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Project Bendypants: Practicing Yoga While Fat

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Project BendypantsBy Tiffany Kell

So if you want to make gains in flexibility, there’s an obvious option, right? You take up yoga.

Well, maybe. Me and yoga? We’re complicated.

When I started Project Bendypants, I committed to taking two classes of yoga a week, in addition to my regular daily home practice. I thought hey, yoga instructors are professional teachers of flexibility! Clearly they could take me further than I could go on my own. And given that I live in Los Angeles, there’s a yoga studio on every corner. Win!

Turns out, it wasn’t so simple. You see, I apparently committed an unspoken offense to many of the yoga teachers I encountered: I attempted to practice yoga while fat.

I expect a certain amount of fat bias in every fitness class I attend. After all, the majority of the country has the (scientifically false) idea that fatness and fitness are mutually exclusive. And I’m under no illusions. I know that many people take fitness classes just so *they won’t end up looking like me.* Sigh.

But yoga has been a little different from other classes for me, I suspect for two main reasons. First, I am different in yoga classes. In particular, I struggle, a lot. (See: reasons I’m undertaking Project Bendypants.) In most fitness classes, I get the unmitigated pleasure of disproving all those secret and not-so-secret assumptions that people have about fat folks and athleticism. I am fit, I am strong, and I am athletic, and that tends to freak people out, in the best possible way. Typically, not only am I keeping up, I’m one of the best students in a class.

With yoga, not so much. Flexibility really is my Achilles heel. There are some beginning poses I can’t even get into yet, much less do well. So I’m a rank beginner, and as a struggling fat student, I fit into the stereotypes that many teachers have about fat people.

I’m not going to lie. This is difficult for me. I lean on the privilege of being athletic and able-bodied to buffer me from the hostility that people sometimes throw at me for being a fat person working out in public. With this shield stripped away, I am left vulnerable, naked of my normal defenses. I have to keep reminding myself that this privilege should not be the admission ticket to acceptance, even if people often treat it that way. Here’s the reality: athleticism is not some kind of moral requirement, and I don’t owe being *good* at something to anyone. But man, giving up that privilege is hard stuff.

There is, however, another difference. In most of the yoga classes I’ve attended, the instructors offer guidance on non-physical elements. They ask us to quiet our minds, focus on our breath, connect with the earth. They give attention to both the body and the spirit.

Though I live and work in the hard sciences, I love this stuff. With the right instructor, a little woo with my yoga helps center me and enriches my practice. But this kind of holistic focus can be an invitation for concern trolling when you’re fat.

Many yoga teachers assume they know a lot about me because I’m fat. A lot. They make assumptions about me and my relation to my body, and not only are those assumptions false, they are offensive.

Often, yoga teachers ask me if I’ve ever considered *starting* a fitness program. I let them know I work out 10+ hours a week.

Often, yoga teachers treat me differently than all the other students, either peppering me with questions about my “disabilities” or refusing to make eye contact with me.

Often, they assume I’m new, without asking.

Often, they offer me “encouragement” that yoga will help me lose weight. I have taken to replying that I’m currently focusing on losing height.

Often, they refuse to touch me, offering minor adjustments to aid other students into poses and just leaving me to my own devices. Or they insist on trying to physically adjust me into poses that are are not possible with the shape of my body (those DDDs aren’t two dimensional, you know).

Of all the sports and athletics I have participated in as a fat person, yoga has sadly been one of the most judgmental and the least emotionally safe. This is particularly painful given the principles of compassion and reflection that yoga is built around. I’m not entirely sure what to do with this.

The worst part has been that when the yoga’s good, it’s *great.* I mean that. I could seriously get into this stuff. I have fallen madly in love with a particular Yin Yoga class. Yin focuses on reorienting the body relative to gravity. Practitioners use props — lots of them — to assist in poses, and then you hold those poses for minutes at a time. It opens you up in ways that simple stretching just can’t accomplish, and it’s the perfect compliment for someone like me, whose training primarily focuses on strength.

But here’s the thing: it’s not the yoga itself that makes the class great. I like Yin, but I’ve taken it with a number of instructors now, and it’s always different. No, the thing that makes my favorite class so great is the instructor.

He is fantastic. Every night, he asks the whole class if anyone is new to yoga, or has any injuries or concerns he should know about, making no assumptions. Every night, he invites each student to wave him over if they want assistance. He welcomes us individually, making eye contact with each of us. And more than once, when I’ve been shaky in a hard pose, he appeared at my side with a bolster or a block, silently sliding it into place to support me. He’s not afraid to touch me when it will help my practice, but he doesn’t do it when it won’t. He makes me understand why people fall in love with yoga.

The only problem? I haven’t found many more like him. When I become independently wealthy, I intend to hire him as my personal yoga coach and learn to meditate my way to a standing heel stretch. But in the meantime, I have this membership to a yoga studio and only feel welcome in a few of the classes.

But you know what? If we only go where we’re welcome, we’ll leave a lot of doors closed. So I’m trying to go to more yoga, beyond my beloved Yin class. If the instructors don’t love having a fat person there, well, then it’ll be a good learning opportunity for everyone. And if they’re not willing to love bodies like mine, I’ll love it enough for both of us.

Tiffany Kell is a dancer with More Cabaret, a professional troupe of fat dancers and athletes based out of Los Angeles. She is a newly hatched yoga fanatic. When she is not twisting her body in interesting ways, she teaches at a local university.

Article originally published at MoreCabaret.com, reposted with permission.

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Earlier

93 comments… add one

  • Amy OvermanWatkins

    Tiffany, thank you for this. I start my yoga teacher training next month and you have taught me a lot in this article. Yoga is for every body, everyone. I hope to be the kind of teacher that you would want to do yoga alongside.

    Project Bendypants – love it!!

    Best to you!
    -Amy

  • Ellen

    I hear you sister! I want to scream when an instructor says “Relax in Child Pose” – hah, relaxation is hard when I can’t frickin’ breathe in Child Pose! Hang in there, enjoy that Yin instructor often, and best of bendy-luck to you!

  • When I notice students that are not relaxed by childs pose I either offer them a bolster that whey can slide between there legs in a wide leg childs pose. Two blankets folded up can make a nice bolster. If this still seams like not enough. I encourage them to sit comfortably in a way that allows them to relax and let go.

  • Jena

    Yes, THIS!!! Child’s pose is just NOT good for me. However, I’ll just go into something between child’s pose and a yin frog instead and my yoga instructors know that’s my thing.

  • As a yoga instructor have found that using a 55cm stability ball for child’s pose can be really enjoyable for those with larger frames and more flesh :)

    Om shanti!

  • Dave

    An upright block under each shoulder also works a charm :)

  • Thank you for writing and sharing this! I have a studio and know that some of our instructors do not know what to do with “fat” students. I LOVE big/large/fat people same as anyone else and thank and acknowledge you for your courage in sharing this very important viewpoint! I have found that in my classes, the larger bodies seem to have more strength. Yoga gives you balanced strength – if you want to be more flexible, strengthen the opposing muscles. You go girl!!

