When you teach yoga (and probably any physical movement based activity) you deal with a lot of “I can’t”s. I can’t do that pose, I can’t make time for class, and, my personal favorite, I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.
When you teach plus size yoga, you deal with the usual “I can’t”s, but you also deal with years and years of internalized messaging of “you can’t”s that come from a society that tells people that not meeting the standard of beauty means the world is closed to you. Look at the message of every diet, weightloss and fitness advertisement out there. They all suggest that only by losing weight will you be happy, healthy and able to pursue the activities you wish. See: the Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers campaign for a particularly infuriating example of this.
So, every plus size yoga series I teach includes at least one class where I try to literally turn all of this upside down. I break out the chairs for the Iyengar headless headstand and every time I describe what we are going to do, I get the most comically disbelieving looks I’ve ever seen. This time there were quite a few Flash Dance jokes made. I assured the class that there were no cables hanging from the ceiling that would unleash the necessary deluge of water to make the Flash Dance scene complete. Everyone looked a little disappointed in spite of themselves! 🙂
Once we get to the point in the class where everyone has to attempt the pose, you can tell that folks are nervous, that they are telling themselves that they won’t be able to do it, perhaps bolstering their mask of good humor about possible failure. When I demonstrate it, eyes get wide. When I assure everyone that it’s not nearly as scary as it looks, they snort. After trying to soothe frazzled nerves, I tell everyone that they don’t have to try to kick up but they do have to get into the prep position. And then I ask for volunteers.
Someone usually summons up their courage and volunteers, perhaps to get it over with. I give everybody two tries to kick up themselves and then if that doesn’t work I give them a little assist. And they do it. All of them do it. Once one person gets up, it’s usually easier to convince the others to give it a try. I never get sick of the look of shock, pride and happiness that my students get when they come down and realize that they’ve accomplished something that they didn’t think was possible. “I can’t” becomes an emphatic “I can” and, in a small way, the years of negative feelings might start to erode just a little bit.
Although I go over all the wonderful benefits of inverting, is it important that my students can get themselves into the headstand? Not really… Is it important that they leave the class feeling like they did something amazing and a little crazy? You bet.