One of the most disheartening things for me is meeting people who think that the practice of yoga is beyond their grasp because their body isn't flexible enough or lean enough or fit enough. Unfortunately, we're continually bombarded with pictures of lean, fit, nimble yoga practitioners who can easily bend their body into postures that make those with less than perfect yoga bodies look on in envy and/or despair and frustration (sometimes shame).
Frankly, I don't care for the all of the perfect yoga body hullabaloo. I actually laughed out loud when I heard about a yoga book authored by a former model (I'm not mentioning names here because I don't like to foster publicity -- negative or positive -- for something I don't believe in/agree with) who promised readers that they could go “from a size 8 to a double zero,” [you can read more about this nonsense here] as if that's the holy grail of both life and yoga. I'm a size 8 and I have no desire to be a double zero (frankly, I didn't even know this size existed) nor do I fret about whether or not my body fits into the vision of the prized yoga body. It saddens me that things like this are said, which can make folks feel as if their body isn't acceptable or the right size.
I understand how marketing works, and I realize that as long as there are products to sell, “thin (double zero models, perhaps?), beautiful people” will be in yoga ads, books, DVDs, etc. It saddens me that people think that they need to meet this ideal to even venture into a yoga class. That's why I found Meera Patricia Kerr's new book, Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies to be a breath of fresh air. Seeing pictures of a “non-yoga body” in yoga asana caught my attention. In the introduction Meera – who has been practicing yoga for over 30 years – offers readers a quick snapshot of her background and her journey through youthful voluptuousness to pregnancy, postpartum and on to Menopause. It's obvious that through it all, she has embraced her body as is.
Meera's book is an excellent reminder that yoga is for every body. She is described by Dean Ornish (who wrote the foreword of the book) as having an approach that is “gentle and compassionate, encouraging people who may have felt they really didn't belong in a yoga class to give yoga a try.” It's obvious that Dean didn't simply write that for PR sake -- it's 100% true and is obvious throughout the book. In the book, Meera invites the “curvy-girl” and the “hefty-man” to experience the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga.
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The book is broken up into two parts, with Part One including some background information on yoga, including yoga's origins and history, as well as yoga's migration to and presence in America. Included in this short but sweet introduction are tips for starting a yoga practice, the benefits of yoga, a list of helpful props and some advice for dealing with stumbling blocks to a regular practice (coaching for the most common excuses as to why you can't practice yoga).
Part Two of the book is mostly about asana. The pictures are lovely (no, you won't find any size zero yoga models in the pages of this book) and the instruction is simple yet clear. Meera follows a basic progression of yoga asana, starting with warm-ups (which include eye exercises), Sun Salutations (which are modified and include a separate set of instructions for anyone who prefers to practice in a chair), Backbends, Forward Bends, Inversions, Twists, Standing Poses, and finishes with Seated postures. This section also includes an introduction to and basic information about other types of yogic practices such as meditation, pranayama, service (Karma Yoga), and devotion (Bhakti).
I adore this book, as it makes yoga more accessible to all body types. The prose is written in an informal, unintimidating style and the information included is sufficient without being overwhelming. Finally, a yoga book that encourages you to “check self-loathing at the door” and let yoga conform to your body rather than the other way around! I can't say enough good things about this book and I recommend it highly.
The Resources Section at the end of the book is quite helpful (there's even a list of Plus-Size Activewear providers) and Meera includes a basic yoga glossary to ensure that readers aren't confused by yoga-speak.
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If you're interested in learning more about Meera or going beyond written instruction, check out Meera's Big Yoga's Beginner Hatha DVD and Big Yoga Flex-Ability DVD. For those of you living in the NYC-area, Meera will be at Integral Yoga Institute on Saturday, February 19 for a 2 ½ hour workshop.
There's no need to apologize for being big and taking up space in this world. Nor is there any reason that anyone bigger than a size double zero can't practice yoga.