Meera Kerr: It is the Integral Yoga Hatha I class adapted to the needs of larger people. As I got older I noticed my body was changing. I saw a need for an adaptation to serve those who want to do Yoga but can’t do what thinner people are doing.
IYM: Can you give us an idea of what this adaptation entails?
MK: As I started gaining weight I began experimenting. I want to credit Ren Fields for a wall adaptation of the salute to the sun. A chair is not stable enough – so a wall brings a certain element of comfort.
IYM: Do the adaptations have other advantaqes other than stability?
MK: Yes. Swami Sarvaanandaji, who teaches Extra Gentle Yoga Teacher Training, and I came up with a wall adaptation of the Bridge Pose. You stand with your back toward the wall. You lean back, bringing the crown of the head to the wall. That makes the shoulders drop and the weight shifts to behind the shoulders. This helps move the fat in the back area out of the way and helps you to get your hands behind your back which gives a good stretch that people who are heavier might not otherwise get. (see FAQ page for demo)
IYM: Some people might think “extra gentle” implies not much of a stretch or challenge.
MK: That’s what I thought when I first took Sambasiva Neal’s (San Francisco IYI teacher) adapted class. When I took his class it was really fun and enjoyable. He has come into his own self-love and he exudes self-acceptance to his students.
IYM: Can you say more about self-acceptance for the overweight yoga student?
MK: I think this is a key issue. You should have a love of your body, be in your body, and tune into the body. Nobody sets out to be fat. Weight challenge can be a combination of hormones, stress, emotions, and lifestyle. But, I think the bottom line is that we can love the body we’re in.
IYM: Where have you come to in your own journey about weight issues?
MK: I always struggled with my weight and once menopause kicked in I couldn’t seem to lose weight or keep it off. Dieting never worked for me. What Sri Gurudev taught about pratipashka bhavana is that, rather than thinking bad thoughts about my body, I apply love. The whole process of Hatha Yoga is so positive and self-loving. Are we going to get any thinner by putting ourselves down or shaming ourselves? It’s all about being happy, healthy, accepting of who you are, and doing the best you can. Sri Gurudev taught us that mental weight causes more problems than physical weight.
IYM: Do you include pranayama and deep relaxation in your class?
MK: I feel it is very important to do the whole class that Sri Gurudev gave us, including pranayana. Pranayana is a subtle but powerful way to clear out toxins that are stored in fat cells. Sri Gurudeve said that bhastrika pranayama is great for overweight people. For many people with weight issues there is a disconnect between body and mind.The healing in deep relaxation is not just on the physical level but also on the emotional level. You really tune into the body-mind connection in a deep way.
IYM: It seems like many of the adapted yoga classes don’t include chanting.
MK: I am a music teacher and I find the group sharing of music is so uplifting. I always include “Om Shanti” chanting at the end of my classes. Something shifts in the neurons in the brain when you are chanting out loud and vocalizing the holy vibrations. If everyone chanted every day, the world would be a happier place! These are the gifts we were given by Sri Gurudev. I feel so blessed to be carrying on a tradition that is so remarkable.