One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is how to find a curvy friendly yoga class. Most of these questions start off with “I really wish you lived in fill in the blank town so I could come to your class.”
Well; me, too! That would be awesome!
But since my cloning experiment hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet, I usually respond with one of two things.
The first is to check out the list of Curvy Yoga certified teachers on my website (as well as other size positive teachers I know of around the world). There may just be someone in your area!
And the second (until we get a certified Curvy Yoga teacher in every town, which is definitely my goal) is how to find a teacher you like.
So let’s begin, shall we?
- Do a Need Inventory
- Begin Researching
- Key Words
- Talk with Friends
- Connect with Teachers
- Snag a Buddy
- Begin Your Yogaxperiment
- Follow Up
- Do a Gut Check
- Next Steps
- Well Mind, Well Body
- Plus Size Exercise Yoga Classes
- Considerations for Plus Size Yoga Practice
- DVDs for Home Practice
- Anna Guest-Jelley’s Curvy-Yoga Inspiration
- “Fat Yoga” Tailors Yoga Classes to Plus-Size Women
- On Dealing With Her Newfound Fame
- On Remembering What’s Important
- On Being Fat
- On Turning 30
- On Discrimination
- On Dealing With Comments On Instagram
- On People Assuming She Could Never Be A Yoga Teacher
- Plus Size Fitness Classes
- Sizing Up: Yoga for Larger Bodies
- Where can I find Curvy Yoga??1 min read
Do a Need Inventory
A great place to start is to figure out what your needs are. Take some time to do a thorough assessment; needs you weren’t expecting may emerge if you give it some time. I’ll assume that you’re looking for someone who is welcoming of curvy folks, so there’s one need. Depending on your unique circumstances, others may include ability to work with beginners, someone who can help you accommodate a particular injury/illness, friendliness and/or whatever other things you’re looking for.
With your need list in hand, you can begin researching. Of course, Google is a helpful friend for this task. Spend some time searching things like “yoga” and the name of your town. Scan the websites and read reviews, but hold it all lightly enough for your gut instinct to emerge. Just because a teacher is beloved by some people doesn’t mean she’s right for you. And vice versa, just because some people don’t like a particular teacher doesn’t mean you won’t.
In addition, be creative about where you look. Of course, yoga studios are a natural place to find yoga teachers. But yoga teachers abound these days, so you can also look at community centers, libraries, parks, schools, gyms, churches and any other place you think may offer yoga. If is often (although not always; there’s no way to generalize) the case that welcoming teachers are in these less obvious settings.
While the number of curvy friendly yoga teachers continues to grow, there is still a dearth of us in most areas. So instead of looking for a Curvy Yoga class, here are some other possible key words to look for if you are new to yoga: yoga for every body, gentle, accessible, welcoming, hatha, slow flow, beginners, etc. If you prefer a faster-paced class, you’re likely to find words like vinyasa or flow. Any paced class can be a good fit for a curvy practitioner, depending on the needs list you determined earlier (although if you’re brand new I usually recommend a slower pace at first just so you can get a hang of the poses and have more opportunities to ask questions).
Talk with Friends
Odds are fairly good that you know someone who practices yoga — even if indirectly. Word of mouth is a great way to find a yoga teacher. So begin asking around for recommendations. Again, just because someone comes recommended doesn’t mean you’ll connect with them (because the person you ask may have a really different need list than you). But a review from someone you trust is often more relevant than one you find online. In addition, you can ask them questions about the style of the teacher and class to get a better sense of what might be a good fit for you.
Connect with Teachers
I encourage you to gather a list of at least 3 potential teachers whose classes you’d like to try. Once you have their name and contact info, connect with them by phone or email. I love hearing from new students before they come to class; it is a great way to get to know them better and assuage any potential fears. So when you get in touch, be sure to let them know any questions/concerns you have. Here are a few you might consider (feel free to just copy/paste these into your email if you’d like):
- What props are available in your class, and when/how do you incorporate them? (If a teacher uses props in her class, it gives me a clue that she is at least somewhat knowledgeable about adapting poses to her students’ needs.)
- Should I be prepared to come up with my own modifications in class, or do you offer some? (This gives the teacher a clue that you will want/need modifications and will also give you a chance to hear more about the teacher’s thoughts on it.)
- What is your experience teaching curvy-bodied students? (It’s useful to hear that a teacher has taught curvy-bodied students in the past. If they say they don’t have much experience but do have experience modifying poses for a number of different injuries, abilities, ages, etc. then that is a good sign that they can help you come up with creative solutions. Although experience with curvy bodies is obviously ideal, I think the most important thing is that the teacher has a spirit of willingness to help you find what works for you in a non-judgmental atmosphere).
How they respond (hopefully helpfully and promptly) will give you more insight into whether or not you connect with them. And when you show up in class, they will already know of you (just be sure to remind them — “I’m Anna. We emailed the other day about class.”), which makes things more comfortable for both of you.
Snag a Buddy
It’s always less stressful to try something new with a friend in tow, isn’t it? As you’re deciding some classes to try, chat up the possibility with your friends. People are often game to try things like this — especially since they can go with you (and you’ve already done the legwork!). So if having a friend with you would make you feel more comfortable, by all means make it a date!
