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Body-Positive Yoga for Larger Bodies, Yes

in YD News

supportive-yoga

Feeling comfortable in a yoga class should be every practitioner’s right. This is what Anna Ipox believed when she founded Fat Yoga in Portland. This is what many other plus-sized yoga teachers are embracing as they stand up to stereotypes and welcome larger bodies to the yoga mat.

There is a movement afoot and it’s about inclusion. It’s about yoga for every body. This is the real stuff, yogsters.

As much as we see a growing and disturbing trend of yoga marketing for weight-loss and the incessant stream of skinny, stick figures gracing the cover of yoga magazines and stock photos (really, someone has to fix this), there is a welcoming counterculture of acceptance, tolerance and a why the hell not? let’s do this attitude.

The Washington Post published a piece the other day called “Yoga for larger bodies.” It focused on a growing yoga niche, if you will, that caters to, well, the yogis you don’t typically see in class, or at the kool summer yoga festivals, for that matter.

Yoga teacher Annie Carlin, who leads a mixed-level Hatha class at Golden Heart Yoga studio in Washington, is a larger-bodied yoga practitioner who started a “larger bodies” workshop series because she’s experienced herself what it’s like to be the only “larger person” in the room.

“I’ve lost 100 pounds and gained it back,” the Takoma Park resident says. “For a really long time, I was angry. All these moves, I couldn’t do them anymore.”

But Carlin still adored yoga, and in 2010, she went ahead with her plan to take teacher training, despite being the only “larger person” in the program. Beyond lessons on prenatal yoga that required her fellow trainees to strap big pillows to their bellies, most had no firsthand experience working with different bodies.

In her series, Carlin focuses on modifications to poses using props or variations to better suit other body shapes, like “wall dog” instead of making the full V position that often puts lots of extra pressure on the wrists. Or how about the simple variation of standing with feet hip-width apart in Tadasana instead of together.

One student of the series, 30-year-old Emily Goodstein, shares why this is so needed:

“You don’t want to be the only person who says, ‘I don’t like child’s pose,’ or the only person using props,” explains Goodstein, a Dupont Circle resident who researches extensively to find “body-affirming” yoga environments. It’s tougher than it should be to find classes that don’t feel competitive and instructors who don’t use weight-loss-focused language, she adds.

“I’m not new to yoga. I know what I’m doing,” Goodstein adds, echoing Project Bendypants’ Tiffany Kell who wrote:

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.

Goldstein and Kell are not alone in wanting to experience yoga in their own bodies and minds, as Anne Carlin isn’t alone in wanting to help them do just that. Anna Guest-Jelley has been promoting body positive approach with Curvy Yoga for years now and offers training for plus-sized yogis and those who wish to add more tools to their yoga-for-every-body toolbox. And the list is growing. Here are a few more:

Clearly, there is a lesson in here for all of us, in open-mindedness and awareness, and not just to avoid the dreaded “death-by-boob-smush,” (some of you ladies, know what’s up!), but so that yoga may truly be a practice open to all, despite what size our yoga pants come in.

image via supportiveyoga.com

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Earlier

32 comments… add one
  • love this article – thank you for posting! i’d like to add my website that includes my class calendar to the list. i teach in the metro Atlanta area and am available via skype –

    http://www.curvyyogini.com

    xo
    stacey beth shulman e-ryt500

    • I was going to comment and say that Stacey Beth Shulman – here in Atlanta should be on this list, because she is amazing….

      But she beat me to it!

      She is amazing!! 🙂

      • well, Sarah and Stacey both beat me to it…come to ATL and Stacey will welcome ALL bodies… thanks!

  • Fabulous post, YD! Thank you! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    P.S. Don’t forget Canada!

    Vancouver, BC area: Lisa Papez, The Fat Yogini – http://www.fatyogini.com
    Saskatoon, SK area: Jean Short, Gentle Path Yoga – http://www.gentlepathyoga.ca/
    Toronto, ON area: Tiina Veer, Yoga for Round Bodies – http://www.tiinaveer.com/

    I may be forgetting someone but if you’re in Canada, this will get you started!

    Namaste,
    Lisa Papez, The Fat Yogini

    • I have had the privilege of taking a workshop with Tiina Veer of Yoga for Round Bodies. She is an amazingly knowledgeable teacher and her discussion of body politics and health at every size was wonderful and eye opening. She leads trainings as well as retreats – I recommend her wholeheartedly!

  • Let’s not forget A Gentle Way Yoga in La Mesa, CA – agentleway.com run by Lanita Varnell, specializing in yoga for differently able bodies!

  • And there’s also Anna Guest-Jelly offering body-loving yoga and training with her Curvy Yoga. She’s amazing and inspirational! =)

  • I teach a Curvy Yoga Class here in Los Angeles at http://www.hazelbluestudios.com as well as offer privates. Our community is growing and I will be offering more classes shortly.

