THE BLOG

How Yoga Helped Me Love My Bigger Body

05/22/2015 09:15 am ET | Updated May 22, 2016

I remember vividly the moment my ballet teacher said, "Rachel, you have no grace." I was eight, embarrassed, but not surprised.

When I looked at my ballet classmates, I knew the painful truth: my body didn't look like theirs.

So with my less-graceful body, I went down the athletic road, diving into two seasons of soccer a year and basketball in the winter. Despite an active life, weight from an early age became my problem.

By the age of 12, I was already seeing a nutritionist who insisted I track everything I ate. I was afraid to write "water" down -- was I even allowed to have that?

After a few months with little change despite following a regimented plan, I remember my father saying, "Rachie, you don't need to worry about all this, OK? Just keep moving."

All through my teen years, I played active sports, and my body type was more suited to the rough-and-tumble they required.

On the field, I was a rock. It was one of the only places I felt my larger body did me well. But off the field, I just wanted to feel graceful.

For years I looked at yoga with curiosity, but reservation. Ingrained was my shame of being too stocky, too big, for the more refined arts.

My first yoga class was terrible. I couldn't keep up, I slipped my hands off the mat, I felt exhausted, and I certainly didn't experience a shred of grace. But I returned, week after week.

Despite echoes of ballet class, of embarrassment, something deeper inside began to emerge: maybe I just needed to make yoga work for my body, not the other way around.

I was often the largest woman in the room, but off the mat, I was welcoming in my own revolution of body acceptance. I decided to feel more committed to my own well-being than to a number on a scale. As I went deeper into yoga, I went deeper into the connection with my body.

Today, yoga is one of the only times during the day where I'm completely attuned to the present moment. I move with power, dynamism, strength, and intention -- I allow my body to lead and flow naturally, gracefully. I rest at the end peacefully and a bit more whole than when I arrived.

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Through practicing yoga in a bigger body, I found not just grace but poise, calm, strength, compassion, empathy, humor, resilience, community, and hope. Every time I step onto my mat, I practice the more important grace of loving and accepting.

Yoga isn't some fad for me or a way to stay fit. Yoga is my personal space -- it's sacred to me. It's where I've learned what Rachel's version of grace means, and I carry that knowledge with me even off the mat.

I'm a big yogini, and a gracefully powerful one too.

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Rachel Estapa, founder of More To Love, educates and empowers plus size women to learn body acceptance. Find out more at www.moretolovewithrachel.com

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