What yoga is teaching me about body positivity as a radical act

If you’re following me on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr, over the weekend you would have seen that I posted some pictures of myself doing yoga.

Modified Pigeon
Modified Pigeon
Bound Angle Pose
Bound Angle Pose

On the face of it, not particularly radical. My alignment isn’t perfect. My flexibility leaves a bit to be desired. They’re not shot on a beach at sunset, or amongst autumn trees in the park. They’re not accompanied by an inspirational quote or heart-wrenching story. They’re just me, in my body, doing yoga.

Which actually, is a radical act.

Because bodies like mine ‘don’t do yoga’. Or rather, they’re not seen to do yoga. When you pick up a fitness magazine featuring yoga, bodies like mine are not the ones gracing the pages.

In fact, bodies like mine are hardly seen anywhere in the mainstream media – unless they’re being mocked or shamed. Bodies like mine are ‘before’ photos in women’s magazines, footage sans head under sensational headlines about a purported obesity epidemic or the dangers of eating sugar or fat or carbs or whichever food is being demonised in the media this week. When they are being celebrated in the mainstream media, it’s always with an undertone of equivocation. ‘Rebel Wilson Rocks the Victoria’s Secret Runway Looking Amazing (for a fattie)’. ‘Gabourey Sidebe is Flawless on the Red Carpet (for a fattie)’. ‘Tess Holliday Signed to Major Label (by the way, she’s a size 22)’.

When you do see positive pieces online, they’re always followed by streams of comments saying ‘I’m all for body positivity but I’m concerned about her health’ or ‘She looks great but should she really be promoting obesity like this?’

Fat people aren’t allowed to simply exist in their bodies, let alone show them doing an activity normally the exclusive realm of the ‘normal’ body. But we’re out there – running, jumping, dancing, swimming, doing yoga – doing all the things that people say that we can’t do because of our bodies, or don’t do because of what our bodies represent. Of course, just like thin people, there are people in fat bodies who are unable to do these things and – just like thin people – that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect. And I stand with those people, fighting for their right to be treated with dignity whatever their health status. Goodness knows my own health status isn’t perfect. I just happen to live in a body which right now can do a supported version of pigeon pose, bound angle pose and a tree pose that needs some work, amongst other things.

And I think that’s the radical act. Getting out there and doing yoga in the body I have right now – the one with chronic health conditions, with mental health conditions, with a dicky knee and bad ankles and shoulders that are always tight. The body with surprising hip flexibility, a deep lung capacity and an incredible capacity to love.

Tree Pose
Tree Pose

This, this is my yoga body. And you know what: it is beautiful.

————–

I couldn’t finish this post without acknowledging three amazing yogis who inspire me to continue this practice by showing me what yoga looks like in bodies like mine: Anna from Curvy Yoga, Amber from Body Positive Yoga and Valerie from BigGalYoga. Truly, if you need more plus sized yogis in your life, follow their posts on various platforms and be inspired.

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