Begin Your Yogaxperiment
Just like finding a new hair stylist or massage therapist, you don’t always (or even often) find the right teacher/class on the first try. So grab an attitude of curiosity and go try out three classes. Aim to try ones at times that fit your schedule so you could go back if you like the class. And so long as you don’t hate the class, consider trying it 2-3 times before making a final decision. Yoga teachers are like the rest of us; some days are more “on” than others, so it’s good to give them a fair shake.
It often happens in a new class that there is at least one thing you didn’t “get” or wanted more information about. It can feel scary sometimes to ask about this, but I definitely encourage you to try anyway. Teachers usually love helping you figure out what is right for you, so if you have a follow-up question, ask! This is also a wonderful way to continue connecting and building a relationship with the teacher.
If you have lots of questions and/or need some in-depth help, ask the teacher if she offers private sessions. This is a great way to get what you need in a concentrated dose as well as respect the teacher’s time after class. You’ll pay more than you would for a group class, but often just a few private sessions can move you further along in your individual practice than months of group classes because you’re getting exactly the information that you need to be empowered in moving forward.
Do a Gut Check
As your foray into classes continues, don’t forget the most important step: checking in to see what your intuition is telling you. It won’t lead you astray. So if you get a weird vibe but aren’t convinced what it was about (as often happens because many of us doubt our first instinct), by all means double check it and try the class again. But if it persists, trust your feeling. You want to find a yoga class where you feel as comfortable and accepted as possible; it’s worth the time to find a class where that li’l inner voice isn’t telling you something isn’t right.
Hopefully these steps have found you a class you love! If not, though, it’s time to reassess. There are several options here. If you like the teacher but the class wasn’t quite right, get in touch with him/her and let them know what you’re looking for. Many teachers offer several different styles of classes, so you may just have not found the right class yet. If the teachers aren’t a good fit, go back through the research steps above and find a few more to try out.
Happy practicing! And if you have any other tips, please do leave them below!
There are few studios that list plus size exercise yoga classes specifically, but this isn’t such a bad thing. No matter what your body shape may be, there are many yoga movements and disciplines that you can practice.
Well Mind, Well Body
The first thing to remember about yoga is that it truly is for everyone. Abby Lentz, the founder of Heavyweight Yoga, has a message for you: “You’re beautiful – now give yoga a try!” She believes you don’t have to stand on your head to do yoga, and has taught thousands of plus-size students to experience the benefits of a regular yoga practice. Regardless of your fitness level, your yoga journey starts with an open mind.
While it might seem that yoga practitioners who are thin and bendy like a willow branch embody the general perception of yoga, in reality, no one can stake a claim on what an individual’s yoga experience should be. Yoga benefits the body, mind, and spirit, without a prerequisite of a particular waist size or assumed flexibility. The more you practice, the more you’ll receive the total package of benefits.
Yes, there are some advantages to practicing yoga with people at the same fitness level or with similar challenges. For example, if some people feel embarrassed about their weight or lack of fitness, they may feel less obvious in front of others who understand. Nevertheless, weight and body image shouldn’t keep you from pursuing a rewarding yoga practice.
Plus Size Exercise Yoga Classes
Most of the plus size exercise yoga classes are localized, not national. One exception is the athletic club Curves, which has some locations with plus size classes. Here are a few others to try:
- A Gentle Way: Lanita Varshell teaches plus size yoga at locations in La Mesa, CA
- HeavyWeight Yoga: Part of Abby Lentz’s program in Austin, TX
- Curvy Yoga: Use this website’s Find a Class page to find a Curvy Yoga-certified instructor near you.
Considerations for Plus Size Yoga Practice
Remember: even if there’s not a plus size exercise yoga class near you, there is always a beginner’s yoga class. And that’s the perfect place for someone new to yoga, or someone with particular health or fitness challenges.
There are some considerations for the plus size yogini to keep in mind.
Choose the right clothing. For yoga, you want comfortable clothing that allows freedom of movement, but isn’t so big that it swallows you up when you bend forward. You’ll also need a supportive bra. Read the LoveToKnow Plus Size article about plus size athletic wear to learn more.
Ask for pose modifications. Some practitioners might find certain poses, such as inversions or arm balancing postures, uncomfortable. People with knee pain may find some bends or standing postures difficult to hold for long periods of time. Also, people with high blood pressure shouldn’t dip their heads below their hearts for too long. So, talk with your instructor prior to each class and make sure you learn pose modifications that help you maintain the proper form while taking care of yourself.
Use props. While some yoga styles don’t always use props, most studios are equipped with blocks, bolsters, blankets, wrist cushions, straps, and other yoga gear that help make positioning easier.
“Move the flesh” if necessary. If you have a belly or large breasts, move them out of the way to make certain postures more comfortable. Don’t be self-conscious — the goal is to maintain the best form you can and keep the breath flowing.
Don’t worry. There will be some poses you can’t do, and maybe even shouldn’t do, right now. That’s okay. This happens to everyone. Return to a centering position and allow yourself to rest while the others practice, then join back in when you’re ready. Remember, you’re in class for the full journey.
Make sure to talk with your health practitioner about your interest in yoga before taking a class.
DVDs for Home Practice
If you feel you’re just not ready to try a studio yet, there are many great DVDs that you can do at home.
- Plus size yoga instructor and model Megan Garcia has a couple of DVDs available, including Yoga: Just My Size and Megayoga.
- Abby Lentz presents Heavyweight Yoga and Heavyweight Yoga 2.
