Yoga is an ancient, dynamic, vibrant practice steeped in the cultural and spiritual history of South Asia. Yet, somehow in the last few decades, Western interest in yoga has whittled its complexities down to a narrow stereotype. I say “yoga,” and you think lean, toned, flexible, foldable women. They’re probably vegans, too. But yoga was never meant to appeal to just one tiny subset of the population. The practice is all about improving the communication between mind, soul, body, and breath. As far as I can tell, all people possess and rely on those functions. Thankfully, some amazingly bold and beautiful yogis have entered the scene, shattering the flimsy cliches and proving that yoga is for everybody.
Valerie Sagun is front and center in the body positivity movement of today. Nothing can say more about body positivity than #selflovingyogis and Valerie striking a heron pose with her fantastic bombsheller leggings. Her hundreds of thousands of followers on social media can’t wait for the inspiration in her upcoming book entitled Big Gal Yoga, filled with yoga tips and body-loving encouragement.
Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga instructor, advocate for body positivity, and writer. Describing herself as a “yoga enthusiast and fat femme,” she originally posted photos online as a way to keep herself accountable and measure progress. Her social media has become a triumphant proclamation of self-love and inspiration for women to love how yoga makes them feel, not focus on how it makes them look.
Dan Nevins has used yoga to find peace and healing after losing both his legs below the knee in a 2004 IED injury in Iraq. Dan partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to share his experience and help other veterans cope with their trauma and overcome hopelessness. By explaining how yoga gave him renewed life, he actively breaks down the narrow stereotype of what yoga might mean to some men and describes it as the most basic way of feeling human and connecting with life.
Lockey Maisonneuve has used yoga to let go of the trauma and pain she carried from surviving child abuse, sex trafficking, and breast cancer. Now she hosts yoga classes where she teaches students to let go of negativity and victimhood to discover true peace.
Gigi Yogini is a private yoga instructor in Los Angeles who fosters an inclusive and empowering environment through yoga. Her focus is on strength, community, courage, and confidence. While she struggled with body insecurities as a young woman, she found confidence and empowerment through yoga. Now she champions “yoga for every age, shape, background, and ability.”
Mike Fecht is an athlete heavily involved in the health and fitness industry for over two decades. When he suffered a devastating tragic personal loss in 2009, he discovered yoga as a tool to heal on an emotional and psychological level. Now he teaches the benefits of yoga to pro-athletes and is the co-president of Yoga for Men. His online video program, Yoga for Big Guys, proclaims this mission statement: “Destroying the myth that yoga is for the skinny female, take this practice with the big, inflexible guy in mind.”
These dynamic yoga instructors are using their experiences and love of yoga to break down stereotypes and prove that yoga is for every body. They show that it’s a deeply personal practice, allowing newcomers’ space to progress at their own pace, and encouraging them to discover peace and empowerment through the process. Some yoga instructors have even teamed up with local breweries to host “brewga,” a combination of beer and yoga classes. Sometimes some liquid courage is all that’s needed to quell insecurities and encourage any body to discover yoga.