  • Michelle

    Karen, you speak the truth. My two favorite instructors at your studio are absolutely marvelous with us fat chicks. :)

  • Courtney

    Oh my goodness! I’ve experienced the same thing! Only I’ve shied away from yoga ever since….. The instructor I had was kind, but was encouraging me above everyone else because of my size… almost giving me TOO much attention to make up for the fact that I couldn’t do some of the poses because of physical limitations… (ugh, I hate that word….) I’ve run a half- marathon, and still slug around too much weight… I find your post encouraging and will continue to pursue fitness classes!

  • Tiffany:

    Great article! Do you mind if I link it on our Facebook page?

    Also, please feel welcome to come to Santa Monica Yoga any time as my guest. We’re low-key, non-judgmental, and have students of all shapes, sizes and abilities (I myself have to work around some girth while I practice!). I think you’ll like the relaxed atmosphere at SMY. Plus, our teachers rock! Check us out at santamonicayoga.com

    Namaste.

    Janet

  • Tiffany Kell

    Janet, I would love it if you linked it to your Facebook page. And I will definitely check out SMY ! :D

    Much affection,

    – TK

  • Tiffany: We linked your article and got some great responses!

    As a matter of fact, I was working the front desk at SMY yesterday and one of our teacher training graduates came in and said she read it and thought it would be great to share with our trainees in the next session. What a wonderful idea!

    Looking forward to meeting you sometime. Namaste.

    Janet

  • Thank you for writing this, and thank YD for posting! I am a fairly new plus size yoga teacher with over 20 years practice experience. I had the same experience internally with public classes, and get the same responses from many teachers. I have had a difficult time finding studios to allow me to teach for the same reason as well, very frustrating.
    I have recently become VERY vocal about this at teacher trainings/CE classes, and feel like I am a fly in the ointment. It is important for yoga teachers to hear this from lots of sources. If nothing else, a large percentage of the US population is overweight or obese – know your market. There are lots of things that can be done so that everyone in a class can enjoy yoga in the body they have today, without judgment, from language, to modifications, to the teacher examining their own biases (see my blog post from yesterday: http://mlbowlesyoga.blogspot.com/2013/04/svadhyaya-exercise-biases-and-prejudice.html). While I applaud you continuing where you feel unwelcome, it is not okay for people to be made to feel unwelcome in a yoga class, based on their body especially. Knowing modifications put me back in control of my practice in public classes. I’m sorry you have had that experience. If you would ever like to skype and try some of the modifications that you could take to classes, I’d be happy to show you some I have adopted.

  • Kate Leotti

    Thank you for this. And on an inappropriate side note – FUCK ANYONE WHO HOLDS YOU BACK, WITH WORDS OR OTHERWISE. Come to my class over here in south nj and rock that fat! Own what you are and CELEBRTE life!

  • Thank you Tiffany. Yes. You’ve got it. When I moved to a new town I spent the first couple years going to a yoga studio where I felt I wasn’t wanted. Every time I walked through the door I felt like I was pushing through a resistance ‘not you.’ But I knew I wanted yoga.

    Eventually I went to yoga teacher training and opened my own studio. I work to welcome everyone in our space. Thank you for this great mind-opening article. I’m going to share it with the teachers at my studio and the teachers in our teacher training.

  • Rache;

    nice share!

    no one said yoga is easy……keep practicing

  • strangevista

    I have been practicing yoga in LA on and off–mostly on–for about 30 years. The most important part of the practice for me is the instructor, and I have learned to leave mid-class if a teacher is condescending or clueless. I stick to my favorites, and when I have the opportunity, try out a new teacher, making sure they have trained in other movement disciplines as well as the one they are teaching. I’m not there to look good in a bikini or burn calories so I can have a milkshake later (pretty much quoting here). I always inform a new instructor of any injuries and if I tell them that I may sit some poses out or modify them, and if they STILL hover over me and ask if I am okay, I’m out of there. Good Luck with your search. In my experience, the older the teacher, the better. I recommend Steven Espinosa (anusara), Laura Bogner and Shannon Branham.

  • Due to the original post on MoreCabaret.com and talking to my students I finally published a guest blog that I felt the need to share due to the size chasm. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/04/lessons-from-a-curvy-yoga-teacher-thea-pueschel/
    Thank you Yoga Dork for sharing Tiffany’s blog entry to a broader audience.

  • Tiffany Kell

    Thea, I love your blog. Love, love, love. I am not interested in intentionally altering my weight. I am interested in nurturing my body and quieting my mind. Assuming I have a different agenda is disrespectful. Thank you for putting this message so eloquently.

    In gratitude,

    – TK

  • Thank you Tiffany! I had been siting on that blog for a while. Then when I read yours a while back, I knew that it was a call to action and an important topic to address.

  • Carol

    Thanks for this article. I’m taking yoga teacher training and this will make me more aware of the way I approach students.

  • Brava on this article! Well written and needed to be said. I have read many articles and heard from students getting shunned out of yoga classes because they aren’t the “right” size or shape. That is RIDICULOUS! It is the teacher’s responsibility to make yoga accessible to everyone. Not every teacher is the perfect fit for every student, but I work hard to make my classes fun for each student that walks into my classroom. We personalize class with an intro in the beginning and I have various props available to everyone to enrich the experience as well. My husband started yoga overweight and unable to do many poses when we started class together 13 years ago. We did teacher training together 10 years ago and all the classes we ever went to had people of all shapes and sizes. Even teacher training had various ages, shapes and abilities. If you were in NYC, I would tell you to come to my class! Enjoy your connection to that one special teacher. HE is the kind of teacher that makes yoga what it is. THAT is the reputation ALL yoga classes should have. Come in feeling stressed and leave feeling amazing about yourself and the world around you. :-) Namaste!

  • Wendy

    Tiffany, love your article! I am overweight and can relate to some of this for sure. I have only been doing yoga a year and a half now, and there are women (and men) of all sizes in my class. Yes, most of them are skinny and fit, but the ones that aren’t are NOT treated any differently I can assure you. The yoga studio I attend is a warm, inviting, and loving community of students and very gifted teachers. No judgement, no shaming. You need to keep looking until you find this environment for yourself. Don’t give up on yoga. The advantages of practicing are far beyond the physical for me. I do it for my mind, my spirit, to strengthen my body and gain flexibility… and yes… the benefits to my body in terms of weight loss is just a byproduct. Yes, you’re correct in that it is ALL about a great teacher and you will find that special one who makes you feel amazing about yourself and your yoga practice, no matter what your issues are.

  • Nativ

    You just made me proud :)

  • Thanks for such a wonderful article!

  • Cindy

    I commend you on this article. Yoga is for everyone. When I started I was huge! I was 70lbs overweight, sick, and totally not into working out. I’ve been doing yoga for 5 years now and have since lost the weight and became a teacher. You don’t have to lose weight to be in yoga. Yoga is not just body…but mind and body. Not everyone gets into yoga to lose weight. Yoga becomes you. If you’re not meant for it, you’ll know.

