Q: I enjoy doing yoga but I get insecure about my body differences.
When I need help with modifications, I am embarrassed to ask. What can I do to let the instructor know that I need some assistance without disrupting the class?
Amy: I’m so glad to receive this question, and I really appreciate the phrase “body differences.”
There’s a lot to care for here, so I’m going to break up the answer into two parts. (look for Part Two to post soon!)
Part One: The Culture of Body Differences: Insecurity & Positivity
Because we live together in a society, we grow up learning what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as what is and isn’t desirable or worthy of attention, comfort, or praise from a variety of industries that make up our popular culture. From entertainment and leisure to fashion and trends, to scores of news outlets, we see, hear, and internalize sets of beliefs that shape our world view and self-image. In addition to these broader influences, our belief systems are also shaped by our specific family culture, which can include ethnic and religious traditions, shared knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors, as well as the outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals, and customs shared by our own immediate and extended families. Because our cultural formation is both broad and specific, we grow into adulthood with a variety of filters unique to our own experience; and to add more complexity, these different lenses might even be in conflict with each other.
You are not alone. Our unique world view and self-image shape how we function in relation to ourselves and other people during public events and private moments. We tend to compare ourselves to an internal “ideal,” to other groups of people, and individuls to see where we fall on the spectrum of “socially acceptable.”
It’s helpful to remember that not only are we not alone in the experience of being different, but every single one of us has some kind of body difference, whether subtle or obvious, as well as invisible differences, such as auto-immune diseases, mental injury, complex learning styles, and so much more. So when we head into a body-based class like yoga, we’re all bringing with us thousands of years of ancestral DNA, our own cultural formation, and all of our “differences” both seen and unseen.
It is natural to experience insecurity around our differences. And it’s also natural to experience positive emotions around our differences. The next time you feel unsure about an instruction, posture, or practice in a yoga class, remember it’s not just you; most likely, other students are unsure about it, too. We’ll get into the details more in Part Two, but briefly, if the style of the class is not too terribly fast, and you can make eye contact with the teacher, trying asking for general suggestions. For instance, if you’d rather not ask specific questions about a particular topic, consider asking for more general modifications. Try something like, “Can you offer any other options if this isn’t working for us?” Remember this, if nothing else: Yoga, and yoga postures, are here in service to you; you are not in class to be of service to the postures.
If you’d like to take this discussion further, if you’ve ever thought, “yoga is not for me,” or if you’d like to explore the possibilities around shifting from insecurity to positivity, here are some great resources:
- Amber Karnes & Body Positive Yoga: Amber is the founder of BodyPositiveYoga.com and the creator of Body Positive Clubhouse, an online community for folks who want to make peace with their bodies and build unshakable confidence.
- Yoga for Amputees: Marsha T. Danzig
- Amputee Yoga Association
- Accessible Yoga: AccessibleYoga.org: A nonprofit organization that believes all people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to the ancient teachings of yoga. By building a strong network and advocating for a diverse Yoga culture that is inclusive and welcoming, Accessible Yoga is sharing Yoga with all.
Part Two – The Yoga Classroom: Student-Teacher Relationship & Class Agreements (coming soon!)
Resident MBA Yogi, Amy Secrist, is available to answer questions, give insight and guidance, and help you feel great about your yoga practice. You can email your questions to Amy@mindbodyalign.com or message us on Facebook or Instagram #AskAYogi @MindBodyAlign
You can also join Amy for practice at the Butterfly House on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 am. Learn more here.
Amy Secrist has been practicing yoga for 16 years and has studied under renowned teachers Tim Miller and David Swenson during her training at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. Amy is steeped in the physically demanding discipline of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, which focuses on cleansing and healing the body by linking one posture to the next through a strong and purposeful breath. While Ashtanga is the foundation of her practice, Amy explores and teaches gentle Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, workshop-style classes, and Yoga for kids.
Her approach to teaching is individualized as she addresses the needs of each student in the class. She encourages everyone to question, experiment, and take ownership of their yoga practice by deciding what works best for them. As a teacher, Amy is direct and easy-going, challenging and supportive, contemplative and practical.
Amy has also studied and practiced the art of reading and writing at The Ohio State University and The Bread Loaf School of English (at Middlebury College, Vermont). She holds a BA and MA in English with a focus in writing. She cites the two most influential classes during her studies as Critical Theory with JF Buckley and Poetry Workshop with Paul Muldoon.