Lotus Yoga and Fitness is hosting two workshops designed to promote self-love and body acceptance.
Cheyenne Smith does not have, what she describes as, “a stereotypical yoga body.”
Though she’s been a softball and tennis athlete for most of her life, a back and knee injury six months apart forced her into a more docile lifestyle two years ago. With limited exercise options and a lot of rest time, she gained weight.
“I became very angry with myself,” she said. “I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do. I became very introverted and probably a little depressed because I couldn’t do anything. Not even yoga.”
Smith started her journey as a yogi in 1997, or as she says “before it was cool.” After learning from a free-spirited hippie named Holly on City Island in Daytona Beach, Smith started practicing daily and getting involved in local studios. She eventually found Hot House Yoga in Ormond Beach.
“Looking at me, I’m not the stereotype of a person who does yoga,” she said. “The stereotype is usually a skinny, white woman wearing Lululemon Yoga Apparel. I don’t fit.”
Once she healed from her injuries Smith attempted to get back into her former exercise routine, starting of course, with yoga.
“I went to a class and after that first 30 minutes, I wanted to leave,” she said. “I thought ‘I can't do this,’ and I ended up leaving. I was really embarrassed and developed a poor self image after that.”
During her 40th birthday last year, Smith was out to dinner with her friends, when she started making some self-deprecating comments about her weight. It was her spouse, Stacy Smith, who finally snapped her out of it.
“She said ‘You’re the most beautiful person I know and it has nothing to do with your shape, size or what you look like,” Cheyenne Smith said with misty eyes. “‘It has something to do with what’s on the inside.’ She had said stuff like that before, but for some reason that stuck with me. I knew I had to find a way to get myself back.”
Smith found herself and her love for her body once again through yoga and the support and inspiration she found on Instagram. She’s joined the body positive movement and hopes to spread awareness and her own experience by becoming a yoga teacher sometime next year. Gaining knowledge is just one of the few reasons she signed up for Lotus Yoga and Fitness’ Body Image Workshop.
“I learned modifications that suit my body type,” she said. “A lot of studios in this area are not familiar with larger bodies, so they’re not offering those modifications. That’s something I want to bring to the table. I want the elderly, people disabilities and different sizes to have options.”
That’s why instructors and body positive activists Melanie Klein and Dana Smith are coming to Ormond Beach on Oct. 24; to spread the image of self-love and acceptance, despite the unrealistic image of current yoga culture.
“Today yoga culture isn’t that different from what you see on magazines,” Melanie Klein said. “Media doesn’t perpetuate the diversity of yoga. We only see thin, white models. When I started practicing yoga, I realized I felt different about my body. I was less critical and less judgmental. We have to work on how we develop self-love as a way to practice forgiveness.”
“After my daughter was born, my body changed significantly,” Dana Smith said. “Yoga really helped me embrace the changes. I started to teach my curvy friends because they didn’t feel comfortable coming to class with me.”
Karen Samuels, Ph.D, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Community Outreach for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, or COPE, said she’s a lifelong yogi and uses some of the elements of the practice with her own clients. COPE is co-sponsoring the Yoga and Body Image Workshop.
“I’ve always married the two,” she said. “The skills and practice of yoga can really help people embody their own recovery and their relationship with weight and size. People with eating disorders or body image issues usually struggle with feeling disconnected to their bodies. They’re uncomfortable and have a confused relationship with their self-esteem.”
Samuels said there are a lot of parallels between her practice of yoga and psychology, and based on what her client is struggling with, she often recommends some form of yoga as a recovery tool.
“A lot people need therapeutic yoga,” she said. “What happens on the mat, happens in life. It's about taking it off the mat and into the world. We’re trying to raise awareness and give opportunities for people to learn how to feel better abut themselves.”
Today, Cheyenne Smith is no longer angry for her body breaking down on her. In fact, she’s grateful.
“I realized that I need to take care of my body,” she said. “The injuries were just the first steps.”