  • Lee Cambata

    I totally agree with you about yoga classes. Fearing that same fatred, I decided to take Bar Method and the instructors are amazing. They have no problem coming up and fixing your positions. They know your name and notice your successes. I always leave class feeling positive. I am the biggest in class every time but I don’t care because I feel like I belong. I recommend as it helped with my flexibility.

  • elizabeth lozada

    I am so sorry that your experiences with yoga teachers have been for the most part disappointing. At the same time, I feel extremely grateful that the teachers at my local studio encourage me to love my body just the way it is, chunk included. Best of luck to you with your practice :-)

  • Jen

    I can relate to your challenges with flexibility. That was part of what drew me to yoga. I hope by the time I am 60 I will be able to touch my toes. It’s all incremental! When I started I could touch my knees. Now I can touch my ankles (six years of a daily yoga practice later.)

    Have you thought about asking the teacher you love if he trained or knows anyone else who teaches from his style/perspective? I have found three great teachers by asking teachers I love about teachers they love.

  • Adri

    Yes, good advice! I always enjoy learning from my teacher’s teachers and colleagues. Usually if you like someone, you will like who they consider to be good teachers

  • Trish

    Great article… Unfortunately this is the main reason I haven’t tried yoga yet.

  • Adri

    Wow, I’m shocked shocked shocked that you have had such unpleasant experiences with yoga teachers. There’s just no excuse for that behavior. I’m overweight and have practiced for 3 years w/multiple teachers and though I’m personally self conscious about getting into twists and basically all inversions and arm balances, no teacher has ever been that thoughtless to me, so please keep trying new teachers. There are better ones out there!

  • Sean Haleen

    Tiffany,

    This is such a beautiful and important article for people to see. It kills me that not only is yoga becoming more exclusive to the young and fit, but that we as teachers sometimes aren’t aware or even taught the value of sensitivity in welcoming everyone to our class. Bravo for speaking out so eloquently and respectfully and thank you. I hope many instructors read your piece.

    Sean

  • I so badly want to fly out there right now and teach you yoga !!
    Whatever teacher’s made you feel that way clearly have there own issues and maybe should be practicing more yoga themselves .dont give up your teacher will appear and you’ll be happy you stuck with it , if your ever in Jersey come see me :-)

  • Tiffany:)

    thank you for this article! You make a great point and this does definitely happen in yoga classes. I’d also like to mention to you that you are probably not the only one the teacher does not make feel welcome. And as a teacher myself, sometimes it’s not anything to do with you. We as teachers gain experience by meeting new people and understanding their bodies. When you go to a class and are not adjusted it may be because that teacher is fearful he/she will do it wrong. trust me, when we mess up and adjustment, we can FEEL STUPID (we’re yoga teachers, and humans too!) and we also feel bad because some students get the idea that we are picking on them by adjusting them and IF we screw up well that just all around isn’t great. So my point is that maybe it’s not just you all the time…. maybe it’s the teacher’s own inexperience and insecurity. Adjustments are not always easy on our bodies and we do have to match up size and height in order to do it right. So for example, the very tall, broad shouldered football player would not be adjusted in chair pose(sitting behind him and supporting his hips) , by me, the very short, little asian girl.
    For me the experience with overweight students has not been the most positive. I hoped to create a safe space and by adjusting have been given evil eyes… not always but it happens even with students who are not overweight. I also find that overweight students are very conscious of the space and people around them…. skinny lululemon inversion doing gals next to them. It can be discouraging and I have tried to be welcoming but they are so mortified they just want to leave the studio as fast as possible. But the ones that stay that work, that make effort and come back… with weight, age, ability… I make sure to send them the happiest face when they return and tell them congrats on progress made!
    In yoga, we learn to be very open, forgiving, and accepting (and it’s always a work in progress!) and maybe those teachers aren’t there yet.. Send them some love! maybe they will turn, realize you are not just a fat girl in the room, and they will send you some love back!
    Michelle

  • Tiffany, thank you so so much for writing this!!!! I teach Vinyasa and have every time of student in the class and even though I don’t do it intentionally I do assume some students are beginners. Most of the time I will ask about new students or injuries, but not always. I am so appreciative of your truth, I am reminded to be more aware, more sensitive to my assumptions. And the truth is I have many larger students who are Advanced yogis!!! Truth is, size does not equal yoga level! And as far as flexibility is concerned, it took me 6 months of practice to touch my toes ;-) so keep going, eventually things will soften <3

    Love and Light ~ irina

  • ** Whoops thats “Every TYPE of student”

  • Laura Soeten

    I am not of a thin stature either, but I can proudly say the studio I go to regularly, Yoga Vista in Vista, CA, Is the best! All teachers ask if there are any injuries, and quite a few ask what we want to work on, ie Shoulders, low back, etc. Yoga is for everyone and I hope you do find more instructors with the same attitudes as the ones I know

  • Pam

    Thank you for this article! I am overweight and have been practicing yoga for a year and a half. I started in a Curvy Women yoga class designed for overweight or not very flexible women, so it felt very safe and the instructor is great. I still go to that class every week, but have also added a second class at the same studio. The second class has rotating teachers, so not just the same instructor as the Curvy Women class, and the students are mostly more “traditional” (thin!). I go with a friend who is also overweight(safety in numbers). It’s interesting, most of the time we feel like we’re doing great, stronger, more flexible and holding our own. Yeah, we can’t always do everything fully, but who can, so it’s all OK. But, every once in a while we get a bit of condescension, sort of “oh, look how well the fat girls are doing, trying to do yoga”. OK, part of this may be my self consciousness and over sensitivity, I admit….. But really, “oh you are so strong” like they’re surprised a fat girl can even stand up. I always want to say, “Of course I’m strong, walk around every day with the equivalent of a second skinny girl strapped to your back, you’d be strong, too.”

    But, it was worth the effort and courage it took for me to start yoga. I take two classes a week and do home practice 4 days a week. And I’m still fat, but I have lost some weight, am more flexible, feel better both phyically and mentally and am working on maintaining my calm.

  • Jenn

    Thank you for sharing this! I have experienced much the same thing. But I have found a teacher who is amazing and continues to grow me and stretch me in my practice. Namaste.

  • Samantha D

    I think it’s very important that fat potential students get another perspective on this. Tiffany has shared her experience, but it is definitely not everyone’s. Judging from her picture, I am at least as big as Tiffany. I began practicing yoga (suburbs, not city) about 5 years ago, and really never received any sort of negative attention for my weight at all. I’ve had teachers of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. I believe (and so do my teachers) that everyone is different, with their own set of limitations, strengths, and yoga goals. I don’t think fat people have anything more in common with one another than being larger than average in one or more parts of their body. Some have joint issues, some don’t. Some are fit, some aren’t, etc. I have gone to many workshops, practiced with Shiva Rea, Beryl Bender Birch, John Friend (pre scandal lol), and have been treated the same as everyone else in all of these instances. I am now a teacher, and I teach, not yoga for the overweight (because that’s not my passion, and to be honest, I don’t really believe in it) but hot vinyasa. I’ve been hired at many studios and teach students of all sizes, including thin 20something women. The yoga community (at least in my area) is more welcoming regarding weight than the general population or any fitness class I’ve ever taken. I know I’m going to be the fattest person in every class I go to. I know that I have more trouble in some poses because I am heavier than others (though not more trouble than students with injuries, who are older, or have any number of personal limitations), and I accept that. So basically, I really appreciate Tiffany sharing her story, but I also would like any overweight students to know that in the 5 years I have practiced yoga across the East coast, at various levels (from beginner to my 500 hr teacher training courses) I have been treated very well in the yoga community.

