Yoga Found Me – The Curvy Yogi

Yoga found me. There’s no other way I would ever be able to convey this truth. Well, it is also true that when I was a child, I had first found Yoga in a book titled, ‘Learn Yoga in 30 Days’! Growing up in the Middle East, a child of the 80s, I think that was as close as I would get to a resource to ever knowing what Yoga was all about.

After that, into my teens, I was the typical circumstantial yogi – you know, the one who had all the right gear and apparel and practiced a couple of asanas to match the intensity of the latest diet plan and weight loss program. And that was how I found  my Yoga pitstop back then.

Anyway, like I now say, Yoga found me when I needed it the most. Yoga found me when all other options were unfeasible and when I finally needed to find myself.

Yoga – a lazy person’s exercise?

In 2008, I suffered a horrific accident that compromised my spine tremendously. I had lost the integrity of several spinal discs and was left with no clear indication of ever being able to walk again. The shock of brutally being dragged from a life of normalcy to a possibility of permanent disability in a matter of seconds, was devastating.

The treatment to minimize the inflammation included many months of staying in bed and quite a few steroid epidurals. A few months, and a lot of internal grit and persistence later, I began to determinedly learn to walk again. By then, I was not just severely overweight but also very depressed.

Like many others before, my next focus, after regaining mobility, was to ‘lose weight’. After being warned against prolonged standing, sitting, jumping, step-machines, skipping, abdominals crunches and long period of walking or even cycling, there was very little left for me to try out in terms of exercise. I didn’t have easy access to a swimming pool and I was working 12 hour shifts.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” C.J.Jung

As luck would have it, I came across a tiny newspaper insert which promised weight loss with Yoga. At that point, I wondered if yoga would help at all – after all, Yoga was often considered a ‘lazy person’s exercise’!

But with the limited options on hand and a fast depleting sense of morale and body image, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I was willing to pay more for personal sessions in the comfort of my own home. I wasn’t ready to do anything in a group class.

The practice begins

Over the next six months, I diligently practiced asana, some pranayama and meditation under the guidance of a team of teachers. For the first time in many months, I was actively working out and my back was not groaning in agony – I felt absolutely no pain! I also debunked that myth of Yoga being a lazy person’s workout – I was sweating buckets!!

Anyway, in six months I realized that although I did shed about 22 kgs, I was no longer focused on the weight loss. I was practicing Yoga, but something deeper than the body was shifting.

I believe that was when Yoga actually found me –the real ME – not the me that was looking for the weight loss, but the deeper ME that was looking to know myself. Well, at the very least, I sensed that the self existed.

Dharma – the purpose of life

That experience of wellness – that deep presence – and above all, the first hand experience of hope after struggling with debilitating pain was a turning point in my life. I started considering what I really wanted to do with my life.

It dawned on me that I wanted to do two things – I wanted to go deeper into studying Yoga and I wanted to learn Yoga to be able to teach others with spinal injuries to find hope, and perhaps enough healing to take charge of their health.

“The Law of Dharma: Seek…Discover…Ask…Using your unique talents and serving others brings unlimited bliss and abundance.” Deepak Chopra

I had studied medicine and holistic health, so I was comfortable with the human body, but I wanted to really study the science of Yoga and then integrate all my studies along with the practice. I wanted to bring an authentic representation of me to the community.

I wanted to serve the community using the gifts I had accumulated over the years by integrating all of me, and my experiences, and use it for. . . perhaps, the greater good! I decided to pursue my yoga teacher training (YTTC).

Yoga is for everyone

Since making that decision, a number of opportunities allowed for my own personal growth and life purpose to evolve. What began as a journey of promoting wellness and health soon led to other aspirations. However, one thing remained constant – I was using my own life and experiences to navigate my teaching journey.

One of the first things I noticed was how I was a minority in the yoga studio – and definitely an exception in my yoga teacher training class. One didn’t normally find big, plus-sized yoga teacher trainees . .  . yet, there I was, doing two hours of asana and three to four hours of teacher training every single day! I still was the exception, but showed up regardless.

I wasn’t coming from a place of rebellion – I was showing up purely from a place of purpose.

When I started teaching Yoga full-time, it wasn’t long before I started quoting quite freely and frequently that, “Yoga is for everyone!” and started advocating for more inclusion in the yoga studios. As faculty, I was teaching Yoga Anatomy at yoga teacher trainings, looking at building community and actively advocating safer Yoga practice coming from a place of authentic integrity.

I showed up and represented Yoga as a plus sized, yoga teacher trainer with a severe back injury.

I showed up as a yogi who believed in the power of Yoga and mindful practice to look after my back and to bring in a sense of empathy to others.

I showed up as a woman who had found her purpose to bring in contemporary and practical life situations and recognize how Yoga blended both aspects – on the mat practice and off the mat.

