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Interview with Sally Pugh, creator of Grateful Spirit YogaBy Courtney Amo
Posted on 05-Sep-2011
1. What inspired you to develop and teach yoga classes for larger students?
My students! Teaching yoga for large women was not something I set out to do -- it came to me. In 1997, I was asked to take over an aerobics class for large women called Major Moves (which had been started Kaiser Hospital several years earlier). I had had no experience teaching a class specifically for people of size but was really drawn in by the desire and commitment of the women for the class to continue. One of the long time students tutored me, and gave me important pointers about what was different for people of size – like “don’t expect that we can reach our hands behind our backs, or that we can bend over the way average sized people do, etc.”
A few years later, one of my Major Moves students who knew I taught yoga asked if wanted to teach a yoga class for large women and I said “I’d love to!” We organized the class by email. Twenty-five women signed up for the first class – and the rest is history. We have been meeting continually since 2001, and some of my students are still from the original group.
It has been and continues to be a wonderful and rewarding experience.
2. What are the top 5 benefits that a regular yoga practice can bring to those with larger bodies?Yoga offers the opportunity to explore our bodies in new ways and let go of self-images defined by body size, to feel ourselves from the inside out. It helps us make friends with, accept and love ourselves just as we are.
There are as many benefits to practicing yoga as their are people practicing. In other words, what you get out your practice is a very individual to you. Yoga will meet you wherever you are and take you wherever you want to go.Some people practice for the physical benefits -- building strength, becoming more flexible and balanced and for help with back or knee or physical injuries. Others practice primarily for the stress reducing benefits -- breathing, calmness, grounding, balance, relaxation, and a sense of center and well being. And still others find themselves opening to deeper aspects of yoga practice -- self-awareness, spiritual growth, joy, and deep empowerment and peace. Yoga provides nourishment for the whole being.
Here is what some of my students have said recently about how they experience the benefits of yoga:
"I just wanted to let you know how much better I feel after last night's session. Having missed three weeks … I was feeling quite beat up and stiff. My knee had been hurting a lot and I was verging on despair. BUT after yoga last night, I feel a million times better and my knee doesn't hurt!"
"Yoga gives me flexibility and balance.""Yoga quiets my mind and helps me center."
"There are so many distractions in our world. In yoga, I find renewed peace and contentment inside. Yoga gives me hope and helps me reconnect to something deeper."
"The session last Saturday was great. I found myself "going deeper" and taking some deep breaths a few days ago when I got frustrated with a situation at work, rather than react overtly to what was going on around me. So, now I'm trying to practice some of the techniques we use in our yoga practice during work and other activities, and always to be more mindful."
"Yoga has opened my life up to many positive healing possibilities"
"I feel both grounded and uplifted at the same time – floating and centered, tired and energetic, ready for action and at peace."
You can ask from yoga whatever you want, and if you practice, yoga will be your faithful partner and guide and help you in any way you want. All yoga asks in return is that you give it regular time and space in your life.
3. What are the top 5 barriers that larger bodied students face when deciding to start yoga?
Yoga has become very trendy (and big business) now in [the USA]. When we see photos of people doing yoga, they are mostly young, thin women in difficult poses. It's such a disservice to yoga and to the millions of us who don't look like the women in the photos. I have had so many women tell me they thought they couldn't do yoga because they weren't "flexible enough" or something enough.
I asked a few of my students for a few words about how they would answer this question. Being an average sized woman myself, I wanted to use their words, not mine.
"The biggest barrier for me, was feeling a sense of worthlessness due to being large."
"The greatest barriers for me (before I found Sally) were the attitude of the teacher as well as the content of the class, the two being inextricably linked. I never felt welcomed into a yoga class by the instructor; I felt I was viewed as a burden or someone who stumbled into the wrong class. And more often than not, they just ignored me completely; if I couldn't do a particular pose they didn't offer modifications or suggestions, just kept going, rendering the class useless to me. I've found the teachers' lack of support far more intimidating than the attitude of other yogis."
"In "regular" yoga classes, I felt greater pressure to push myself too soon risking injury."
"For me, it was that all the images I had of yoga, and all the people I knew who did yoga were the stereotypical thin, limber, body type that didn't match me. From experience we know that with a larger body, some moves just don't work (there's sometimes too much of me in the way to bend in certain ways). What I didn't realize was that every body has limitations that can be adapted for when doing yoga, and from conversations with some of my thinner yoga-loving friends, my body is better able to do some things than their more typical yoga body - I'm often surprised at my strength. This is probably a big reason for why we don't start.
Also, some yoga studios come across with a kind of snobby attitude, where a larger bodied student just doesn't feel welcome. It's much like a gym - some are the kind of place where everybody (all shapes and sizes) goes and all feel welcome - it's about getting in your workout; whereas others have a prestige factor where people who don't fit the image the gym and it's members want to portray are not so welcome. However, I think sometimes this may just be that when lower-key staff/students at the yoga studio aren't extra-friendly (which would eliminate doubt), it's interpreted as unfriendly by larger-bodied students so used to negative reactions to their size that when in doubt about the reception, they assume it's unfriendly. This is probably a big reason for why we don't come back.
So when I finally got up the courage to give it a try - the friendly greeting from you and your Saturday morning students was why I stuck with yoga, and why I keep coming back. That, and the fact that no matter how tired I am when I arrive, I leave feeling powerful and energized.
Thanks again for showing me the joy of yoga - and sorry it's more than just a few words."
4. If you could communicate three (or more) main messages to yoga teachers about the needs of larger students, what would they be?
Respect your students' wisdom about their own bodies.
Let go of any preconceptions you may have about what people of size can and cannot do in yoga. Work with each student as an individual.
Examine your attitude towards and feelings about people of size. Work with any prejudices or judgments you find within yourself.
Many of my students have had knee and back issues, so those would be important places to ask about.
Be gentle with joints in general.
Welcome larger students into your class and learn from them.
5. What goals/objectives do you hope to achieve with your classes and new DVD, and how will you know when you have achieved them?
My goal/objective as a teacher is to offer the blessings and benefits of yoga to anyone who is interested in beginning or deepening their yoga practice. I want to support people in any way I can to expand into their full potential. I made the DVD because I was receiving emails from women all over the country asking about teachers in their area, or about DVDs they could use and wanted to offer them a way to begin.
The beautifully relaxed and happy faces I see after each class and the feedback I get from my students tell me my goal is being achieved.
6. Anything else you would like to share?
Yoga can be practiced by everyone regardless of body type, age, physical ability, etc. I encourage everyone who is interested in practicing yoga to look beyond the commercial image of yoga and find a way of practicing that nourishes them. You have a right to check out classes, interview teachers and find a teacher you like and trust.
If people have questions about practicing yoga or want more information on my classes, workshops, retreats and DVD they can visit my website www.gratefulspirityoga.net or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a new Google group people are welcome to join and share information and experiences: http://groups.google.com/group/curvy-yogis-everywhere
This interview with Sally Pugh was conducted byREPOSTED : http://mahayoga1.squarespace.com/articles/2011/6/12/interview-with-sally-pugh-creator-of-grateful-spirit-yoga.html
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