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Meet Tori Phillips of Finding_Torikins in East San Francisco Bay Area

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tori Phillips.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Tori. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I took my first yoga class in the summer of 2017. I was getting ready to get married and I wanted to try something different in my workout routine. It was offered at my local gym and there was maybe four of us in the class.

It was hard going in. Being plus size and never doing yoga a day in my life, I knew I was setting myself up for a negative experience if I allowed my anxiety to control me. But thankfully, I was a regular at my gym and it was a safe place for me to go outside of my comfort zone.

Unfortunately, soon after they ended offering classes and it took another year for me to get the courage to try a private studio. Found a groupon for a month of unlimited classes at a local studio and signed up.

Going to the studio for the first time was a horrible experience. I picked a 6 am class without realizing that the class I picked was more cardio-based. It was such a bad experience that I was unsure if I was going to go back (mixture of my ignorance with private fitness spaces and amplified insecurities by taking the wrong class and the reactions of the others in the studio). I reached out to the owner of the studio who addressed all my concerns.

I continued with the studio and eventually signed up as a member. I started to find a love for the practice but still felt “in the way.” The room was small and I am a big girl. I constantly had to look around to see if I was doing the move right. Most of my instructors did not know how to modify for me; and, if I’m truly honest, I feel most walked past without offering assistance because they themselves didn’t know a modification.

By late January 2019, I was going to the studio upwards of 4x a week for the past three months and things were changing a lot for me in multiple aspects: emotionally I was struggling with a family estrangement that triggered my mental health back into doctor care. Medically I was in and out of the doctors due to an anomaly in my right breast that would end up needing surgery (I am BRCA 1+). And I was in the process of trying to buy my first house.

My mother died unexpectedly on March 8. I was living with her at the time and it’s not something anyone can prepare you for. Our escrow closed a month later and we moved 40 miles away from everything we knew, good and bad.

I also left my job of nine years during this time.

By May 2019, I was a stay at home wife trying to find who I am. My emotional and physical health was down the drain and I knew to get back to where I felt the best I needed to start slow. I started thinking of yoga again but knew physically I couldn’t keep up like I used to. So I started looking around on the hashtags on Instagram and found the hashtag #accessibleyoga. It was like the clouds parted and a rainbow emerged.

Finding accessible yoga on Instagram lead me to find this part of yoga that I didn’t know existed.

But there was also something I couldn’t find a lot of: Plus size bodies doing accessible or modified yoga. Also, chair yoga that was not solely focused towards senior or gentle yoga. The majority of what I found was mainly straight-sized instructors. So I wanted to change that, in May 2019, I decided to do a yoga challenge on Instagram that was hosted by an Instructor I’ve followed for years. I thought, why not! It would give me a chance to try and learn the name of poses and any modifications and share it with others.

The response was huge. I received message from people thanking me for showing what “their” body looks like doing the poses they see straight-sized instructors do.

Then people kept asking me where I taught or wished I was near them to help them personally.

And it clicked that this is what I should be doing. I keep trying to expand my yoga practice and share it on Instagram.

I’ve always wanted to help people but never really found the way that worked for me. Yoga, no matter the type, is my way to help people. People like me. I’ve recently started saying “I want to be the adult the I needed as a child.” And this way I hopefully can.

I am hoping to have all my certifications by summer 2020. I have put down a deposit to reserve my spot for my 200 RYT at a studio in Davis, CA and looking into the steps for my accessible training as well. I started a GoFundMe to help fund my tuition in hopes of minimizing the financial stress of the training so I can focus on the education so I can help others.

I grew up dancing and I’ve always had a curiosity to try yoga because of it. It took me until 2017 to have the nerve to take my first class and it was more than I ever expected it to be.

It wasn’t until 2018 when I signed up for a private studio and was able to explore different types of yoga that I found that yoga is more than just what poses your body can or cannot do.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Definitely not smooth.

There is a huge fear of worthiness when walking into a fitness studio. You don’t look like anyone, you don’t know any of the moves, you don’t know what props you need or how to use them. And unfortunately, most instructors do not know how to modify the poses they are going to ask you to do.

The biggest struggle was getting out of my own head. No one is staring at you as much as you think they are. Your practice will not look like the person next to you. IT IS OK TO USE PROPS. Once your ego moves past the thought that “using props means you are weak” the options become limitless.

Another big struggle is finding an Instructor that you like. I had one bad experience with an instructor I never saw again. I’ve taken a class where the instructor adjusted everyone but refused to come near me (who knows why but we all know how my brain took that.) But I refuse to group all instructors into a category because of a few.

Please tell us about Finding_Torikins.
Plainly stated I am a fat yoga student telling the world that chair yoga isn’t just for seniors. That modifying your yoga pose is not a weakness but a skill. That yoga is for all bodies and all minds.

Since I am trying to pay for part of my tuition through crowdsourcing, I will be sharing my training on YouTube. I interviewed the teacher before putting my deposit down. She told me she has never had a plus-size student and I took that as challenge accepted.

What also sets me apart:

I am BRCA 1+ (think Angelina Jolie). As I am going through my yoga journey, I will also be preparing myself for a prophylactic double mastectomy to prolong my life. I want to have the best mobility I can before I have my breasts voluntarily amputated and I think that’s important to share. Not many people know about the mutation or the options the people have to make with it. It should be known.

PLUS I am a melanoma survivor. I have a 3-inch scar down my cheek and multiples on my arms and should that is visible in pictures. Skin cancer awareness is super important to share.

There are so many aspects of being a plus-size BRCA + accessible yoga advocate that I just don’t have all the words.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
My fear of not being the first to do it.

Now please let’s not get confused. I am not the first plus-size yogi or anything like that.

But I have been asked by many how did I get the courage, the willpower, the confidence. And truthfully, none of those are why I did it.

I am curious by nature and stubborn like a mule. I don’t like to be told what to do or that I cannot do something.

So yoga always had an appeal because its “taboo”. A plus size girl in a yoga class? Shocks all around. Sign me, I want to be that girl and so I did.

I also feel that having danced since childhood helps. When I go through pictures or videos of my practice, I am able to see the flow, not the body. I disassociate that I am watching myself and see the work for what it is: a beautiful piece of progress to help others on their own.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brett Phillips

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