It's an honor to be featured in Sivana Spirit's Yogi Spotlight:
How has yoga helped you overcome fear?
My practice helped me realize how much fear I was living in. Yoga helped me find confidence in myself. Once I started trusting myself, my life started shifting in big ways.
To say yoga changed my life is an understatement. Before yoga, I was completely out of touch with my body, mind and spirit. I was constantly in my mind, anxious and full of anxiety.
Yoga taught me tools to be able to know myself better. I’m not saying I never have indecisive moments or moments of anxiety these days, but I have learned ways to recognize it and come back into the present moment.
What are the benefits of your yoga practice?
There are many paths in yoga, we tend to be focused on asana, but there are many other ways to practice. I have personally connected with Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. I have experienced the most incredible heart opening and connection with spirit through kirtan (call and response devotional chanting). I have been inspired how to learn to play the harmonium and to lead kirtan. When I first started teaching yoga, I could hardly lead a single chant and now I have the confidence to lead kirtan! I never imagined that I would want to sing in front of other people, but here I am finding my voice and sharing my heart.
How did you find yoga?
I wanted to try yoga, but wasn't sure if I could actually “do” yoga. I had all the assumptions I think most anyone that hasn't tried yoga gad. As I walked into my first gentle yoga class, I was immediately welcomed by the teacher; she was warm and friendly and didn't make me feel like I didn't belong there. I left class thinking, “I don’t know that I got all that much out of that workout, but it was a relaxing!”
The next day my muscles told me a different story, they were actually sore! This realization peaked my interest enough to go back and try another class; I eventually tried many different classes and teachers. The first Anusara class I took was like finding home, just had my heart blown open! The philosophy of intrinsic goodness was so foreign to me, but I wanted to learn more.
In 2011, I was authorized to be an Anusara-Inspired Teacher and a RYT-500! Dreams realized! Those were the early years and since then, Anusara fell hard. I still practice and teach using the Principles of Alignment, but I have started practicing and incorporating other styles of yoga into my life. The demise of Anusara really made me stop and find my own voice in my teaching. I teach hatha yoga and meditation, I don’t want to label it anymore.
What is the greatest lesson you learned from yoga?
If we are living our yoga, we shouldn't be in judgment of each other. If you’re a teacher and a plus size yogi walks into your yoga class, be welcoming, know modifications or “options” for the poses that you are teaching, and above all, be compassionate. Don’t assume that just because I am fat that I know nothing about the practice!
The biggest lesson I have learned is: I can’t let others determine my practice or what I should or shouldn’t do. Practice, investigate, and figure out what works for you and then practice!
What are some challenges you've overcome?
Finding good plus sized yoga clothes is tough! I currently get most of my active wear from Old Navy. They have a nice selection of decent yoga clothes that fit. I recently heard of a company called Lola Getts. I haven’t ordered anything from them yet, but I’m excited to give them a try. I just wish that someone would choose to make clothes and market to us curvy yoginis! If there are any plus size designers out there looking for an ambassador, I’m your girl! There are a lot more of us curvier yoginis out there than you think and we are always looking for awesome yoga clothes!
My dream would be to own some reasonably priced organic yoga clothes that fit and come in colors other than black! I really want to rock some awesome red yoga pants!
In 2014, Gigi Yogini will celebrate 52 different audacious and courageous women to help diversify the face, body and story of yoga in media. It’s time to start showing a wider variety of yoga-loving role models to inspire more women to get on a mat and care for themselves.
Celebrating a different story every week of a courageous woman who loves yoga.
My first yoga teacher had a license plate that read “Ahimsa.” This is the story of my journey to learn the true meaning of Ahimsa and make peace with my body.
I had a less than ideal childhood: I felt unloved, unworthy, and abandoned. I became an overweight child, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I was teased and bullied because of my size and I felt completely alone and powerless.
As I got older, I tried to find ways to control my life any way that I could. My primary outlets for this became diet and exercise. I'd successfully lose weight, but then I'd gain it all back, a cycle that only contributed to my feelings of self-hate.
