AMBER KARNES is well aware that the body positivity movement has been co-opted by commercial campaigns designed to sell us soap and overpriced razors under the guise of developing self-esteem. But when she founded Body Positive Yoga in 2010, the concept was more about social justice than capitalism—“to make room and access for all bodies,” she says.
At the time, Karnes was halfway through a yearlong 200-hour teacher training, and the same issues kept cropping up in class: She and the other students were learning how to teach poses in a way that’s really only effective for one body type: thin and able. “I was always the person giving feedback, like, ‘Well, actually, my foot doesn’t step forward between my hands,’” Karnes tells me one August afternoon as we sat on a sun-kissed park bench overlooking the Inner Harbor in Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park, near her home. “It was like, Oh! We’re actually not learning how to teach to bodies like mine.”
In the decade since Karnes started documenting her yoga practice and sharing how-to videos for bodies like hers online, she’s made a name for herself as a teacher and retreat leader, working with other wellness disruptors, such as social justice activist and author Dianne Bondy (with whom she launched Yoga for All Training—a course for teachers who want to make their classes and studios more inclusive and equitable—in 2015) and Accessible Yoga founder and director Jivana Heyman. Karnes and Heyman started the Accessible Yoga Training School in June 2020 and launched a podcast in July. “I just was not really prepared for how meaningful it would be to so many people to see somebody in a body like theirs in a wellness or fitness context practicing yoga,” Karnes says.
Karnes has always enjoyed sharing hacks for ways she’s figured out how to modify her practice. People often think their own bodies preclude them from participating in certain poses, she says, when the reality is that any posture, when adapted the right way, can work for anyone. For example, tightening a strap around your chest to keep your flesh away from your throat in inversions allows for more spaciousness and fuller breath. This small revelation can be life-changing for students, Karnes says.
I just was not really prepared for how meaningful it would be to so many people to see somebody in a body like theirs in a wellness or fitness context practicing yoga.”
“Usually if someone has a large chest and that’s been troublesome to them in their practice, there’s this aha exclamation moment that totally changes the way they see themselves and their practice.”
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