yoga feed on my Instagram.  Seeing queer yogis gives me joy and strength. I like seeing people from all walks of life, including people with a disability, people of colour, people in a bigger bodies, people who are trans gender, or people in prison doing and teaching yoga. It reminds me that yoga is for all of us, and not reserved for just some of us.

    When I first started teaching yoga, I was waiting for someone to tell me I was too fat. But no one ever did. That’s probably because being thin isn’t a prerequisite for teaching or doing yoga. It’s probably also because people are more polite in person than they can be anonymously on social media. In my classes I don’t promote obesity but I don’t promote weight loss either. I don’t talk about weight at all. I talk about how to modify poses, how to use props if they’re helpful, how to rest, and how to call a ceasefire with the way you talk to yourself when you step on the mat.

    One of my favourite yoga poses is Downward Facing Dog, holding it for a few breaths and closing my eyes. It took a long time to become a favourite, though. Over time my wrists have become stronger and now, I love the way Downward Dog feels – when I’m on my own and I can find some stillness and decompress my spine after a long day sitting at a desk, and when my kids find me and start clambering all over me and making me laugh. There’s nothing Instagram worthy about my down dog or my home practice with my unruly kids. My ankles don’t touch the ground and maybe they never will. I’m long past caring.

    Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes have been huge influences for me – 2 intelligent, experienced, kind, passionate Yoga Teachers who happen to be in bigger bodies. As Dianne says, yoga can bring people in from the margins. Good yoga doesn’t say ‘this is not for you’. The Yoga and Body image Coalition also does amazing work to spread the message that yoga is for everyone.

    Yoga is one of my means for self-care. My practice has allowed me to see how much my body does for me. It’s helped me find my voice as a teacher in a bigger body. It’s made me thankful for my arms that cuddle my kids and for my legs that carry me where I want to go. It’s made me thankful for the miracle of growing 3 babies at once. It’s helped me step off the yo-yo world of dieting. It’s made me more grateful for my many good fortunes in the lottery of life.

    In my practice and my teaching, I return again and again to santosha (contentment). Accepting and appreciating the life and the body that I have right now. Everyone should be allowed to practice yoga and put a photo of it on Instagram if they want – without stigma or shame. It is too easy to be negative on social media when you see someone in a different body doing yoga.

    When we judge each other on social media, it could be helpful to take some cues from the yamas and niyamas. Ahimsa (non-violence) and svadhyaya (self-study) stand out. Is it necessary to say that a photo of someone in a bigger body doing yoga is promoting obesity? Is it true? Does this belief say more about the person holding it than it does about the person in the photo? It is not hard to scroll on by rather than assume someone is unhealthy and needs to be told so. I’m not sure who this quote is from but ‘Yoga is not about tightening your arse, it’s about getting your head out of it’. Every body is a yoga body.

    By Michelle Bowler

    Michelle Bowler is a Yoga teacher and mother of 4 based in Ballarat, Australia. She teaches classes at BALC and Absolute Yoga & Pilates.

  • Member Feature: Johanna Kivinen

    We love hearing and sharing stories from our students, so this month, we reached out to Johanna Kivinen (@yogalogen on Instagram!). Johanna and her husband live in Sweden. Together, they practice yoga on OmStars every day, and she has a very inspiring story to share about her own personal journey with the yoga practice.

    My name is Johanna Kivinen. I am a Swedish/Finnish yogini living in Stockholm, Sweden and working as a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychiatry. I have practiced ashtanga yoga for the past 8 years of my life and it was through my husband that I found the practice of yoga, while at that time, living in Turku, Finland.

    My husband had tried ashtanga yoga while living in the USA and fell in love with the practice, so he asked me to come along, so I brought my competitive, stiff and anxious self to my first ever yoga class.

    To be honest, it hurt and did not feel good neither physically nor mentally. I was stiff in my body (and mind), but I felt that the practice could teach me things I did not know about myself if I kept going.

    So I did.

    I practiced hard and diligently, but I was not attentive to the limits of my body or my mind. I pushed myself way beyond my abilities, and ended up with a long-term knee injury, severe anxiety, depression and exhaustion.

    This psychological pattern kept repeating itself both on and off the mat, and eventually I ended up with suicidal thoughts. The low self-worth that I tried to cover up with extreme ambition led me to hit rock-bottom and my life contained no meaning, not even for practice.

    During my rehabilitation as I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided to listen to one of Kino MacGregor’s yoga talks on youtube. She talked about yoga as a spiritual path and the philosophy behind the practice. She said, “what if everything in your life is happening for a specific reason, that everything is exactly how it is supposed to be in whatever you are going through”.

    These words made me realize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and in the midst of my suffering I realized even that was meaningful. My only way out was through practicing acceptance every step of the way.

    The next day I walked to a local yoga studio’s mysorestyle practice in all my misery, and started over. There was no way I could even handle a sun salutation, let alone standing up properly. I knew I had to build myself back up from zero, starting with the acceptance of where my body and mind were at that time. From that day on yoga gave me a purpose to continue my life and work through the repetitive psychological patterns that had been stuck in my mind.

    For the first time, I felt that I had been put on this earth for a reason and that alone was already enough. I no longer felt the need to achieve anything to prove my self-worth. With time and practice my body and mind grew stronger and the depression, anxiety, exhaustion and physical problems decreased. In some ways yoga saved my life and I have had a continuous practice ever since, (accepting my limits and all).

    My husband and I both work fulltime jobs and we have a son, so we have a hard time going to a yoga studio as regularly as we would like. Sometimes we would practice together at home, but not regularly.

    When Omstars launched, we knew it was exactly what we needed to start practicing every single day in a way that worked with our schedules.  Even our 4-year old son loves Omstars and tries out some asanas along with us. Kino, to you I would like to say Thank you from the bottom of my heart, it is thanks to your bravery in sharing the practice of yoga with the world that I now live a happy and peaceful life. Had I not listened to your talk that day, I might still be suffering from severe mental health issues.

    When I was ill I opened my Instagram account @yogalogen to share my recovery through the vehicle of yoga and hopefully spread some hope and light to other people suffering from mental (and physical) disorders. As a psychologist and as a patient I knew my story might lead to less stigma around mental health issues and it felt like a meaningful thing to do.

    I am a living example that the quote of Sri Patthabi Jois really is true… “Do your practice and all is coming”. Thank you Omstars for sharing my story.

    Shanti and Namaste.

    By Johanna @yogalogen

    OmStars member, boat pose, navasana, yoga practice story