When I was four years old my mother took me to see The Nutcracker. I was instantly captivated by the beautiful movement of the dancers, so I begged to take ballet lessons which I began soon thereafter. However, no matter how hard I tried, I never succeeded as a ballerina. And although I didn’t have the capacity to understand the reasons why, it was the first time I became aware that my body was different from most others.
I continued dancing, hoping that one day my body would transform into the perfect ballerina, but it never did. I was never “enough.” I was not tall enough, not thin enough, my neck was not long enough, my legs were not long enough, my arms were not long enough, my instep was not high enough. And while I watched girl after girl (many of whom had been dancing for far less time than myself) be promoted to pointe, I never was. I quit ballet at age 12, and although I still dabbled in other forms of dance and loved movement, I began to accept that dance was not for me.
A few years later when I was 15, I was finally given the words to describe why my body was so different: Turner’s Syndrome.
I was diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder causing short stature, as well as hypothyroidism and scoliosis. I felt utterly betrayed by my body, that I didn’t believe represented who I really was inside: a strong, capable young woman.
It was around this same time that a local dance studio began offering a yoga class. I thought this might be a place where I could move and express myself in a less rigid manner, where I could take advantage of my unique flexibility and use my strength. So I convinced my mother to take me to the class — a power yoga class accompanied by a live drummer. Immediately, I knew I had found something that felt right for me.
The drumming gave the class a sense of spontaneity and freedom I had not found in my experience with dance. The teacher talked about non-judgment, and that all I had to do was focus on what my body was doing and feeling — in any given moment. It didn’t matter what anyone else was doing, unlike in ballet where I was constantly watching in the mirror and trying to imitate the movements of the other girls. From that day forth, I continued practicing and learned to communicate with my body; to appreciate its capabilities, forgive its weaknesses and move toward acceptance.
In 2012, the recreation center at the university where I was working on my Master’s degree offered a yoga teacher training. I decided to take a risk and sign up. And while I worried there would be people who thought I didn’t look like what a yoga teacher was supposed to look like, my yoga practice had helped me overcome those deep-seated fears of judgment. I wanted the chance to give others the same chance at healing. I had found a sense of inner peace and I wanted to share it with others. But this turned out to be a far more difficult goal than I could have ever imagined.
When you’re 4-foot, six inches and a size 6, no one expects you to be taking a yoga class, let alone leading one. This makes for getting a job extra difficult in an already competitive market over saturated with qualified teachers. I would send in resumes and have great phone interviews, but when I walked in for an in-person interview, suddenly there was very little interest and no call back.
I was particularly disappointed after this happened with a gym in my town that I was particularly excited about working with. I had emailed my resume, and had several telephone conversations with the owner, who asked me to come in for an interview with two of the other instructors. But as soon as they all met me, I could sense their hesitation. I could tell they were simply going through the motions of the interview. There were very few questions, and as I tried to carry the conversation I could feel their eyes judging everything that was wrong with my body. It was obvious they had made their decision. Needless to say, they never called back for me to come in to do the demo class they had promised.
When I finally landed a teaching job after months of searching, phone calls and walking into businesses, I found myself constantly fighting my own disbelief in my ability to perform well. Whenever the topic of what I do for a living comes up and I'd say, "I teach French at the local university," no one ever questions it.
But when I add that I also teach yoga, the inevitable response of “You’re a yoga teacher?” is often guaranteed. And then the questions start: “But can you actually do this pose, or that pose?” As if being able to do complicated asana is somehow proof that I am worthy and capable of being a yoga teacher. And you can bet they’d want to see me actually do some of those poses, too.
But unfortunately, there’s also the students that can judge. They enter the studio, and despite seeing me setting up my mat and starting the music, I can overhear their questioning about who they think the teacher is. Sometimes they’ll even approach me with a look of doubt on their faces and ask, “Are you the teacher?” I’ve had students look me up and down, clearly judging whether or not I’ll give them the class they’re expecting. I’ve even had students walk out after determining that I didn’t meet their personal requirements for what a teacher is, before even stepping onto their mat.
And though I’ve walked into many new classrooms each semester to teach French, it wasn’t any easier (or less intimidating) to walk into a studio for the first time to teach yoga, where everyone is supposed to feel accepted.
So why do I teach yoga, you might wonder? Because being a yoga teacher has nothing to do with putting your leg behind your head or being a gorgeous model in stretchy pants. It’s about teaching. It’s about sharing your experience and guiding a student, and creating a place for their journey toward a better version of their self. It’s about how confident a student feels after overcoming their fear of falling on their face in Crow Pose, and when their face lights up when you help them modify a pose they never thought would be accessible to them. And that has nothing to do with size.
I am so fortunate now to work for a community-oriented organization with fantastic people, where I am able to demonstrate that yoga really is for everyone. And despite those who may still judge me, I've finally allowed myself to feel that I am welcome. With each class I teach, I hope to help others feel at home in their own bodies and to encourage them to live their practice off the mat, no matter what anyone else thinks they can or cannot do.
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