  • Squirrely Girl

    You could have wrote this article for me :) I am extremely active (7 mile a day average) as well and get the same types of comments about “starting” a program. Very insulting indeed. Thanks so much for writing this. Perhaps it will bring awareness to the subject. I have, fortunately, been lucky enough to find some really great yoga instructors in the past 10 years but I have experienced some teachers who were not prepared to offer me modifications for things like my boobs suffocating me in an inverted position. As a result, I have learn to adapt and find what works for my body. For example: in child’s pose a use a wider leg position and use blocks under my wrist in down dog to give me more of a lift. I have seen teachers use my modifications after watching me in class, which is actually pretty exciting!

    There are some great online teachers out there that are helping the bigger people get their footing in yoga by offering modifications. Here are a few of my favorites:

    https://www.facebook.com/bodypositiveyoga?fref=ts
    https://www.facebook.com/curvyyoga?fref=ts (she also has a yoga teaching school for potential curvy instructors)
    http://www.gratefulspirityoga.net/

  • Cynthia

    I was lucky to have a yoga teacher who not only worked with me, she was willing to LEARN!! When I was having a problem with poses, she would ask me why it was difficult, and I would explain things like the bulk of my thigh, on my 300+ body, or my DDD, was not gonna bend or fold or whatever pose we were working on, the same as her 110 lb, ACup body. But it was asked non-judgementally, she wanted to help, not belittle, so that I could get the most out of my practice, and she could suggest to future students when the need arose, how to modify a pose to make it doable.

    She was actually envious, too, because, like you, I was in a decent shape for my rather large size. I jokingly referred to it as being short, fat and flexible, as I could attain some of the poses that her body considered impossible.

    I need to get back to doing yoga, as much of my mobility is declining, and inactivity breeds inactivity….yoga was something I both enjoyed and was fairly good at!!

  • Michelle H

    Thank you for this article, it is marvelous and absolutely exactly what I have faced for workouts in general as well as yoga. I’m not as fit and definitely not athletic, but still strong and extremely healthy. But that “how dare you show yourself in our gym” attitude kept me away from the gym. Yoga scared me… I was worried it would be even worse than the gym crowd.

    With Yoga, I’ve been blessed in that over 50% of the yoga instructors I’ve worked with have been marvelous. Only two have been downright rude and others just a bit lost with how to work with me. The other students have also been good with just a few exceptions.

    Now if I can find that magical combination in a gym & personal trainer life could be perfect.

  • Let me start by saying that my wife is a Yoga Instructor and that I am 6’8″ and #450+

    I’ve learned that there are a few very different varieties of yoga and instructors. There is the Yoga to sweat your butt off, there is Yoga for strength and flexibility (this is me) and there is also therapeutic Yoga – a style that not only works on strength and flexibility but also focuses on the body as a whole and allows the practitioner the freedom to do what works for them as opposed to a strict regime of “do this pose this way”!

    Since I started doing yoga on a consistent basis, I am more flexible than I have been in many years and I’m also getting stronger. I too visit the gym for swimming and additional exercise and do know the stigma associated with being not only big…. but HUGE!

    I’ve been thru the personal trainers that have no clue and want to show me how I can loose 200lbs in the next year…. and after the first workout I can’t move for a week. There are many yoga instructors that will take the time and work with you no matter your size, you just need to find them as they normally do not live in the busy studios where turning over classes is the most important thing.

    I’ve asked my wife to start a class where she teaches calling it Yoga for Fat People, but she’s afraid that she will offend people. Those of us that are over weight know we are fat and for those of us that want to loose weight and be thinner we don’t need to be coddled, just treated like the people we are and not be constantly pushed past our abilities but guided down a path.

    There are yoga instructors out there that will help bigger folks on that path, my current favorite is Candy Evans in Richmond VA – she runs a gentle class at my local gym and makes it easy to feel comfortable in the class no matter your age, weight or abilities.

  • Erin C.

    the instructor really can make or break a yoga class, i totally agree. i hope that your yoga experience becomes all good soon!

  • Thanks so much for this article! If you ever find yourself in Carrboro NC please visit Loving Kindness Yoga School! that is my husband’s school and he sounds like your favorite teacher. He also knows about fat chicks since he is married to one! I may try an experiment and attend some classes of teachers I don’t know. If they can’t handle a fat chick I will send them your article : )

  • Vision_Quest2

    I shared you ( from on http://www.Morecabaret.com) on my blog site. A link wherein I expressly stated: “Practicing yoga undertaken in the spirit of health at EVERY size. And at every managed medical condition or state of physical ability!”

    The state of mainstream yoga teacher attitudes is the Ganesha in the room, and I’m glad it’s gaining an audience here, as well!

  • Vision_Quest2

    And, any teacher of classical yoga in New York City who would shunt someone from participating in any level of class (and/or the hovering over the student who will take child’s pose for most of the session) should really be ashamed of themselves.

    Vinyasa krama, by definition, means taking baby steps in any post, and should–by definition–make all poses accessible to all people.

  • Deborah Lamb

    Tiffany I applaud you for number one having the courage to write this article, and two, continuing to embrace your yoga practice no matter what.

    I’m currently in yoga teacher training at the moment. The studio that I practice on a regular basis is called the Red Sun, in Winter Springs, Florida, and they offer a class for the “big and beautiful”. I think it’s wonderful no matter what your size is if you want to do yoga for all the other benefits associated with the art. Calming the mind, centering and such.

    You’re an inspiration to others, I certainly would love to have you in one of my clases some day. Teachers should have “NO JUDGEMENT” towards others, ego should not and never come into play. They’re there to help facilitate and embrace their students. I remember going to classes, even to this day, feeling very clumsy an awkard in certain poses. I can honestly say, that where I practice is simply like “heaven on earth” every single instructor is there cares, it’s not about them, or their ego. They truly love what they do, and it clearly shoes.

  • Deborah Lamb

    Tiffany I applaud you for number one having the courage to write this article, and two, continuing to embrace your yoga practice no matter what.

    I’m currently in yoga teacher training at the moment. The studio that I practice on a regular basis is called the Red Sun, in Winter Springs, Florida, and they offer a class for the “big and beautiful”. I think it’s wonderful no matter what your size is if you want to do yoga for all the other benefits associated with the art. Calming the mind, centering and such.

