Curves Ahead! An Interview with Anna Guest-Jelley, Founder of Curvy Yoga

Teachers.

Don’t you just love them?

I know I do.

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my new series of interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!

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Have you met Anna?

Anna Guest-Jelley is March’s TGBTS Featured Teacher. She is the Founder of Curvy Yoga, a yoga teacher in Nashville and all around inspiration for us yogis with curves.

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When did you start practicing yoga?

I first started practicing in 1999.

Why did you start?

I found yoga by ways of learning about biofeedback for migraines.  I’d had chronic migraines for a couple years by then, and medication wasn’t doing the trick, so I was looking for other options when I stumbled onto yoga.  For my migraines and at least a thousand other things, I’m so glad I did!

Where did you practice?

I started practicing in my college dorm room.  My room was galley-style with a dresser, closet, bed and desk down the left and right sides of the room for myself and my roommate.  We had a narrow patch of carpet in between with just enough space for a mat and a little extra room on either side for moving around.  It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but I’m grateful that my practice started as a home practice.  It gave me time to get comfortable with the poses, terminology and, more importantly, moving my body and being with myself.

How has your practice evolved over time?

Over the past twelve years, my practice has really been all over the map.  I’ve practiced a variety of different styles, I’ve had times where I went to classes five times/week, and I’ve had months pass where I didn’t practice at all.  So while I definitely don’t have a linear trajectory, I’d say the overarching growth I see in my practice is more and more reliance on and trust in myself.

By that I mean that for so long I looked to teachers, whether on DVDs (or VHS!) or in real life, to give me feedback.  If they didn’t, I assumed my practice was going along swimmingly.  As the years pass, though, I see how much I’ve cultivated a body knowledge about my practice–what’s working for me on any given day and what isn’t.  Of course, working with skilled teachers is still very important to me, but I don’t give my practice over to them; that feels like an important distinction to me.

I’ve also nurtured an ability to approach asana with kindness.  I rarely force myself to do certain poses anymore, which is a considerable change from the beginning of my practice.  This isn’t to say I don’t invite challenge into my practice, because that’s not true; it’s more like I just try to ask myself why I’m trying to muscle into a pose, if I am, and then decide whether or not I want to back off.  This is something that has translated into the rest of my life, too, since I’m a recovering perfectionist.

How long have you been a teacher?

I’ve been teaching yoga for two years.  I’ve been a teacher of non-yoga subjects for eight years.  I taught English for several years at the high school and college level.  I also taught about healthy relationships and dating violence for several years at the middle school, high school and college levels.

Why did you start Curvy Yoga?

Curvy Yoga started as a bit of an experiment for my own practice and teaching.  I wanted to think more intentionally about, not only what modifications work for curvy bodies, but how to create a welcoming environment for curvy folks who have never considered yoga.

Since then it’s really grown into something that addresses yoga on and off the mat, in the sense that it’s a space to really dig into issues of body image and knowledge; self-acceptance and body positivity.  I find it fascinating how rarely we discuss, or even just create space for on the mat, all the baggage many of us have about our bodies.  This is what I’m really interested in exploring and growing.

In my own experience, I used to use yoga to check out.  I would just get on the mat and zone.  And when I left class, I usually felt like I’d gotten a good “work-out” (whatever that means), but I rarely felt any differently about my body.  It was only later, not only as my practice grew but also as I started addressing my body issues off the mat (via journaling and therapy, primarily) that I began thinking about how this could be different.  Yoga could be a place to learn more about my body, and not just about anatomy or what poses I could do, but also about my sense of self and what it feels like to live in and appreciate this body that I have today.

What are your classes like?

I like to describe my classes as a choose-your-own-adventure book.  Remember those? I give lots of different options during class.  I always talk with my students before class to check in and see what’s going on with them so I have an idea of what modifications to offer.  The classes themselves are usually quiet with some bursts of laughter.

I try my best to cultivate a safe space where people can tune into their bodies but also feel comfortable asking questions.  One thing that some people find unusual is that I encourage my students to ask me questions during class.  So sometimes you’ll find people raising their hands or tossing out questions.  I guess the impetus for this probably comes from my other teaching background, but accessibility is very important to me, and I think access to information is part of that.  It’s not rowdy, and I do encourage my students to rely on the information they’re getting from their bodies, but I also want them to know that we’re not in a library; it’s okay for them to ask questions when needed.  I rarely use music in my classes so that everyone can hear better and so we all have the opportunity to tune in a little more.

I’ve been teaching some free classes at a local community center recently, and I’ve been delighted at the positive feedback and turnout; I’ve had up to 45 students in a class.  When I see all these lovely people practicing yoga together, many for the first time, it’s really overwhelming.  It’s just so wonderful!

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If you’d like to learn more about Anna check out her website and be sure to stick around for part 2 – coming soon!

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Please leave any questions or comment love below – we’d love to hear from you.

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Don’t forget! Today is the last day to enter your photo for Yoga Journal’s Talent Search {and be sure to send your curvy yoga photos to anna@curvyyoga dot com to be featured in the Gallery}

INTERVIEW ARCHIVES:

February 2011 Jed Brewer Teacher/Musician/Music Executive/Yogi

December 2010: Madeleine Lohman, Yoga Teacher/Massage Therapist

November 2010: Alicia Herrera – 4th grade teacher/Textile Artist – Spirit House Designs.

October 2010: Ryan Fong – Teaching Assistant/PhD Candidate in English at UC Davis.

September 2010: Michelle Marlahan– Proprietress/Fairy Queen of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento, California.

10 thoughts on “Curves Ahead! An Interview with Anna Guest-Jelley, Founder of Curvy Yoga

  1. Pingback: Blogs I Love: Curvy Yoga « Teacher Goes Back to School

  2. This may be the best blog entry ever. It’s full of rainbow unicorn sparkle win.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you… and I can’t wait to read part two.

    • And I think this may be the best comment ever! “Rainbow unicorn sparkle win?” LOVE!

      I just read your interview here on TGBTS, which I also loved. “Angry baby?” So with you on that one! We need to dish all things Composition, WGS and yoga some day!

  3. Love love love this interview.

    I appreciate your making the point that being kind to oneself doesn’t mean you aren’t offering yourself challenges, you’re just checking in with why.

    When when when are we going to have an It’s All Yoga field trip to take this woman’s class?

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