- Meera Patricia Kerr offers Big Yoga.
Back to Yoga for Every Body
Thank you to Patagonia for your support of our editorial coverage of yoga for every body.
For decades, Anna Guest-Jelley felt disconnected from her body. But then, standing in a yoga class sometime in her late 20s, she felt a glimmer of a connection when the teacher cued her to feel what was happening with her right little toe. “After so many years of quashing my body’s signals in favor of following the rules of my latest diet, it had become all but impossible for me to notice anything going on with my body,” writes Guest-Jelley in her new book, Curvy Yoga. “But this time, as my inner awareness woke up, I felt the uniquely squishy, yet firm, sensation of the mat underneath my baby toe. And I noticed how the inside of my toe was pressed down more than the outside was, telling me I wasn’t fully engaging my whole foot in the pose.”
Guest-Jelley now brings this acute awareness into every yoga class, whether she’s practicing or teaching. It’s the same awareness that allows her to understand the ebbs and flows of her body and its weight. “The only truth of the body is that it’s going to change,” Guest-Jelley says. “You can accept this body you have now, and that it will change.”
Body acceptance. Body confidence. Body positivity. There are abundant ways to refer to the often elusive concept of feeling at home in your own skin. It’s elusive because “we live in a culture where there is enormous pressure for people to look a certain way in order to feel OK,” explains Linda Bacon, PhD, author of Body Respect and Health at Every Size. “At this point, the myth of the thinner body being a healthier, happier one has become culturally well established.”
If you are battling to accept your size, Bacon recommends separating functionality from appearance—for example, if you can, take a walk and notice how amazing your legs are as a means of getting around, rather than thinking about how fat your thighs are—and practicing yoga. “If you have a larger body, you may not be able to get into certain poses, but you don’t need to,” Bacon says. “There are other poses you can do. If the yoga instructor is doing poses that are not supporting, or adapted for, larger people in the class, the instructor is the problem—not the bodies of the participants.”
Yoga has been shown to be an effective way to help people appreciate and enjoy their bodies. And Guest-Jelley has noticed more and more larger people in class over the past decade. “More teachers are realizing that supporting all students in their classes is a win-win for everyone,” she says. For a more comfortable practice, try the tips from Guest-Jelley, which she designed to help bigger bodies find comfort in poses in the moment and, ultimately, create acceptance by affirming the body as it is.
See also Curvy Yoga: 3 Ways to Make Space for Your Belly in Any Pose
Anna Guest-Jelley’s Curvy-Yoga Inspiration
Take this opportunity to converse with your body exactly as it is, inviting your whole self to participate. Throughout the following sequence, you’ll be able to experiment with different pose options, finding the versions that work best for you. Then, use what you’ve learned to inform other, similar poses in your practice. Before beginning, come to a seated position and place your hands over your heart. Breathe at your own pace for at least 5 breaths, feeling the connection between your hands and your heartbeat, while also feeling your legs and bottom in contact with the mat. Let these physical sensations invite you into awareness. It is from this place of presence that you can begin the conversation of yoga, getting curious about what your body needs as you go. Use your yoga practice to build a foundation of acceptance—affirming your body by being with it and meeting its needs as they are today.
Adho Much Svasana to Uttanasana Downward-Facing Dog Pose to Standing Forward Bend
From Down Dog, experiment with stepping your right foot directly forward, either between your hands or behind your right hand. If you run into any challenges with this motion, here are two ways to come forward that will give you more space to move:
A From Down Dog, lower your knees to the ground briefly for Tabletop. Lean a little toward your left knee, and then step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. From there, lift your hips and bring your left foot up to meet your right, coming into Uttanasana.
See also Curvy Yoga: Challenge What You Know About Yoga
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“Fat Yoga” Tailors Yoga Classes to Plus-Size Women
Exercise may be good for everybody, but most classes aren’t actually good for every body.
“I practiced yoga for almost a decade and no teacher ever helped me make the practice work for my curvy body,” says Anna Guest-Jelley, founder and CEO (that’s Curvy Executive Officer) of Nashville-based Curvy Yoga. “I just kept assuming the problem was my body and that once I lost x amount of weight, I’d finally ‘get it.’ Then one day it dawned on me that the problem was never my body. It was just that my teachers didn’t know how to teach bodies like mine.”
This epiphany motivated Guest-Jelley to open her own studio, one specifically designed for real women like her. And the classes were an immediate success, which encouraged her to train others to teach “fat yoga.” Now, studios for bigger bodies are popping up all over the country, changing the idea of fitness being exclusive for the fit. (See 30 Reasons Why We Love Yoga.)
The type of modifications Guest-Jelley incorporates into her classes include instructing students to move their stomach flesh out of their hip crease when bending forward, or using a wider-than-hip-width stance in standing poses-small tweaks the stereotypical lilthe teacher may not think are inhibiting the students to start with.
And the popularity of fat yoga across the nation is proof that these are all real problems for curvaceous yogis. But the goal of these studios, the instructors say, isn’t just to make yoga accessible to people of all shapes and sizes. It’s also to help them learn to love their bodies in the form they’re already in, which is why teachers have embraced the uncomfortable-for-some label of “fat yoga.”