    You’re an inspiration to others, I certainly would love to have you in one of my classes some day. Teachers should have “NO JUDGEMENT” towards others, ego should not and never come into play. They’re there to help facilitate and embrace their students. I remember going to classes, even to this day, feeling very clumsy an awkard in certain poses. I can honestly say, that where I practice is simply like “heaven on earth” every single instructor is there cares, it’s not about them, or their ego. They truly love what they do, and it clearly shoes.

  • Tricia

    As a fat person that is active, I was saddened to hear your experiences with yoga. In any exercise class I’ve realized it does come down to the instructor. All I can say is be okay with who you are & good for you for getting out there. I know we will end up in LA at some point in our travels & look forward to checking out morecaberet!

  • I’m sorry about your experience. Yoga can be a really great experience, and I agree that the instructor plays a big role. What they say, how they react to you and treat you can play a big role. Keep looking for the extraordinary ones. They’re out there.

  • Claire

    Look for teachers trained in viniyoga – instead of making people conform to a specific yoga style, it makes yoga conform to individual needs. The teachers are trained to do a check in at the beginning of class, and adapt the class to the student’s feedback. It is also the bases of yoga therapy, which works with all types of people. I’ve had good teachers who are not trained in this style, but as many are as are not.

  • candace

    OH! you’re i LA! so am I. Have you tried Alison McCready at Santa Monica Yoga in Santa Monica on Ocean Park and 18th. She is amazing. Your description of your Yin Yoga teacher reminded me of her. If you’ve tried her, I hope you had a positive experience. If not, check her out.

  • Aaaah it’s a pity you are not in the UK. I think you would find yoga classes a very different experience than what you have encountered so far. My classes are completely inclusive of everyone…….age, size, gender etc etc. Everyone is encouraged to get along, and I have some classes where people have restricted mobilty working alongside people who are very able. I encourage everyone to interact and I try to cultivate a culture where people feel safe, accepted and they feel happy and relaxed in their practice. I hope your article has not put anyone off attending yoga as there are many lovely yoga teachers out there and for the record – lots of us are not skinny beanpole types with a judgmental attitude! I hope you find some more teachers as good as the guy you talk about in the article……..

  • I totally loved this article. I suffer from the same assumptions by people. I found this webiste and this yoga instructor and I think she is truly inspired!!

    She has adapted yoga for plus size bodies!!

    http://www.curvyyoga.com/
    Check it out and see what you think.

  • phwaap

    This type of experience with “yoga” is more common in strip mall studios where the focus is all on athleticism and having the perfect body. This is not yoga. I very much doubt you would receive this type of treatment in any serious Ashtanga studio, for example, where breath is the focus. Good luck in your exploration.

  • Carla

    I am so sorry you have had this experience but I am happy you have found someone to help in your yoga journal. As a yoga instructor myself, I continually challenge myself to undertake new training and recently I had the pleasure of taking a teacher training course geared specifically to teaching students who have different body shapes. It was really educational and I think it is important to understand how body shape might affect how students can access different poses. Hopefully more instructors will become aware of these options as they are exposed to different types of students. No one is perfect but we can keep striving!

  • Jennifer Davis Wood

    Hi Carla, I love your article! The compliments to the yoga teacher that so lovingly and intuitively helps you, I sense the authentic gift he has for teaching yoga, that’s awesome! Don’t let that guy go! I search for that right fit that I will have with an instructor/teacher the right one really does become like family or just a best friend. I ask my heart to guide me. and I also go to yoga to learn how to be in my body for myself and no one else. I only trust certain people to adjust me and I have learned to navigate this in my own practice. The problem I have is staying connected to my spirit and body in class, I’m not a super thin yogi by any means and trying to get to that “Yoga Body” hurting me not healing me. I’ve now realized that I am at yoga because it brings me peace in all kinds of different ways. Yoga for me should feel good and enjoyable that is where my biggest healing begins <3

  • Jennifer Davis Wood

    Not Carla but Tiffany! LOL :) Have a Beautiful day !
    Jen Wood

  • Antoinette

    I have been practicing yoga for nearly 9 years. I started when I was 39, and fat. I’m no longer 39, but I am still fat and have *never* encountered and iota of discrimination or anything like it in the hundreds of different classes I have attended, including many at better known studios in NYC. So i am wondering how much of your experience may be related to your locale. I have been to LA and one of the reasons I have no desire to return is the superficiality I ran intoo in abundance there. I did meet some very lovely people…but i mostly witnessed Hollywood culture…and I never visited Hollywood.

  • Antoinette

    I have been practicing yoga for nearly 9 years. I started when I was 39, and fat. I’m no longer 39, but I am still fat and have *never* encountered and iota of discrimination or anything like it in the hundreds of different classes I have attended, including many at better known studios in NYC. So i am wondering how much of your experience may be related to your locale. I have been to LA and one of the reasons I have no desire to return is the superficiality I ran into in abundance there. I did meet some very lovely people…but i mostly witnessed Hollywood culture…and I never visited Hollywood.

  • Teacher doing her best :)

    Tiffany thanks for this article :) after reading it and all the comments, I am slightly disappointed. It seems to me that you and many commenters are asking not to be judged, or held to the assumptions of others, while you are doing the exact same to these instructors. While it does sound like you have experienced some insensitivity, I wonder how much of the experience is your own projections and/or expectations. As an instructor, often times students do not enjoy being asked about their experience or injuries in front of the group. I try to always talk to everyone prior to class, with large groups this is not always possible. The onus should at least partially be on the student to communicate their needs to the instructor. Us teachers have all experienced students with varying conditions who didn’t speak up when given the opportunity. I ask questions of all students new to MY class, as I want to ensure their safety and enjoyment, regardless of fitness level or size, so perhaps some teachers ask because they are not familiar to you. Commenter Michelle is correct in that adjustments are tricky. Students either love or hate it, and often depending on their mood or how their body feels that day. I would suggest that sometimes they may not adjust you because if you are (by your own words) unable to get into the most basic postures, they don’t want to take you too far or push you and potentially hurt you. The teachers who have given intense adjustments, are perhaps doing their best to give you equal treatment to the other students, encouraging you that you too can access these postures. I think it’s natural to assume a person struggling with basic asana or alignment is new – they offer modifications for where you are in your practice – I don’t think this has anything to do with size.

    Again, I am very grateful for your article to hear this perspective. I would simply suggest that you engage in the very same non judgement that you are asking for. Teachers are human, they are constantly learning, and you may underestimate the complexity of teaching a great well rounded class to all levels, shapes, ages, and personal intentions. I know when I ask questions of a student new to me, it is to gauge what their body needs – and I ask it of every single student.

    I am sorry some teachers have displayed insensitivity towards you, but your self acceptance and confidence, combined with your focus on your personal intentions are, and your exercising of non judgement towards those doing their best to help you and everyone else – I’m sure will contribute to your enjoyment of any class.

    Last note – any student who came to me with your intentions and an expressed intense strength training program, I would advise to take yin anyway. This is the most appropriate style to suit your needs, so maybe you had to go through these experiences not due to your weight, but simply to find the most appropriate teacher and yoga style to resignate with you.

