Amber Karnes is the founder of Body Positive Yoga and creator of the Body Positive Clubhouse. This online community utilizes yoga to aid members in building unshakeable confidence and living life loudly. Amber is determined to spread the message of inclusion and consent to be a body sovereign and accessible for all (on as well off of the mat). She began teaching yoga in 2010 and is the Yoga International featured teacher.
Your first yoga experience in the beginning
I can remember my first experience when I entered a yoga class. I drove around on my bike until time-stuck for the course. It was a race through my body as I removed a mat from the back during the lesson. I didn’t know a single aspect of yoga. However, I was sure I didn’t belong in a yoga class.
As you can see, I’m more significant than average. Someone with a more extensive body. A fat woman (you can choose the one you like, and I prefer “fat”). The big, muscular figure has always been my “yoga body.” Yoga marketing and the pages of magazines convinced me that just slim wealthy, hyperflexible white women could practice yoga. So there I was, with my awkward, fat tattooed body and unfashionable workout clothes in a state of anxiety, waiting to start my yoga class.
I struggled with the initial class but realized an immense benefit from the tools for internal regulation that yoga gave me, that I would return to the class. After every class, my mind became calmer; I felt less self-conscious and more secure in my body. However, that doesn’t mean physical yoga was easy for me.
When I started practicing yoga, the teachers didn’t know what they should do with me. Although my body didn’t make some of the forms they demanded of it, I was not given a chance to speak up in most of the yoga classes I attended. Teachers did not provide me with modifications, variations of poses, or methods to customize my exercises. Sometimes, teachers would advise me to “use a prop if I needed one,” however, I wasn’t sure what was appropriate with the props.
In retrospect, being neglected for a couple of years in my practice was an opportunity as it meant I was required to be creative and independent in my practice. In the past, no online videos taught you how to modify your poses. No yoga teachers looked similar to me and had millions of fans on Instagram. In class, nobody could explain why I couldn’t move my foot between my hands to go from a downward dog to an upright lunge or how to achieve it differently so that I could discover the answer by myself.
What made you choose to be a yoga instructor
After a few years of practice, I decided to pursue teacher training. I had no idea that I’d be a teacher. However, I did want to further develop my practice and understand “the rest of the yoga.” About halfway through my teacher training and experiencing this learning in a larger body, I experienced an A-ha moment. I realized that the majority of students who attend classes aren’t in the predominant body image for yoga (folks with larger bodies, seniors or people with disabilities, and the list goes on.) and will probably attend classes with an instructor who wasn’t aware of how to interact with them. Then, they leave the class believing that their body is unfit for yoga or that the yoga studios aren’t suited to people like them. In reality, the majority of instructors aren’t able to deal with people who have bodies similar to my own (or similar to the other people I’m talking about).
Contrary to what popular media images will have us think, yoga isn’t exclusively for wealthy, thin, and flexible white women. Wellness is for everyone. It is a right we all have. In all the years I’d been doing yoga, I wanted to walk into a yoga studio and meet someone like me at the top of their class. I decided to become the teacher of another.
What are the practices that will help you shine in the world? What is your biggest challenge to revealing your radiant light
Although I am a fan of yoga due to how it affects my body and feel, the internal tools of regulation I discovered with yoga pranayama meditation and mindfulness practices are most effective for me. The practice of asana helped me connect with my body and learn to be aware of my body. But the more subtle practices of yoga helped me connect with my mind.
I’ve battled depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, and yoga was among the first tools I discovered that helped me feel more at ease within my body, as well as calm, less stressed, and less stressed in my head. This has been an enormous blessing.
I’m sure that many people are prone to self-doubt. If I feel scared or less than depressed or insecure, Yoga practice can help me reconnect with my true self. If I’m feeling like this, I can take a moment to relax, reconnect to my breath, observe what’s going on in my mind, and feel the feelings within my body. I can return to my center and recall my identity, the reason I’m doing this, and pay attention to the thoughts that make me feel stuck. I can then decide whether they’re helpful or destructive and what I’d like to change my thoughts about them.