Anna Guest-Jelley is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress, in which we feature outstanding women throughout the year. Check out the series here!
If the thought of doing the downward-facing dog or getting into warrior II pose makes you sore just thinking about it -- then chances are that yoga isn't for you. Or, so you think.
There's no shortage of yoga classes from ashtanga and bikram to even "hip-hop inspired" vinyasa, but many women still feel awkward bending over backwards in a room full of strangers— especially if they're not a size zero. Wanting to make yoga accessible to everyone, Anna Guest-Jelley started Curvy Yoga. "I describe it as body affirming yoga for people of all shapes and sizes. We make yoga poses accessible and comfortable, particularly for bigger bodies and use yoga as a tool for body acceptance."
Guest-Jelley has been practicing yoga since the late 90s, and teaching since 2008. She got interested in the ancient practice in college as a way to cure her chronic migraines. "I was the opposite of a sporty kid growing up...but when I tried it, I actually liked it. The connection of breath and movement and the relaxation components kept me in it."
It was in a yoga class that she had the epiphany this could be her calling. Although she studied to be an English teacher, she was inspired by her own struggles with body image and finding a yoga practice in which she felt empowered. "I had this moment in a yoga class where I was like, "Oh my gosh! What if my problem in this class isn't my body— which is what I always thought," she says. "I could not be the only person on the face of the Earth who wanted to practice yoga in a bigger body."
Curvy Yoga was founded in 2010. The very first class was taught in Nashville, and classes are now available around the world. Unlike a lot of trendy yoga, it's not intimidating. As she explains on her website: "I’ve personally struggled (to put it mildly) with the sickening pain of low self-esteem, warped body image & dizzying migraines. I’ve been on 65 diets. I’ve starved, binged, broken down & wept. I’ve been told I was too fat to do yoga (EXCUSE me?!). I’ve hunted for community — and found echoes & misunderstanding."
Curvy Yoga has expanded rapidly. "I found people all over the world who also felt isolated," Guest-Jelley says. "They wanted to try yoga but never thought they could. Or, like me, they were practicing off and on but never found a real foothold into the practice."
Classes can be found online across America, Canada, Europe and Australia.
For someone who's never stepped foot into a yoga class, Guest-Jelley advises to start slow. "Look for classes that are called 'Beginner' or 'Gentle' or 'Hatha.' Somewhere that people of all shapes and sizes are welcome or they'll be using yoga props in the class. Somewhere where students can ask questions and learn," she says. "It's like anything. Sometimes you go to a class and it's not the right fit for you. The teacher or the pace isn't right. I encourage students to approach their first experiences with an attitude of curiosity and experimentation." If the first class leaves you wincing in pain or bent out of shape, try another one. "The first class you try might not be for them but that doesn't mean yoga isn't for them."
[Photo: Emily Gnetz]