Come As You Are: Body Positive Yoga

Anna Guest-Jelley in tree pose. Anna is the owner of Curvy Yoga in East Nashville. Photo: Yoga for Healthy Aging

Anna Guest-Jelley in tree pose. Anna is the owner of Curvy Yoga in East Nashville. Photo: Yoga for Healthy Aging

Any yogi will tell you that there are as many ways to practice yoga as there are asanas. But the yoga body portrayed in mainstream media fits only one mold, and it’s the same one that the multibillion-dollar beauty industry dictates: the homogeneously slim, long, sexualized body of a woman. For this reason, yoga studios seem mighty unwelcoming to people whose bodies don’t conform to this standard and whose lifestyles lie outside the mainstream. One purpose of yoga is to go inward, to identify less with the body and more with the higher self or spirit. Doing yoga doesn’t require die hard athleticism or crazy flexibility, yet it’s developed a mythology that says the opposite: if you don’t fit the mold, you don’t belong.

Nashville’s yoga studio have something to teach us: as the city grows, so does its social consciousness. Curvy Yoga opened in East Nashville in September, led by teacher and practitioner Anna Guest-Jelley, who literally wrote the book on body positive yoga.

She notes that when yoga entered the mainstream, it was commodified and simplified. “So while it’s interesting and certainly sells products to have bodies that meet mainstream beauty ideals doing complex poses most of us could never dream of, it can also make people not even give yoga a try,” Guest-Jelley says. “In reality, yoga is many things to many people, and it can very much be done with the body you have today, no matter your flexibility or fitness level.” Over the past five years, Curvy Yoga has trained 150 teachers, and Guest-Jelley co-authored the just-released Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body.

Positive body yogis are all over the country now, and they want to inspire a sea change in how we perceive fitness, bodies, and beauty by claiming space for inclusive practice. I took a class at Curvy Yoga and enjoyed it. I’m not really a yoga person (though I’d like to be) and have attended a smattering of classes over the years. This one was different. I felt like I was checking in with my body more than usual. It was by no means easy–my abs ached the next day–but I also didn’t feel like I was killing myself to meet some expectations that had nothing to do with me.

Curvy Yoga is right above Five Points in East Nashville in a beautiful old home with hard wood floors. Your first class is just $5.

Art in the Park Continues

Last week we told you about Yoga for Truckers (+Everyone). At 2:30-3:30 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 4th, you can join Nicole Cormaci and Amanda Wentworth to practice yoga in the treasury room of the Parthenon.  All yoga will be conducted in chairs as part of Cormaci’s FLEX IT! goal to design a series of yoga moves for truckers and other sedentary workers. Cormaci’s Yoga for Truckers and other Sedentary Workers participatory work will result in a podcast.

We also told you about a game of Capture the Flag that went down at the Parthenon in October. Don’t miss the next events: 2-3 pm, Saturday, Nov. 8th and 22nd, MeetUp with Adrienne Outlaw for introductory zumba and capoeira classes in Centennial Park. The classes will be taught by instructors with the  Global Education Center. Weather permitting, they will be held in the park on the south lawn. Should they be held in the Parthenon museum admission applies.

Here I am guarding the jail during MeetUp's Capture the Flag. Photo  courtesy of Adrienne Outlaw.

Here I am guarding the jail during MeetUp’s Capture the Flag. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Outlaw.

The classes are part of Outlaw’s MeetUp project for FLEX IT! MeetUp events, designed to encourage acts of health and harmony, have included a potluck picnic, mud making and Capture the Flag. Future events include bread making and massage, portions of which are being shown as part of Outlaw’s evolving video installation in the museum.

Yoga for Truckers (+Everyone) at the Parthenon

FLEX_Cormaci1We don’t think about it much, but the goods we use have been transported great distances by machines operated by people — the screen that meets your focus, the coffee in your cup, the gasoline in your car. When performance artist Nicole Cormaci found herself traveling from British Columbia to Indiana regularly, she became empathetic to the physical effects of the long haul, spurring her social practice work Yoga for Truckers (+Everyone).

The work debuted in September at the Parthenon Museum as part of FLEX IT! My Body My Temple, an evolving social practice work curated by Adrienne Outlaw that addresses all matters of personal upkeep: physical, emotional, and spiritual, and invites participants to consider the social ramifications when we take personal responsibility. Cormaci’s piece offers a new element to the mix, applying the ancient, specific knowledge of yoga practitioners to the sedentary practice of operating trains, planes, and automobiles. It’s not just for transportation folks though. In our screen-based world, many of us find ourselves sitting for long stretches, only to find our bodies cramped and knees aching long after we unwind. For truckers, the damage is lasting: hip, back, and knee issues can permanently damage posture, making mobility difficult and painful. Yoga for Truckers investigates whether yoga can correct some of the damage that’s been done.

When the work debuted in September, local yoga instructor Amanda Wentworth led trucker Lonnie Keller in a sequence of yoga poses that can be practiced while driving. They’ll continue that work this week — in the cab of a tractor trailer in Centennial Park. Wentworth will lead a free community yoga class that builds on these sequences on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1:30-2:30.

Much of Cormaci’s work is site specific, and Centennial Park is an interesting place for a work that revolves around transportation, considering that it was largely financed by railroad companies in celebration the 100 year anniversary of Tennessee’s ratification into the Union. The train is the predecessor of the trucking industry, and Cormaci’s work as whole asks us to consider the people who move things across the country, while we reflect on our own postures as we move through the world.