by: Melanie Klein
Valerie Sagun defies the stereotypical "yoga body" and #whatayogilookslike. While sharing images of her yoga journey, she inspires, motivates and uplifts her nearly 150K followers on Instagram. She encourages her followers to not only challenge society's expectations, but their own limiting beliefs. In the process, she encourages EVERY body to keep coming back to the mat and emboldens many first-time practitioner to give yoga a shot!
Never underestimate the power of role models like Valerie in bringing people to the mat. In fact, it was through the encouragement of her own teacher, Lawrence Caughlan, through an undergraduate class at her university 5 years ago that gave body positive yogi, Valerie a positive view on practicing yoga ultimately allowing her to share it's gifts with so many across the world.
"I took yoga as a class but there was a whole different experience from what I was expecting. We were given a sheet of poses in class that I could practice on my own after the class ended. From there, I got into a routine of practicing those poses over and over again on my own until I eventually wanted to try new things."
With several kinesiology classes under her belt and a desire to continue the experience of body exploration in general, yoga was a natural progression for her curiosity. Excited for her first yoga experience, new yoga mat under her arm, she walked into that first class and, as it holds true for many of us, the practice of yoga not only exceeded her expectations but changed the trajectory of her life course.
"Physically, it changed me in a way in a way I had never experienced before. I had done step aerobics and other challenging forms of exercise but these simple movements blew my mind. I was thinking, 'holy crap, what is going on?' But my first a-ha moment in yoga was when I found that calm pace in the center of my own mind. There was a feeling of complete openness in that moment."
As a self-proclaimed introvert who likes to "do my own thing," Valerie has spent countless hours on the mat in solitude. This is something that has not only given her deep joy, but she attributes her personal practice as the tool to grant her the ability to dive deep inside herself and give her the freedom and space to gain insight and be creative. To explore one's relationship with one's own body on one's own terms is nothing short of powerful, possibly even revolutionary.
But Valerie knows that public spaces have their benefits, too. These spaces can be interactive and foster community, something that we all benefit from.
"I'm looking more and more toward connecting with and immersing in community. And part of that desire to be in community includes creating lots of diverse and safe spaces for people to practice."
In fact, in large part, she has already done that by photographing and sharing her yoga journey online and showing everyone her yoga body. A project that started on Tumblr and eventually moved to Instagram, she has fostered and cultivated a huge community centered on the hub of body-positivity and busting stereotypes about larger bodies.
While her first introduction to yoga was a Hatha yoga class, her teacher didn’t focus only on physical posture. Introducing an exploring the 8 limbs was an integral component of Valerie’s early yoga experience.
“I wasn’t quite ready for it at the time but I realize I was handed everything from the beginning – a complete understanding of yoga.”
These days, Valerie is exploring Kundalini yoga and it’s like coming full circle.
“What’s calling me right now is accessing the different energies in my body that Kundalini helps me tap into. It allows me to open the parts of me that I struggle with all the time. It helps me to get thorough the process and work with myself on a more spiritual level. As a realist, that can be hard. This practice, though, has helped me to ease in and access a greater spiritual depth. This transition in my practice is allowing me to find and learn more about myself than I ever thought possible.”
To see more of Valerie’s fierce body love, visit her page @biggalyoga. We’re also featuring ALL women who are participating in the initiative by tagging their posts with #everybodybends and #whatayogilookslike. Tell us about YOUR yoga inspiration and don't forget to tag @gaiam and @ybicoalition to also be entered for a chance to win a free swag bag with loot from the Gaiam collection and literature from the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, and to possibly have your content reposted.
AUTHOR BIO: Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016) and co-editor of the new anthology, Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014.
Read on to learn why size really does not matter on the mat, or anywhere else for that matter!