© 2017 Mantra Yoga + Health

The Conversation We All Need to Be Having, the Importance of Body Diversity: "As a plus-size woman, I don’t feel welcome in the yoga community."

Body Positive Advocate and Truth Teller Sarah Sapora

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Instagram: @sarahsapora | sarahsapora.com | sarahpluslife.com

Photos: Nichole Alex

This is how I met Sarah: I read this post on Instagram, with her swimsuit photo on the beach. I knew I must know her.  --Maranda

 

This is a body in progress. This is 38. This is an unapologetic woman. This is me. Do I make you uncomfortable? Does this image of a larger woman standing in her skin in a powerful and sensual way make you pause? I hope not, but there’s a good chance it does. Because this isn’t something we see every day. I know. Even I paused the first time I scrolled through these pics and, hell, that’s MY body! We need to know that sensuality doesn’t have to be defined by our size. We need to know that beauty doesn’t expire after the age of 35. We need to accept that bodies in progress, those that are changing shape, may have looser skin. And that looser skin is just skin. It isn’t something to be ashamed of. We need to believe that larger bodies are just as entitled to their sexuality as their more slender peers are. We need to KNOW that all of these things that make people uncomfortable are facts of life. Bodies change shape. Bodies get older. Bodies are different sizes. Bodies are allowed to be sensual in their varied forms. As a teenager or younger woman in my 20s, I wish I would have seen an image like this. It wouldn’t have “told me it was great to be fat,” but it would have helped me to not feel so broken. And if I had felt less broken, maybe I would have felt more confident in my body and in my “desirability,” and then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have spent so long overcompensating for something that I hadn’t yet learned to believe deep down in my soul: That I am worthy. I am enough. I am not invisible. And those who do not “see me” are not meant to. Those that are, will. And that is perfectly OK by me. You can be at peace with yourself and still strive for more. I believe this deep in my heart.

 

“People come in different bodies and colors, and all of these bodies deserve to access wellness tools without shame and with encouragement."

 

I'm sure someone is reading this now and wondering why there is a plus-size woman being featured in a wellness and yoga magazine, right? That's the exact reason we're talking. Because there's a wall that needs to be banged down, and I'm passionate about doing it. This community desperately needs images and stories of body diversity!

 

As a plus-size woman, I don’t feel welcome in the yoga community. From a personal growth or health perspective, if I say I want to feel better in my life, the solution people want to throw at me is a diet. That doesn’t work for me at all! I believe people can create a healthier life from the inside out with self-love and lots of tools. But we have to empower ourselves to learn and get out of our comfort zone. We have to know there are things out there like meditation and yoga that can help us. We have to know that “losing weight” is not the same thing as “getting healthier,” and that the latter is 100 percent about the emotional journey we have with our body, our food, and our life. To be frank, the wellness community needs to start embracing diversity. People come in different bodies and colors, and all of these bodies deserve to access wellness tools without shame and with encouragement.

 

Q: Sarah! I read your daily posts on Instagram for inspiration. What's your story?

A: I’m a self-love mentor, wellness advocate and the creator of the Body Love Workshop. I love cowboy boots and singing in the car, and I can leg press over 700 pounds. Kundalini yoga has changed my life. My biggest passion in life is serving women in their journey of self-actualization. I want women to know they are visible in their own lives, capable of creating positive change at any weight, any size or any age. We can all #FindYourGreater.

 

Q: So why are we talking today?

A: When I go to a Kundalini class or a personal growth workshop, I’m pretty much the only plus-size person there. This is my personal experience. Everyone around me often looks the same… Except these are tools that can work for everyone! You have amazing women like Jessamyn Stanley, Dana Falsetti and Valerie Sagun putting cracks in the ceiling, but it isn’t enough. We need bodies of all sizes and colors to be empowered. Unfortunately, between mainstream and social media, we don’t get to see a lot of authentic stories of growth and transformation. Sensationalist ones? Sure. Body-shaming before and after pictures? Tons of them. But very few stories sustained and fueled by healthful behaviors or loving mindsets. This is why we’re talking, to share the story of a woman who doesn’t fit the model, but someone who is using the tools to create change and joy in her own life.

 

Q: Why do you share your wellness journey online?

A: First, I want women to know they are worthy of “showing up” for their life. We can get vulnerable. Claim what we want! And our ability to do this is not contingent on our beauty or our body. Scared of your sagging skin? Guess what, everyone’s body has some. Weirded out you’re getting older? We all age! Scared of being judged for your weight? Stop worrying about what other people think and put that energy into yourself. Take loving responsibility of where you are in life and the things that have gotten you to this point… then choose again. Choose every day. Choose to honor yourself and build the life you want at the same time. Choose with love because you are love and you are enough.