    You are strong, have clear intention in your practice, and are committed. You sound like an ideal student :)

  • Tiffany Kell

    Hello there!

    Thank you for your response. You brought up some points I’d (respectfully!) like to discuss further, and I suspect your perspective is one that people share.

    I too am a teacher, but I teach university students, not yogis (though who knows what the future holds! :D ). Teaching is hard work, and I have nothing but respect and compassion for those who are called to this profession.

    But I do think there are some things as teachers we all need to be careful about. When my students enter my classroom, there will always be some I naturally feel more comfortable with, due to shared backgrounds/perspectives/histories/general outlooks/etc. We’re all human, and we’re all trying our best. Responding to some people more naturally than others is just part of our make-up.

    But let’s say that I notice that I have a tendency to spend more time answering questions from students of one gender instead of another. Or perhaps I assume that students of a particular race tend not to do well in my class. You can imagine a million other examples. These are things I need to confront as a teacher, and I need to stop them. This is my obligation to my students and to my craft.

    I believe in being accurate in what I say, and that includes reflecting deeply on the source of my observations. And so I chose to stay away from observations of the sort “made me feel uncomfortable” — which is so subjective and might just as well be based on my mood or perceptions — to focus on objective actions.

    I make no judgments about teachers and philosophies of adjustment. I have had some teachers who are liberal with them and others who make none (or only verbal suggestions), and many in between. What I do question is teachers who apply their theory of adjustment differently to bodies like mine. And I am not speaking of physically demanding adjustments. I mean teachers who either adjust *only* me, even where there are other beginning students in the class, or teachers who don’t adjust me at all, even when they offer verbal or light adjustments to other beginning students. I have no great preference for adjustments or an absence of them, but it does strike me when there is such a stark difference.

    If it was me putting out some anti-social energy, it seems odd that different teachers would read it in such inconsistent ways. The only consistent feature of my experience with these teachers is that I am singled out, and that singling out usually starts long before we are on our mats. This is not my universal experience, by the way! I’ve met some more AMAZING teachers, one who I think might physically be made up of molecules of compassion, another who is gruff and demanding (and wonderful). But I’d say about half of the classes I take involve this problematic stuff. The wonderful experiences I have had with yoga, and my genuine joy at being in class (regardless of the instructor!), makes me doubt it is me bringing my baggage to class.

    Please also note that it is not because I am always struggling. I am so inflexible — it took me four months of daily practice before I could get into pigeon! — but I am also very strong with very good balance. I can do a nice unassisted shoulder-stand, and poses like bridge/plank/etc which depend on strength more than flexibility are not physically challenging for me. Just like every other student, I bring with me a body full of uniqueness, with natural strengths and and opportunities to grow. Yet long before we are on our mats, some teachers will assume things about me just because of my appearance. This makes me sad.

    These assumptions lead to problematic actions. I’m not sure how many yogis receive unsolicited weight-loss tips from their instructors, but an informal survey of my (thin) yoga-loving friends puts the number at 0. I receive such suggestions from about half the yoga teachers I encounter. Many reassure me that yoga will help “heal the trauma” that is keeping me fat or “teach me discipline” to help me deal with “food issues.”

    I acknowledge that this is not out of malice. These teachers think they’re helping me. But this kind of help is like recommending skin lightening creams — the idea that such suggestions are helpful or appropriate comes from the belief that there is something wrong with my body.

    I believe these teachers are not comfortable with bodies like mine, mainly because they haven’t had much exposure to them. One of the reasons I take classes in public so often is because I think this is one way to help remedy this. But it will only work if we have the conversation.

    In short, I am not suggesting that yoga teachers should treat all students the same. I’m suggesting that yoga teachers should reflect on their own beliefs and judgments about bodies like mine (or bodies that are older, or bodies that are differently-abled, and so on!), and if there is bias there, then that should be worked through. I am sharing my experience to raise awareness, just as I’d hope my students would do for me.

    Much affection,

    – Tiffany

  • Hello again:)

    I hear you Tiffany! I do! and like i said I do agree there is a judgement on overweight people in yoga classes. I guess I do have a hard time with some of the statements made because I see this discrimination in all of the fitness classes I have attended. It’s annoying to see. So I think that if a teacher is giving you unsolicited advice then you have been exposed to a very odd community. However, I think that you as an overweight person coming into class is also a small percentage. When people don’t know what they are dealing with they react with bad behavior. Fear and insecurity does that to people.. i don’t like it either. But it’s not just yoga teachers?
    I do see prejudice in class but the kind of unsolicited approach you received is something that 100% of teachers I know would say is QUITE RUDE and very WRONG.
    It’s like the college professor that told my classmate he was stupid and could never be an engineer.. and then went on to be one. So I guess also it’s a problem with judgements in general.
    But I digress, within the yoga community there exists discrimination… if you aren’t wearing lululemon, if you practice a certain style, if you are not young, if you are too young, if you are too old etc… and you are very right, it should be worked through.
    The comments on a weight loss program and helping your “trauma” do not blow my mind. Here’s why, it’s yoga.. and just like people take some religious writings verbatim yogis can also be somewhat righteous. It’s the nature of the beast, and as yoga becomes popular and more mainstream the media will sell it as a skinny girl thing. (To me, that is wrong not just cuz of the skinny part but also because it’s not just a girl thing)
    Anyway, I also just wanted to share that you may not go back to that ignorant teacher’s class… I’d say ask that teacher why the ignorant comment and then whether or not they say sorry or continue the abuse then breathe, let it go, send them love and move on to the next more awesome loving teacher. Those of us teachers who see that ignorance are quite aware of how bad it makes us look. So let’s help each other out and tell them how judged you felt and when they complain to us about some fat chick who didn’t want advice and was given it anyway, well, then we’ll tell them how stupid they are! better yet send them an email.. send their studio manager/owner an email! have you already?

    <3

  • Vision_Quest2

    I used to do that all the time, emails to teachers. And I had been an in-betweenie (U.S. size 12 in New York City). Guess what?

    These two are not teaching yoga to students anymore.

    (They’d also been greedy.)

    I fully maintain that commercialized yoga including “private sessions”has already seen its day. Now what’s that? I’d been hoodwinked into getting two private sessions too many–I who never once engaged a personal trainer in the gym. The poseurs and the fitness snobs in yoga have moved on to the next fad. What’s left are the rest of the people who want a fair shake.

    Because, if not, there is always online.

    This is why an article like this is overdue.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Also, THIS. Major teaching-to-a-diverse-population fail:

    http://anytimeyoga.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/dear-yoga-teachers/

  • Jena

    I have to commend the women who teach at the studios I frequent – Banyan Tree in Nashua, NH and Jeca Yoga in Manchester, NH. They have NEVER made me feel less than equal to everyone else in the class and my frustrations with poses have always been entirely my own – wanting to do a pose that I know there is just no way to get into with “extra body” in the way. But they have all been so kind, so patient and have helped me find modifications or have given alternative poses that will accomplish the same target – without ever making me feel like they were saying “class, you do this, and Jena, you do this”. Instead, the poses are always given with a variation in the explanation and then quiet – sometimes ninja-silent! – guidance if you look uncertain or if you give the deer-in-the-headlights eyes.
    I am so grateful to have found a studio that accepts all of us for being who we are and that celebrates the little things – I touched my toes the other day! – I got into “easy seated pose” easily! – I am super good at yin frog and other poses that require hip abduction! And grateful that they have learned to ignore my giggles when I try to get into a pose and tip over or when they present a pose and I accidentally let slip a “yeah right”. :)

    The short version is this: not once, never, not ever, have I left one of my classes feeling that the instructor – nor the other students – was judging me for my weight. I am so grateful for that.

