Creating Community

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Almost – Big Gal Yoga

Valerie is inspiring people all over the world with her fierce, no-excuses approach to Yoga and LIFE. She is a beautiful example of the fact that anyone can practice and benefit from yoga. This yogini has created a social media storm by sharing her Big Gal Yoga Practice and we couldn’t be more thrilled!

Valerie of Big Gal Yoga!

My first yoga teacher was an older man named Lawrence Caughlin. I had no fear of learning yoga from a person who was a man, skinny, or older. I understand that some people feel like they need to be taught by someone who looks like them (for example a bigger woman), which is completely fine and great, but I just want to make sure that people don’t feel like that they have to be scared or intimidated by learning yoga from someone who doesn’t look like them.

Valerie of Big Gal Yoga!

I started yoga by taking a Hatha Yoga class at my university which met for 2 days out of the week for about 2 hours. We practiced the Sun Salutations 3-4 times and then had a Hatha Yoga sequence. When I started yoga it was pretty casual. I’d wanted to try it a handful of years before but had forgotten about it.
It wasn’t until my friend was taking a class at our university, that I was reminded to try. At the time, I didn’t think that it would eventually snowball into something bigger than me.

I’m from California and am located in the Bay Area.  From time to time I’ll practice yoga at a studio, but I mainly practice at home, a studio space, or out with nature. I’m an out doorsy kind of gal and yoga has given me the push to pursue the things that I enjoy – the things that are connected to nature. Not just looking at nature but finding ways to interact with it.

Valerie of Big Gal Yoga!

It’s important for me to point out that you do not have to already be strong or flexible to start yoga! If you are already strong or flexible that is just a plus because you will probably be able to progress quicker than some people. For the average person, like myself, it will take time to gain both strength and flexibility. I have been practicing yoga for about 3 years, and am still learning new things about my body. Have patience in your practice.  I like to try out as many different types of yoga, but some of my favorite types of yoga to practice at a studio are Yin, Qi Flow, Anusara, Prana Flow, and Vinyasa. When I am at home, I usually practice a couple rounds of Sun Salutations, stretches, poses for yoga challenges, and then practice poses that I am personally working on improving.

The Sun Salutations are where it all starts. This yoga sequence is the base to all of the other types of yoga. It helps you gain strength and flexibility. I like this Sun Salutation video by Ekhart Yoga. This may seem a bit intimidating to beginners, but always remember you can do modifications of all poses till you feel comfortable doing the full pose. There is also a great video by Body Positive Yoga that has modifications for bigger women that might help some people out. You don’t have to look perfect in the pose to feel the benefit of the pose, take your time. My favorite pose is Mermaid Pose. In general I just like mermaids! Conveniently I already really liked doing pigeon pose which helped a lot when practicing Mermaid pose.

The Evolution of Big Gal Yoga

Valerie of Big Gal Yoga!

I mainly use Tumblr to share information about Big Gal Yoga. This tumblr is a way for me to “talk to myself”, and maybe others about my updates and other motivations along my journey to weight loss through mostly yoga,  swimming, and some hiking, climbing, and traveling.

I started Big Gal Yoga as motivation solely for myself.  Yoga has given me this special feeling that I can’t describe. Yoga helps people to find balance and confidence within themselves.

We all have our hardships and complicated lives, the things that throw our minds and bodies out of balance. Yoga has helped me physically and mentally. Physically by changing the way my body moves, and mentally by helping to calm the demons of my mind. Before I started yoga, I would always tell myself “oh I’ll try that when I lose weight” or “I’m to big for that right now”.  Mentally blocking myself from the physical and being half positive and negative at the same time! Confidence is what lacked, and yoga gave me the confidence to say “I can do this now!”

Follow Valerie on her wonderful journey!

Valerie from Big Gal Yoga!Tumblr: Big-Gal-Yoga
Instagram: @biggalyoga
Facebook:   Big Gal Yoga

Beyond the Postures: Creating Shades of Health

Shionta Pumphrey of the inspirational instagram movement #shadesofhealth shares just how a yogi creates such a life changing collaborative journey for so many appreciative fans. Turns out, she saw a need and decided to fill it — We’re so glad she did!

I was a night shift nurse at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in their hematology / oncology department for years. The hospital has a superb reputation and has truly provided a great teaching / learning experience. My job was and remains rewarding, but stressful at the same time.  Because I was working 48-60 hours per week (13 hour shifts), I was not sleeping.

It was my colleague Brian Fowler, who invited me to a Bikram class back in 2011. I tried 2 classes and never stepped foot onto a mat again until October 2012. I felt vulnerable. I felt like it was too hard and WAY TOO HOT….lol! I didn’t know that there was so much more to yoga and that there were different styles that I might enjoy.  Moving to Florida opened doors that I couldn’t even imagine.

I started challenging myself with long distance running (I am a sprinter by heart) and shortly found passion in the miles. Soon after I started running long distance, my muscles were adjusting to the changes I made, and one of my fellow running sisters of Black Girls Run, Claire Denise Johnson (Mom, Medical Doctor and yoga instructor) encouraged me to start attending yoga classes for runners.


I started practicing yoga on October 1, 2012 at home in addition to incorporating stretches that complimented my running.  I found inspiring instructors online such as Kathryn Budig and the original Yoga Instagram challenge, Grow Soul Beautiful. I would go to studios occasionally so that my alignment was corrected by certified instructors and to fellowship with other yogis. Currently, I practice at least twice a day for 60-90 minutes and use night time for meditation.

Creating Shades of Health

I find it very important to see a diverse array of images reflected in the media when it comes to the yoga practice, hence the journey I envisioned in November 2013, #shadesofhealth.  I spoke with a group of African American young ladies at a Girls Scout’s event in October 2013 and some verbalized that, “black girls don’t do yoga, black girls don’t work out!” I was in shock but quickly took advantage of that moment to educate who I envisioned as my future! These girls needed to know the truth and I am grateful today to have had that opportunity to share my knowledge and truth with them.

imageBut even prior to this occurrence, I was and remain inspired by African American instructors I have found on social media.    I have had the opportunity to meet some of these instructors and I often wonder why I never see them in Yoga Journal Magazine or other yoga inspired articles.

Shades of Health, for the record, is not an Instagram challenge.  It is a journey with GREAT intentions to inspire and educate people from all walks of life –  especially the African American community. If you scroll through the #shadesofhealth hashtag on Instagram, it is truly inspiring, motivating and educational!

The #shadesofhealth hosts that are chosen, male and female, strive to be healthy and create opportunities to help others grow and challenge themselves.  They are yoga instructors from all over, personal trainers, holistic health coaches, and/or have shown great example in their communities. I value quality over quantity, but I must say noting 2,000+ pictures and having new faces join the #shadesofhealth journey has been so uplifting and reminds me that my vision has purpose for so many others.  Many have asked me “so when are you going to teach?” I find that your plans can not be known to everyone. Timing is everything and practicing patience brings forth progress, quality and great blessings to the table. For now, I enjoy being a student, a sponge soaking it all in beyond the postures❤.

Find Shionta!
Instagram – @heartbeat4many or #shadesofhealth
Twitter – @heartbeat4many