Yoga instructor Katie Beane wants you to know that every body is a yoga body.
Katie Beane is wearing a tank top that reads, “Life is tough darling but so are you.” It’s not just a line—it perfectly describes Beane’s demeanor as she encourages students in her Yoga for Bigger Bodies class she runs through Portland Adult Ed. “You are totally miraculous,” she tells yogis coming out of shavasana bliss after 90 minutes of gentle movement. “You are totally lovely. You are totally worthy.”
Many of the 20 students in the class have been coming back, session after session, for four years.
“It’s very easy to think there’s a type of body that’s a yoga body,” Beane says. “But I think every body is a yoga body. If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Jacqui Bonwell, a regional yoga teacher trainer and Beane’s mentor, says, “On the outside, Katie might have extra weight. But on the inside, she’s exceptionally steady. She knows how to be there with her whole heart, and she has been making yoga accessible for communities that have been marginalized.”
“I almost didn’t do Jacqui’s training,” Beane admits. “I told her I couldn’t do it because I was too fat. And then she asked me, ‘What if someone was willing and had the resources and the time and the heart to volunteer at a nursing home? And then what if they said they couldn’t do it because they were too fat?’”
Not only did Beane complete the 200-hour certification to teach, she then completed a 500-hour certification to train instructors, as well as another 30 hours of specialized training in “yoga for all bodies” modifications. Along the way, she found not only her niche but her passion. She also found freedom from what she describes as “a decade-long dance” with bulimia.
“Years of therapy just couldn’t get at my body, my mind and my heart the way that yoga could,” Beane says. “Yoga helped me have a safe place to land in my own skin. I found yoga, and that was the end of my bulimia. The biggest gift that yoga gives us is that the focus of the practice is a connection. All the different parts of us get a seat at the table—body, mind and heart. Society asks us to hide parts of ourselves that we don’t think are worthy. But if you keep inviting every part of yourself to the mat, it’s hard to hate parts of yourself.”
Beane supports the Health at Every Size movement, which emphasizes health and well-being over weight management.
“I think every body is a yoga body. If we can breathe, you can do yoga.”
“Fat is not a swear word,” she says. “It’s just a way that some bodies are. Health at Every Size is about making decisions that come from a place of deep respect for my body, because I love myself, because I value myself, because I want to feel good. There may be body changes as a result, but it doesn’t come from a place of obsessing over becoming a specific size and shape.”
Having freed herself from that metaphorical prison of self-loathing, Beane works with Sea Change Yoga, a Maine-based nonprofit that brings the healing power of trauma-informed yoga and meditation to all, to try to bring inner peace to women incarcerated at Windham Correctional Center.
“I hope it’s restorative justice in some way,” she says. “The word ‘yoga’ means ‘to yoke,’ ‘to connect.’ For anyone who has felt disconnected, yoga is a way to feel connected. I’m interested in helping people listen to themselves and connect with what’s happening with them moment to moment.”
No matter where she’s teaching, Beane reminds her students to take note of the physical sensations of yoga—many of which are pleasant, because of the happy hormones and what is happening with the endocrine and nervous systems. But there can also be discomfort and there certainly are challenges and moments of insecurity—or at least imbalance.
“The first time I ever took a yoga class,” Beane says, “It was a hot yoga class—I thought, ‘Why would anyone do this more than once?’ But the practice is meeting the discomfort and moving with it and moving through the arch of shavasana, just focusing on breathing while you’re moving and being present. Anything you practice doing in class—like focusing on just right now or ‘what I can do’ rather than ‘what I can’t do’—that will show up in difficult situations off the mat as well.”
Beane took that first class when her mother had breast cancer, and she fell in love with how yoga made her feel, even during that time of heartbreak and grief. “Yoga became my go-to during my mom’s last year or so of her life,” says Beane, who is now 37 and going through a similar experience as her grandmother enters hospice. “It was how I practiced self-care and how I stayed sane. I wanted to teach to bodies like mine.”
“The biggest gift that yoga gives us is that the focus of the practice is a connection. All the different parts of us get a seat at the table—body, mind and heart.”
Arcana studio in Portland offers yoga teacher training that includes Beane’s specialized instruction in yoga for all bodies—not only softer bodies. Modifications are taught to accommodate age and injury, women who are expecting, women who are busty enough to not fit into certain poses—and anyone who feels they’d benefit from being offered a menu of options.
“It’s about awareness,” said Arcana’s owner Jennie Joan Ferrare. “I’m expecting, so I’m learning about all these cues for people who don’t have as much space in their body. There’s room for different experiences for different bodies. It’s about being in your body and being embodied. It’s not about achieving a certain shape.”
That said, it’s not all about inner strength, either.
“Katie Beane has a badass physical practice,” said Bonwell, who has trained more than 100 yoga instructors based in Maine, including Beane, who now co-leads Bonwell’s Sacred Seeds Yoga School programs in Maine. “She’s strong.”
Whether Beane is in downward dog with her 6-year-old son Albie climbing on her back or bringing the inner freedom of yoga to women in jail or breaking down the “yoga body” stereotype that almost kept her from finding her niche, she is yoked. She is connected—mind, body, spirit.
Drop in on Yoga for Every Body, Thursdays 6–7:30 p.m. at Bridge Studio at Art of Awareness, 100 Waterman Drive, Suite 201, South Portland. For more info: artofawareness.org/bridgestudio
Amy Paradysz is a yoga-loving freelance writer from Scarborough.