“People think ‘fat’ means slovenly, uncontrolled, dirty or lazy,” Anna Ipox, the owner of Fat Yoga in Portland said in a recent New York Times piece on the trend. “It doesn’t.” Guest-Jelley agrees, but adds that yoga teachers need to meet their students-regardless of size-wherever they’re at. “While I’m comfortable referring to my own body as fat, and do because I think it’s important to reclaim it as a neutral descriptor, I know that because of the negative bias it has unfairly gotten in society that not everyone is ready or wants to do that right away,” she says, adding that there will never be one word universally loved by everyone, even “curvy.” (Self-Love Has Been Dominating the Internet All Week-And We Love It.)
She also points out that the modifications she teaches can help people of all sizes. “Just because the classes are useful for curvy people doesn’t mean they’re only useful for curvy people!” she says.
Still, there is a reason the name exists. People should know that this yoga class is going to be different than the traditional, starting the moment they walk through the door, Guest-Jelley says. Students in her classes are greeted with open-ended questions to get to know them, rather than assuming they’re beginners just because they’re curvy (as she says too often happens in traditional classes). (If you really are a newbie, though, here are 10 Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class.) Before the practice begins, everyone is given all the props they might need so no one has to leave the room to get something, which she explains people are often reluctant to do if they feel they’re the only one who “can’t do” something. Then each class starts with body affirming quotes, poems, or meditations.
The biggest change is the way the yoga itself is done, with an acknowledgment that more than just muscles and bones are involved. “We sequence both poses and the overall class to move from the most supported version of a pose to the least,” she says. “Many traditional classes do the opposite, so while options may be offered, they’re sometimes cast as less-than or ‘if you can’t do it,’ even if implicitly. This can make it harder for students to choose what’s right for them because no one wants to feel like they’re the only one who can’t do something.”
Regardless of what you call it, yoga-fat, skinny, or otherwise-is about how to best help people to be wherever they are right now in their relationship with their body, she says.
“Our students often report that our classes not only give them the information they need to make the poses work for them, but also the permission to do it. That permission piece is crucial!” she says. “Because our classes are often more body diverse than others, and everyone is doing something slightly different from the person next to them, people can relax and focus more without worrying about if their body can make the same shape as everyone else in the class-because let’s be honest, that’s not possible anyway!”
- By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Jessamyn Stanley is not used to attention. She’s not even that comfortable with her newfound fame in the wellness space. But the 30-year-old yogi has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram and troves of fans reading her new book Every Body Yoga ($12, amazon.com).
Jessamyn’s fans are drawn to the way she’s representing both fat yogis and black yogis in a totally new and incredibly empowering way. She’s made waves in the fitness and yoga community, providing a place for women—specifically women of color—to feel safe and comfortable and inspired in their yoga practice.
She says the attention she’s earned sometimes makes her feel like a snail who wants to crawl back into her shell, which “is a weird thing because I do feel very confident in my everyday life.”
Sometimes she even forgets why she’s getting attention.
“I don’t really think of it and I’ve only recently become aware of this not being a thing where only a couple people know about me,” she says. “It’s brought to my attention when I encounter a random person who knows me and I’m, like, oh right, yoga and the internet.”
Still, it’s a lot to take on.
Jessamyn’s story is now being featured in a new short film called “Unbelievers” produced by Bai Brands, a line of antioxidant-infusion drinks, in partnership with Tribeca Studios. The “Unbelieve” campaign highlights the origins of the brand and celebrates people who strive to better themselves and their communities by moving beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.
Jessamyn shared more wisdom like this with Women’s Health, alongside photos from her new book, explaining how she’s changed her life by reclaiming the word “fat” and how being a woman of color makes her feel in the fitness world.
On Dealing With Her Newfound Fame
Jessamyn says it’s been an adjustment trying to stay grounded and true to her message amidst all the attention she’s been getting. “One of the things I’ve been critical of is the reasons why you’ll find yourself in the spotlight, and I think that we all tend to lean toward ego and it’s something that I definitely struggle with,” she says. “I’m being very, very conscious of that because the attention is blooming at the same time that my book’s coming out and the Bai film is out and it’s a weird balance.”
On Remembering What’s Important
“What yoga helps me with is understanding that the world we live in is not about who you’re in love with or what job you have. All of those things are going to change because you are constantly changing. There’s always a truth and understanding that what’s bigger than the self is what’s within the self.”
Related: 8 Yoga Poses to Release the Tension in Your Hips After a Crazy-Stressful Day
On Being Fat
“The use of the word fat is absolutely a reclamation technique. It’s very much like the word has been used as a weapon against me, and I hear people still using it as a weapon toward themselves, toward one another, and then it doesn’t mean large, it means stupid, it means ugly, unworthy to exist. To me, to use the word fat with its designated meaning of large is not an insult, it’s just a statement of truth. I’m saying I’m fat because I am fat is the same thing as saying I’m black because I am black.”
On Turning 30
“I’m assuming my thirties will be rough, too, because life is rough. But I’m really excited to enter this stage of life. There’s just so much that can happen in this life, and this life can be extraordinarily brief, and I don’t hold myself above that, and I just want to enjoy everything.”
Try this yoga pose for stress relief:
It’s important to Jessamyn to continue to represent everyone in the yoga community, but ageism is a factor she thinks is often ignored when it comes to discrimination in the fitness space. “I think a lot of older women are very upset about the fact that the entire conversation of women’s health is really centered around young people, especially in the yoga world,” she says. “Then people associate being able to move quickly with these younger bodies because there’s so much strength and power and age. I wondered: How much of a role can I play in this and still be on the younger side?”
