Having known Dianne Bondy for three years online, London-based yoga teacher Donna Noble finally had the privilege of meeting her in person and interviewing her during her recent visit to London. Dianne Bondy was visiting the UK to deliver body positive workshops at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, London. Donna was able to ask Dianne questions about her personal yoga journey, self-acceptance and diversity and she shares Dianne’s responses with us here.
Let’s start right back at the beginning.
Dianne Bondy’s Personal Yoga Journey
How did your yoga journey start?
I started with my mom who introduced me to yoga when I was 3. She was at home with 3 small kids. So we started to practice together using a book called “Stay Young with Yoga”. We used to pick poses from the book and do funny poses. The pose that I thought was hilarious was plough pose, my mother doing plough with her feet all the way over her head to Halasana with her feet on the floor. I thought it was an amazing feat for my mother being so acrobatic.
I have practiced on and off for the past 45 years.
Has that yoga practice always stayed with you?
It has always stayed with me because it’s something I can do by myself. I don’t need permission to do it or feel obligated.
The principle that stayed with me was coming back to my breath and remembering to be kind and tell the truth…remembering all those type of things. The asana come and go, but those teachable moments stay, especially the one about Ahimsa. I can apply in so many ways how I would like to treat others, the ways in which I treat myself is the main reason it stuck with me. The Asana drift in and out, but I’ve been pretty steady with my asana practice now for the past 5 years.
What does yoga mean for you?
Yoga means a connection to my body and my soul and a connection to other souls.
I had opportunity to teach at Indaba today, and it was about how to build community, and how we have to let go of our strident dogmatic principles around yoga, so people can feel like they belong and feel they can connect with others, and maybe have a little fun with it.
What has yoga taught you about yourself?
That I am exactly okay how I am.
I’m not too loud, not too opinionated. I’m just me. I’m allowed to be those things.
Yoga helps us dig deep and figure out who we are so we can be of to service to ourselves and to others. My yoga has taught me it is okay to be in service to others.
How has yoga changed since you started out?
When I started, it was just a couple of interesting poses in a book that my mom and I were trying to figure out and then when I got older, I decided to check out yoga studios. There were no studios where I lived, so I used to go to the Community Centre where was a couple who had studied yoga and been to India, and they had a really sweet class.
So we brought a pillow and blankets…and we do two or three poses…then we have a nap and we get back up again do two or three more and then have a nap. At the end, we bring out like a space heater and then have a nap. I thought that this was the best thing because what was missing in my practice with my mom was we did not do Savasana. We used to be either sitting in meditation or just be finished. So this was just a whole new perspective on that.
Then I decided I wanted to try a yoga studio. That’s where I got introduced to mainstream yoga. I think I was kind of on the fringe of yoga culture. This is where I got introduced to this body beautiful extension of the fitness industry. The type of yoga where before we were just doing it out of service for ourselves and service to each other and devotion to source…yoga somehow turned into who had the best outfit, who could the slimmest, who could be the most flexible and do the most audacious poses. Which pants makes my ass look good, that kind of thing. I decided I needed to have my own space again.
Developing Body Positivity
When did the yoga become about self-love and self-acceptance?
I wrote an article in 2012 called Yoga: Not just for Young, Skinny, White Girls, as I was feeling like there was nobody like me in class and I was getting a lot of pushback from yoga teachers that fat people could be yogis or not practice yoga.
I wanted to tell the world that you can’t judge people based on their bodies, that you could not judge my abilities based on what I looked like and that fat bodies were good bodies. That was the turning point for me, the last time I went into a yoga studio and got some judgement on my body.
I personally think we can’t really be practicing yoga if a yoga teacher judges another person’s ability or body. This goes against ahimsa.
So that made me pause and start to think where in this practice we are continuing to create harm. It’s this idealized yoga body. Sometimes I call it “Yoga Barbie”. It makes it impossible for people. ‘I am never going to look like that.’ ‘I’m never going to be able to perform those things.’
So it really made me think…Okay. We have to really open up this practice and move the perception of this practice away from what the beauty industry or capitalism has made it about. So that’s when body positivity really spoke to me. After I wrote that article, Annie Guest Jelly who is the grand Dame of the curvy yoga movement, asked me if I would do a blog for her called the Curvy Seven.
I continue to write blogs about body positivity, about acceptance, about who gets to the define yoga critiquing modern day yoga culture, the capitalist culture of yoga. Everybody has to have $100 pants. I really wanted to critique that, so I continue to write about it. And that’s how I met Melanie Klein because she started retweeting and reaching out to me and from there, I was invited to help create the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. That is how it all kind of snowballed.
