Donna ‘The Noble Yogi’ Noble is the founder of CurveSomeYoga. She has been practicing yoga since 1999 and became a certified yoga teacher in 2011. Donna has written and been featured in publications such as The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Yoga Magazine, Om Life Style Magazine and The Voice newspaper. She hosts her own show “The Noble Art of Wellbeing” on Natural Health Radio and is a body positive advocate on a mission to make yoga more accessible and diverse.
We asked Donna to write about what led her to start CurveSomeYoga, why she thinks the yoga industry doesn’t cater very effectively to a wider market & her top tips on how yoga teachers & studios can widen their appeal. You can connect with Donna via her website and on most social media channels at curvesomeyoga and donnanobleyoga. Check out one of her YouTube videos that has had over 110,000 views here.
Guest post by Donna Noble
‘Every body is a yoga body’. This statement is so true, and that is why I’m passionate about encouraging everyone to try the wonderful practice of yoga regardless of size, age, ethnicity or gender. It may sound like a cliché but yoga has transformed and healed me in so many ways. Without yoga I would not be doing what I’m doing – sharing this wonderful practice whilst trying to develop a more positive perception of yoga to make it more accessible.
This passion was further fuelled after reading an article describing how a plus size yogi was either being stared at, most probably because she was the largest person in the class, or ignored by the teacher. The article did not make for comfortable reading. I felt driven to do something about this; it started with me constantly discussing the perturbing aspects of the article, until friends were saying “shut up or do something about it!”. I am pleased to say I did the latter and CurveSomeYoga was born to make yoga more inclusive and to evolve the image.
One of the biggest hurdles to normalising yoga is that a lot of people buy into the images being depicted within the mainstream media. A tall, slim yogi with their legs behind their head. Has this become our unconscious stock image of a yogi too?
Yoga has become a brand largely modelled on the fashion industry, hence the focus has become image based and not on its many wonderful benefits. A formula which has proven very successful and helps to sell clothes, magazine and the lifestyle, making it massively popular for a small section of society. Why? Because it’s an aspirational dream for many that has been inherited from so many different industries! As a result of this yoga is considered a “work out” and not a “work in”, and is leaving many invisible.
The mainstream industry needs to be more flexible and conscious about the message it is communicating. When you see an image of a plus size individual working out in the mainstream media it is invariably unflattering and has numerous negative connotations. A faceless individual, wearing ill-fitting clothing, sweating and not enjoying the experience.
One barrier that potentially prevents the wider audience being targeted is that their image may be seen to alienate existing clients. We live in a society that is a little obsessed with image and being different is frowned upon.
People who do not fit the slim image of yoga represent a completely new client base that has traditionally been invisible, and is not considered to be concerned with their health and wellbeing. It will take time and money to get to know and market to these new yogis. I don’t think the industry realises that a curvy body can be strong, flexible and beautiful and capable of so much more.
All bodies should be equal but unfortunately this is not evident so there is very little perceived incentive to change and appeal to the wider audience. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind, which is very disappointing as the impact of this image is off-putting to many before they’ve even ventured onto the mat.
For example, seeing a yogi executing an advanced posture is beautiful but gives the impression that you need to flexible. Newcomers don’t tend to realise that flexibility will be achieved with the practice, and is not a prerequisite. They don’t realise that all they need to do is just show up with the body they have and let yoga work its magic.
How many times have you experienced this thought: “How the hell can their body do that??” I know I certainty have. Fortunately, we already know the posture is not the ultimate goal.
There have only been a few in the mainstream that has been brave enough to go against this trend. In July 2016 OM Yoga and Lifestyle magazine had the inspirational yogi Dana Falsetti on the front cover. There was also the Penningtons advert featuring Dianne Bondy, that was able to dispel a lot of the myths about plus size yogis in a positive way. That’s something that is very rare.
I advocate body positive yoga to help normalise images that are representative of our society, so that we will be able to see and appreciate the true beauty of bodies regardless of sex, size, ethnicity or shape. One platform where I witness this is Instagram as it’s a place where all bodies can be visible and helps to inspire others to take up this great practice.
Here’s my advice on a yoga body: have a body + go to yoga = yoga body!!
My advice on how we can all work together to appeal to the wider market is:
Start by reviewing our marketing to identify if we are limiting the appeal of yoga classes and studios. This can be easily rectified by the use of images that are more diverse in terms of age, size race and gender – creating a body positive environment. How can we expect to appeal to someone who does not see someone like them? This is a powerful vehicle for change.
I recently shared an image on Facebook showing two yogis with different body types executing the same poses because it eloquently demonstrated that “everyBODY is a yoga body.” It has been well received with a reach of over 17,000, which is an amazing response.
Show simple poses that are attainable. This will have the desired effect of eliminating some of the numerous excuses individuals give for avoiding yoga; I‘m not flexible, I will never be able to do that etc, ensuring no one is left behind feeling frustrated.
Refrain from allowing our judgement to be clouded by unconscious conditioning of what certain bodies can or cannot achieve, or limitations when it comes to teaching different bodies. Appreciate that all bodies can be stiff as steel or as flexible as spaghetti. Don’t be afraid to offer modifications or props to assist your students’ practice.
Teaching at a workshop there was a yogi who was trying to grab her feet in floor bow. I was able to offer her a simple modification of using a belt or just grabbing one foot at a time. After the workshop, she explained that she had done over 100 classes and had never been offered any advice on adjusting the pose. She was so determined to improve that she approached the teacher and enquired if she was struggling because of her size – shockingly, the answer was YES. Fortunately, in this instance the student was not put off doing yoga but some students will not be this resilient or determined and come back to the mat.
Your students are your best teachers, learn from them. There are online courses available to help you to teach the yogis that venture into your class or studio. For instance the Yoga For All online course with Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes. I will also be offering courses workshops and courses later this year so watch this space!
Our aim as yoga teachers is to ensure in the best way possible for everyone to have an enjoyable yoga journey. Every day I am inspired by so many yogis and life itself. It all helps with my development of and future plans for CurveSomeYoga, providing me with ideas on how to continue to evolve the yoga and fitness landscape.
You can connect with Donna via her website and on most social media channels at curvesomeyoga and donnanobleyoga. To get the inside track on the tools & resources that are inspiring us, sign up to the TPOY newsletter below.
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