Published Feb 5, 09 AM
By Vanessa Butterfly Thunderwolf
I have a huge ass. Always have, always will. I am perfectly ok with that.
In 2007, I became a mom. During my pregnancy I wanted to try yoga, but my midwife advised against it because I was prone to bleeding when I did certain movements. So that, combined with my affinity for all things pasta, led to me gaining fifty pounds. The rest of my body finally caught up to my giant ass.
No big deal, I thought. I’ve always been active, so I’ll just work it off. Wrong! No one told me that your body is totally different post-partum. My knees were weak; my sacroiliac joint was unstable, which led to sciatic nerve impingement (for all you non-sciency folks, it is literally a pain in the ass that sometimes travels down the back of your leg); and if that wasn’t enough, my cravings for pasta still lingered months after my son was born. Taking a simple walk around the block was excruciating at times. There was also this stabbing pain in my back from the epidural.
About a year later, I decided to take a Thai massage class. During the warm up we did some Kundalini yoga kriyas. It felt nice. Actually, it felt incredible, and I decided to continue to do those exercises at home. The pain in my back disappeared. Kundalini yoga did for me what vicodin and cabernet could not. Unfortunately, the sciatica was still present. I decided to try a vinyasa class because I heard it could help my ass issues. The teacher was awesome and the cues she gave took so much pressure off my hips. Eventually, that pain went away and I decided to become a yoga teacher. Yoga, for me, was a way to get acquainted with my new body and not see my injuries and weight gain as a burden but as obstacles to overcome.
Then, a colleague of mine asked me to co-teach a series of workshops called “Yoga for Thick Jawns” (jawn: Philly slang for just about anything and everyone).
The class was intended to be a safe haven for heavier women to experience yoga in a fun and non-judgmental environment. It was a big success! No pun intended. Being overweight can bring up feelings of shame, embarrassment and isolation that are sometimes heightened in yoga classes. Working out in a room full of thin, scantily clad people with type-A personalities can be vulnerable for some. Add to that, the teacher may not know how to teach to someone with your body, which is not the student’s fault, obviously, but it sucks all the same. (I had a moment when a teacher kept poking at my side and saying out loud, “God, where is your hip bone?” I was mortified. It was a small class and everyone heard it. That was the only time I ever felt ashamed of my body in a yoga class.)
I could’ve chosen to give up on yoga and try Zumba instead, but I let it be a reminder to be mindful in my words and actions, and not only in yoga. With all that being said, why would I be hesitant to teach to all big girls? Well, here are some reasons:
- I tend to avoid labels, because from my experience, it only separates people.
- Separation can breed militancy and an “us vs. them” attitude. In this case: skinny vs. fat.
- Heavier people feel comfortable with me as a teacher because I look like them, yet can do yoga poses that they think only skinny people and gymnasts can do. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that I inspire them and they want to learn from me because they see themselves in me. I’m honored, actually. But I don’t want to build a following solely based on my size. What if I lose weight, then what? What if I stay the same weight? Will they still admire me? Plus, there is enough idol worship in the yoga world. I don’t need to add to it.
I don’t want our bodies to overshadow the message of yoga. I want my classes to be about the student and their body/mind connection. I want them to begin to know and appreciate themselves, and not just associate with their fat. Fat comes and goes, but who you are being in that process? Are you loving yourself? Can you see that there is something within you that deserves to be loved? Are you using your fat as a barrier to be loved and lovable? Is your identity so enmeshed with your fatness that you cannot separate the two? I’ve had to face those questions, and have come to the conclusion that it all boils down to compassion for yourself, which can be taught in any yoga class.
Correction, it should be the white noise in all yoga classes. If that vital component is absent, it can be hard to connect with yourself. Especially when your environment is triggering and littered with passive aggressive comments and glances. Though I mentioned my hesitations, I recognize there is a need for fuller-bodied people to learn yoga in a space and with a teacher with whom they feel comfortable, and who am I to deny that? I receive messages on a regular basis requesting me to teach “big girl yoga.” Even my mom wants me to teach! Now how can I deny my momma?
About Vanessa Butterfly Thunderwolf
Besides being a yoga lover, Vanessa Hazzard is an author, internationally trained bodyworker, massage therapy educator and singer/songwriter. When she’s not making up ridiculous songs with her awesome son, you can find her instructing workshops and continuing education courses in the Philadelphia region. Also, she is addicted to hula hooping and the Twilight movies. Twitter: @vanessahazzard Web: www.vanessahazzardtillman.com