Big Gal Yoga author Valerie Sagun is one of the most prominent body-acceptance yoga personalities. The San Jose, California native first began practicing yoga seven years ago for a college class before diving into her own practice. Sagun recorded her yoga journey first on Tumblr and then Instagram, where she has shared hundreds of photos flaunting her curvy body in various asanas (and awesome outfits). Her confidence and body-positive message have earned her more than 150,000 Instagram followers, and a successful GoFundMe campaign helped finance her training at 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona, where she completed a 200-hour Hatha Yoga training. She is currently on a book tour for Big Gal Yoga — released on July 25 — in which she has collected exercises, affirmations and stories to inspire yogis of all body types.
What is your favorite style of yoga?
Kundalini yoga. I love the very energetic kind of feel to the poses. They’re not your typical yoga poses — you do lots of sitting down and slow, repetitive movements, which I really enjoy.
Is body type representation for yoga improving in popular media and social media?
Definitely in popular media [like TV and magazines] they’re still shying away from showing more bigger bodies because it would shatter their world. With social, we create our own media and show ourselves being like any other natural human going about life. When you see other people with your body, you want to go out there and do it yourself.
There’s still the constant need to show more bodies practicing yoga. I get tired, but I know I need to keep showing visibility, keep posting. We need to take up space in the yoga world and be able to be shown by big media or small media, whatever we can.
Valerie’s challenge to yogis of all sizes:
Post one photo of a pose each day to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #BGYogatoEmpower
The internet can be a simultaneously welcoming and hostile environment. How do you deal with some of the negative comments?
For myself, I’ve already had the personality where I can tune out a lot of people — it’s kind of the price you have to pay if you make yourself visible. Whatever anyone else has to say I can take. For myself, I know the benefit of what I show on my profile helps so many different people, people I don’t know across the world. That’s what motivates me to ignore negativity and pray to space. I just keep in mind what I’m doing is for other people. I know my body more than anyone randomly commenting on it.
You can still be on social media and have a private profile until you’ve gotten that confidence and got your practice established and feel comfortable taking your profile off private.
The Big Gal Yoga brand is full of energy, shiny outfits and smiles. What makes yoga so fun for you?
I think learning more about your body, things you didn’t know before. I think that’s why I enjoyed it in the first place. I definitely was not flexible when I started but as I progressed I could see the differences, things I never ever thought I could do. That’s the fun of it. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic transformation where you go, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do the splits now!’ It happens slowly.
After you start practicing, you finally understand how the mental part of yoga is just as beneficial as the physical. It helps you to find a more positive headspace and be able to show yourself online, and makes you feel a lot more comfortable living in your body because you’ve come to understand it more.
I’m just putting the main roots of what yoga is in people’s minds, and having them blossom out of that. Everyone has to find their own path, what they enjoy, how it works for them. If you can’t get up off the floor, try chair yoga. If you like to go fast, do vinyasa flow. If you prefer going slower, like me, do kundalini. A lot of it is testing things out.
What is your advice to people who have had trouble finding an entry point to yoga?
Try to commit your time in small amounts. Do a 10-minute class, then a 20-minute class. Variety is the best way not to get burned out. Have realistic expectations of your time. If you can only commit 15-20 minutes, be content with that. Know you’re still getting the benefits of yoga no matter what because you’ve committed your time to coming to your mat and headspace.
Just try to go out there and do what you want to do. Want to practice yoga? Practice yoga. You’re the only person who can stop you.
This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Fall 2017 issue.