We announced a coming together in July 2014 when we were invited to the Yoga Journal Conference to talk about the Body Image Coalition. At that time, Yoga Journal was creating a magazine called the Body Issues (which was terribly executed, to say the least, as they didn’t actually have a plus size person on the cover and not that I think they ever will. They just took bad pictures of famous yoga celebrities and called it bad body image. So it was just done as an appeasement to the culture or to people calling them out, because they’ve made no real significant changes in the 4 years since.)
So we decided that we would just create our own forward facing images and continue to put those images out there in the yoga culture for people to see that bodies come in all shapes, sizes and abilities.
It doesn’t matter what your body looks like. It is still a good body and to be appreciated for what it can do and not to be hated for what it can’t do.
What was the reaction?
It was huge! We really made a great impact. We started a great conversation. I like to think that we were at the forefront of this whole issue, bringing it into everybody’s awareness. It was work the coalition had already been doing for years, but it really started to take root in 2015. Runners Magazine put Merina Varlerio on the cover of Runners Magazine. Then I was like ‘This is it! People are paying attention!’
And then I noticed the rise of Ros the Diva. She does Pole Dancing and Pole Fitness. And I just thought that she’s got this f*** you attitude when it comes to this. And I really appreciated it and she’s always like, “you can’t judge me based on my body. Yes. I get to be an athlete”. But she’s a got a lot of criticism that she can’t be a plus sized fitness professional. Have you seen her on that pole? That’s a fitness expert. That a fit body. But it may not look like a conventional fit body. But a lot of those times, pictures of conventional bodies aren’t doing healthy types of activities to look that way.
I remember when I was in college, and a roommate who was doing those fitness competitions and she would just be doing egg whites and broccoli and chicken all week. And then she’d have a cheat day and eat McDonald’s and pizza and ice cream. There would be purging and bingeing cycles that would go on to look a certain way for a fitness competition. I just kept thinking to myself, ‘How is this healthy again?’ It just seemed like extreme working out, extreme dieting.
Have you seen the recent Cosmopolitan Magazine Cover with Tess Holliday?
I say good for her. Everyone gets to be a Cosmo Girl, right! I never thought I would see the day that a magazine like Cosmo or Vogue would put a true plus size person on the cover. I think everybody can stand up for positive body image, whatever their size, and everybody can stand up for diversity within body image. It doesn’t matter if you’re really fat or not so fat or really thin or not so thin. I think everyone can be the face of this.
Some people think this is promoting obesity – what do you think?
I just think there are some really strange ideas about bullying people into being thin. But it’s never worked. How long has this been going on? You’re going to have to try something else if you want to save people’s health.
Be in the body that you’re in and live the life that you love without harassment.
Okay. Fat people can be thin and thin people can be unthin. It is crazy that people get judged on the way they look, like judging a book by its cover, making assumptions based on how people look.
So many people are quick to do that. If you look at me for the most part, I look healthy. You can’t tell but there’s something wrong with me. I have Graves’ Disease and an over active thyroid. I have all kinds of chronic illnesses but to look at me, you can’t tell that. And you could say ‘She’s healthy’ and that is not the truth. You can’t determine somebody’s health by the way they look.
Developing a yoga practice
What would you say to someone who is afraid to do yoga?
I would tell them that the first place to start is to find a teacher who is a body positive teacher who works with special populations to give you the confidence. What ends up occurring is you end up in the 5.30 class on a Wednesday evening because that’s when you get off work, and that’s what works with your schedule. It’s seems to be on Ashtanga Intermediate series, which you’re not ready for and you get left behind and you feel like this isn’t for you.
Try to find a community centre, reach out to the body positive yoga community. Type in ‘body positive yoga’ and where you live and there are going to be people in your area that are teaching accessible yoga. Start at the beginner class in a community centre and that way, everybody’s a beginner and you are not in a studio which is very expensive that you might not like or not be able to commit to. At least you can go in there and have a neutral experience.
And then when you feel confident within the Community Centre, you can branch out.
Have people made assumptions about your yoga practice as a yoga teacher?
All the time and I also make assumptions myself with certain people coming into the room about their practice based on the gear they’re wearing or the quality of their yoga mats. Sometimes these are gifts, when they show up decked out and I think they are practising all the time only to find out it is their first class. Or that certain body types can do certain things. Then you find out this body type can’t do that thing. I think it’s common for us to make assumptions. I’ve had plenty of assumptions made about me
What do you think about the use of props?
I love props. I always promote them as the equalizer in a practice. Today in the workshop I taught, I said ‘Look at the length of my arms, the length of my legs. There are some postures that are not going to be accessible to me just based on my genetics and on my proportions. Maybe my back is sore and my hips may need a little bit more support.’