  • Adrianne

    Also don’t forget… https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sally-Pugh-Yoga-Grateful-Spirit-Yoga/97297774171?fref=ts http://www.gratefulspirityoga.net/

    Thanks for posting this! If I hear one more person ask me if I have considered working out I might just strangle them :). I walk/hike 200 miles a month plus do yoga, dance and lift weights. It’s so nice to see someone spreading the awareness that overweight doesn’t always mean sedentary/unhealthy and realizing that bigger women want to feel comfortable while working out. Thank you, thank you!

  • Delcina

    You are my hero!! I thought Stacey Beth Shulman was an anomaly. When in yoga and I look around I don’t see many struggling with how to do the poses when my boobs are smacking me in the face or smushed. Or my stomach is so constricted and I can’t breath. I wait for guidance from instructors which often times never comes. I want to give up but I love yoga way too much. It’s good to know this exists. Thank you for having the courage to buck the norm and take yoga to another level.

  • I’m a bigger woman – it took so much strength and courage to show up at Bikram’s teacher training amongst all the 20something ballerina folks. All I can say is that yoga has been the keystone of my beginning to feel comfortable in my body.

    Over time, as I was able to do more and more of the Bikram series, I stopped fighting the mirror, and started getting really excited about what I could do (as opposed to shedding tears about what I could not).

    Now I teach Viniyoga and am still a heavy teacher compared to the ballerinas… but I am strong. So strong. I love breath-based movement, moving in and out of the asanas with the breath – it opens up these pockets of tightness… sometimes shame is locked inside there. It is completely advisable to cry on the mat. Some of my deepest self love has come from those moments.

    Namaste

    • Adrianne

      Beautifully stated 🙂

  • therese

    Although neither of these studios are geared toward larger bodies, I can honestly say that they welcome all sizes and shapes. I think the studio and teachers are all into practicing yoga for the physical and spiritual beauty of it.
    Check out http://www.inyogacenter.com and http://www.blackdogyoga.com in the San Fernando valley area of Los Angeles.
    They don’t care what you look like as long as you come to enjoy a great class. Modifications are offered and encouraged.

  • Scott in NY

    Interesting comment about “disabilities” by Tiffany Kell. I’m a 60 year old man, doing Yoga since 1976, Ashtanga since 1994. I’m not heavy at all, but I had polio as a child, have a very weak left leg and so there are many things I don’t do well. I recently went to a local class, since I had not attended a class for 20 years, and had a similar experience to what was described above. There were 5 people in the class, and the teacher addressed each student by name during the class, with praise and corrections and recommendations when needed. Except for me, I might as well have been invisible, no single comment or talking to me at all. Except after everyone left, and I was leaving, she said goodbye to me by name.
    I suspect that many teachers are only prepared to teach fairly “normal” people and aren’t prepared to handle unusual situations. A less charitable view might be that they can’t handle the presence of people they find unattractive. I’ve certainly encountered that many times in my life.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Definitely the age factor, the disease factor.

      Many of the “normal-seeking” yoga teachers come to the practice from garden-variety sports injuries (most likely due to overuse), which they seem to heal through yoga with little or no surgical intervention.

      They have no conception of hereditary, serious, chronic, early-onset or inheritable disease that occurs in either the muscular-looking (but actually bloated tissue, and deep down, not strong) or the relatively slender. Both of which I have been.

      That some of them think it’s karma and a whole truckload of tapas, is a lot of spiritual justification of a self-righteous shirker who is not right for the student. The teacher should be teaching to the situation at hand, which is address the illness and not the perceived spiritual lack.

    • LJB

      I understand how you felt. I had a injury long ago which caused problems with my flexibility in my left leg. With my size (220 pds), age (early-50’s) and my lack of flexibility on my left side I found teachers to treat me differently from the rest of the class. There have been times I have felt almost unwelcomed. I’ve watched instructors align other students, stare over at me while keeping the attention to the rest of the class. I love my yoga practice so much that I don’t let those things deter me. I just keep my practice going.

      • Vision_Quest2

        Well, I’m skinny now; but I still don’t get the last laugh on them. I’ve got diabetes Type 2 and I’m managing it the best I can.

        Yet I still do get the last laugh in another way. I can just snub those classes that are so UNimaginative that inverted asanas, hip-openy arm balances, and tree pose take up a third of the class time, too.

        It’s their loss.

  • thanks for the mention! I’m so happy to see you covering this story. If you’d like DVDs or my book for a give-away, I’d be happy to oblidge–Meera

  • Yogi_WannaBe

    I wish we had something like this in South Dakota. It is difficult for me to get past the judgment and being ignored by the instructor. I love Yoga, but it hard to find your center when you feel you are being judged.

  • It is amazing that yoga studios are popping up specifically for heavier practitioners, providing them with a space where they feel they can deepen their love for themselves and for their practice comfortably. It is hard coming to the studio to find that it seems everyone can do all the poses, except you. This is true even for me, and I’m not overweight; however, part of me is saddened that there needs to be a separate space for certain people at all. In ALL studios, between practitioners and teachers alike, we should be practicing inclusion. A big part of Yoga is acceptance, of yourself and of others. It is seeing beauty in everyone who joins you through their practice.