I had always been interested in yoga, but didn't think that I could actually do it, until a personal trainer at the gym recommended that give it a try. One day, I finally did. The teacher was kind and supportive and I felt challenged. I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn as much as possible about this practice.
Soon into my yoga journey, I realized that for the 90 minutes I was in class, I could let go of control, negative thoughts, and feelings of self-hate. As I went deeper into yoga, there was a part of me that wanted to be like the other yogis: thin and able to do poses such as upward facing bowpose and handstand. I thought if I looked a certain way and could do certain advanced asanas that I would finally be confident and happy.
I became desperate to lose weight; I just knew that everything I had ever wanted would be mine if I could just maintain a smaller body. I drastically cut my calorie intake and started spending upwards of three hours at the gym every day doing cardio and yoga.
And I saw results! I dropped over 100 pounds in less than nine months. However, I was still beating myself up, physically and mentally. My self-talk was negative, and on top of that, I was over-exercising, pushing my body beyond its limits.
And ironically, despite the increased activity level and the weight loss, I didn’t feel so much better because I weighed less; I was still in pain. Turns out there were something else going on with my body. I had developed persistent knee pain and after several weeks, it hadn’t gone away. I had a series of X-rays and an MRI, which showed I had a torn meniscus and osteoarthritis.
Arthritis at 38—that was difficult to accept!
I had to change everything; I could no longer sustain the activity level that I'd been doing.
All of these realizations led to a downward spiral back into despair. I gained a few pounds and knew I needed to do something about it, but I couldn’t exercise the way I had grown accustomed to. I felt like I had my life torn away from me, I couldn't even walk without being in pain, which meant that the aerobic exercise I had been doing was out of question. As a person who has dealt with compulsive eating, body image issues, and depression, it is a real challenge to pull out of that darkness.
I had gained 20 pounds, 20 became 40, and then 60 pounds. Soon the realization that I might not get back to where I began become a real possibility. I wanted to treat myself with love and compassion, but how could I? I was unworthy at the very level of being able to take care of myself. I had failed.
My knee injury wound up being a defining moment in my life. Isn’t it interesting how injuries become our teachers? I had to give up my strong practice in lieu of a gentle and restorative practice and had to do physical therapy. I went to a counselor and started working on my compulsive eating, self-hate, and body image issues. I began to meditate seriously and found joy in kirtan. I learned to play the harmonium and started singing.
With all of this intensive internal work, I started to shift and I started listening, I learned to connect with compassion and make peace with my body and mind. I had to find out what worked for me and I had to learn that could not let others determine what I should or shouldn’t do in my practice.
I decided that I wanted to live and not hide; I wanted to live an empowered life and not see myself as a victim. Between yoga, meditation, therapy, and, surprisingly a knee injury, I learned to make peace with my body, mind, and spirit.
To say that yoga and kirtan changed my life is an understatement. No one told me I couldn’t practice or teach yoga, and along the way I discovered the true meaning of Ahimsa.
This is an article I wrote and was published on Mind Body Green.
I want to capture yoga, and those who practice it, in all its forms. That's why I'm announcing the "I Am A Yogi" Instagram celebration.
Whether you're a CEO, serving a life sentence in prison, living with cerebral palsy, living with breast cancer, a full-figured human being, a burn victim, living with HIV, living at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, 95 years old, or are just plain human, I invite you to post a picture on Instagram — just one per person, please! — and say a little something about yourself. Use the hashtag #iamayogicelebration and tag @robertsturman any time through the end of September. You could inspire me to do a shoot with you.
Cami Cote, the model featured in the following photos, helps me kick things off by describing what drove her to do this incredible shoot with me: "I wanted to do this project to inspire people. I intended to make a powerful statement by demonstrating that even though I am a full-figured woman, I am strong and capable. I practice and teach yoga. This path isn't easy; it takes dedication, hard work and love. Yoga has changed my life in every possible way for the better."
Check out the full feature that was published on Mind Body Green
Anna Guest-Jelley from Curvy Yoga asked me to answer 7 questions about me and my yoga practice.
