Have you ever felt like yoga wasn’t for you because you didn’t fit the Instagram stereotype for a “yoga body?” My guest today, and dear friend, Bobbi-Jo Asher decided that her abundant body was not going to keep her from hitting the mat. Although it hasn’t been easy, her weight loss story and the leap of faith into yoga will inspire you to take on whatever challenges life throws your way.
In Bobbi-Jo’s previous guest post, she walked us through the physical and mental shifts that got her on the road to major weight loss. At that time, she was down 160+ pounds and was getting used to her new body, which was changing every day. She shares her journey of falling in love with yoga and how much the practice surprised her. About her first yoga class, she wrote:
I DID IT! I did almost every bit of it. There were a couple of transitions that weren’t exactly pretty and some some stretches I couldn’t hold quite as long, but I did it all in some fashion or another. I know my husband passed by the window and was even surprised that I was getting it done. Heck, I was surprised I was getting it done. IT FELT INCREDIBLE physically and emotionally. I felt accomplishment like I hadn’t known before. I was hooked and ready to do it again. I was in love with yoga.
Can you relate?!
I invited Bobbi-Jo back onto the blog post to give us an update on her yoga love story. She’s now a certified yoga teacher and opened the first studio in the small town I used to teach in. Bobbi-Jo has created a studio space and culture that’s accepting and inviting to all body shapes and sizes, which is such an incredible accomplishment in what can feel like a “cookie-cutter” industry. Put yourself in her shoes and get inspired by her story!
T: In your guest post last year, you dove into your journey into yoga and fitness. The road has not gotten any easier, although I would assume it has been more rewarding.
Let’s get started by diving into your surgery last summer. Walk us through your decision to have the bilateral brachioplasty, the process, and the struggles of healing.
B: I knew my rapid weight loss would result in an abundance of loose skin. At my heaviest, 450 pounds, I was absolutely stretched to the max. My skin was stretched so thin in some areas that it was often red, cracked, and painful to the touch; that’s what led to the cellulitis that landed me in the hospital. (Read her previous story on the road to losing 160+ lbs.)
I spent so much time in the gym and in a variety of fitness classes that the hanging loose skin on my arms had become quite annoying. Funny story, while boxing one day, the flapping skin on my right arm knocked my own glasses right off my face. That’s when I decided it was time to consult with a plastic surgeon.
Many surgeons won’t even consider you a surgical candidate until you’ve reached a certain goal weight or BMI, Fortunately, I found an amazing doctor, Dr. Josh Olson with Advanced Plastic Surgery Institute, that understood in order for me to keep going, I needed to rid myself of the burden of my “batwings.” I had lost 175 pounds, was developing nice biceps and it was clear to us both that my arms were ready for skin removal. “A brachioplasty, commonly called an arm lift, is a surgical procedure to reshape and provide improved contour to the upper arms and connecting area of chest wall.” (Wikipedia) Bilateral simply means both sides.
On August 31, 2018 I would have my first skin removal surgery. I was excited and terrified. I had never had any major sort of surgery before and really did not know what to expect. Of course, I was given all sorts of literature and aftercare instructions but, I had no idea how my body would handle recovery and the healing process. It was an in office procedure scheduled for 6am and lasted only a couple of hours. Surgery went well and I was home resting in my bed by 10am. The first few days of recovery went fairly well. I experienced some discomfort, but as long as I utilized my pain meds, I was fine for the most part. I had a little appetite, didn’t experience much nausea, and slept as much as I possibly could.
I found that the swelling was more uncomfortable than the actual incisions. I wore compression sleeves to try to keep the swelling down and would experience quite a bit of discomfort when they were removed for showering. My husband helped get them back on each and every time and for that, I am eternally grateful. He was so patient with me throughout the entire process. He had to prepare my meds, meals, and feed me since both of my arms were out of commission. Feeling helpless was hard to swallow but I was in good spirits for the most part. Until, I wasn’t.
