Recently, I wrote about the launch of a new yoga and somatics workshop series; Full Moon, Full Figured, a self-love event, bred from the inspired passion of three bigger-bodied womyn (myself, Misia Denéa, and Naomi Finkelstein) who know not only what it is like to face discrimination for our size in general society, but the intense discrimination that can often go unnoticed in the yoga community around fat bodies. Personally, this has been a factor hindering my yoga practice, until I finally entered a space in a room full of womyn whose bodies did not look like the LuluLemon ideals, but rather, a lot like mine. The second I allowed my body to fully be present and relaxed in the practice, was the moment I became aware that I had not truly had an opportunity to do so within a classroom setting before. While discovering my own personal yoga practice in Los Angeles, I often grappled with the commercialized, aestheticized  ways that yoga was presented both on and off the mat – and the frequent air of pose perfectionism and privilege that was too commingled in the energy of many people’s practices from how I perceive it.

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As a proud brand ambassador for Rainbeau Curves active wear, they are the designers of all yoga clothes featured by myself in this article. (Photo credit: Sada Reed)

[Related Post: Full Moon, Full Figured]

It is importantly true that the very first yoga teacher I was able to trust and whose classes I was able to fully engage in, is the revolutionary Hala Khouri (who along with her amazing husband Paul Eckstein whom I also love dearly, is also a part of  This is What a Yogi Looks Like campaign honored below). Because of Hala’s work as a somatic therapist and background with trauma, as well as her working within her own muti-culturally informed lens, it makes perfect sense to me why my body was able to co-create with hers, no matter the size difference. (Also I would be remiss if I didn’t honor one of her projects that I worked with personally during my time in Venice Beach – the only Yoga DVD I would and do recommend still to every one I meet: Yoga for Stress Reduction. Two words: Life changing.) Hala honors each one of her classmates as equals. It is also true, however, that mine was frequently the biggest body in the class (from what I could see). There is an intense pressure that then comes with this understanding, one that made me feel like I had to prove my health and vitality to all of the thin people surrounding me – at times I felt like I had to push through certain actual injuries lest be perceived as unable to do a pose due to my weight/size. There were times I wanted to rest in child’s pose while letting everyone know I wasn’t “out of shape,” that I was balancing my chronic illness.

I was also acutely aware of the fact that the very clothing that about 95% of the students were wearing (and the clothing sold in the studio’s store) were not even made in my size; not made for my body (I cannot stand behind the Lululemon obsessions of LA Yogis – please before your defenses arise, just think about what it means to give money to a yoga clothing company that does not make clothes for all bodies that practice yoga – re-inforcing the message that yogi isn’t for all bodies). This knowledge and understanding also almost cues my body to feel unwelcome, thus unsafe, in many yoga spaces. I now know the word for this experience is Spatial Discrimination, which is the oppression and marginalization that can occur via multiple micro aggressions covertly or overtly throughout the day against larger sized bodies in many forms of physical environments and proximity to others – i.e. room arrangement, furniture size, airline seat belts, required work equipment and/or uniforms, all clothing. (Please remember: one size does not fit all!) Especially in an age that utilizes yoga as a billion dollar commodity, often leveraging it as part of a weight-loss plan, as opposed to what it really is: a time to connect back to self (in my opinion). Being able to connect with other fat-bodied yogis in the classroom/studio setting, has honored me the exact space to connect back to do just that.

(Also, in my opinion, depending upon the teacher holding the space, many do not recognize the trauma living in many of their students and often accidentally trigger it; for example, not asking permission before touching or languaging poses in a demanding rather than invitational way).

[RELATED POST: Rainbeau Curves: Size Inclusive Active Wear Look Book!]

{Photo Credits: Sarit Z Rogers and Tani Ikeda}

More recently and quite powerfully, it has actually been through virtual connections to fat-bodied yogis on social media that has helped me on my self-loving path.  In fact, there are other campaigns happening right now within the yoga community that serve to highlight the inclusion of all bodies, which is a sentiment I also connect to. Most notably, has been the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s “This is What a Yogi Looks Like” campaign, which utilizes photos of individuals of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds to demonstrate powerfully that despite what mainstream America will try and sell you, Yoga is in fact a practice that can honor all bodies

[RELATED POST: 13 Body Positive Yogis Pose Their Voices]

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To my delight I found my mentors, friends and former employers; Hala Khouri pictured here (bottom left) & Paul Eckstein (center, back). A beautiful full-circle moment whilst writing this article.

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From Mantra’s  recent feature – I LOVE the diversity, and would also be thrilled to see even more bigger bodied Yogis involved in the future!

 Melanie Klein, Yoga and Body Image co-editor and Yoga and Body Image Coalition co-founder, truly pushes forth her passionate belief (and truth) that Yogis do come in all shapes, sizes, and colors – and has been doing so successfully through the spreading of this body positive movement, which has been picking up speed through its features in multiple publications including: Yoga InternationalYoga DorkMs MagazineLA Yoga MagazineMind Body Green, and Elephant Journal. This campaign is a greater part of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, whose mission statement outlined on their website is as follows: “… committed to body love by developing, promoting and supporting yoga that is accessible, body positive and reflects the full range of human diversity. Our mission not only advocates yoga as an essential tool in personal transformation, from the inside out, but also includes a critical social justice component by challenging industry leaders and media creators to expand their vision of what a yogi looks like.” 

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featured in Yoga Journal

Both the “This is What a Yogi Looks Like” campaign as well as the Yoga and Body Image Coalition are two cohesive movements that I stand so strongly behind, and so proudly with (my own personal social media movement being #FuckFatPhobia). It is such a joy to have their existence advocating for the inclusion of all bodies in all yoga classes. It is also an extremely powerful healing tool and social justice statement being made through creating visibility of these bodies through beautiful photographs highlighting their yogic abilities. Here are a few examples:

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I have a very vivid memory of Paul joining one of Hala’s morning yoga classes I was participating in, and upon him doing so, feeling instantly more relaxed and comfortable. After further reflection, I now realize that it wasn’t just because he is one of the most kind-hearted men I know, but also because he dared to take up space with a body that totally broke the paradigm of the room. It was a moment of pure resonance, which allowed me to return focus to my practice. In other news: glad to see you still rockin’ your Bulldogs tank, Paul. #VenicePride

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Pia Kali

Shout of to all my East Coast loves and Bostonian friends the Association For Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) is having a conference July 17-19 entitled Difficult Conversations: Building Relationships in the HAES® Community and Beyond. To clarify, HAES stands for Health At Every Size (even just the concept feels revolutionary amidst the current social and medical worlds). Conference and reservation details can be found HERE.

P.S. If my work resonates with you, please join my body positive campaign to eliminate and the epidemic of Fat Phobia in America – #FuckFatPhobia! (Hey, no one ever said Yogis couldn’t be warriors who occasionally leverage profanity for an important cause!)

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