 

I want people to know creating a healthier life is messy and beautiful at the same time. I want people to see a larger woman in her late 30s take charge of her life with grit and heart; if I can do it, so can they. If the only images we see are before and after photos, we perpetuate the idea that being a finished product is the only way for us to be happy. Bullsh*t. We have to choose to be happy just as we are, imperfections and challenges and all. Don’t demonize where you’ve been in your body; simply move forward without judgment. Creating a more healthful life is about coming to the table time and time again. Even when it’s hard and hurts. Even when you fall. You stand up. Take a hit? You stand again. I am enough. I am worth it. I do sh*t that’s hard; sometimes I suck at it, and sometimes I hit a home run, but it doesn’t matter, because I am DOING IT. The journey is in the doing. So let’s get honest about what this looks like. Remove the shame. Stop with fad diets and get real about what it’s like to get healthier and live a more badass life.

 

Q: What's your message for the yoga and wellness industries?

A: Let diverse bodies come to the table! Roughly 67 percent of women in America wear a size 14 or larger. From a consumer perspective, that’s a ton of shopping power and buying dollars. And yet you still don’t seem to want our money. That’s CRAZY! Everyone knows that a big yoga brand has openly said that they don’t want the money of fat women, but most major brands also leave us out. There are smaller, size-inclusive companies, like Lineagewear, but the “culture setters” have yet to invite us to the table.

 

“If the only images we see are before and after photos, we perpetuate the idea that being a finished product is the only way for us to be happy. Bullsh*t.”

 

I’m a plus-size woman, and I have money to spend. At some point in time, the narrow definition of the “ideal” customer is going to hit its saturation point. From a business perspective, if you want to grow, you have to start acknowledging body and ethnic diversity. Be more size-inclusive: Slender. Heavy. Everything in between! On a human level, are you about helping people to live a better life using yoga? Or are you about profits? Yoga does not discriminate. All people, in their own way, can practice some form of yoga, no matter how modified. If you have a body, you can practice yoga. So let’s start inviting everyone to this beautiful party! My dream is to look around the room one day and see a kaleidoscope of women coming together. My dream is for the women who struggle to love to feel empowered and worthy. For these women to be able to learn about yoga and wellness and know that these tools can help them in their journey! For every woman who has ever bought a pen or a tote bag because they couldn’t find a T-shirt in their size… I see you.

 

 

Q: Can you tell us about your wellness journey?

A: I got honest and started looking at the things in my life that didn’t support me. I started my journey at 37 years old, weighing nearly 360 pounds and in constant low-level pain. In 2015, both my parents ended up in the hospital at the same time. At that moment, I realized my body wasn’t in optimal health. I was unable to walk the single NYC block from the garage to my mom’s hospital bed without stopping in pain. Shortly after, I realized that my personal life was out of whack, and that I wasn’t living purposefully. If my body and my heart were unaligned, it was time to make changes. In the last 18 months, I’ve danced with the coping mechanisms and limiting beliefs that have kept me from thriving. I’ve forgiven my past choices with acceptance, and decided to choose something different every day.

 

I don’t believe in dieting. I work on eating mindfully and “track my macros,” and I am learning more about nutrition and how different foods make my body feel. I have embraced strength training and simply do more physical activity. I can run six flights of stairs in about 52 seconds, and I now feel the joy of being mobile and free enough to WALK places without worry. Emotionally, I have been willing to look my hurricane in the eye and say, “OK, I see you, and now I move forward.” As my body gets smaller, I have to practice legit self-love. On one hand, I’ve never been stronger and healthier in my adult life, and yet, my skin is loose. Seeing my breasts get smaller and deflate, for example, takes a lot of self-love! My body is an ever-changing work in progress. That is what women need to know. We need to know that our bodies can change. We need to know that we are ALL going to get older, and with aging, stuff is going to move and shift. We need to find peace in the body we have, exactly as it is. That doesn’t mean we can’t want to selfimprove. It means we deserve peace where we are.

 

Q: How has Kundalini played a role in your growth?

A: Kundalini has helped crack my soul open. Its sutras continually guide and reassure me in my process. When I am feeling blocked, I remind myself that simply by starting I will remove the pressure. When I struggle with something, I remind myself that there truly is a way though EVERY block if I can be willing to see it. Kundalini is so stunningly body positive. It doesn’t require me to be perfect; it simply requires that I show up. My beautiful teacher, Kjord Davis, reminds me continually that showing up is 90 percent of the journey! Most of Kundalini is done with closed eyes; there is no competition, there is only me and the privacy of my own body. While with Vinyasa, people are often divided by skill level, Kundalini merges levels into one. It is one body of people coming together in energy. There is something so welcoming about this! There are some days I have nothing in me to give. But I know I can ALWAYS come to my mat. Just as I am. I modify most of every class, but I do it with joy. I regularly take classes at Wanderlust and also privately with Davis, who has helped me to develop a personal practice based on my challenges and my astrological chart. Kundalini has helped me learn to harness the power of my breath and has, quite literally, given me guidance I use on a daily basis.

 

Q: Do you have any final words for women struggling to love their body?

A: Don’t feel pressured to “love your body” if you don’t. If that feels like too big of a task, focus first on removing negative self-talk. Then try to move to body neutrality. This will lead the way to feeling more peaceful, which paves the way for acceptance and love. Everyone struggles. We all have fear. It’s just that some of us are more comfortable processing fear and moving past it. Self-love is a choice you make every day. Sometimes 10 times a day in small ways. It is unglamorous and sometimes challenging, but it’s a journey I would never change for the world.

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