Anna Guest-Jelley: On being whole
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, a training and inspiration portal offering classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats, a virtual yoga studio and lots of love and support for people of every shape and size. Anna is a writer, teacher and lifelong champion for women’s empowerment and body acceptance. Through Curvy Yoga, she reaches people all over the world.
I love the format of your book. The way you wrote it in first person and shared your experience but also provided tools for other people to use in their practice/life that benefit them and their community. Can you share what inspired you to take this approach?
The reason I have a blend of my story and the practical is I feel like story helps make things more concrete, especially when we are talking about something like body acceptance. So often body acceptance is like, ‘love your body rah rah rah.’ Then people are like, ‘yes I want that.’ But then how you actually do it in your everyday life is left a little bit vague — or completely vague. Then people are like ‘I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t accept my body so I gave up on that.’
I relate because I felt that myself. In the book, I wanted to make it very concrete — bite size. — [I wanted to] give examples from my own life and ways people can implement it. I wanted people to come away feeling like, ‘oh there are somethings I can actually do. It’s not all about changing my mindset overnight.’ It’s a practice. That’s what I love about the intersection between yoga and body acceptance.
In the ‘challenge what you know’ chapter, you have sections named: Challenge what you know about…naming your body, food, health, self-talk, yoga, body image and body, acceptance, showing up. You hit all the points. I’m curious if one of them was more challenging for you to write about. What was the process like in writing about those topics?
That was probably my favorite chapter in the book to write. I really felt like it all flowed. Because that to me is such a key to this whole conversation about yoga for people of all shapes and sizes, for body acceptance and how they intersect. We are given so many ideas from society that are messed up and really distance us from ourselves, which is such a poison really. To be able to call these things out and say, ‘here are the messages that we are getting, here’s how these industries are being paid for us to feel these things about ourselves. Let’s take this back, that’s ours, not somebody else’s to make us pay for.’ That’s something I’m very passionate about.
When we have that information we can take that power and use that power in our lives and in our communities. That was such a big message I wanted to share in this book. We don’t work on accepting our bodies just to be like, ‘good for us, pat on the back, now we love our bodies.’ For me it’s getting back my time, my power, my energy, and my money to be able to be present in my life, in my own relationships, and for the world I want to see. It’s a lot of resources to take back.
Later on in that chapter you bring up activism and how you were an activist before you were an activist for body image. Could you define activism and how it shows up in your life?
I used to think about activism as trying to save the whole world, essentially. Like I needed to be personally involved in every single possible cause and if I wasn’t then I wasn’t doing what I needed to do in this world. Not too surprisingly, that’s not effective and I was totally burnt out.
What it means to me now is really getting clear on, ‘What am I really here to do? What is my unique message to share? How do I share it in a way that’s resonant for me and other people that doesn’t require me to get totally burnt out?’ Because when I do that I can’t share anything, it’s counter productive.
Then I think about other people, if everyone has their area that they are interested in, passionate about, and uniquely here to share — then we’re covering our bases in a lot of ways. We can help and support each other by doing individual work really well and not burning ourselves out. It’s rooting you in what’s true to you, which I think is a great place for activism to come from. When we know what’s really true in our bodies, when we’re connected to that wisdom, then we can bring that forward in our activism too.
In relation to the ‘Affirm’ chapter, I’m curious if you have an affirmation that you say or write down daily. Or if there are a few affirmations you cycle through.
The [affirmation] I come back to over and over is, ‘I am whole.’ There’s something about that one, even just saying it now I feel like it calms down something in my nervous system. It’s because for so long I did not feel that way at all. I was really disassociated from my body; I didn’t identify with it in any way, much less feel whole with it. When I start to feel disintegrated for any reason, just saying that reminds me.
I usually have a word of the year. It’s a thing where you choose a word, that’s an intention or something you want to learn more about (I did not come up with this and don’t remember who did). It serves as a touchstone. I’ve done that the past five or seven years. I’m a journaler, so I journal every night and I write my word every night. I’m not journaling about it, I just keep it on the forefront of my awareness. I always find at the end of the year this word has informed my year in so many interesting ways that are unpredictable at the beginning of the year.
How do you pick the word?
Sometimes it’s more— I sit down and think about things I want to bring into my life that feel relevant and do some work around it. The past two years, I think because I’ve done it for a while now, it just comes to me in an intuitive process. It’s sort of tapped me on the shoulder. A couple weeks ago I got my one for next year and I don’t know what I was doing – going for a walk or taking a shower [laughs].
Are you open to sharing the one you had for this past year?
For 2017, my word has been ‘sacred.’ I had this feeling the year before – well, of course, everything was so hard with the elections – I was feeling like I wanted to root myself in what was true and a sense of awe, wonder, love for the everyday things around me. Not even necessarily anything religious or overtly spiritual, but more ‘how do I find the sacred in the everyday?’ That’s how this year has been for me – showing up even more for my teaching, my relationships. It inspired this move, in a lot of ways, from Nashville to Portland.
We’d been thinking about moving here for a while and things just kind of aligned this year. It’s interesting because at the beginning of the year I felt like something was going to change. I could sort of feel it in my body, but I didn’t know what. That’s so uncomfortable to me, to be with uncertainty. In the past, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been like, ‘oh I’m uncomfortable with uncertainty, let me just do a million things or change my whole life or whatever.’ This time I was like, ‘I’m just gonna feel it and something will come along eventually and I’ll know when the time comes.’
A few of years ago, we thought about moving here and my husband wasn’t ready, which is why we didn’t. Otherwise, I would have been like ‘let’s do it!’ I know if we had moved at that time it wouldn’t have been right. This time it just felt like walking through an open door, which isn’t to say there weren’t challenges but I waited for that alignment to come and was able to sit with uncertainty, which has a lot to do with my yoga practice.
How do people in your trainings relate to the ‘Affirm’ chapter? It is such a powerful chapter.
It’s an unfolding process really through all the different layers. I think people feel ready for this one in the sense that we have built up to it. What I really try to emphasize is being with our bodies as the way they are. I love the phrase ‘body positive’ but sometimes I feel like it gives people the wrong idea that you should feel positive about your body at all times, which I think is really an impossible standard to be honest. I don’t feel positive about my body at all times, I don’t know anybody who does. I don’t really think that person exists, I mean maybe one person somewhere but it’s definitely not a regular thing. This is more about meeting yourself where you are. I think that gives people a lot of permission.
Who are five teachers you recommend the Setu community take a class from?
Thank you Anna!