Yoga People: Anna Guest-Jelley, Founder of Curvy Yoga

Q & A With Yoga's Most Interesting People

Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga
Anna Guest-Jelley. Photo by Vivienne McMaster

What were you doing before founding Curvy Yoga?
I used to say I had a circuitous career path, but now I see that’s not uncommon. We all have stories of seemingly random shifts or changes that brought us to where we are, and my story is just like that. I graduated college intending to become an English professor, so I headed off to graduate school and taught English for the next four years. I became disillusioned with the research side of that work, though, because I was more interested in social activism than literary criticism, so I left.

I then got a degree in nonprofit management, and began working at a domestic violence center, followed by a university women’s center. What all of these things have in common is a focus on writing and teaching, both of which deeply inform my work now with Curvy Yoga. 

Did it take some time before you could “quit your day job”?
Absolutely! When I became a yoga teacher and started teaching, I had no intention whatsoever of doing it full time. I always thought it would just be something I did on the side for fun. I really just wanted to share information about yoga for people of all shapes and sizes with folks who wanted it. But over time, I realized how many more people were interested than I’d thought, my teaching grew, and I started considering doing it full time. So then I made a plan to move my work from full- to part-time, then from part-time to being self-employed. That transition took about a year and a half (which was actually quicker than I’d planned due to some unexpected changes).


What’s your yoga background?
I started practicing yoga in the late 90s because I had chronic migraines, and I’d heard yoga could help with pain relief. I’d never had a form of movement I’d enjoyed before, and I didn’t expect yoga to be any different. But it was! I loved it from the very first practice, and it has been part of my life ever since.

I’ve practiced a number of different styles over the years but always come back to my first love, Hatha.

Did you have a teacher or an experience that encouraged you to start Curvy Yoga?
I practiced yoga for almost ten years before deciding to become a teacher. For most of that time, I was waiting to lose weight to feel like I really “got” it. About eight years in, I began to pursue body acceptance due to a lifetime of disordered eating and chronic dieting. As I worked that process, I had a lightbulb moment about my yoga practice: I realized that maybe, just maybe, the “problem” was never my body, but just that my teachers hadn’t been trained to work with bodies like mine. Fortunately, the latter turned out to be true, and that inspired me to start Curvy Yoga to share with others that they, too, can absolutely practice yoga with whatever body they have today.

In an ideal world where people of all sizes are welcomed and comfortable in every yoga class, would you still see a place for classes for bigger bodied people?
I would, yes!

Just like I would continue to see classes for seniors, pregnant people, trauma survivors, etc. People have always come together in solidarity in any number of settings and situations, even when they are welcome elsewhere, for the support that environment can offer. That’s what I see as the purpose of classes like Curvy Yoga: to create an intentional space, not an exclusionary space or the only place bigger bodied people can practice. I do love that in that ideal world, though, folks could easily pick and choose what works best for them at any given moment. To me, that’s what it’s all about -- sometimes that might look like a specialized class, other times not, other times still some combination.

Do you prefer to practice at home or in a group class? Why?
For me, it really depends on what I need, as they both serve me well in different circumstances. When I’m craving quiet or don’t have time to make it to a class, my home practice is so nurturing. I love that it is always there for me and I can do it anywhere I am, even on the road. But the support of a group class is also very fulfilling during those times when I want to be part of the energy of a class, or to have someone else take the lead. 

Have you seen progress around body acceptance in the yoga community in the past few years?
Yes, and it is so very exciting! When I started Curvy Yoga in 2009, there was very little public conversation about yoga as a tool for body acceptance, or yoga for people with bigger bodies. Now, thanks to individuals in their communities, online conversation, and organizations like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, that conversation is happening actively in many places. It’s a beautiful thing! 

Rapid Fire Round!

When did you know you were hooked on yoga?
When I realized I was counting down until my college roommate left our dorm room so I could roll my mat out in the tiny space between our beds and pop in a yoga tape.

Favorite and/or least favorite pose and why.
They both change somewhat, depending on what’s going on for me. But my fairly unchanging favorite is Supta Baddha Konasana, or Reclined Bound Angle, because I just find it so rejuvenating. And my never changing least favorite is Halasana, or Plow, because death-by-boob-smush.

What other kinds of exercise do you do?
Swimming laps and walking outside are my other loves. I only did exercise as a form of punishment, to make myself lose weight, for most of my life, so I never enjoyed it. But over time, I reframed exercise as movement, and focused on what brings me joy. I never thought I liked walking because I only ever did it on the treadmill. But outside in park, the woods or by water? I could do it for hours! And I never thought I’d want to get in my bathing suit on a regular basis and swim, but now I’m much more comfortable in my body and it doesn’t bother me. I just hop right in! 

Give us your elevator pitch describing Curvy Yoga.
Curvy Yoga is body affirming yoga for people of all shapes and sizes.

What’s your motto?
Right now, my motto is: Simple Life. To me, this means focusing on the simple pleasures and presence that are so available through every day when I just take the time to be there for them and notice.

What are you reading?
I’m always reading several books at once! Right now that includes: Love May Fail by Matthew Quick, Awakening Somatic Intelligence by Risa Kaparo, Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier by Terry Laughlin and Buddha’s Daughters by Andrea Miller.

What do you feel passionate about?
I’ve been an advocate for women’s rights for as long as I can remember, or since my dad discouraged me from becoming a member of NOW (the National Organization for Women) when I was a teenager.  

What’s in your smoothie?
My current fave is spinach, banana, and peanut butter.

What’s your (real or imagined) karaoke jam?
Oh goodness, this is so far into imagination I can’t even think of an example! Definitely something in a mid-register that I could sing with friends. Probably something from the 90s.

What’s your dream travel destination (carbon footprint no object)?
I can’t wait to see the Grand Canyon!

What’s your spirit animal and why?
Crows are my spirit animal. I see them constantly! I always know to look for a deeper message in whatever is happening in my life when I notice them a lot.

What color is your yoga mat?
Which one? Ha! I currently have purple, light blue. and coral.

Crunchy or smooth?

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to __________.
Trader Joe’s sea salt caramels. Listening to 90s hip hop on repeat. Binge watching TV shows with my husband.

Ask yourself one question.
What do you most need in this moment? (This is my favorite question that I ask myself multiple times per day!) 

Now answer it.
A nap. :) 

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