Yoga culture: let’s go there. Sure, yoga is a phenomenal way to get back in touch with your body or cultivate self love that lasts. Rolling out your mat, whether at home or in your favorite studio, can be like a homecoming. Emphasis on can.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over a decade, and in the last couple of years , I’ve watched it morph from a perceivably hippie-dippie ritual to a full-blown pop culture trend. And let me be clear – that is not an inherently bad thing. Yoga for all, I say! The more yogi-minded folks in this world, the better.
However. Just like with other fitness classes and healthy food catchphrases, yoga has become a form of social clout, a way to prove a point or achieve Insta-star status. No truly honest conversation about yoga is complete without addressing the elephant in the room – the plethora of picture-perfect poses on social media and “power”-driven classes that can do more to intimidate than inspire. I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I’ll write about it again: if an “advanced practice” is all about the external display, it not only diminishes the real power of yoga – the internal work – but it can activate those negative voices in your head that say things like “You can’t do that class. You’re not strong enough. Fit enough. You don’t have a yoga body.”
Brigitte Kouba, better known as Gigi Yogini, is working to change all that.
As one of yoga’s biggest body image advocates and body-positive pioneers, Gigi inspires people (especially women!) of every age, shape, size, and look to love their bodies exactly as they are.
Gigi is the woman behind YOGAudacious, a blog that diversifies the faces of yoga and shows what courage looks like from the inside out, as well as a co-founder the Yoga Body Image Coalition, an action-oriented community advocating the Body Positive cause. No body shaming or stereotype-filling allowed: she’s determined to create safe spaces for all body types and backgrounds to be their most courageous selves. Just try this video on for size:
All that bod-pos talk isn’t just lip service, either – she practices what she preaches, and infuses everything she does (from producing the video above to her writing on sites like MindBodyGreen and Elephant Journal) with a little more compassion and encouragement than it would normally have. Thankfully for us, Gigi’s in the process of building out her Secret Studio in Los Angeles, a safe haven she’s kept hush-hush for over three years (ps. it’s not so secret anymore). She’s now bringing other all-inclusive teachers and workshop leaders into the mix and keeping it by women, for women. You read that right: finally, a yoga studio that feeds our hunger for supportive, powerful female connection.
Gigi is a breath of fresh ocean air in the midst of mixed messages telling us what a “yoga body” should look like. She is badass. She is a force. She is making the yoga world a kinder place – and is the epitome of a WANT Woman, on and off the mat.
Name: Brigitte Kouba
How you’d know me (occupation or role): I’m a yoga teacher, better known as Gigi Yogini, who shares lots of posts, articles and videos about body positivity.
What I love about myself (and why): I love the fact that my imagination is wild and I have the audacity to chase my dreams…no matter how crazy they may seem.
What is your definition of “positivity?” Finding a way to weave gratitude into everything.
When did you start to love yourself – did you have a self-love “turning point?” I’ve had reoccurring awakenings all the time. Sometimes I get into a rut and then do something good for myself (like yoga, dance or take a bubble bath) and think to myself, “Oh yeah. This is what it feels like to love myself.”
How/where negative talk shows up in my life: Negative talk creeps into my life on the shoulders of regret and the underbelly of expectations.
When I talk negatively about myself, it’s usually…a result of following fear down a rabbit hole.
When others talk negatively about themselves…I realize how natural it is for all of us to speak unkindly about ourselves.
It baffles me that women still…try to fit into a narrow stereotype of beauty. I’ve found that self-respect and confidence are by far the most attractive qualities a woman can posses, regardless of dress size.
I wish that more women…could embrace what makes them unique and support each other rather than compete.
The coolest thing about women is…our ability to manifest the miracle of life within our bodies. Even if women never have a child, they still have a magical power to manifest miracles in life.
My favorite way to shift a negative into a positive: is to stop, breathe deeply and repeat an affirmation.
My top female role models: First and foremost, my mom, Patricia Kouba, is a great role model. Also Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, Tyra Banks, Ellen Degeneres, Amy Purdy, and Kia Miller. Historically, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Lucille Ball, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Susan B. Anthony, and Mother Teresa. I’m also inspired by any woman who has given birth, survived breast cancer, gotten out of an abusive relationship or cared for an aging parent or sick child. Every woman has the potential for being a positive role model. -@gigiyogini Click To Tweet
Men can help women crush their negative talk patterns by…complimenting women on non-physical qualities like intelligence, courage, strength, compassion, etc.
Favorite negativity-busting activity: spending quality time, laughing and goofing off with loved ones.
Fave self-love ritual: bubble bath with candles.
Favorite feel-good food(s): I always feel good when I eat quinoa and veggies. I also love banana or sliced apple with almond butter. Plus I adore dark chocolate because just a little is enough.
Favorite movie(s) to watch when I’m feeling down: Comedies or uplifting documentaries.
Favorite empowering book(s):
Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Yogananda
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Cure – Dr. Timothy Brantley
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
Way of the Peaceful Warrior – Dan Millman
My feel-good playlist: includes anything that makes me want to move…because moving feels good!
Advice I would give my…
…4 year old self: play more
…14 year-old self: breathe more
…24 year old self: dream more
5 Things, personal or professional, on my bucket list:
Raise a healthy family with my soon-to-be husband, Antonio Neves.
Build a Habitat for Humanity home.
Go on a silent retreat.
Bike across New Zealand.
Quit my coffee addiction.
My best tip on self love: You deserve to be loved – and the best time to start is now.
When I truly love all of myself…I am unstoppable.
Right now, I am most excited about…marrying the love of my life this summer.
My body is: brilliant and I am so grateful for all it does.
Three words to describe me: Curious, Compassionate, Authentic
Current mantra: I am grateful for all the growth opportunities in my life. I am Divinely guided and protected. I trust all things are happening for the greatest good of all.
In the comments, tell us what part of Gigi’s words of wisdom struck a chord with you (there were a lot of good ones!). What’s one thing you can do to show yourself love today?
Photo credit: Corinna Lander
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