In a nutshell, my sister, Gina, found her way to the yoga on a regular basis nine years after taking her first class and hating it/herself. She battled self-hatred and obesity most of her life and found love and respect for herself on her yoga mat.
In the world of yoga, fat people are greatly underrepresented. Did you notice I said fat? I said it on purpose. “Overweight” implies that there’s “right” weight and, frankly, I’m done with that dogma.
While more than a third of Americans are categorized as “obese“, the percentage of practicing yoga students who fit those characteristics hover near the single digits. I wanted to change that.
Around the country, “Fat Yoga” studios have opened catering to obese yogis. Studios added “Curvy Yoga” or “Yoga for Round Bodies” and that never sat well with me. At our studio, we never differentiated between kids and adults. We don’t offer special classes for athletes or the elderly. Why would we exclude people from our regular schedule based on their weight?
How would it serve anyone to isolate fat people to a single class once a week?
A beautiful thing happens when all yogis practice together. It promotes the understanding that we are all the same on the deepest levels. I wanted something different for BYP. I wanted inclusion.
I wanted people to know that BYP was a safe place to practice yoga for anyone. I wanted students who had a BMI over 30 to know they wouldn’t be the only fat person in the room. I wanted to spread the word that my teachers knew how help people get into poses if there were big breasts or big bellies in the way, or how to approach a pose if thick thighs made the traditional execution impossible. I wanted people to understand that no matter who you are and what struggles you face, we were not going to judge you.
We modeled the program, at first, after the popular TV show The Biggest Loser. Not for the rapid (and reportedly dangerous) weight loss, but for the trainers’ intense belief in the participants’ abilities to achieve that which they did not yet believe in themselves. On TBL people’s ideas of themselves as quitters and losers transformed to that of achievers and athletes. We saw that happen in our students every day at yoga.
We knew the tantalizing draw of weight loss would bring in lots of clients. We were featured on the morning news and 43 people registered for our first challenge. Nationally, most people report that they try their first yoga class for either weight loss or fitness goals.
And people did lose weight. A lot of it. Our first winner lost 71 pounds and cut his cholesterol in half. One woman dropped eight dress sizes, four inches off her thighs. In five years, participants have lost nearly a collective ton of weight.
Some people didn’t lose weight. Not a pound. A few students even gained weight, but something else important was happening. People’s lives were changing. They were standing up for themselves at work. They were lowering dosages of blood pressure medication or going off anxiety meds. BBL participants found community, made friends, and felt a part of something. They rallied each other when they wanted to quit. They quieted that evil critic in their own heads. They learned to look in the mirror with pride, not shame.
I have a secret to share. I never cared if anyone lost any weight.
I only cared that people found health and wellness and happiness. I knew that the potential for weight loss would draw people to the program because that is the song of our culture. Lose weight and be worth something! My vision was that if I could get them to show up, people would learn to love and respect themselves on the mat and the rest would fall away.
My vision came true. It worked.
Everything I thought the program could be, it was and even more. Last year, we added the Fueled and Fit program with nutritionist Erin Holt. Erin’s life goal is to get everyone in the world to stop dieting forever and learn to eat and listen to their bodies so they can fuel themselves and feel good. She strives to help people heal their convoluted relationships with food.
With Erin’s work, the program dug even further into our deep-seated beliefs about food, body image, and self-worth. Last year’s program pushed us to make a big change in how we structure and name the program to better represent the power and efficacy of dedicating three months of your life to healing your self and setting your life on a new path for good.
Last season, we had optional EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) sessions with Cheri Keirstead. This year, we’ll offer these tapping sessions as a criteria of the challenge. EFT is a psychological acupressure tool that allows you to practice calming your limbic system while simultaneously talking through issues and thought patterns that underlie your biggest challenges. Some participants worried that the tapping was a little too woo-woo-weirdo for them, but the folks who actually attended the sessions saw amazing results. Hey, sometimes the crazy hippie stuff works.
In this blog post, Erin Holt addresses the intersection between woo-woo weirdo and science. Tapping works because you calm unconscious stress responses to emotionally-charged thoughts and memories while allowing yourself to put words to your feelings. Studies clearly show a naming emotions reduces neurological and biochemical response to them.
We made the choice to model the program after our successful Sober Yogis program as a challenge, no longer a competition. The challenge is to commit to yourself for 90 days. To dig deep into the parts of your life that are holding you back. To look at food as your fuel, not your enemy. To stop dieting forever. To heal your body and your mind. To gain control of chronic illness. To let go of patterns that no longer serve you. To create habits that will drive the rest of your life.
Participants who meet the requirements of the challenge win a month of unlimited yoga at their host studio. There’s no longer a BBL winner. With our new program, we all win. The goal is to take three months of your life to make changes to the way you move, eat, and think that will lay the groundwork for how you live the rest of your life.