1. WHAT’S YOUR YOGA ORIGIN STORY?
I wanted to try yoga, but wasn’t sure if I could actually “do” yoga. I went my first gentle class and throughout the practice I was thinking, “This isn’t so hard!” The next day my muscles told me a different story.
That led me to try many different classes and teachers. The first time I went to an Anusara class I had my heart blown open! The philosophy of intrinsic goodness was so foreign to me, but I wanted to learn more. My town didn’t have a Certified Anusara teacher, so I had to find one! My teacher lives three hours away from where I live, so I had to make an effort to take my training. In 2011, I was authorized to be an Anusara-Inspired teacher! A dream realized!
2. WHAT POSE DO YOU LOVE? LOATHE?
My all time favorite is Parsvottanasana–Pyramid Pose. I love the way it stretches my entire body. It is my go to standing pose!
I really don’t like saying I loathe any pose, but the truth is, I do! Headstand would definitely fit into that category! After practicing it and after a few nasty kinks in my neck, I just said, “You know, I don’t have to do this pose!” It was liberating!
3. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH OTHER CURVY YOGIS?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that I can’t let others determine my practice or what I should or shouldn’t do. Practice, investigate, figure out what works and then practice!
4. WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CURVY ICON?
This is a tough one!
There simply are not enough curvy icons! When I did a curvy icon internet search, it pulled up women like Marilyn Monroe, Beyoncé, Sophia Loren, Kate Winslet. All of these women are beautiful, but I hardly consider any of them to be plus sized. It is unfortunate that the magazines and catalogs that are specifically geared toward the plus size population are showcasing women who are not plus sized. I know there are a few companies out there representing us, but they are few and far between!
5. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE YOGA RESOURCE?
I love Judith Hanson Lasater’s Relax and Renew. This book is really well done; it is an invaluable resource on restorative yoga, something we all need desperately.
6. WHAT QUOTE INSPIRES YOU?
It is so hard to pick one! I have to share two!
“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light.” ~Hafiz (It is on my desk; I love it!)
“Freeing the body leads inevitably to freeing the heart.” ~Gabrielle Roth (I have experienced the truth in this quote. Through my practices, I have opened my body and heart.)
7. WILD CARD:
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?There are many paths in yoga, often we focus on asana, but there are many more practices. I have personally connected with Bhakti yoga. I have experienced incredible heart opening through kirtan. I was inspired to learn to play the harmonium and to lead kirtan. When I first started, I could hardly lead a chant! I never imagined that I would want to sing in front of other people, but here I am finding my voice and sharing my heart.
Find the original post here: http://www.curvyyoga.com/curvy-seven/the-curvy-seven-with-cami-cote/
“When we become more fully aware that our success is due in large measure to the loyalty, helpfulness, and encouragement we have received from others, our desire grows to pass on similar gifts. Gratitude spurs us on to prove ourselves worthy of what others have done for us. The spirit of gratitude is a powerful energizer.” — Wilferd A. Peterson
In October I was in Coeur d'Alene and was talking to Karen my teacher about becoming Anusara-Inspired™ she recommended that she observe a class when I was back in town in November! That gave me four weeks to prepare, in addition to working a full time job, teaching 2 yoga classes a week, harmonium/kirtan lessons, and obligations to my husband, home, and family. I went through times of nervousness to being OK with the process, my mantra became, "what do I have to lose?" It all culminated to 11.12.11 the day of my observed class, I was so happy to have my Garden Street family there in loving support of my dream!
There are so many people that I want to thank for being there for me. Here is the beginning of the list:
Karen Sprute-FrancovichAlesha McCulleyAmy StoutAnissa Duwaik
Julie Rae O'Connor
From Karen Sprute-Francovich of Garden Street School of Anusara Yoga:
CAMI COTE - who is one of the most generous, intelligent and authentically friendly women I know, is now......drum roll.......an Anusara-Inspired™ Teacher! She worked hard to hone her skills, refine her teaching, deepen her practice......Missoula, Montana is oh-so-lucky.
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Cami Cote' is a yogini who lives in Missoula, Montana. She is married to Neal, the biggest support in her life. Willow and Jasper their two dogs are a part of their family!