Moe: What type of yoga do you teach?
Sally Pugh: My certification is in Ananda Yoga, a gentle form of hatha yoga which focuses on the inner experience of yoga, the integration of body, mind and spirit. "Gentle" does not necessarily mean easy. Some of the postures are actually quite challenging in terms of strength, balance, flexibility and concentration. The Ananda style focuses on adapting yoga postures to individual students' needs and abilities when necessary so that the student can experience the deeper dimensions of the pose rather than struggling physically to hold a difficult pose. Ananda provides the foundation for my teaching, and I also incorporate teachings from other traditions when it feels helpful and appropriate to do so. I often bring in some of the things I learn in my own yoga practice as well. It's a constant learning, growing and moving process. As a certified practitioner of Body Mind Centering, I rely on the wisdom of the body. This is reflected in my classes as well.
Moe: When did you start teaching plus size women?
Sally Pugh: I was teaching an exercise class for large women called Major Moves. Four years ago, one of my students asked if I would be interested in teaching a yoga class for large women, and I said, "I'd love to!" We organized the class through email and I had 25 women sign up for my first class! It was very exciting. The class size is smaller now, but we have been meeting continually for the past 4 years. Some of my students are still from the original group.
Moe: Why has Yoga been for thin women all these years?
Sally Pugh: Yoga has become very trendy (and big business) now in this country. The way it is marketed looks like you have to be thin (and young, and really flexible) to practice yoga. What is presented as yoga now is much more a reflection of the dominant values of our popular youth-oriented, thin-oriented culture rather than a representation of what yoga truly is. In reality yoga is a spiritual practice which was developed in India over 5,000 years ago and is available and accessible to every one. It incorporates practices for body, mind and spirit to awaken us to our deepest spiritual being and teaches codes for living -- non-violence, truthfulness, and self-study to name a few. Yoga can be practiced by everyone regardless of body type, age, physical ability, etc. I encourage anyone who is interested in practicing yoga to look beyond the commercial image of yoga and find a way of practicing that nourishes them.
Moe: Can you describe a typical Yoga for Large Women class?
Sally Pugh: We begin our breath sitting in chairs in a circle. As we focus on the ebb and flow, expansion and release of our breath, we become more relaxed. We calm our minds and become present in our bodies as a preparation for practicing yoga. We then begin a warm-up doing seated forward bends, side stretches, neck and shoulder releases and circling ankles and wrists. After that we move onto our hands and knees on the floor doing spine stretches. Those who are not comfortable going to the floor, or being on hands and knees do the spine stretches in a standing position with the support of a chair. Next comes the standing postures which build strength, stamina, flexibility and balance. Some students prefer to do the standing postures in their chair. As I said earlier, for me the important thing is not so much whether a student does a particular posture standing or seated. Rather, my focus is to help my students find a way to be in the posture that allows them feel the flow of their breath, to be present and embodied and to receive the benefits of the posture.
After the standing postures we move to the floor and do leg stretches and spinal twists. There are also chair adaptations for these postures for those who prefer not to go down to the floor. The last posture is Savasana, lying on the floor (or relaxing in chair) for relaxation, again bringing awareness to the flow of breath, releasing into a place of deep rest and deep peace. We end the class with a brief meditation
Moe: What benefit does Yoga have for a plus size woman?
Sally Pugh: I tell my students that yoga will support them to do and be whatever they want. Beyond that, I think there are unique benefits for plus size women, and I'll let my students speak for themselves:
"In the supportive atmosphere of Sally's class, in the safety of being with other women similar to my size, I have learned to open to attempting something totally new, to gather my energy, concentration, and my body to move in new ways and, most of all, I have learned that I can succeed. This positive attitude has had a meaningful effect on my life, far beyond the yoga class itself. This internal willingness spills over into my everyday life. I'm more likely to tackle a physical challenge rather than protect myself from failure by not trying." C.B.
"I felt sure-footed, planted on the ground. It was a delicious sensation that I continued to enjoy during the week after the Saturday class. After my first try at yoga, it seemed easier to stand. I had fewer twinges of lower back pain and soreness. My legs felt bouncy and not as likely to lock at the knee. Now, when I climb stairs, I feel more vertically in alignment and rise up and descend more readily. I trace these differences to the integration, balance, and awareness I feel after doing postures." Marilyn Wann
"I can't imagine my life without yoga. My practice has changed me in profound ways. I inhabit my own skin, now — and finding it a fine place to be." Ari-Asha Castalia
Moe: What challenges have you faced in teaching larger women?
Sally Pugh: The challenge to learn, grow and expand as a teacher. It is a challenge I accept with great joy. My students inspire and teach me in so many ways. In practical ways, I learn from them how to best modify postures, when necessary, so they can gain deeper benefits from their practice. In more profound ways, they teach me about courage and beauty. I see women who live in large bodies overcome a culture that hates and ridicules fat to blossom into the beautiful beings they truly are. In the past 4 years of teaching "Yoga for Large Women" classes in the East Bay and San Francisco, I have had the pleasure of helping hundreds of women discover that yoga is, indeed, for every body. As I continue to teach and learn, I have the privilege of witnessing the transformative gifts practicing yoga brings to my students.
Moe: Your classes are held in Berkeley, CA. For people who can't make it to your classes what three tips would you offer them for starting or enhancing Yoga practice?
Sally Pugh: I am in the process of making a video to help people develop a home practice. I know there are at least 3 videos by other teachers available as well. In starting a home practice, it is easy to get overwhelmed and think you have to do everything every day and if you don't you're a failure and then -- (we think) what's the sense of continuing? To counter this demoralizing process that happens to all of us, I would say -- Start simple, with just one thing you enjoy doing. Practice it every day, even if it's sitting and breathing for 2 minutes. Do it with as much full presence and commitment as you can. You will feel your presence and commitment grow and deepen over time. Release any resistance you feel to your practice through your exhale. Bring in qualities you want to experience through your inhale and feel or imagine them entering every cell of your body. Practicing commitment to yourself in this way will lead you to your next step whether it's finding a friend to practice with, or seeking out a teacher you like and trust, or buying a yoga book and slowly adding postures you like to your practice. Remember -- your practice is a living, growing, changing, flowing process. Be generous and gentle with yourself. Namaste.
Visit Sally Pugh's official website.