That is why I use props for to equalize the practice, so that I too can practice the same yoga as everybody else.
Whenever I promote props, I promote them as the luxurious option. I promote them as a tool. You would not run a marathon in a pair of flip-flops. Why would you not use the tools provided? Why would you not buy a great pair of shoes? Or a couple of blocks and a strap if it’s going to make your practice that much more comfortable in your body. I think that is necessary.
Developing Diversity in the Yoga World
What do you think about representation?
I had a woman in my workshop today who said ‘Thank you for showing up looking like you and teaching and sharing because when I saw you doing yoga, then I knew I could do yoga.’ I can’t tell you how many people have said that to me.
You know, sometimes when you venture into these spaces where you’re the only person like you, it feels super uncomfortable or you have people staring at you or asking you inappropriate questions. At least if you’re there with somebody else, there’s solidarity.
As a teacher of colour – how diverse is yoga in Canada?
Whenever I usually teach these workshops in North America, it’s still not very diverse.
The last large workshop I taught at was the Accessibility Conference in Toronto. There was a ton of diversity there. We had people practicing with disabilities, people of colour, all ages. There were 2 plus size teachers teaching which was amazing. So that makes me excited. But I feel like there’s still a divide between people of colour getting into the yoga space.
Here are some of the things I think we need to do to encourage the communities of colour who can benefit from the practice – de-stressing around racial stress, de-stressing around home and work stress, the stress of being different on this planet. Which has been heightened with the current political systems. We need to deal with that kind of stress which leads to high blood pressure and chronic illnesses.
We know that yoga has the potential to help with those types of chronic illnesses in those populations but because of whatever reason, they aren’t getting access to that type of self-care treatment. So it is up to us as yoga professionals to seek out those communities. This is how we want to create diversity within our communities, but you have to be especially careful if you’re not from that community not to roll in and come in as the saviour…Work with that community. Ask what you can do. Ask how you can serve. It may be offering a yoga teacher training course to somebody in that community that can’t afford it, who can then go back into that community. So there are lots of ways that we can we can support communities that otherwise don’t have access to yoga.
Karma classes are great, but they tend to be in inaccessible areas. They tend to be at inaccessible times, and they tend to be with inexperienced teachers. So if you want to do a karma platform, then ask your more experienced teachers if they will rotate through that as well, so that you’re not putting a brand new person straight out of teacher training with no experience in a situation where they are going to be overwhelmed.
Evolving: Yoga and Life
How have you changed and evolved during your journey?
I only have one go round in this life. As far as I know, this is the only chance I get in this lifetime to make an impact. So I figured I’ve been hiding for so long, I’ve been letting other people define me and other people get to tell me how I get to behave. And I think part of it is becoming a mother and wanting a better place for my kids, part of it is wanting to live my life out loud, unapologetically and not have to constantly be being made smaller all time.
I got sick and tired. I just like ‘I’m over this now. If I have an opportunity to influence change or to disrupt an injustice situation then I’m going to do it.’ And I am at the point in my life where I’m willing to die for that If that makes a change in the world and that a better place for my children, and all the children who come after that, I am willing to do that.
How can yoga evolve?
We need to just stop thinking about yoga in one specific way and not be so tied to dogma around yoga in order to fully support and serve our students.
In caves, there was not a primary series painted on the walls. That did not happen. Somebody had to create that, and with whatever knowledge they knew…then more people come in with more knowledge…we learn more about the body…we learn more about anatomy…we learn more physiology. The body changes over time ie.what was the standard body in 1955 is not the standard body in 2018 so things have to change with it. I always tell people if we don’t start adapting the practice, it will die. Things that don’t grow will die.
And that is not what we want. We want growth. We are always evolving as we are always learning. You’re always growing – why can’t we apply that to yoga? Why does it have be something that is so narrow and just for one group of people?.
How can we can stand up against the majority?
I call people out if people are talking behind my back about my abilities as a yoga teacher. I can look to my students and see their growth and their peace with their body, with them participating in yoga classes and them wanting to be teachers, and I know from that I’m doing the right thing. That makes all the criticism irrelevant.
So here’s the problem: because we live in a capitalist society and everybody thinks there’s a scarcity around anything, that in order for us to “build up our own brand”, we are willing to tear down other yoga teachers and others styles of yoga instead of looking at the benefits these students are getting from this practice and supporting them.
What is your hope for yoga in future?
That we see more diversity of bodies. Not necessarily fat bodies. Not only bodies of colour, but bodies with disabilities in beautiful pictures that we always see of other bodies doing yoga.
I believe that the future of yoga is accessible and I want that to be normalised.