One of my greatest inspirations in the self-acceptance space is Anna Guest-Jelley, the founder of Curvy Yoga. Anna is not just profound light, a gentle truth teller, and an honest reflector, she’s an inspired teacher– both in yoga class and in life. With this new year, I was eager to share some of Anna’s wisdom with you and invited her to share here about her thoughts on yoga and self-acceptance. I hope you get as much from her wisdom as I always do!
Like many people, and maybe even you, I’ve spent many Januarys in the throes of this or that New Year’s resolution related to changing my body in some way. I’d be hell-bent on making a change, last about 2.5 weeks, something would intervene (since the expectations I set were never realistic for my actual life in the first place), and then I’d give up. Defeated.
Probably not too surprisingly, once I started to shift from resolutions to choosing a Word of the Year, and from constantly berating my body to learning how to be in an affirming relationship with it, I was much happier.
But one thing kept nagging at me for a long time: how to bring my intention for the year and my body acceptance practice together. This mattered to me because an intention, or word, for the year permeates every area of life, including your body and how you relate to it, and I was interested to see what I could learn — if only I could find a way into it.
What I started to discover is that intentions benefit from embodiment, particularly within an adaptable and unique-to-you container. Here’s what I mean by that: when our intentions stay solely in our heads, they’re easy to forget, philosophize/daydream about but not take action on, keep as a lingering “should” that makes us feel worse and worse about ourselves, etc.
But when you find a way to loop your body into the process, things can start to move from the realm of “sounds like a good idea, but I’ll never get it done” to “I’m doing it.”
Now, how does all of this start (and continue)? Through an ongoing conversation with your body.
The best way I know to reliably begin or grow a conversation with your body is through yoga. And no, that’s not because the farther forward you bend, the more wonderful your life is and the more committed you are to both your intention for the year and your relationship to body acceptance. Not at all.
The reason I see yoga as a key way into body acceptance, which is just another way of saying having an ongoing conversation with your body, is because it asks you to engage with your actual body. By asking you to notice what your foot is doing in a pose, what is happening with your breath, or how a yoga prop might support you, the practice of yoga is a concrete way to learn to connect with your body as it is today. Because as you know if you’ve ever tried any balance pose in yoga, your experience definitely changes from day to day!
It doesn’t matter what style of yoga you practice, or what you can or cannot do. It’s not any individual pose on its own that makes the difference, but rather the overall process of being with your body. And all of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga certainly don’t hurt, either!
While you’re on your yoga mat and in this conversation with your body, it can also be a great time to reconnect with your intention for the year. Here are some ways you might do that:
- Inhale and repeat your Word of the Year; exhale and let go of anything that doesn’t serve it
- Ask yourself before your practice what it would be like to bring your intention into your practice. For example, in 2016, my word was Rooted, so I often asked myself this before practice and found ways to get grounded, or rooted, while on my mat.
- Let the final relaxation at the end of class be a time to first notice how you feel, then ask yourself to notice what it feels like in your body when you connect with your intention, then let yourself rest with that sensation.
- Anything else that comes to mind for you!
If you want to learn more about a body-affirming approach to yoga, including pose options for bodies of all shapes/sizes that you can use to support your body in any class, you might like to check out my new book, Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day. And if you’re a yoga teacher and would like to share about yoga and self-acceptance with your students, check out whole~hearted, a curriculum that Rosie and I created just for yoga teachers.
Here’s to seeing how your intention unfolds in the new year!
A little more about Anna:
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
Anna is the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit www.CurvyYoga.com