I’m not a small yogi. Countless times in trainings and yoga gatherings around the world I have been one of the largest practitioners and teachers of yoga. I’ve had to let go of my shyness to be able to be in a room full of smaller bodies. I’ve never been thin or what is considered “normal” weight. Even from the very beginning of life I came in at 12lbs.
During adolescence, I felt the hurt of being in a larger body by being teased, tormented and ignored. I underwent so much pressure and scrutiny -everyone had an opinion of what I could do to become more “beautiful and skinny.” This left me wondering as a teenager, “Am I less of a person because I am not beautiful and skinny?” That is a big question for a developing mind and body in a world that was telling me that fat is shameful.
There were forced diets of tomatoes, spinach and eggs, cabbage soup or the terrible saccharin wafer cookie diet. It was all disgusting and in the end unhealthy on so many levels. From a dietary stand point, I was being depriving of the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals available from a diverse and balanced diet. From a mental and emotional standpoint I was getting a very clear message that self-hatred is the motivation needed to ‘fight’ the fat. Fat was keeping me from being loved and accepted and I wasn’t worthy of love and acceptance until I lost the fat.
I took those messages and ran with them, for years, I internalized and expanded upon cruel comments and observations. No one could be harsher to myself as I was. I had those terrible comments playing on a megaphone in my mind and I internalized the violence to myself and my life. The inner voice became so abusive that I didn’t deem myself worthy of looking in the mirror for years. I lived in anger and deep self criticism because of my ill fortune of having been born this way.
I did some of the diets and extreme exercise to no avail. I went as far as to spend a month in India at an ayurvedic clinic to lose weight. All of my other European colleagues dropped at least 5 kilos in a month. I lost half a kilo. I was taking the prescribed medications, eating the portioned food, taking endless hours of yoga and still my body didn’t change. I left sad and disappointed in myself because yet again, I was told that it was my fault.
I extended my trip and I set off to visit northern India. I travelled alone. I had time to really examine how shame was serving me –or should I say not serving me. Subtly, my perspective began to shift. There were far bigger issues in the world than whether I was beautiful or fat. I began an earnest meditation and really examined my fears. The more I looked at the body negativity I had been carrying the more it seemed like a burden that wasn’t worthy of my energy or my life. My capacity to love, give and be of service is more important than my packaging so why should I withhold my gifts?
After that trip I decided to fling myself into living without the negative body voice. I opened up to the possibilities of my body and my ability to serve. I began teaching yoga to people of all abilities -injured, older, sick, average and more. The more I taught the more I was amazed at the beauty of all of these different people. The most amazing part of teaching is that most people have no idea how amazingly wonderful and beautiful their body is. I’m still in deep awe and wonder at every body and soul that I come across.
I’ve come a long and bumpy way to this awakening. I’ve left the need to be accepted by the cultural standards of beauty and thinness. My diet now is of strict ahimsa (non-harming) and compassionate self care. I’ve come to accept my most amazingly complex expert-level survivalist, starvation-proof body. My physical life now is about eating the beautiful natural bounty of amazing vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits. I honor the belly that carries the scar tissue from two difficult pregnancies. I’m smitten with the strength of my body that is able to flex, lift, dance, laugh, bear hug and connect with others.
I do yoga and a lot of it because it feeds my soul and it gives me joy and awareness –it is my moving meditation of radical self love. I also enjoy other physical activities like biking, swimming, chasing children and puppies, and hiking. My movement is with full awareness I don’t mentally leave my body anymore to ‘sweat the fat out.’ I am embodied in an amazing body that has been waiting for recognition and love.
This little story of mine is for every “fat kid” or child and adult that isn’t ‘perfect’ –I dedicate my practice and teachings to you. Come with me and let’s make peace with ourselves through yoga. Sending you all immense love. Love, Alex
Alex van Frank is a yoga teacher, wholesome food advocate and mother. She has been bringing cultures and people together throughout her world travels and teaching. Born in Europe and raised in South America and the United States she brings a global view in both her teaching style and in accessibility.
Yoga and meditation are her way of bringing awareness, loving kindness, abate the causes of suffering and bring a sense of community to her students. She has created “Big Love Yoga”, which emphasizes the cross-cultural accessibility of yoga for all body shapes and mindsets, regardless of limitations. Alex creates a compassionate environment in which students can learn what is important and true to their own body and mind, whether that be physical strength, mental calmness or something in more.
Alex is a member of The International Association of Yoga Therapists and has experience in various forms of yoga including restorative, hatha, vinyasa, therapeutics, meditation and most recently in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. Alex received a BA in English from the University of Michigan and a JD from Washington University School of Law. Based out of San Diego, California she teaches public classes and has a thriving private practice. When not in town she can be found leading and teaching internationally at retreats or practicing belly-laughing therapy with locals.
Inspired? Start practicing yoga with Alex today.