On Dealing With Comments On Instagram
“To me, Instagram is like my journal in a way. I’m not trying to express a controversial opinion, but it has elicited so many strong reactions,” she says of some commenters who ask if she’s trying to lose weight, those who react to her political views, and even the ones who thank her for her positivity. “When people have a strong, negative reaction to it, it’s interesting social commentary that we all need to be paying attention to. Why are we so affected by this?”
Related: 11 Surprising Perks of Practicing Yoga
On People Assuming She Could Never Be A Yoga Teacher
“There’s definitely a visceral reaction if people don’t know who I am when they walk into my yoga classes. It’s like, they ask: ‘Oh, are you teaching class?’ and it’s very clear that they’re skeptical. But that’s always the same person who can’t catch their breath during class. We all come to everything with our own assumptions about stuff, and the problem is that we don’t talk about it enough.”
Have you ever felt like you want to start exercising, but stepping through the doorway seems too intimidating?
Well, I can tell you, you’re not alone.
If you’re someone who is looking for a gym where you’ll feel comfortable no matter what size you are, I know how hard that struggle is. Believe me, I know, when your body size is perceived as outside the cultural “norm,” entering a gym can be that much more daunting, especially because words like inclusive and body positive are trendy these days, while actually living up to those marketing phrases is a whole different story. So, if you’re on the hunt for a size-friendly gym, try asking yourself these questions to separate the potentially inclusive ones from the not so much.
And just a note: Of course there’s no way to guarantee that any of these phrases indicate true inclusivity (there are plenty of gyms that call themselves inclusive or body positive but may not have training in competently serving a diverse clientele). This is when it’s helpful to use a free trial period to give you a chance to experience the place for yourself. And beyond that, we all have different needs, cultures, and lifestyles, and while one size-inclusive gym may be great for one person, I’m not suggesting it would be for everyone else. Whatever your specific needs are, your voice should be heard. You are the CEO of your life, and I encourage you to interview gyms and trainers thoroughly, just like any CEO would.
1. What kinds of classes does it offer?
A gym’s class schedule can tell you a fair amount about whether size inclusivity is something the gym has on its agenda. I recommend looking for key phrases in the class descriptions, like “body positive,” “fitness for everyone,” or “fitness for every body.” If you’re new to working out, I’d also look for words like beginner or intro. Oftentimes a nod toward being friendly to beginners or people of all fitness levels indicates a more welcoming overall tone.
2. How do the group instructors talk to their classes?
It’s not just about the class offerings. It’s also really important to know how an instructor cues their students and leads the class. First of all, you don’t want to be in a class where the instructor uses shame-based cues (“Keep this up and you’ll hardly recognize yourself in a few months” or “Let’s work hard, ladies, bikini season’s coming”). Beyond that, we all want to work out with trainers who genuinely motivate us! For a lot of people, motivational cues around weight loss and making your body better/tighter/smaller can be really problematic, especially if you’re a plus-size person who often already feels like you don’t measure up or belong in a fitness space as is. For size inclusivity, verbal cuing or motivation should be health- and fitness-related, not about appearance or weight loss.
3. What kind of equipment does the gym have and how is it laid out?
Ideally the gym is stocked with treadmills and cardio machines that don’t have weight restrictions, as some do. That’s one thing to ask about.
And it’s not just about the equipment the gym offers but also about its placement. Some things to check are: Is the equipment easy to maneuver around? Does the space surrounding each piece of equipment make it easy to get in and out of each machine? Sometimes gym spaces can feel cramped and don’t offer the space certain body sizes need.
4. If it sells branded merch, does it offer inclusive sizing?
Many gyms have merchandise available as part of their business model. If the gym is accepting your money as a customer, it should also consider you when placing orders for the gym store. I’ve been a member of many gyms where the merchandise didn’t fit and it definitely leaves me feeling excluded. I understand sourcing merchandise in a variety of sizing can be difficult and takes extra work, but if your money is good for the membership, you should be good to go on the merchandise as well. Check out what they’re offering, and hopefully, gym management will be open to hearing your request for larger sizing.
5. Do you see yourself represented in its marketing?
A truly size-inclusive gym will represent diversity in its marketing message, and this means featuring a range of sizes, ages, genders, races, and so on, to be reflective of the population it’s seeking to serve. I sometimes hear that gyms’ marketing materials feature only thin people because customers want to see the “end result,” not the current state. That in of itself isn’t size-inclusive because the main objective in that statement is to transform the body to a smaller size.
6. Are its trainers experienced working with size-diverse clientele?
Size inclusivity in the fitness industry isn’t necessarily taught by common certification bodies. It often depends on whether a trainer has educated themselves on how to competently train people with bigger bodies. When joining a gym, it’s good to ask questions such as, “Do your trainers have experience with size-diverse clients?” If so, “can you give me some examples of how they work with size-diverse clients?” If they can respond quickly with sound answers that satisfy your needs, it’s a sign you could be in good hands. I would also caution here too: Although the gym owner is invested in size diversity, make sure you also talk to the trainer you will be working with.
7. Is management open to feedback?
Some gyms may be doing a great job in some areas pertaining to size inclusivity yet may need feedback in other areas. A size-inclusive gym is led by management who is open to hearing the feedback from all paying customers and who can empathize that getting active and fit can come with many barriers for certain demographics. An empathetic and invested management team dedicated to the success of all clients can be the driving force needed in a size-inclusive gym culture. Pay close attention to how the gym responds to requests and feedback.
