#ThisIsActive Q&A: Anne Kelly talks with Michael Hayes, founder and owner of Buddha Body Yoga, LLC
Buddha Body Yoga is a yoga studio in Manhattan specializing in yoga for people of all sizes and abilities.
Q. I so much enjoyed taking a class with you in New York last year. But we really didn’t get a chance to talk. So, Michael, what’s your story? How did you get into body positive yoga?
A. I was in massage school and had studied a little yoga. A friend talked me into going to a yoga center one morning. I basically had my butt handed to me! They did these intense jump back sun salutations, then went into hand stands after! I had been a martial artist and dancer as a younger person, so I felt I had to go back and figure this out!
I didn’t have any money so I wanted to trade massage for yoga. Being a black man and with them not knowing me, they said no. But then, the teacher got locked out of one of the doors. I said, “Do you have a butter knife?” That’s where is started. That event, with the locked door, opening the door for me, was a key moment for my new life in yoga!
I studied with them for a couple of years. But as a big person, I was struggling. I studied with several teachers, and then did teacher training with Alison West, owner of Yoga Union, and later, Leslie Kavanaugh in California where I learned the anatomy of breathing.
All this study empowered me to work from where I am. I ran with it. I started to teach people of size, like me. Then after a class, I was written up in the New York Times and then things blew up! It’s been about 20 years now!
Q. Fast Forward to Today. What is happening with Buddha Body Yoga now?
A. I’ve decided to start a new focus on teacher training. I believe that people of size are awakening to yoga for themselves.
Because of my anatomy background and obsessiveness on the importance of that for people of size, I’m focusing on that. We will be starting a Buddha Body Fundamentals Class for teachers interested in working with people of size February 7-8, 2002. From there we will be adding more teaching modules.
In our first module, we will focus on how to feel comfortable teaching a yoga class where you are the biggest person in the room. You need to do yoga with the support of a chair, or without, and to feel fully comfortable doing that, to make yoga more authentic to people of size.
I’m a strong believer in giving the teachers the information and let them run with it. I give them the emotional support to be brave and vulnerable in front of their classes, rather than be defensive in their class because they don’t fit the norm.
Q. Has yoga in general become more friendly to people of size?
A. There are still a lot of barriers out there. The body positive size individual, empowering themselves to do yoga, are still going through a lot of tribulation against the norm of how you “should’ look and move. To get past that is tricky. There are also people getting older and dealing with injuries or physical distress. Finding the right place to do yoga may take some time.
Q. So why do you recommend Yoga for People who have larger bodies?
When you do yoga, you move the body. When you move the body you start to feel. Sometimes what you feel is dissonance between your thinking and your body. Yoga helps integrate that. You feel what’s going in your body when you are doing yoga. You notice it. With activity you are in the moment.
The intention is not to necessarily DO the pose, but to FEEL where YOU are in the pose. Once you start feeling what’s tight or not, you can figure out how to relax into the pose and that will change YOU. You begin to feel what you can and can’t do. You stop thinking about the externals and you start to focus on yourself and your body. When you come back out of that – then something changes, and that changes your perspective. That is the beautiful part of yoga.
Q. What would you suggest to JunoActive readers about finding the right yoga studio or class?
A. Be careful as the industry starts to market to people of size. Find the right community. First, talk with yourself. What do you want from yoga? Then acknowledge where you are at. It’s common to go to yoga with sense of anger that you have not been enough. That you must prove something to it. I came with that attitude. It’s natural for people of size or anyone who has felt excluded to push back. If you have that attitude, continue, just notice it. Sometimes anger is a good thing that can make change.
But if you reach a point when you know it’s not working, stop a moment. Remember to old definition of insanity: Doing the same thing and expecting different results. Ask yourself, “What do I need to change?” If you talk to your teacher and you hear “just keep trying”, that’s a teacher saying I have no idea how to work with you. It might be time to move on.
Q. What resources are online?
A. Today, most the of body positive yoga leaders are on the internet. If you look there you’ll see all these amazing people of color, people of size, promoting and showing the possibilities of yoga looking and feeling different.
Buddha Body does an online live class every Saturday from 10 am -11 am Eastern Time. We also have lots of videos on facebook. For New Years I did different styles of sun salutations. Go to facebook and search BuddhaBodyYoga. This month we are working on a video for beginners, so watch the website for that!
Q. What advice to you have for us here at JunoActive?
A. You guys make excellent women’s clothes and I WANT MENS CLOTHES. I want to try out your new yoga pant, and then you’ll have to start making men’s yoga wear!
Check them out at www.buddhabodyyoganyc.com or classes and online options.
The studio is located at 1133 Broadway, Room 245 NY, NY 10010.
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