We won’t be taking weights or body measurements. Instead, we’ll measure depression and anxiety scales, and social-connectedness.
This new format allows us to expand our reach with this program from obesity to a myriad of challenges like: PTSD, disordered eating, chronic illness, debilitating injury, depression, anxiety, self-hatred, trauma, addiction, anger management, stress-reduction, body dysmorphia and more.
It is with great pleasure that our team introduces to you the new and improved Commit to 90 program.
Visit our website for more information and details on the challenge rules and resources.
We look forward to welcoming you to this supportive community,
Sara, Jaylon, Emily, Erin, Cherie and all of the teachers at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth and Epping
YES, YES, YES
Originally posted as Thought for the Day on Yoga Teacher Journal. This post has been edited by the author.
Since I was 10 years old, I have been aware that my body was bigger than others my age. I hated my body. I hated it mostly because it made me different in a bad way. It made me feel awkward, outstanding; like a freak. It brought me unwanted and anxiety-ridden attention. I never felt like a cute little girl, a pretty girl, a beautiful girl. It meant I did not deserve to be a cheerleader, go to a pool party, or buy a princess dress to wear to my senior prom.
I have tried to change my body for three decades.
My initiation into the world of poor body image was on my twelfth birthday. I got my first gym membership to Gloria Stevens. It was given to me with good intentions, but, for godssakes, my 60-year old grandmother met her best friend there daily for a light workout and the latest gossip in her tights and body suit.
Like most people with an eating disorder or distorted body image, I tried every gym, pill, and diet to make myself a better person, a person other people would accept. With each failed attempt, I gained more weight and less self esteem. Because of my obesity, I have always avoided mirrors, cameras, and large groups of people. This self-hatred had me diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and binge eating disorder by the time I was 25. I reluctantly maintained these diagnoses for 15 more years.
In 2004, I took my first yoga class at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, my little sister’s new studio. I tapped out at Full Locust, over two-thirds of the way through the class. I didn’t know this was an accomplishment for someone who hadn’t exercised in years. All I saw in the mirror was a fat loser. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had planted a seed of hope in myself by taking that class.
It took me years to attempt another class. I was ready for change. Somewhere deep inside, I knew this yoga could help facilitate that change.
My first three months of practicing yoga regularly I was my enemy. Every single class for 90 minutes, five days a week, I criticized my body.
“You are too fat to do yoga.”
“You are not good enough for yoga. Look at your fat stomach. Look at your fat arms. No wonder you can’t put your head to your knee in any of the compression postures. How dare you practice in the front row when you can’t even grab your foot in Standing Head to Knee? Who the hell do you think you are? You disgust me. You disgust others. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
For months, I dragged myself to class wishing every single second of every single class that it was over.
I swore at the teacher in my head. I hated the teacher. I hated the yoga. I hated myself.
I hated every thing about my life. I cried. I cried during class because I hated the yoga. I cried because I knew I would have to do the yoga for the rest of my life. I cried because I felt sorry for myself. I cried some more. I just wanted it to get easier. Why wasn’t getting easier? I quit hard things. This was harder than anything I had ever done.
With every drop of sweat, I wanted to quit.
After about 100 classes, in pure exhaustion, the light bulb went on. If this was the hardest thing I had ever done, wouldn’t that mean that life outside this hot room would get easier if I continued the yoga? It started to sink in. I do not know how, but I just kept doing the yoga. The yoga changed me. It changed everything in my life. Like a flower growing out of concrete, my hatred turned into love. Maybe I could do this yoga.
The yoga started to fix my hamstrings, cure my panic, and alleviate my depression. My plantar fasciitis disappeared. The one motivation that kept me going to class was that this was my answer. I had faith in the yoga. I began to embrace the struggles and the change came. Even each of those moments of hating yoga, hating myself, hating the teacher and the postures, for the first time in my life this was exactly where I belonged. Even being the biggest person in the room, I belonged there. For the first time, I could see myself and I liked what I saw. For the first time, I experienced peace.
Yoga is my home. It is where I feel normal. It is where I fit in, not just with the other students, but with myself. My face, my body, and my postures are exactly where they are supposed to be. I have achieved marriage between my body, mind, and spirit. The yoga allows me to maintain that marriage, to maintain self love, which ultimately pours over into the rest of my life. Finding the time and money to live the yoga life is so much easier than trying to maintain my sadness, depression, and negativity.
Today when I look in the mirror and ask myself do you love me? The answer is always a resounding, “Yes. At last Gina, YES!”
Gina Ceppetelli is a Quality Analyst for RCM and avid yogi who lives in Southern Maine with her son, Khalil.
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As the summer schedule starts up and everyone kicks it into gear, we wanted to remind you all of the awesome Barkan classes offered. What is Barkan you ask? — Check out this info we snagged from the Barkan homepage! 🙂
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