Meet Valerie Sagun, a 28-year-old yogi from San Jose, California.
Sagun has been practicing hatha yoga for the past four years. Hatha is a set of physical exercises, known as asanas, that are designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones.
Sagun started her Instagram Big Gal Yoga a year and a half ago.
“At first, I only did Tumblr,” Sagun tells BuzzFeed Life. “But when I got to 10,000 followers and people asked me to join Instagram, I decided to go for it.”
And her photos are fly AF.
Crow pose? More like queen pose.
To start, her yoga wardrobe is TO DIE FOR.
“It can be hard for bigger women to find good leggings,” she says. But, let’s face it, she looks flawless. Sagun swears by her favorite brands Rainbeau Curves and Fractal 9 for comfy, colorful athletic wear.
And her confidence is contagious.
“I’ve never really felt self-conscious about my body during yoga classes,” Sagun says. “For me, yoga is all about the mind and positive thinking. I get anxiety and depression, and practicing has helped me through that.”
She’s always down to try new things.
Like using a yoga wheel. “It helps to open your back a lot more during stretches,” Sagun says.
And pushing herself is the only way she knows how.
“Acro yoga was one thing, especially as a bigger-bodied person, that I was scared and doubtful to try,” Sagun writes on her Instagram. “But it was so fun to practice.”
Sagun loves yoga so much that she’s currently trying to become a teacher.
She started a GoFundMe to help raise money for tuition at 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona.
“By being a curvy woman of color, I get to show a lot of underrepresented people that they are capable of anything,” she says.
“We need more diversity so that, one day, diversity just becomes something normal that happens everywhere.”
“Everyone who is interested in yoga should feel comfortable practicing it,” she says.
Rosie’s Place, the first women’s shelter in the United States, recently awarded Roslindale social worker Theresa Okokon the Kip Tiernan Social Justice Fellowship—a $40,000 grant. Through the grant, Okokon created LEGIT.yoga, a new program that will bring yoga classes to local shelters.
Legit will use a method called trauma-sensitive yoga, which uses the practice to help people deal with traumatic stress.
“There’s all kinds of programs that teach you how to get a job. There’s all kinds of programs that will maybe support you in that job, but there’s not a lot besides one-on-one individual therapy that gets you to deal with your trauma,” Okokon says.
Starting in September, Okokon, who has been a social worker since 2005 and a yogi since 2007, will teach free, weekly classes at four shelters—Rosie’s Place, Crittenton Women’s Union’s Hastings House, Pine Street Inn, and the Woods-Mullen Shelter—and at the Boston Public Health Commission’s MOM’s Project, a substance abuse recovery program.
“I’m coming to you,” Okokon says. “I am bringing the mats, I am bringing everything you need, all you need is to come into the room. Yoga makes you hit the pause button. It makes you take that pause so that you can think a little bit longer about what it is that you’re feeling and how you’re going to react to that feeling.”
While using yoga for therapy is not new, introducing it in a social work setting—and to people who sometimes don’t know where they’ll spend the next night—can be a tough sell. In fact, Rosie’s Place has received several yoga-related applications for the Kip Tiernan Fellowship, says Sandy Mariano, director of programs and planning for the organization. But the program has never funded any yoga applications prior to Okokon’s.
But LEGIT.yoga caught the shelter’s attention, in part because of Okokon’s experience working with homeless women through her social work. “The only reason I became a yoga teacher is so that I could develop this program,” she says.
While the fellowship with Rosie’s Place lasts one year, Okokon says she intends to continue and expand the program. She’s seeking funding to add a men’s shelter component, and part of the current grant will fund training for one LEGIT.yoga student to become a yoga teacher.
“It would be my dream if eventually there’s a team of teachers that taught for LEGIT.yoga all over the Greater Boston area,” she says.
LEGIT.yoga will host a kickoff event Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. at Old Oak Dojo in Jamaica Plain.
I have never been a fan of yoga, yet I gave it a fighting chance, partly because I felt it was my cultural duty to do so.
Back in India, yoga is associated less with athleticism and more with spirituality and health. My grandmother was rendered almost entirely disabled due to a serious case of Parkinson’s, yet with the help of daily, soft yoga and regular meditation, she has begun to walk again with polished joints feeling as good as new. My grandfather, through repeated practice, claims to have come to clarity with his place under the gods and in the world, and at 80 years old still possesses the limbs and lungs of a much younger man.
My mother taught me a variety of yoga poses that, with patience, could function in lieu of medicine: stretches to alleviate menstrual pain, postures that helped with digestion, and repetitive chants to build memory and increase focus. Whether they held true or were kid-tested, mother-approved placebos to build will in us both, it was ultimately yoga. It was the collection of asanas and pranayamas that my people had crafted and curated and concocted to promote health, harmony, and spirituality.
