Photo by Cinthya Zuniga
Melanie Williams currently serves as the Social Media Manager for Yoga for Arthritis. In this post, they share a bit about their relationship with yoga and where you can find their teaching! We are grateful for Melanie and their dedication to this important work.
Content Note: This post contains mentions of disordered eating.
Melanie first encountered yoga when they were 14 years old. The experience wasn't spiritual, inspirational, or even particularly memorable--it was a "Yoga for Fat Loss" DVD that they worked out along with on the carpeted floor of their parents' living room during the initial flare of a long-lasting eating disorder and episodic exercise obsession. Their initial conceptualization of yoga aligned with that experience: it was a physical practice intended to build lean muscle and burn calories.
Of course, their initial conception was all wrong, but that realization would take a decade to set in.
Popular Western media primarily presents yoga as a fitness regimen. When spiritual references are inserted, it's often done minimally and appropriatively, in ways that prop the presentation of yoga as a workout for thin, white, affluent women seeking to be their "best selves." Melanie internalized this. They did not go back to yoga for many years, and when they did, it was with the goals of cross-training and continued weight loss in mind.
At 23, while struggling with their eating disorder and co-morbid alcohol dependence, Melanie began attending Vinyasa classes at a studio in San Francisco. While their initial goals were primarily physical, the presence of an excellent teacher made the experience of yoga in a class setting drastically different from that of moving with a video aimed at weight loss. They were lucky to have a first teacher who was kind and inclusive and who demonstrated a deep and inquisitive understanding of the context in which asana practice resides within the yoga teachings. Over time as Melanie practiced, new feelings started to arise. Physically, they started to feel sensations and body signals they had long been tuning out. Mirroring that increased interoception, they found themselves more able to view themselves and their behavior with a lovingly critical and discerning eye. While initial recovery took several more years and additional resources like therapy, the tools of yoga proved foundational in their healing process. Those first classes were integral.
After a move to Washington D.C., Melanie completed a 200-hour teacher training in 2016. They began working in yoga studios and wellness spaces and volunteered with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition. They also began doing the hard work of healing. Throughout their initial recovery process, their body changed, and so did their practice and priorities. It became clear that they needed to center their teaching and later advocacy work around those who were being left out of contemporary yoga spaces. In recognizing how important those first Vinyasa classes were in their own healing and development, Melanie aims to make sure that all students are able to access an inclusive and supportive environment in which to practice and explore.
Since that initial training, Melanie has completed certifications through Yoga For All and Accessible Yoga as well as trainings in trauma-sensitive yoga, biomechanics, and teaching methodology. They'll begin a 300-hour program in January 2020. They teach group and private classes in D.C., workshops that investigate body image, queer and trans identity, pleasure and agency, and embodying change, and adaptive yoga teacher trainings. They co-lead the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, work with both YFA and Accessible Yoga, and have served local and national professional organizations in advisory roles. You can hear them speak at the upcoming Accessible Yoga Conference in New York City in October 2019.
You can find more of Melanie's writing, upcoming workshops, and their regular teaching schedule at foundspaceyoga.com.