Seven years ago, Valerie Sagun a.k.a. ‘Big Gal Yoga’ was watching online yoga tutorials and noticed something. There were hardly any people of colour and barely any plus-size women. She decided that needed to change.
Today, she’s on a whirlwind book tour to promote her new book, Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life. She also has an instagram following of over 150,000 and has started a body-positive movement to empower others to start their own yoga practice.
It was while Sagun was at university studying art and feeling a bit unsure about the direction her life was going in, that she happened upon a yoga class.
“Yoga just kind of helped ground me and not feel like the whole world was just cracking up on me,” the 30-year-old said. “I felt I needed a break from art a little bit. I needed to clear my mind, and I feel like that’s how yoga helped me balance it out.”
Having been inspired to share her own yoga journey, in January 2013, Sagun started a Tumblr, “Big Gal Yoga”. She began posting photos of herself doing yoga against various backdrops around where she lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
“I wanted this to be a visual journey of practicing yoga and being myself, and being a big person, … and not have to feel so negative about life,” she said.
Sagun’s story began receiving positive feedback and she began posting video tutorials and challenges on an Instagram account – and the rest is history.
Her core message is ‘self love through yoga’.
Being a larger girl, Sagun found that it was easy to get into a rut of not trying new things.
“Because of fat shaming — it’s what keeps people from doing yoga and anything in their lives” she said. “It limits people’s ideas of what they can do with their bodies just because it keeps implanting the seed that you are not worthy enough to do anything.”
For Sagun, self-love is about developing a healthy relationship with yourself and your body through yoga, and proving that just because you’re bigger, doesn’t mean you can’t do yoga – or anything!
With this in mind, Sagun’s book includes routines and pose modifications which work for bodies of all shape and size. With photos of herself modelling the poses, she hopes to encourage those with ‘bigger bodies’ to start thinking about yoga as something they can try and get good at.
Sagun hopes to see more plus-size women of colour represented across the board on social media. Not just as single representations of their particular ‘niche.’ And by ‘niche’ she is also referring to her racial backgroud – Sagun is half Filipino American, half Mexican American.
“I’m the Asian plus-sized girl”, she says. “There’s one of each of us, and that’s pretty much what it is, and I want us to all have more representation,” she said. Sagun is most likely referring to Jessamyn Stanley, among others, who’s big and black, and a hugely inspirational yoga teacher in the States.
In a recent instagram post, Sagun acknowledged the pressure she felt as a single representative of many thousands of women.
“I still want to be here because I know the the power of giving representation and creating community for all of us. Just want to be honest and let people know I’m just one person still understanding my own self, while trying to maintain my practice, and pass that on. It’s always the things you tell your students, that you need to also retain yourself.”
Read more about Valerie Sagun here
If you’ve been inspired by Valerie Sagun and her fabulous message of self-love through yoga, why don’t you give yourself a bit of yogic self-love and book yourself onto one of YogaLondon’s Foundation and Teacher Training Courses – and start living your own yoga story.