Owning My Big Place In This World

I was once again asked to shoot for Poser Magazine, and of course I jumped at the opportunity! As a yoga teacher and photographer, it is obviously a dream to spend a day doing both at the exact same time! When I heard of who they were picking for the cover issue and why, I couldn't wait to start. I was forwarded her story in advance. I was moved, I cried, and I wanted to reach my hands through the screen and hug her. I admire her courage, her vulnerability, and her beautiful heart to share this with the world. 

There's something you need to know about Jo, regardless of her struggle, she has this incredible sunny disposition that lights up every space, even internet spaces and digital images. So when I decided to curate this blog post with the photos from our photoshoot, I decided to do so in black and white. Black and white evokes a lot of emotion for me, it creates something personal, it sets a mood, and strips the layers of colours that are on the surface; the facades we often garnish ourselves with. 

Jo gets real and raw and I really wanted the photos to depict that. I hope you enjoy her article as much as I did. Please share, show a little love in the comments, and know that on any journey you face, you are never alone.

with love,

Owning My Big Place In This World

by Jo-Anne Dmytruk  for  Poser Magazine
Photography by Jamie Hyatt

I'm not exactly sure when I realized that it wasn't safe to trust my body.  It had to be around the time when I was 5 or 6. That's the first memory I have of being molested. When I look back now, I didn't understand what was happening but I knew it wasn't right.  I didn't tell anybody— In my family you would never talk about stuff like that. I’m not writing this article to lay blame on anyone, I'm writing this to explain how I found yoga, and how it’s teaching me to love my body. This is not a new story. I know so many of you will read this, and know it to be your story too. In a world where yoga porn dominates our Facebook feeds, I believe there is a place for those of us who do not adhere to the perfect image of yogis in this world.

For so many years I used food (and sometimes still do) as comfort. Coming from a Ukrainian background, food and celebrating are a part of life, and there is always plenty.  I used food as a way to keep myself safe.  My love of sweets kept me eating and the pounds kept coming on, cushioning me from the real world.  Nobody in high school would date the fat girl so I was safe.  I also became a people pleaser and let anybody use me and gave away my power--guilt could turn me into your best friend, the best daughter--I just didn't think I could say “No”.  I stayed this way until my 30s, fluctuating in weight, dependent on the amount of unwanted attention and self-sabotage I engaged in. It seems that during the times in my life when I was at a lower weight, it was always my feeling of inadequacy that brought me back.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I didn't feel worthy.

I started practicing yoga about five and a half years ago because it was new and trendy and my friend, Michelle was dabbling in it.   A dear friend was also diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was looking for a way to cope. It all started with a Yoga for Dummies DVD.  At first I didn't know what to expect or how to do anything, but I kept plugging away.  I live in the pretty cool area of Bridgeland, and kept walking by a yoga studio named Danu (currently Leela Eco Spa and Studio). Walking into that studio was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done.  There is where I met four amazing yoga teachers that have become my dearest friends, and now my colleagues.

This is where my journey began.  When I first started practicing I was always the biggest yogi.  I would scan the room, see no body like mine, and my heart would sink. I would drop to my mat defeated, but was determined to be the best yogi (there's the perfectionist in me).  I would get angry when I could only hold down dog for three seconds and curse to myself when the teacher would call it a resting pose. Who were they kidding?  I would leave class an emotional wreck--one more thing I just couldn't do right that perpetuated the feeling of hating myself and my body. But, there was that little voice that kept telling me to keep going back.  At that time, my studio offered a beginners’ yoga class series---I took it three times before the teacher, Jess Burylo (god bless her) told me it was time to go to regular classes.

There is one particular time in class I remember being in downward facing dog and hating it.  My breath was shallow, I was drowning  and refusing to give up (a little ego here maybe?). Jan'et, one of my teachers, came and whispered in my ear “Remember child's pose is always an option”.  I dropped to my knees, cried, surrendered and never looked back. At the point of being oversaturated with intense frustration, it was incredible to receive permission to be myself. That who I was in that exact moment was enough. I continue to have moments when I feel pushed beyond my limits, but the realization that tapping out of a practice when the need arises was the first steps to me accepting my body.

I secretly wished to be a yoga teacher.  My teachers made it look so easy, graceful and fun, and I wanted to be a part of that. But who would take classes from me, the biggest yogi? Who wants to learn a headstand from a woman that couldn’t do one of her own, or see a demo of half-moon done at a wall? really--there just weren’t any classes that offered modifications so I kind of made them up as we went along. I didn’t know it then, but learning to modify for my body was the beginning of my teacher training.

My friend, Michelle started talking about doing a yoga teacher training and I laughed again. Me? Really?  I considered myself not of the level of mental adeptness or physical fitness to attempt something like this. But then I ran across an article about yoga for round bodies and got really excited that this was a possibility.  I remember showing Jess, and she told me to go for it. I remember a very vivid coffee date with one of my favourite teachers where she cried over tough times and I realized that having dark places would not make me any less of a yoga teacher.

So I went and did my first session of yoga teacher training and it was intense. One morning, during our asana practice, the peak posture being taught was full wheel.  Yeah, I was having none of that. Through the skillful guidance of Karuna and Ally, and despite still being the biggest girl in the room, I pushed into my first full wheel. Scared beyond measure at the power displayed by my body, I cried that day… and pretty much cried the whole training,  which anyone who has done a teacher training can verify that that is a common thing to do. ;)

I completed teacher training and began specializing in PS I Love Yoga, a class for plus sized practitioners at Leela Eco Spa and Studio. It became a labour of love for me. I believe that every one should be able to practice yoga no matter their size, shape or physical abilities. My class is a beautiful group of people with different strengths, and we come together to breathe, move, and support one other.  We laugh, we cry and we yoga.

When I walk into a class now, I still occasionally scan the room but I don't compare my size to anyone anymore. I roll my mat out,  get my props and I arrive at my practice. I say a small prayer and wish for everyone's practice to be blessed.  Do I still have moments when I get frustrated and angry on my mat? For sure! But now my breath is a reflection of my experience of yoga up until this moment— Experience that has taught me to trust my body, its processes, and give gratitude for owning my big place in this world.

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