‘I didn’t think it was for curvy people like me, now I know it’s for everyone’: why yoga has room for all shapes and sizes | The last taboo

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Illustration: Andrea Forgacs/Guardian

Humera Hashmi

Before I took up yoga seriously six years ago, I thought it was something that only ultra slim, flexible people could do. I never imagined that someone like me — a fit and healthy size 12 woman with big breasts, short arms and limited flexibility — could become someone who practises yoga regularly. If you’d told me when I was a teenager that I would one day train to become a yogi (or yoga instructor) and end up teaching others, I’d never have believed you.

And yet here I am.

I’ve always been into fitness, and used to weight train regularly. Yoga for me began as something I did to complement higher intensity workouts rather than as a form of exercise in its own right. At first I felt intimidated. In class, I would often compare myself with the slim women who had dancer-like physiques and seemed to drop into complex holds with barely any effort. Weight training had made my muscles tight, and my curves made it harder to contort myself into certain poses. But I kept trying, and it did get easier.

I’ve struggled with my mental health since childhood, particularly with depression, and found yoga helped to ease the symptoms.

After the birth of my son 18 years ago, I, like many other women, started having problems with weakness in my pelvic floor. I didn’t know much about pelvic health, and found myself struggling with my bladder, particularly at night.

At the worst point, I would get up to wee as many as eight times a night, which had an impact on my sleep and led to insomnia. I then started suffering a range of side effects.

I’d always thought bladder weakness was something that happened as we age, but I was young at the time. It’s an embarrassing subject – even though it’s so common for women – and I felt a lot of shame. It was pretty miserable, and my anxiety increased.

As I started getting more into yoga, though, I noticed a real change in my body health. Eventually I decided to spend a year practising only yoga. This allowed me to really connect with the art, and I not only gained strength but improved my fitness and wellbeing in a way that high-intensity training never did. I lost weight that I hadn’t been able to shift through weight lifting, and came to realise that my body responds better to lower-impact exercise. I also noticed a real difference in my pelvic health.

Yoga teachers know better than anyone the importance of a strong pelvic floor, and will regularly tell students to engage their “root lock” or “mula bandha”. It took me ages to realise that by this they meant my pelvic floor!

Things started getting so much better for me once I began to focus on my mula bandha – helping it grow stronger. These days I only get up once or twice a night to wee – a huge improvement. I feel so much better in myself too.

It upsets me that many people still feel yoga is only for a certain type of person with a certain type of body. There’s this sutra [Indian saying] that I absolutely live by: “A pose isn’t supposed to look like anything, a pose is only perfect when you’re doing the very best you can.”

Real progress came for me when I learned to prioritise my own needs over what everyone else was doing. It’s about me and my own journey. If I can’t do a pose, I just sit back and watch – and pick up on the next move.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that yoga has changed my life. I’m calmer, I sleep better, I’m more present and find it easier to unwind. I’m a more engaged mum too now I’m sleeping better.

Whether I’m posting on Instagram or teaching, my mission is to break down barriers and let people know yoga is for everyone. Regardless of how your body looks, anyone can learn. Whether you can already do the splits or you can’t even touch your toes, there are so many benefits that come from regular practise, and I want everyone to experience them!

Many women experience light bladder weakness at some point in their lives. By exercising your pelvic floor muscles you can seriously reduce the risk of little leaks. To find out more, search “TENA My Pelvic Floor Fitness app” or visit tena.co.uk/ageless

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