Body Affirming Yoga (amongst other things...)

I'm having one of those days.  The one where you question everything and just wish that there was more honesty and transparency in the world.


I've just returned from my family summer break (which didn't seem anywhere near long enough) and I have been turning my thoughts towards what's coming up on the horizon.  Ever grateful for the scheduling prowess of Mailchimp and Facebook (Twitter not yet on board with that unless you want another app - Hootsuite - and that can be taken care of too) it has led me to question what message I wish to convey.


I have spent the morning reading of a yoga teacher (and being moved to tears) in Canada and her amazing journey through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and coming out the other side.

Through this, she learned to evolve and change her approach to teaching yoga in the process and then ultimately, giving up her yoga studio in order to be more responsive to life.  This was an article I literally stumbled upon...but it seemed quite timely too.


As a woman of a certain age (!) I received a letter back in May to attend for standard breast screening.  A mammogram.  Whilst not alone in the fear this bought up, for me, it was a real reminder.  When I was 18 I underwent two mammograms - I have not had the easiest relationship with my breasts and coming from a maternal lineage of breast cancer, it seemed to be the beginning of many difficulties.  After those two investigations I vowed I would never have one again.  To me, it was barbaric - the squashing of tender, precious body tissue between two plates.  Who on earth could conceive that this was ok for women to have to endure?  I was starkly reminded of the trauma that I had gone through then and that there had to be a better way.  After all, haven't the Swiss Medical Board done away with the procedure for three key reasons?


I declined the invitation, though it was with much angst and inner wailing.


So what, you may be asking, has any of this to do with yoga amongst other things?  


It's about affirming the body and authenticity.  Owning what's true and then keeping that as your focus.  I wasn't prepared to compromise my inner voice regarding the health screening, but at the same time, it has made me look at where I may be compromising my values in yoga and other areas of my life too.


How I practice and teach yoga has continually changed.  Since the 90's I have been in awe of the approach of Angela Farmer and have had the delights and honour of having attended trainings and workshops with her and discovering that listening to the body isn't something that is truly advocated in all approaches and teaching of yoga lineages.  It's something that comes from the individual teacher and how connected they are with their own bodies as well as those of their students.


I couldn't keep teaching what I was teaching, the way I was teaching I introduced the occasional workshops - Being Stillness - this was something of a whim at the time and to be honest, I didn't really think anyone would 'get it'.  After all, it was really an extension of my own personal practice and perhaps that's how it needed to remain - personal.  But lo, others enjoyed and relished the sessions.  This was just the beginning though.


Constant Downward Dogs amongst other things are now a distant memory (and besides, my wrists are shot to pieces, so that's a no-go anyway!)  Instead the invitation is just that, an invitation to listen and really hear "what does my body need right now?"  How or if we respond to what we hear is totally our own choice.  I understand that students need / want guidance, but once that's done, where you go from there is freedom.  Authentic.  Body affirming.



I'm very inspired by the campaign from Yoga & Body Image Coalition - This is what a yogi looks like.

They say that yoga is for...

  • Every age
  • Every race and ethnicity
  • Every class and socioeconomic status
  • Every gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Every size, shape, height, weight and dis/ability


Sounds wonderful doesn't it?  The problem is in the making it more of a reality.  I wish the media would show yoga in its many different varieties and formats rather than the extreme posture achievements that are way beyond the scope of the average woman.  All this perpetuates is a poor self-image and the felt sense that their body is somehow wrong because it doesn't look like the lycra-clad image in front of them.  

Yoga should be for any of those mentioned above, but how many teachers are able to offer this within the scope of their teaching ability and the classes they are designing?


Seeking ways to be more authentic and affirming on social media, I was delighted when a colleague posted on her timeline earlier this week - Twelve Habits of Happy, Healthy People Who Don't Give a Shit About Your Inner Peace - it's refreshing.  It's authentic.


So what does this mean?  For me, it's looking beyond the surface and asking more questions.  It's about taking more time for inner listening.  It's about being mindful of what I choose to share through social media - it's got to be real and accessible.  It's about continuing to find ways to offer yoga that's body affirming.



Claire teaches in Watford, Hertfordshire, offering inspirational, authentic body affirming yoga


Photo: Claire Murphy 2015





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