I showed up as a yogi with the curves, large hips, stretch marks and fat in all the places that pushed every stereotype of a typical yoga body and threw it out the window and not once did I doubt myself. (Ok, well, sometimes I did 😀 but it was easy to brush myself up and start again.)

I established my brand, my practice and my purposeful message by registering my brand and company, The Curvy Yogi.

Yoga first, a teacher later

I teach Hatha Yoga- philosophy as well as asana. I’ve had the experience of teaching all levels – from beginner to advanced Hatha asana and flow. However, the style and flow of my Yoga classes have an integrative and accessible focus. I bring the tools and wisdom of my prior education – Ayurveda, meditation, medicine and holistic health – to give practitioners good value from the class by bringing in elements of these modalities into the practice.

My personality plays a strong role in my class energy. I allow my students to know that I am a yogi first, a teacher later. This helps with connection and empathy. My classes highlight physical and emotional safety and always invite the practitioners to allow the practice to become their own – teaching them about agency and the ability to intuitively know what feels right in asana.

This methodology spills into my yoga teacher trainings too. My lectures are usually filled with practical and accessible analogies. My strength lies in simplifying complex concepts for students who possibly have not studied health sciences beyond high school. Between Yoga anatomy and teaching methodology, I bring the focus back to Yoga scriptures and have the trainees learn to trust their instinct and common sense while staying true to an ethical practice.

Before embarking on a yoga teaching journey…

Today, yoga is often commodified. As a mentor to teachers in training, I ask potential trainees to consider why they want to teach Yoga. It could be to simply deepen their own practice or it could be a stronger, purpose-driven desire to serve the community. It takes some introspection to deep dive into the teachings and really apply them as a teaching profession.

My advice to those considering a yoga teacher training is to “Go For It, but also consider speaking with a couple of senior teachers to get a varied understanding of the ground reality before enrolling for the course.

In India, it is a low-paying profession – fulfilling, but well, it does not always equal a solid paycheck. So, do consider your financial commitments before committing to a full time yoga teaching practice. Also, visit the schools, meet the faculty and ask questions – ask who the teachers are, what the practice includes, ask for curriculum, ask for certifications of the school, the background of the faculty – ask, ask, ask!

And not just from one school, check out various centers and then, decide to study with the school that matches your expectations as well as your vibe, style and energy.

I also suggest that potential teachers begin with practicing Yoga for a few months prior to beginning their teacher training. It helps set up a foundation and brings you a little closer to building a relationship between your body and your mat.

My routine as a Yogi-mom

When asked about my personal practice, the most important thing I share is that I’ve learnt not to be too harsh on myself. While I focus on a regular practice, I have some days when the only asana I am ready for is Shavasana. There are also some other days when my kapha element is so strong that I just cannot contemplate asana.

And I think this is true for many, if not most teachers. Navigating life along with a consistent Yoga practice is my best guide. It takes the guilt away from the days when I just don’t feel like Yoga.

Then, there are some habits that die hard – especially those habits that were formed when the enthusiasm was at an all-time high (teacher training days and early teaching years) – the ones that slowly build into a routine.

I am a single mom, so my typical day includes the morning rush to school, lunch boxes, uniforms, school run, homework, hospital visits and other errands. But as a yogi-mom, here’s a bird’s eye view of a typical day:

4 am – rise & shine

4.30 am – morning meditation

5 am – organize the breakfast and lunch boxes

6 to 8 am – Wake the kids, uniforms, school drop

8.30 to 10.30 am– asana practice (anything from 75 to 90 minutes)

11 am to 4 pm – teaching / workshops / appointments / meetings / catching up with friends

12 noon – lunch

5 pm onwards – yoga mom time (This means homework, signing test papers, managing sibling wars, etc)

6 pm – evening meditation & dinner

9 – 10 pm – lights out

“Yoga gives direction to my life and my purpose and gives me the room to explore and push myself a little more, gently but surely.” Luvena

In short, by now, I’ve learnt that Yoga has become a part of my life. It has influenced my personality, my relationships – personally and professionally. Yoga keeps my body, mind and spirit, sound and healthyby teaching me to learn to listen to my body – in wellness and in pain. I’ve learnt to appreciate and fine-tune my inner conversations and recognize that slowly and steadily, I am getting there. Where? I don’t really know… but I’m getting there.

Luvena Rangel  

Yoga Teacher, The Curvy YogI, Yogi Mom  

E-RYT (Hatha Yoga), RPYT (Prenatal Yoga), certified in Ayurvedic Lifestyle & Primordial Sound Meditation (Deepak Chopra)

Also Read: https://www.juruyoga.com/yoga-sequences-for-healthy-heart/

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