8. Is there size diversity among members and trainers?
The most common way to see whether a gym is size-inclusive is to book an appointment for a tour and check out the vibe and community of the gym. During your visit you can see the other gymgoers, and get to look at the equipment layout and the merchandise in the pro shop. A size-inclusive gym may also demonstrate diversity by its training staff, so that’s something to look out for too.
Louise Green is a plus-size trainer, founder of the fitness program Body Exchange, and author of Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have. Follow: Instagram @LouiseGreen_BigFitGirl, Twitter @Bigfitgirl, Facebook @louisegreen.bigfitgirl
The content of each Big Fit Girl column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of SELF or SELF editors.
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There are some mid-market gyms where you’re discouraged from bringing your own towels. This prevents people like me sullying their uniform fluffy whiteness with my own grubby rag, plus the customer doesn’t have to worry about dragging a soggy towel back home. Wins all round – except, of course, if you’re fat. I work out, swim, jump in the shower and grab the complimentary towel to walk to the changing room, only to discover it covers just over one boob’s worth of my modesty – and that’s just not enough boob.
Like lots of people, I want to be fitter. Exercise has been part of the rollercoaster ride of weight gain and loss I’ve been on since I was a child. When I was 20, I lost five stone in a year by allowing myself only 1,000 calories a day (excluding gin) and walking off 700 of them. My adult relationship with food and fitness didn’t really get off to the healthiest of starts.
Now I’m 35 and overweight. I want to fall in love with exercise, but I’ve struggled. I keep trying new things. I keep trying old things, including the gym. But the message is clear: they haven’t considered the needs of someone over a size 14. It’s almost as if they don’t care about attracting a chubby clientele, which makes no sense: surely large people are exactly the sort of people who should feel welcome.
I asked an expert: why don’t gyms go for the fat pound? “Ultimately, it costs more money,” Nicola Addison, owner of Eqvvs Training, told me. “It costs more for the facilities to employ staff with the right skill set for that clientele; it requires more in-house training.”
You could say in-house training was what was missing when my friend Gemma asked about a powerlifting competition at her local gym, but I’d go with basic empathy. Gemma is 32, size 18, and hoping to get pregnant soon, so she’s spent the last couple of years working hard to lose weight and build strength. She has shed five stone. Her favourite fitness activity is powerlifting, but at her gym the free weights are on a separate floor to the cardio equipment, next to the men’s changing room. “It’s intimidating,” she says. “Very rarely is there even a woman on that floor.” When Gemma picked up a form for a powerlifting competition, “Two staff from the gym came over and took it out of my hand. They didn’t say anything. I said, ‘Can I have an application?’ and they just laughed.”
Gymtimidation is real, and it’s not just the business model or ignorant staff – it’s the culture. It’s the weights being on a different floor, or in a separate room (annoying). It’s the skimpy towels (fattist). It’s the posters of smiley, young, slim, able-bodied white people on the cross trainers.
After spending most of my 20s joining and breaking up with various gyms, last year I decided to become more adventurous. I started with running, getting up at 6am and throwing myself round a park. I downloaded all the free apps, such as the NHS’s Couch To 5K and Runkeeper, and got vaguely competitive with friends online; I bought LCD Soundsystem’s running album, 45:33. I liked running, but never loved it, so when I dislocated my kneecap in an unrelated accident, I was relieved to give it a miss.
Next, I tried the Lifesum app. You tap in your weight, age, gender and how much you want to lose over how long, and it tells you how much you can eat. For me, that’s 1,498 calories, or 9.5 Daim bars. I know that because Lifesum works out the calories in any food and exercise, meaning you can offset a post-pub pizza by cramming in five hours of night cycling. It’s basic “burn what you eat” stuff, but the constant monitoring only reminded me of the obsessive, unhealthy food/exercise relationship of my 20s. So I started searching for my next fad.
Deborah Coughlin: ‘One barrier preventing non-whippets from working out is simple: the clothes.’ Photograph: David Yeo/The Guardian
There are lots of things I secretly think I’ll be a natural at, given the chance: parkour, being a secret agent and street dancing are just three. After five years of saying I was going to go to a dance class last year I finally signed up. There are lots of things to be mildly anxious about when you join a community street dance class, in east London, as a 35-year-old, plus-size, white woman. I had imagined the room would be full of 17-year-old Lil Bucks, popping their joints before I’d even got my sports bra adjusted. But when I looked in the mirrored wall, I realised how wrong I was. I wasn’t the oldest or the only big girl in there.
I came home afterwards and did the Funky Penguin for my boyfriend in the kitchen. I learned our class routine to Uptown Funk and did it in bars and at parties, to the delight and horror of my friends. It turned out I’m not that good at street dancing. So it was on to the next sporting challenge.
Kitesurfing is where you stand on a board, on the ocean, in a strong gale and strap yourself to a kite. I saw a video on YouTube of people who could jump all the way over Worthing Pier, propelled only by the power of their kite. It’s amazing. So I rang and told the man who answered I’d like to try it. As I’m a good swimmer, I should be fine just turning up, he said. And no problem, they have all the kit. We were getting to the end of the conversation and I knew I had to ask the question I’d been dreading. “With the wetsuits, er, what size do they go up to? Because, er, I’m quite big and…” He fell silent.