    I hope that everyone reading this article will find a studio that works for them and gives them the love they need to keep loving yoga. :)

  • Vision_Quest2

    The disappearance of OM Yoga Studio from the New York City metropolitan area, has left a big void in this regard. The classes had been very, very fast for me (sometimes I can abide …), and yet the attitudes had been mindful. Little to no pressure. Really middle path.

    I had taken my practice (what’s left of it) and kept it mostly at home … it’s a slow flow, anyhow; and I’m old.

    Yoga studios are not kind to the over-55-set either, unless you’re this short, tiny, spry little old lady type … which stereotype of a yogini always existed, even before the boom.

  • Honomann

    Try the Iyengar Institute in Chelsea.

  • Vision_Quest2
  • Jackie

    My Wednesday class has regulars around my age, which is nice, but they are a quiet bunch. I cue them on breathing but you’d think they were holding their breath for 60 minues. But they seem to enjoy it and come back regardless. Everyone opens up when they need to.

    My Sunday class is the complete opposite. I have a couple in their fifties that regularly comes. I have someone probably in their forties with an ankle brace and a belly. I have another man who’s athletic, but just getting into yoga. He’s wobbly and breathes heavily but he keeps on trucking. Despite seeming like the unlikely bunch, they are the best breathers! There is so much energy in the room at 930am. It’s great. I’ve been able to start working on bandhas with them because breathing, and even ujjayi for some, is becoming second nature. I’m glad I’ve never harshly judged them for their appearance and age, as I am glad that it doesn’t seem like they’ve harshly judged me since I’m 22, a size small, and large chested.

  • I LOVE this article. Thank you so much for sharing. I am a new yoga teacher and have attended many classes and have seen and experienced what you’re speaking of. I love that you are brave and open and will continue. Because that’s what yoga is all about – PRACTICE. For everyone, for every body. To face resistance with ease and grace. Sounds like you’ve already got that one! And love…. well, we could only be so lucky to have as much love in our hearts as you do. xo

  • Rebekah

    I’ve been fortunate here in upstate NY that the majority of my yoga instructors have been wonderful and accepting to me and other overweight students. Most seem to know some ways to use props or other modifications to help those with any type of limitations find a way to participate fully in yoga classes. I’ve been practicing for 13 years, and I can count on one hand the teachers who have in any way been less than accepting. And most of those reacted with surprise after I had been in a class and made it through what they felt I couldn’t do. Needless to say in most instances I didn’t go back. I now belong to a studio in which every teacher is open to all students and works with them to make sure they are comfortable, both in yoga and in life. I count these teachers as my dearest friends.

  • Hanna

    How terrible that you’ve had such negative experiences. I will blame it on LA. I live in the Midwest, where yoga classes are body-size diverse and teachers are on the whole lovely to everyone. However, many kudos to your determination to not let someone else’s preconceived ideas hold you back from your own body bliss. All the best to you!

  • I weighed 300 pounds when I started practicing yoga. I encountered students, friends and relatives that were ignorant what Fat Holly could do. 13 years later, I’m still a student of yoga and for the past 8 years, I have taught classes across the nation dispelling the myth you must be skinny to like and practice yoga.

  • Natalie

    what a beautiful wonderful article! Thank you so much for your grace and honesty. I am thrilled that you had the courage to write this. Thank you Thank you Thank You!

  • Tara

    While it’s not okay that you and other commentators have experienced this type of treatment in your yoga practice, I’m very happy that you’re sharing your story. We all know that there’s been a lot of talk about the “yoga bodies” that are now being marketed to sell products and the idea of yoga. Stories like yours are essential for combatting what these advertisers are trying to tell us about who it is that practices yoga.

    Additionally, this story suggests that there’s a significant number of people who really believe what those advertisers are telling us, that yoga is about beautiful bodies doing impressive poses. If practitioners or teachers are at all interested in the status that comes with this idea, then anyone who threatens that (i.e. people who are older or overweight) will be viewed as out of place in a yoga class. I’m not aiming this criticism at everyone who wants a strong asana practice because after 5 years, part of the draw of yoga for me is still those advanced and pretty postures, but I want it to grow from that. To sum up, those reactions suggest to me that the teachers you have faced could be those individuals who are more interested in the image of yoga, or that they are well-intentioned, but unsure about how to deal with people who don’t fit their perceived norms.

  • You are so right about finding the right teacher. I’ve had good ones and bad ones, but the good ones are the people who’ve enriched my life and my practice.
    I have DDD’s myself, and though I attend level 2 classes, there are positions I struggle with (hello, plow). The beauty of an authentic practice is not comparing yourself to others and to be kind to your own body.
    Yesterday when everyone else was in plow, I felt the need for a hip opener, and so I did one. My teacher knows me and respects that I am careful with my body (I still push into plow when I feel strong enough, too, but yesterday I wasn’t) but she helped align me in my pose despite the rest of the class being somewhere else. Yoga is for everyone, but being a true yogi is knowing and respecting where you are on your journey.
    Love this post!

  • happysnowflake

    Hello fellow Kapha!

    Thank you so much for this post. Isn’t it interesting that the “yoga” teachers you’ve encountered are not practicing yoga at all, just asana? I hope you are able to find a teacher who recognizes your unique strengths and attributes and helps you develop a practice that ‘fits’ you and your goals.

    I’m a ‘large’ yoga student. I look forward going to my mat and I’m strong, dedicated and mindful as well. I have learned to close my eyes when I’m in a class with all bendy Barbies who look at themselves at the mirror all class. I just go inside and enjoy my practice.

    I have the good fortune of having a couple of teachers in my life who understand not everyone is going to be skinny and bendy. That is not the ultimate goal of yoga.

    Stay on your mat. Learn as much as you can. Make it YOUR practice and enjoy the gifts yoga will bring you.

    :) Namaste.

  • Thank you for your insightful blog post. I too am a large woman who practices Yoga. If you ever have a chance to try Svaroopa Yoga, please do take advantage of it. I have been practicing this style of Yoga for six years, and our classes are filled with regular folks, all shapes and sizes. Everyone in the class gets personal attention and nothing but the best support.

    Now, as to weight loss and Yoga? I have found that Yoga is great incentive for trying to shed extra flesh, usually when I’m in some kind of d folded pose like Pigeon, and I wish there were less belly in the way so I could find even a deeper bliss than that which I am already experiencing.