After a week or so of being down, in bed, and out of the gym, I started to downward spiral emotionally. I didn’t expect that part. The aftercare instructions didn’t say, “By the way, you might totally tank.” I thought with all my weight loss and gym time I had “cured” my depression. It didn’t take long to figure out that I was just managing it. Without the adrenaline and endorphins that come from regular exercise, I found myself sad. I hated being out of the gym and hated feeling like that same ol’ fat girl that couldn’t move her body and be active. From there, it only got worse. The incision in my right armpit opened up and became a hard to heal hole. Fortunately, it never got infected but, it was a huge set back in my recovery.
Prepping for Teacher Training
OH…BY THE WAY, remember when I said I wanted to go to Yoga Teacher Training and become a teacher myself (previous blog post)? Yah, I was scheduled to leave for Bali six weeks post op on October 10, 2018. But now, I had a huge hole in my armpit and needed that to heal as quickly as possible.
So, I had to continue to do nothing but rest to give it the best chance to heal. Day by day, the armpit got a little bit better while my emotions were off the rails with anxiety, regret, and fear. I blamed myself for “sucking at healing”. I regretted scheduling YTT so soon after surgery though the doc and I totally thought I would be ready. I feared I had invested a lot of money in something that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish. One day, it finally clicked. I may have to lay in bed, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t practice yoga and get my head right.
MEDITATION!…and lots of it. That’s how I got through those last few weeks and I’m sure that improving my attitude and mental health helped with the overall healing process. It was not easy, but I focused all of my energy on making new tissue to heal that hole and left for Bali as scheduled.
Off to Bali
T: As I was watching you heal on Facebook, I was really praying hard you would heal in time for your next step of the journey – a trip to Bali to become a yoga teacher! You made it to Bali, but that trip did not go exactly as planned. Can you walk us through your experience?
I left for Bali still in my compression sleeves. The incision had just healed and I was terrified I would do something to open it again. I was so worried that the sweaty humidity would produce bacteria that would set it off. With the sleeves, I could insert gauze in my pits and change them regularly. (Just how everyone wants to experience Bali, right?) BUT, I was determined and wanted so badly to deepen my practice and was very ready to experience everything that is amazing about YTT. I made it through the first week without incident. It was incredible and exhausting as expected but I did it…and loved it.
A group of us went to Canggu for the weekend and enjoyed our one and a half days off. On the way there, our driver accidentally hit a speed bump going pretty fast and I bounced up and hit my head on the top of the car. It didn’t hurt at the time, we laughed about it, enjoyed the time off, and reported back to YTT as scheduled. Two days later, when I woke, I felt like my neck was broken. I had forgotten all about the bump at the time and just thought I must have slept horribly wrong. I looked forward to our morning yoga practice figuring it would help work out any kinks. Unfortunately, that was not the case and I was in tears. By noon, I was holding my head up with my hands and it felt like my head was crushing my neck; so off to the hospital we went. The doctor looked at the x-rays, assured me it wasn’t broken, gave me a lot of pain pills and muscle relaxers, and told me to see a doc as soon as I got home to the states.
Some days were better than others. The pain pills were often effective enough that I could participate on some level. BUT, much of my training I was observing from my back and taking lots of notes as I wasn’t able to practice much myself. Again, the horrible negative self talk starts to take over. “See, you fatty, what made you think you could do this?” I’m quite familiar with this evil bitch that lives in my head and decided then and there that there was no way I was going to quit. I cried to my husband on the phone at the end our day, often teared up through our many classes, but I was doing it.
Then, my pain pills ran out and I was overwhelmed with pain again. I went back to the hospital and another doctor looked at my x-rays. I could tell from the look on her face she was quite concerned. As she counted my vertebrae she said, “It’s not broken, but that IS NOT enough space.” (I would find out later after returning home that C 4-7 were compressed and C 1&2 were totally rotated.) She gave me more pills to get through and back to the shala I went.
Even though I was experiencing a lot of excruciating pain, I was so grateful for the journey. The people I met and shared training with were absolutely incredible. The instructors were supportive and could see my potential. As a result, everyone made sure that I did not quit or fail. I was not the only one going through some crazy stuff. Many in our group were dealing with injuries and personal issues that made the experience challenging. I got up, powered through teaching our entire class, and made the long journey home.