  • Danielle

    Thanks for posting this. I think it takes real courage to go to a yoga class with a group of slimmer yogis and yoginis. It’s silly really – I’m disabled as well as being large, but I’m so much more ashamed when my size prevents me from fully exploring an asana, than if my balance is affected by my multiple sclerosis.

    • Daniella

      Hi Danielle!

      I hope I didnt come off like I dont understand why heavier yogis are hesitant to come to a class with slimmer yogis. I totally agree with you! It is hard coming to class, when you feel that way!

      I’m just saying it’s sad that sometimes other yogis and yoga teachers choose not to treat heavier yogis the same way they would a slim yogi, when yoga promotes acceptance of everyone. I think a lot of times people feel ashamed because others make them feel that way.

      • Danielle

        Not at all, Daniella! I was already writing my comment when you were posting yours. My post wasn’t aimed at anyone – just myself, really. I just wish I didn’t let my body shape get in the way of feeling yoga-good.

  • Love this! Thank you. I did prenatal yoga when I was pregnant with my son. I was the biggest girl in the room by at least 75 lbs. My instructor didn’t bat an eyelash or make me feel embarrassed when I needed a chair to assist me with some positions. Yoga is for everyone and plus size women shouldn’t feel like they can’t enjoy the incredible benefits of it because of our size.

  • shannon

    Hi
    I love yoga dork because we are all yoga dorks at some point. No one is against inclusion and the focus on skinny hard bodies just plays into every woman ‘s struggle to find peace with one’s body- imperfections and all.
    Yes, anyone should be able to participate in yoga and feel good about themselves, but being morbidly obese sets in motion so many health compromising problems. Sure its hard to lose weight especially if you can’t hire a personal trainer and a personal cook. Yes, there is a lot more to it than food choices/intake, but for many women (men don’t seem to be as affected) the relationship with food is emotional more than physiological. Stuffing one’s emotions, seeking gratification via taste and feeling full etc etc.. I don’t care how much yoga an obese person practices, it is very difficult to have peace with one’s self image in this society being over weight. What is the solution? One has to start with a commitment to transformation.

    • redheadedyogi

      “…it is very difficult to have peace with one’s self image in this society being over weight. What is the solution? One has to start with a commitment to transformation.”

      So your solution to a person living in a society with an unhealthy definition of health is to conform the that unhealthy society? No. Saying that everyone is welcome to yoga and then making blanket judgments about their health is, in fact, no welcoming at all.

      • Vision_Quest2

        Yup. It’s the trap set by the people who set the unreasonable standards. A Catch-22, but this time in service to Arjuna’s war …

    • Daniella

      Hi Shannon,

      I don’t really think that a “commitment to transformation” in the physical sense is what makes people happy with their self image. Losing weight does make you feel good, but self esteem comes from within, it’s mental (in my opinion).

      To me, trying to combat society’s perception of you does not mean you have to surrender yourself to it’s standards. There are so many different kinds of people in this world and that’s what makes the world wonderful, why should we strive to conform?

  • What a wonderful article!

    And I would like to add my website http://www.allsortsyoga.com.au (should be published tomorrow!) as I too offer a Curvy Yoga class, as I know when I first started my yoga journey I would have raced into class for bigger people with a huge hip-hip-horray rejoicing that some gets how you feel when you are over weight, tired and differently feeling out of sorts!

    And now as a teacher, I’ve come to realise that size is no barrier to what people can do when it comes to yoga, as that age old saying goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’.

    Good luck everyone with the curvy revolution.

    Nancy
    Perth, Western Australia

  • Mandy

    I often find that having a larger body can prevent me from getting into some of the poses as deeply as I otherwise could. I actually left classes because all the skinny teachers don’t seem to understand that it’s my body getting in the way not my lack of determination/practice/flexibility. I have found that yoga helps to tighten and tone my body which helps to loose weight.

    • Vision_Quest2

      The teachers that have not learned to teach to the body in front of them.

      They have to feel in their bodies/teachings what it is like to inhabit that body, despite their feeling that personally being in that kind of body would *inhibit* their OWN bodies. So, to these yoga teachers: “Teaching yoga isn’t about YOU, you know …”

      And many of those who teach by “taking it personally”, are skinny, but some are athletically built/runners, etc. who have no clue …

  • Emily

    I knew it! — I’m NOT the only one who has felt uncomfortable in a yoga class. I just wish there was a class in Fresno that was like the ones being offered other places in the country — they sound wonderful. There are two lessons here: 1. It’s important for ALL body types to feel accepted in every yoga practice (because stereo-types pretty much suck), and 2. Those of us Curvy-Yoginis need to say a collective “we don’t care what you skinny people think about us” as we boldly carry our yoga mats to class…that, however, is easier said than done.

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