So you can see, when this cultural discipline turned into a billion-dollar industry featuring yoga pants and perky butts, a function for absolving the guilt-laden consumption of eating too many slices of pizza, or being an extracurricular duty of the suburban white mother, I was slightly perplexed. Which is not to say that I have never gorged on ice cream with the promise of later engaging in power stretching in a room hot enough to shame Arizona summers. I have done yoga for tranquility as much as I’ve done it for a tight tummy. Although when I attend those classes, I find yoga syncing closer with white girls with Starbucks than it does with an ancient Indian practice. It’s the women in those classes who go home and take #cultured selfies with Bindis and want to go to India to “find themselves.” And I, for one, have had it with selective cultural adoption.
I expressed this sentiment to my parents and to my surprise, they saw nothing wrong with people of other races cherry-picking parts of Indian culture. They lauded Jillian Michaels’ yoga series, embraced Selena Gomez’s and Iggy Azalea’s respective interweaving of Indian culture with western music, and admired Kendall Jenner for adorning a bindi at Coachella. To them, it was a sign of their culture gaining mainstream acceptance. To me, it was thievery and a selfish promotion tactic.
What shift in mindset occurred in the span of one generation that placed me on a starkly different side of the spectrum from my parents?
My parents emigrated from India to America in 1991, and had me two years later. I was born one culture, yet born in another one. From as long as I can remember, I have constantly been reminded of my other-ness. I was bullied so much for my school lunches that I often boycotted eating all together. Kids reduced me to my country’s worst stereotype — being eternally stinky from eating curry — and mercilessly mocked me for putting coconut oil in my hair, a typical home practice in India to maintain our thick hair.
I remember an Indian girl in my 4th grade class who hung out with the popular girls because she had the luxury of residing right next door to our grade’s queen bee. She quietly parted from her friends and came up to me while I was crying in the library. With a deceptive cool masking the inkling of solidarity in her tone, she told me: “Don’t worry. My mom puts oil on my hair too. Just make sure you do it during the weekend and wash it off before you come to school.” Looking back at that now, I realized us first-generation kids spend our most formative years trying to fit into a culture that demands assimilation while simultaneously barring us from it.
Fast forward to my twenties and I can see the slightest hints of cultural shame still lingering within many of my friends. My Indian friends get visibly embarrassed when their music playlist “accidentally” shuffles to Hindi music; music which they all colloquially refer to as a “guilty pleasure.” They put time and sweat into practicing traditional dance styles like bharatnatyam and raas and garba but when asked to describe their activities to non-Indians, will just call it their “dance team.”
We have all grown to accept and love our brownness, yet the relentless battle for assimilation has left so many bruises that instinctively provoke knee-jerk responses to ensure distance from our Otherness. We spent our whole lives trying to love our parents’ culture and accepting ourselves as the curry-eating, oil-scrubbing, naturally-tanned selves we are, but we never really did. And we thought nobody else really would either — even those who share our background.
For those of us who grew up in a Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, or Nepali household, our struggles to fit in are vastly different in magnitude, but the solidarity exists. So that’s why we are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion — and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance. How dare they regard Indian fashion as effortlessly cool and chic while we make it look “fobby,” or a stubborn adherence to our culture that purports us to be “fresh off the boat.”
How dare they have a crush when we spent our entire lives trying to love.
Our parents, on the other hand, never came to this country for assimilation; they came here for survival. They knew from the onset they weren’t going to be accepted. They grew up embedded in a deep sense of cultural identity — one that everyone around them shared. They always knew where they are from and they owned it, even when they arrived in America. Our parents grew up in a time where white people were inherently superior, and while it was commonplace for Indians to ditch their traditional clothing for jeans and t-shirts, white people were reluctant to do the same for them.
Years later, our parents’ generation is bursting with pride at the thought of all the customs they accepted being embraced by the mainstream — whether it’s being exoticized or not. Our parents see the western infatuation with select parts of their otherwise deeply rich culture less as self-promotion and more as an acknowledgement; it is a cross-cultural equalization they could have never dreamed of.
My generation of Indian-Americans is not really Indian, and not really American. Our endless journey to fit into the western mainstream while trying to retain our roots left us — and continues to leave us — in an eternal purgatory of identities; Americans getting to be fully American and a little bit of Indian — whenever they please — isn’t fair. Yet I know it isn’t right to outright ban non-Indians wearing Indian clothes because the intentions are never malicious — plus I know my parents are happy to see them.