I can’t remember much about the rest of the conversation, but I know he fumbled, something about how I could try a man’s suit and I should be fine. I agreed cheerfully, laughed, put the phone down and never went kitesurfing. My days of rummaging in a box of clothes that are too small and walking into a group of people looking like a clingfilmed sausage ended at school PE lessons.
I wasn’t exactly comfortable walking into Nicola Addison’s gym in posh west London, either, but I was lucky enough to get a free taster session earlier this year. After my adventures in alternative fitness, I felt it was time to go back to a gym. But was this the right one for me? Addison has trained Elle “the Body” Macpherson, after all.
The session began with a chat about my goals. “I want to be able to run for a bus without choking on my boobs,” I told her, adding that I didn’t want to lose weight by hating myself for being fat, and I definitely didn’t want to yoyo. “I’d rather stay fat than lose weight and put it on again,” I said. She was calm, like a no-nonsense Brown Owl dealing with a hysterical, 17-stone Brownie. “The fittest people are those who are always physically doing things” she said. “Digging the garden, walking the dog, getting off the bus a stop early.” I don’t have a dog, or a garden, but I do take buses. This (I’m calling it Bus Fitness) could be my thing.
“You need to do sweaty exercise for only 30 minutes three times a week,” Addison continued, taking me through a personalised plan. Crawls, stretches, subtle combinations of balance and weight holding. Sweaty, but unexpectedly easy.
Addison emailed me the plan, because I’d probably never be able to afford to go there again, but I can’t help wishing her holistic, motivational expertise was available to people without Macpherson’s budget – bus people. Addison is evangelical about fitness being accessible: “These days, there are so many things. My mum lives in a sleepy village in Leicestershire, and she’s going to Pilates and Zumba in little church halls.”
One barrier preventing non-whippets from working out is simple: the clothes. Sanna Lory works for XL.Promodoro, a new plus-size brand that goes up to a size 26 for women and 5XL for men. “Everyone wants to get fit,” she says. Sanna, who is not plus-size herself, believes many brands still don’t stock big sizes, because “they’re going for an aspirational marketing strategy where they want people to look at their models and think, ‘Wow, they look great, I want to look like them.’” Some people will respond well to that strategy, but many will be put off “because it makes them afraid, it makes them feel judged”.
Aggressive and outdated marketing strategies deter lots of people – fat, thin, old, young, different races, different classes – from trying out new sports, which is one reason Sport England made an almighty intervention at the beginning of 2015, with its #ThisGirlCan campaign. “It’s interesting, because when we went into this, we thought there might be different barriers, according to what size you were,” Tanya Joseph, the campaign’s director, tells me. “We actually found that the barriers are pretty universal.” Joseph and her team discovered three common barriers for women: appearance, ability and priorities.
The campaign’s aim is to get more women exercising, and it started with a TV advert that showed people with different body types doing exercise. Already it has had an impact. “Normally it takes a really long time before you start seeing people taking action,” Joseph says, “but we’ve already seen a 6% growth in people in our target groups being active, which equates to over half a million women.” She tells me about a new Sport England scheme, an element of which encourages leisure centres to put hooks by the pool for towels, so that anyone who feels self-conscious about walking half naked and wet in public can take a towel. “These are relatively simple changes that make women feel more comfortable.”
Many of us, fat and thin, have grown up feeling as if we don’t fit in at the gym. The friendliest grandmother ever could nail down some old bikes to a church hall floor, call it Basic Spin and loads of people would still find it intimidating. But we do belong. If we can buy the ticket, find the time, get through the door, we deserve to be there as much as the next (skinny) person. When I turn up to my first kitesurfing class in the very near future, I’ll be sure to make fitting me in their problem.
Plus Size Fitness Classes
Never feel self-conscious in the gym again, regardless of your physical conditioning or size. At Bud’s Ultimate Fitness, our Winter Park Fitness Studio is the perfect place to feel safe and supported while losing weight. We offer small classes that cater to those who are significantly overweight or obese and are intimidated or unmotivated to hit the gym. With groups of 5 or less, you will always be surrounded by our family-like support group. We’re here to help motivate you physically, mentally and emotionally and show you how you CAN change your lifestyle.
Getting motivated to hit the gym can be a struggle for anyone, but for those who are significantly overweight or obese, the experience can be intimidating. This class is specifically only for those who need to lose 50 pounds or more, and caters to obese people wanting to change their lifestyle, and NOT people trying to maintain 10% body fat.
Most gyms aren’t always conducive to overweight people. Most people in this category feel as though everyone is staring at them or they are on display.
We go a step further than any other weight loss program. The key, and really only key to them conquering their weight loss, is the emotional aspect. What feelings are they stuffing? What hole needs to be filled? We tackle their weight loss from the inside out.
We will provide healthy meal plans with real food (no shakes, bars or pills), body fat and metabolism testing and weekly weigh-ins. Also, we provide psychological groups and individual sessions for them to address their health esteem and the emotional triggers that go into overeating.
Plus Size Fitness
Monday and Wednesday 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM
Tuesday and Thursday 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM
Cost: $25.00 per class
I’m in a deep lunge—right foot below my right knee, left foot pushed as far behind me as it can go. Just as my thigh really starts to burn, I hear it: a deep, guttural moan coming from my right. “Ooooohhhhh.” The woman lets out another moan. And then another.