T: You seem to keep hitting bump after bump in the road. What has kept you motivated to keep going?
Bump after bump is right. I was actually scheduled to have my abdominoplasty on December 6th, but I have put that off for now. It’s a much more invasive procedure than my arms were and I’m just not ready to be “down” again. I didn’t want to come back from Bali a yoga teacher and not even be able to practice again for who knows how long.
My body has become quite comfortable at my current weight and shape. I wouldn’t call it a plateau as I’m still noticing small improvements and celebrating many non scale victories from time to time; but I would love to really get back in the groove and be in the gym as much as I was before. It turns out the bump up on the head just set off alignment issues I’ve likely always had so I’ve had to be very kind to my neck, shoulders, and recovering arms.
What keeps me motivated? The fact that I NEVER want to be 450 pounds again. I don’t want to go back to being huge and sedentary. I want to keep feeling amazing. I was just on a women’s retreat that I use to regularly attend. Before, when I was miserable, people often had to carry my baggage and supplies for me. I needed to make sure my bed was on the ground floor because stairs hurt. This year, I was able to carry bags for the women that struggled and I didn’t care where my bed was. I was able to just…BE.
This transformation has not always been easy, but it is definitely worth every struggle and setback along the way.
Yoga for Abundant Bodies
T: We have chatted a lot about how challenging it can be for someone like me, who has been petite my whole life, to really relate to my shapely students. What advice would you give other yoga teachers who are aiming for better inclusivity?
I know it’s not possible during group classes to provide one on one instruction. I would definitely be sure to regularly touch base with your shapely students and make sure they aren’t experiencing discomfort they might not want to talk about in a group setting. We often don’t like to admit we may not be able to do something because of the damage we’ve done to our bodies. Some movements don’t allow for a large belly or a big behind.
If you notice a student struggling with postures during class, maybe provide them some modifications to try when you can address them individually. In addition to having an abundant body, I also have knees that don’t appreciate the extra weight I carried for so long. I’m constantly having to modify my practice to make it effective and safe. Be honest and vulnerable with your students and let them know you want to understand how their bodies work but need them to communicate that to you.
Joining the Tribe
T: In addition to being one of our newest guest teachers on the Remote Yogi Tribe, what other projects are you working on? And how can people keep up with you online?
I’m excited to announce that I am opened Maricopa’s first ever dedicated yoga studio, called Freedom Fitness & Yoga. There are a few options for “gym yoga” here in our little city but I wanted to create something extra special for yogis to experience. I’ll have the opportunity to film classes for the Remote Yogi Tribe in my studio as well. Whenever Taryn makes it back through this way, we’ll be sure to film one for you together.
Sadly, I’ve been neglecting my blog but will make an effort to get back to sharing there more regularly. I’m active on Facebook and Instagram and am looking forward to starting a YouTube channel as well. Of course, you can always find me in the gym almost every day of the week.
T: Last question for you – You, like me, are a big fan of women’s circles and community. Why is that so important to you and what does it mean to rise up into your feminine power?
Clearly I was not honoring my body or valuing myself at all before. I felt powerless, helpless, and experienced nothing but darkness. Rising up into my own feminine power has helped to pull me out of that depressive abyss. Many of us face challenges that can leave us numb, frozen, scared, or…empty.
Sometimes, you just need to know you are not alone. Gathering in circle with women, opening up, and being vulnerable may be scary at first, but it’s completely empowering. Collective energy is so powerful; when you find your tribe, gather, harness that energy then put it to good use.
Try out the Tribe
Bobbi-Jo has now joined as one of our fabulous guest teachers on the Remote Yogi Tribe, offering a unique perspective and style to her online classes. She joined a group of yoga teachers from all over the world, all eager to teach YOU at home how to fall in love with yoga and feel the support of a community cheering you on.
We’d love to know – do you relate to Bobbi-Jo’s Story? Do you struggle with your body and traditional yoga classes? Share your experience in the comments below.
Remember, yoga is NOT designed for a single body type and it’s NOT about pulling off insane poses. It’s a personal experience and unique to your own body. Don’t ever let a teacher convince you otherwise.