Fitness Magazine

Yoga for Every Body: An Interview with Janet Wieneke (Rerun)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Yoga for Every Body: An Interview with Janet Wieneke (Rerun)

September Photo from 
the Yoga for the Larger Woman Calendar

“Around the same time, the thought hit me that I had been dragging this body around for all these past 50 years instead of really living in it. It came to me that I had not claimed this body, not moved into this body. I was renting it, but I didn’t live there. I didn’t want to live there—in the “undesirable” section of town.

“That began to change though when I realized no amount of wishing, bargaining or promising will change the fact that this is my body and that it benefits me greatly to “step up” and partner with my abilities, instead of wishing that things were different.” — Janet W

I was so moved by this quote from Janet Wieneke from the Yoga for the Larger Woman Calendar that Baxter mentioned in his post Healthy Eating and the Digestive System that I decided I just had to interview her. For I believe it’s so important for everyone to understand that anyone, of any age or body type—small or large, flexible or stiff, strong or weak—can not only do yoga, but will all benefit tremendously from it. Now, let's hear what Janet has to say!

Nina: What was your life like—and your relationship with your body—before you started doing yoga?

Janet: For the first 40 years or so of my life I didn’t think too much about my body. In fact I made an effort to avoid seeing or connecting with it. I had a lot of aches and pains but figured it was my own fault for being so fat for so long. I did get some exercise—I did Volkswalks for a while, did jazzercise for a few years, swam laps at the local pool and even joined a gym a few times. None of it was something I was really enthused about but did it because I knew I needed to keep moving.

My diet then was probably better than people would assume. I usually tried to “shop around the edges” at the supermarket and visit farmers’ markets and avoid heavily processed foods. I had a few food sensitivities at that time (citrus primarily, whole wheat) but nothing to difficult to deal with.

Then, in my early 40’s I started having more GI problems. I tried all sorts of OTC drugs to deal with the pain/gas and nausea but nothing really made it better. I had my gall bladder removed as that was assumed to be the problem. After that things got worse and my diet options narrowed considerably. I spent a couple of years trying to force my body to accept and process what I wanted to eat. My body fought back by upping the intensity and frequency of the gut “attacks.” It was a continual battle. It got to the point that I realized if this was going to be the rest of my life, it didn’t want it.

Nina: How did you get started with yoga, and how did it change you?

Janet: I got started in yoga when I realized I really didn’t have an exercise plan that I wanted to do. There were lots of things I could or should do, and I did, on occasion. I enjoyed taking the occasional class through our local community college, and one day when I was leafing through the booklet I saw “Yoga for the Larger Woman” advertised. I thought, “Wow, I’d have half a chance!” I was in a book group that met at the same time though, so I just shelved the idea away. The next term I looked again to see if perhaps they had changed the time. They hadn’t. I decided to back out of the book group and give yoga a try. I really didn’t think I’d like it that much as I’ve never been very flexible.

The first few times were a struggle. I was so ashamed of bending over in front of others, exposing my extra-large ass to the masses. I cringed inwardly anytime it was suggested.  Then Vilma started doing the “Sellwood salute,” which is basically Downward Dog at the bar, where we would envision “beauuutiful tail feathers” that we would proudly display in a waving motion. It cracked me up every time. Gradually as I quit forming opinions of myself that I could fob off onto other people, I looked around and noticed I didn’t stand out so much in class. Sure most of the women were smaller than me but a few were larger, and—big picture—it really didn’t matter. Within a few months I noticed I was having far less back pain and even my gut “attacks” were less frequent.  I started to really pay attention and noticed other things, like how great a stretch felt from the inside out or which muscles activated when I raised my leg. I started to consider my body and excess flesh with more awareness and less judgment. During this time I was also doing some counseling and the two modalities together brought to light how I was “caring” for myself, and I began to question if what I was doing was actually working for me or if I was just existing on habitual thoughts and habits.

Eventually I realized the more time I spent on my matt, the more attached I felt to this body, in a positive way. I started to care about what I was eating and was more willing to accept the responsibility of my actions. This last year I began seeing a naturopath who put me on a regime of nutritional supplements and I continue to feel better. Today I still struggle with eating what my body needs/tolerates over what I want to eat, but I feel my yoga practice gives me support in making better choices.

Nina: A couple of our readers wanted me to ask if you’d seen any improvements in your balance and flexibility.

Janet: I have noticed a slight improvement in flexibility, nothing dramatic—my nose will never meet my knee cap. But after the first year of yoga though I headed out to do a good spring clean up in the yard and reached down for something and literally smashed my fingers on the ground. I remember how surprised I was as the year before that never would have happened! My balance may be slightly better as well. I’m certainly more confident on my feet but whether that is a balance thing or just general alignment I can’t say for certain.

Nina: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

Janet: I’ve always been more of a thinking person than a feeling person. Now after having a fairly regular practice for a few years, it’s almost as if a third way of being has come into play. It is more of an intuitive way of being. It’s something I cannot fully explain with words or isolate within my body. It’s almost a middle ground—a balance? When I can operate from this level, my stress level decreases, I make better choices from everything between what I eat to how I show up for others and it is far easier to live in this body. I wish I had “discovered” yoga long ago.

The years I’ve spent wishing I looked different, acted different, was different—all a waste of time but apparently held the lesson/s I needed to learn. I never felt that yoga was available to me, a fat person. Yoga was the domain of the lithe and “enlightened.” While I think that is still the predominant thought, I KNOW yoga is available to anyone willing to let go of their “cerebral” inner voice and listen to the wisdom of their own body. It’s a tough sell, especially if you’re fat, but it is so worth the effort.

Yoga for Every Body: An Interview with Janet Wieneke (Rerun)
Janet Wieneke is a native Portlander, works in health care as a dosimetrist, and is the personal servant to two animals (one cat and one dog). Her favorite pastimes are fused glass, yoga, photography and being out in nature. She studies yoga with Vilma Zaleskaite at The Yoga Project in Portland, Oregon,  and she is “Miss September” in the Yoga for the Woman Calendar, which you can purchase here. 

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