If you go
The Yoga and Body Image Workshop is designed to help participants find a positive body image through the practice of yoga. There are two sessions:
- What: Sharing Our Stories and Creating Change
- When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Oct. 24
- Where: Lotus Yoga and Fitness, 28 W. Granada Blvd.
- Cost: $40
- Details: Through guided mediation, movement, interactive discussions and journaling exercises, participants will learn what body image is and how theirs was uniquely created.
- What: Yoga for Self Love and Care
- When: 2:30 to 4 p.m., Oct. 24
- Where: Lotus Yoga and Fitness, 28 W. Granada Blvd.
- Cost: $40
- Details: This practice will explore a gentle heart, hip opening practices and how to implement daily “love” rituals to support, nurture and soothe your mind, body and soul.
A book signing will follow the event from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Cost is either $40 for one session or $75 for both sessions. Reserve your spot at www.lotusyogaormond.com.
Q&As with Body Positive Activists and Yoga Instructors Melanie and Dana
Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and professor of sociology and women's studies at Santa Monica College. A contributing author in “21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice,” Klein has been featured in “Conversations with Modern Yogis,” and is the co-editor of “Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body.” She is also the co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, a body image activist, media literacy advocate, founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Women, Action and the Media, and is on the board of Global Girl Media and the Brave Girls Alliance.
When did you first start practicing yoga? "1996. My sister had invited me to join her for one of those community yoga classes, and I had no idea what it was going to be like. There were no studios around that time. I came from a hippy family so I was all for it, but I have to admit the first classes I was laughing and felt uncomfortable. I started Kundalini yoga and I liked the way I felt. There were definitely changes happening. Something was telling me continue to go on. It was the best I ever felt in my body since I was a kid."
How long did it take you to find a positive body image through yoga and what was the process like? "It happened over time, but I say that a year into a very regular practice I stated to notice that I felt different in my body and about my body. I was less critical and less judgmental. That was about a year of consistent practice. It took me awhile to wake up to what was happening. Everything wasn’t happening right away. I’ve been a body image activist since 1994, when I was introduced to feminism. It was an intellectual grounding and understanding of why I had a negative body image in the first place. I had that understanding and I was very much about challenging the standards of beauty and I actually had the tool to really embody the change."
What is your favorite thing about your body? "I would say to allow me to exist in this world and participate in this world. To create and birth my son. I love the functionality of my body."
What’s your favorite yoga pose? "I’m really partial to triangle pose and the butterfly pose."
Where do you most like to practice yoga? "By myself at my house."
Why do you think yoga has such a profound impact on your mindset/attitude towards your body? "The practice itself is very subversive. It really prompts you to shut out the excess, the info thats coming at you constantly and shaping your perspective, and turn inward to your core. The practice of yoga is different than the culture of yoga. Yoga culture now is permitting images that are not different from magazines. It's dominant culture is a reflection of the larger cultures."
Dana Smith is a certified yoga teacher and trainer, master life coach and holistic health practitioner specializing in Reiki and Thai Yoga Massage. In an effort to show the beautiful diversity that is yoga, she released her first book “YES! Yoga Has Curves,” which highlights the practice and stories of 45 women of all beautiful shapes and sizes.
When did you first start practicing yoga? "When I was pregnant with my daughter, I lost loved one in 9/11. It was a friend who worked in the World Trade Center. I needed something to deal with the stress and yoga was presented to me."
How long did it take you to find a positive body image through yoga and what was the process like? "After I had my daughter, my body changed significantly. You don’t really know it until the baby is here. Yoga really helped me to embrace the changes, and understand that I birthed a life."
What is your favorite thing about your body? "Yoga taught me how strong my body is. I had asthma growing up, and I always felt weak. I’m really much stronger than I realize."
What’s your favorite yoga pose? "Headstand."
Where do you most like to practice yoga? "In the living room of my house, to be near my kids."
Why do you think yoga has such a profound impact on your mindset/attitude towards your body? "It caused me to stop being influenced by the outside and allowed me to really tune into what matters. It's about how I feel, not how I look. I know if I feel good and then I look good. It helped me to celebrate me and what my body image looks like."