My friend Shan Marshall recently made my heart sing with joy when she began attending Yoga classes in her local area. A self confessed ‘Fat Bird‘, Shan had many reasons she could have decided that Yoga wasn’t for her, but she gave it a try, and fell in love with it. She recently began a website, Fat Bird Yoga, which is one of my favourite website names ever! I wanted to ask her about her experience with Yoga as a ‘fat bird’
You discovered the joys of yoga only recently. Can you tell us what brought you to a yoga class?
What did you think about yoga before this?
I thought it was just about getting in strange positions. I was curious to find out how someone could scrunch their body up and balance on one foot.
How did you feel when you went to your first class?
Apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect and hoped that people were friendly, I wouldn’t be laughed at, and that they wouldn’t be the archetypal “yoga bunnies” – stick thin, young and perfect makeup. Oh, and colour co-ordinated outfits.
What were the biggest hurdles you felt were in the way for you when it came to practising Yoga?
Quite honestly, my boobs and belly. I was trying to do Downward Dog a couple of months ago and – I don’t know how I managed it – got the angle wrong and was gently slapped in the face by two soft pillows, my boobs. I remembered an ex-boyfriend telling me “You could suffocate in there”, and thought he was right. Then I thought “If I needed help, I don’t think anyone would hear me call out” so I stood up.
How did your yoga teacher accommodate your particular needs so that you can practice and feel comfortable in the class?
Gill Littleford was great. She told me to get two chairs and put them by my mat. Each pose the class did Gill came and sat on the other chair and showed me the modified pose. She encouraged me when I was afraid of hurting myself or falling off the chair, and she was compassionate and understanding. Seven months on, she’s still like it. She’s my “go to” teacher.
What is your favourite aspect of yoga?
It’s knowing that whatever I do, whether it’s simply sitting quietly or stretching my body into Triangle pose, I’m showing myself love. Having been brought up to love others, not myself, to be able to show love to me is amazing [editor’s note – I ADORE this!].
How has yoga impacted on your life?
Flip, where do I start?? I’m calmer, moving better, getting up the stairs easier, more open and honest. Massive impact.
You have the best named yoga website I have seen in ages, fatbirdyoga.com. What are your plans for developing the site?
Good question. I started the site to write about doing yoga as a morbidly obese 61 year old, after telling Carrie Eddins the Downward Dog/boobs story and her rolling about laughing. I want to develop it to include where to get clothing suitable for fat bird yogis, a directory of yoga teachers willing to teach fat birds yoga – i.e. who can teach modifications or at least be inclusive of fat bird yogis. This would be a paid listing when I get reader numbers up.
I want to be open about the difficulties of being a fat bird yogi in terms of movement and resisting the temptation to force yourself as low as everybody else is going. Then there are the experiences everybody faces which I haven’t seen written about such as yarts (yoga farts), yurps (yoga burps) and yorgasms (that was a surprise – thank Goodness it didn’t happen in class). [editors note – I have to say, after more than 10 years of Yoga practice, I have yet to experience a ‘yorgasm’ – I need to talk to Shan more about this!]
You don’t fit the instagram stereotype of the yoga practitioner, and can be a real inspiration for those who think that their size, age, fitness etc is a barrier to them trying Yoga. What would you say to someone who might want to try yoga but feels that is ‘isn’t for them’?
I would suggest they contact a local teacher, explain their situation – size, age, mobility, beginner, etc – and ask the teacher if they can teach modifications for chair yoga.
Do you want to try Yoga in the Rhondda
If you resonate with Shan’s story, and would like to try yoga, there is every reason why you can take part. Drop me a line and let me know your concerns, and I will be able to accomodate your needs in class.