But the beauty of culture lies in every single part of its intricate details, and hand-picking a favorite few while discarding the rest is taking for granted the best parts of that culture. At the end of the day, your bindi selfies will eventually disappear on social media’s news feeds, you’ll take your colorful sari off, and you can go back to being American whenever you want. But for my generation, we can never go home and remove our heritage, our culture, and our riddled identity struggle.
Our parents definitely had their struggles, but they never compromised their cultural integrity. They proudly donned their saris and kurtas, brought their food in curry-stained tupperware to work without a care of what anyone else will think. They knew they were outsiders and were never trying to fit in in the first place. To them, selective adoption of Indian customs and fashion is a compliment, a recognition, and not a double standard of acceptance. And that’s why they’ll continue bask in the appreciation we deem appropriation.
A North Carolina yogi is causing a sensation on social media by breaking down body stereotypes with her personal photos.
Jessamyn Stanley, 27, who lives in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and posts to Instagram under the handle @mynameisjessamyn, has attracted more than 42,000 followers in the last two years sharing images of challenging forearm stands and intense back bends.
The difference between Stanley and the seemingly myriad talented yogis posting online? She is a self-described “fat femme” with ample curves where others are stick straight.
“People need to see diversity, to feel included,” Stanley told ABC News. “It’s really not that I look different, it’s that I look the same as everyone else.”
A lifelong North Carolinian, Stanley was first introduced to Bikram yoga as a teenager by an enthusiastic aunt. But at the time, she was put off by the high-temperature rooms and studio experience. Years later, in college, when a friend mentioned a Groupon discount for Bikram classes, Stanley decided to give the practice a second try and this time something clicked.
“I was going through a lot of transitions and personal changes at the time, I was depressed,” she said. “And being forced to stare at yourself in the mirror and challenge your body was very useful for self-reflection. It turned out to be the saving grace of my entire life.”
But after committing to a regular practice, Stanley eventually moved and didn’t immediately have the disposable income to attend studio classes in her new neighborhood. It was then that she began doing yoga at home and documenting the experience online.
“When you practice, it’s important to note your alignment and progress,” she said. “And it’s a great way to get positive feedback from people. In the studios, there is a lot of judgment. And where I live, it was predominately white, well-educated, upper class people who attended and it tints the student’s perspective. I would feel like, ‘oh, my body will never look like that.’ So, [sharing on] social media has become a great way of feeling normal about being different.”
The attention she’s since received does at times detract from the original intent of recording her postures. But, Stanley reasoned, it’s not a bad thing.
“Sometimes I do wish I would get more feedback that was along the lines of ‘let’s talk about how we can all strengthen our practices,’” she acknowledged. “But if people are more focused on my physique, and connecting with someone they can look to as a peer in this life struggle… if you feel like there’s someone who really gets where you’re coming from, that’s way more powerful.”
Stanley, who currently also teaches classes in Durham, N.C., will embark on a yoga tour in select cities this fall with a fellow “curvaceous teacher.” There are also plans for a full-figured retreat next year.
“My big thing now is trying to be as accessible as I can to as many people as possible,” said Stanley. “I’ve always felt the yoga community is badly cloistered and it’s really important to me to make it clear that it’s for everyone.”
In the brutal hight of winter, it is nice to daydream. Here are some of the best retreats from around the world. Enjoy!
We all get caught up in the busyness of everyday life and often we forget the benefits of taking time for self-reflection. Today we explore the benefits of internal exploration, possibly the true final frontier.
Meditation is an ancient practice that has experienced a resurgence in recent years. It can take many forms including guided mediation, prayer, and yoga. Regardless of the style of practice, all forms share the common goal of quieting the mind and can often be used for stress reduction.
Here is an excellent meditation video with Deepak Chopra.
For more information on meditation, visit the following sites:
While preparing for this post I made an unexpected yet pleasant discovery, the Wanderlust Festival!
The website describes the festival as “Wanderlust Festival is the largest celebration of its kind in the world: a 4-day celebration of yoga, music, and nature. Bringing together thousands of people from myriad backgrounds to experience adventure and transformation, Wanderlust provides the opportunity to bring your yoga practice to new heights, to enjoy the freedom of live music and to follow your spirit of adventure in spectacular outdoor settings, all the while creating community with like-minded seekers.” Sounds like fun! How exciting that something like this available to people across the globe for FREE!!
My wanderlust lead me to this site and I hope your wanderlust leads you to something as equally awesome.
Here is the website: Wanderlust Festival
The remaining festivals will be held in the following cities:
The organization also hosts one day “In The City” events. Still to come:
OMG!! This festival seems like so much fun! If you happen to attend, please share your thoughts and photos of the event.