    Namaste’

  • Thanks for this. I am not very fat but a lot bigger than when I did yoga the last time 7 years ago. Started back again last week and was in shock – I NEVER feel embarassed working out or going to nudist saunas or anything because of my body but damn everyone in that class was extremely thin! Given also that the class was in German and sometimes I just didn’t catch 100% of the instructions and that when I am relaxed, like in yoga I am so happy I cry a little, I must have looked like an absolute psychopath!! That fat girl that can’t keep up and keeps crying!! It was wonderful though and yoga is something so personal I realised I should just be concentrating on me the whole time and not worrying about the other people and that they should be doing the same. The teacher despite being a skeleton was very nice and helped me extra as it was my second “first time” :)

  • Dale Elson

    Wow. I’m glad you found a useful yoga teacher!!

    ok, 1st some comments for your other teachers. They do not understand yoga at all. Yoga is not & has never been about achieving poses. The coolness of the shapes that you make with your body is irrelevant to the practice. Their only use is as tools to help you do work. Originally, the work was to prepare you to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Here & now we have different goals.

    So the point is that your teachers should not even be much aware of how cool your pose is – they should be looking for how well the pose serves you. What is good yoga? The yoga that serves you best. What is bad yoga? The yoga that serves you least. So a bad yoga teacher gives you poses and advice and attitude that isn’t helpful, and you alreaqdy know what the good instructor does :-) . So blow off the foolish yoga teachers.

    Having practiced hours a day for a loooong time, I find that most yoga teachers are foolish (but nice, in Austin, at least.) They just don’t have enough yoga experience to be good teachers – to lead a yoga class, maybe. To teach yough, fit, healthy, strong folks – yeah, mostly.

    But the wise teacher doesn’t look at students in obvious term – he wants to know how often you practice, and how well you listen & try to follow directions, how wise you are about not hurting yourself, etc, and everything about your physical shape. To the wise teacher, fat is no better or worse than skinny – just different. The same work can be accomplished by the fat and the skinny, but the tools/asana are different. Which makes sense, because using a tiny screwdriver on a big screw doesn’t accomplish anything useful.

    So, please look up Anusara teachers in your area – anusara.com is a good reference. They are extensively trained to be wise teachers. Some Iyengar teachers are also amazingly insightful and skilled, and can show you – tiny piece of alignment by tiny piece – how to choose poses and versions of those poses, and ways of working on the poses, that serve you most. Ashtanga Mysore teachers also customize the practice to your needs, although they are working from a set practice, so they have fewer tools in their toolbox (but those are some shiny tools :-) . There are others. The key is to find a teacher who does not judge you, but evaluates you clearly and unflinchingly, and serves you the best yoga.

    Now for you :-) . Flexibility is not the goal of asana, and is not a worthy goal for you. If you want to work on flexibility, fine, but you might find that a dance studio or martial arts dojo can loosen you up faster.

    Yoga has many benifits, and I encourage you to open yourself to the possibilities that are in every pose – to let yourself press GENTLY into each pose like a lover, not demanding that one pose or the other give you flexibility or strength or endurance or balance or patience, but alowing each pose to define itself in the interaction with your body/mind/heart.

    An example for your hamstrings – do not think that practicing strong forward bends is going to quickly give you more hamstring flexiility, because it won’t – it will probably injure your hammies instead. The hams are thoroughly feminine, and do not respond well to strong work. They like to be softly stretched, and petted and rubbed and brought flowers and well-appreciated. And you have to woo them for years, softly, with long holds. If you come to the practice demanding hard hamstring stretches, you will be frustrated. But if you come to the practice softly pressing gently into the poses, your hams will teach you how to love them into lengthening. And then you get not only more flexible, but wiser :-) .

    Word :-) .

  • Vision_Quest2

    YESSSSSSSSS!!

    Absolutely yes.

  • Vision_Quest2

    With regard to this comment: if you want flexibility? Don’t go in for Zumba. Bad feet notwithstanding, I do more forgiving dance movement.

    Don’t need to do a dance modality where a measure of good hip flexibility is baseline. Learned my lesson from yoga classes, all these years.

    God bless these misguided yoga teachers. Where would the young people go?

  • As I said on the original article at MoreCabaret.com, this is why I am so passionate about teaching Yoga as a path to Body Acceptance, and why I am so fired up about spreading this message to other teachers in my community. It all comes down to (in my opinion), sensitivity and awareness that everyone who comes into your class has a story – and you don’t know what it is without getting to know them.

  • monica

    thank you for sharing your story. its very true. i have been doing yoga for 21 years. gained a lot of weight with my last kid and have yet to take off the 80lbs i gained with him, and he is now 8 years old. when i got back into the gym people were mean in classes and making fun of me in the gym. when i went back into to yoga i was also treated similar to you. after my son was born i challenged myself to a yoga teacher training, and was asked point blank at the training if i was the other pregnant lady in the class, you can imagine how it made me feel to tell the group nope this is all me after my son was born. i still had good form and made it thru the whole course, and i was so proud of myself. many at the end said they were inspired by me and hoped i would teach yoga to others with weight difficulties. i never thought of myself as someone who had weight difficulties just more of me to love. More of ME to LOVE :)

  • I enjoyed this article as a curvy yogi going in people were surprised by my strength and capability of doing yoga, ashtanga at that. Given I was a bodyworker I shared yoga as a form of therapy to many of my clients and the love I had and experience of hardly any teacher in my town teaching beginner or gentle classes…. I decided to become one… WHOA that was an experience I didn’t expect… what a big girl wanting to be a yoga instructor? Joy, don’t you want to aspire to have a body like our teacher? Fat people are lazy, oh but not you Joy. Yoga is work!

    You think being a big girl taking a yoga class fat is a harsh experience… wait till one day you become a yoga instructor…and then you realize, those teachers were more in it for the poses and side job rather than really knowing anything about yoga and sharing of a mat….

    thank you for this experience and I love you exist.

  • Vision_Quest2

    “Joy, don’t you want to aspire to have a body like our teacher?” [as in, so long and lean; and graceful]

    That. Right there. Never, never worship the ground so-called (ideal) yoga bodies walk on!
    At very least, I had the karma of getting to know the venal hearts (sometimes) beating in a few of those types of bodies (some of them ersatz and ephemeral, some of them born with it) …

    Who’d died and made them king?

  • I have a similar situation. Being a curvy girl (but one who enjoys working out in a group setting) I was very intimidated by some yoga classes I had taken at my gym. It wasn’t until I went through the 6 week beginner basics series at South Town Yoga Loft in San Antonio that I fell in love with yoga. The owner (who teaches the class) made everyone understand that even the most basic poses can be difficult and don’t be afraid to modify. She taught us many modifications (there were all shapes and sizes there…it was lovely). I especially loved her patience with a woman who seemed to have some foot flexibility issues who asked many questions. I too have a nagging arch injury from running and most of the woman’s questions helped me out. Love this-sharing :)

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  • alex

    You are absolutely amazing, more people need to be like you. I love how you have turned the situation into something that can be a learning experience for everyone. Thank you!

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