We’re in yoga class, and she’s having trouble with a pose. To my surprise, there’s no awkward silence or weird looks being thrown her way. No question of why she would sign up for yoga if even a lunge makes her ache that badly—and loudly.
Instead, the woman to my left pipes up. “Ugh, I know, this is awful. But you can do it, Shary,” she says. “Just a little bit longer.”
It’s something I’ve never heard in a yoga class before: students encouraging each other.
But, then, this wasn’t a regular yoga class. If you were in the room, the difference would become instantly clear: We were all fat. (Want to work out more but don’t have the time? Then try Fit in 10, the new workout program that only takes 10 minutes a day.)
Not your typical yoga class
I walked to the Buddha Body yoga studio—a studio in New York City that offers yoga classes specifically for fat people—that morning not knowing what to expect. I was there because I like yoga, because I’m fat, and because I thought that doing yoga with a bunch of people who look like me would be so much better than doing yoga in a room full of people half my size. And I was right.
When you’re overweight, walking into a typical yoga class can feel daunting. It’s like that song—”one of these things is not like the others,” and you’re the one who sticks out. But I’d unroll my mat and pretend not to notice—until, of course, I’d stumble on a pose. Every time I had to take a break or modify a pose that everyone else could do, I felt like I was proving that I didn’t belong. Here I was, the biggest person in the class, and I was slowing everyone else down.
While it’s possible that I was the only one who felt that way, that everyone else in the class either didn’t notice what I was doing or didn’t think any less of me for not being able to hold plank pose for too long, the feeling that we just don’t belong is what drives many fat people to fat yoga classes or, if no class like that is available, out of yoga classes entirely.
“Based on what you see in television commercials or fitness magazines, you’d think yoga was only for people who are already thin and already flexible,” says Abby Lentz, who runs a studio called Heavy Weight Yoga in Austin, Texas.
But yoga instructors like Lentz and Michael Hayes, who runs Buddha Body, flip the image of the typical “yoga body” on its head. They make yoga accessible to anyone, no matter their size, and provide a space where fat people don’t feel out of place.
MORE: 11 Ways To Make Yoga Easier At Every Size
At first glance, Buddha Body looks like any other yoga studio, with mats and blocks and bolsters lying about. But take a look at the walls and you’ll see ballet bars and long black straps hanging from hooks. Hayes uses these supports to help yogis stretch out their backs, hamstrings, and other muscles while supporting their weight. When I first saw those supports, I was disappointed. It seemed like watered-down yoga where the wall does most of the work. It didn’t take long to realize I was completely wrong.
As I slipped my body through one of the straps, pushed my heels back to the wall, and reached forward to grab a chair in front of me, it became painfully clear that this yoga was not watered down. It was actually the best stretch I’ve ever felt in my back.
Then take a simple spinal twist. In a typical yoga class, you would perform it by lying on the floor with your knees pointed toward one side of the room and your arms spread in a T shape. But in this class, we did a spinal twist sitting between two chairs, grabbing on to the seat back to pull ourselves deeper into the stretch.
When I went to a traditional yoga class 2 days later, I really missed those supports and modifications. In fact, I had to make my own modifications during class because the instructor didn’t anticipate that I wouldn’t be able to do a pose. It’s not that typical yoga instructors don’t want to work with people of size. This teacher really tried to give me extra support when I needed it. But, Hayes says, most teachers just don’t know how to make yoga work for fat people.
“They don’t usually deal with larger bodies,” he says. “So they don’t realize that when you’re trying to do a seated forward fold, your stomach is going to hit your knees before your head can come down far enough to complete the pose.”
Fat people need those modified poses and extra support, and it’s a concept that even I, a fat person who’s been doing yoga for a while now, didn’t grasp as I was attending “regular” classes. Instead of recognizing that my body got in the way—and that I might be able to stretch the same muscles with a simple modification—I felt my face flush with embarrassment every time I couldn’t do a pose.
MORE: How To Get Into Yoga At Any Size
Finding my place
After class, the woman who encouraged Shary to power through that lunge tells me that going to fat yoga changed her life. “When I started coming here a year ago, I couldn’t even sit on the floor,” she said. Having watched her lay down on her mat and pull her knees to her chest, it’s clear that’s no longer the case. “I help out with the children’s groups at my church,” she says. “Now I can get on the floor and play with the kids. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t come to yoga.”
And as Shary put it: “Here, I’m allowed to be my size.” And she wasn’t just talking about feeling too big in yoga class, but feeling too big in general. As fat people, we’re constantly trying to make ourselves smaller, on buses or airplanes or even just walking down the street. But in yoga classes like Buddha Body, where everyone is big, it’s nice to finally, unapologetically take up space.
While I won’t give up traditional yoga classes entirely (how can I when my company offers two free classes a week?), attending even one fat yoga class changed the way I think about my body and my practice. Now, when I stumble on a pose or need to take a break, I don’t just hang my head in shame. Instead, I ask the instructor for a modification and keep going.
Try it out
While there’s clearly a need for yoga studios like Buddha Body, very few exist. When I was researching fat yoga, I stumbled across only three studios: Buddha Body in New York City, Heavy Weight Yoga in Austin, and Fat Yoga in Portland, Oregon.
If you can’t find a local class, it’s possible to do it from home. Once a month, Lentz live-streams a Heavy Weight yoga class from her studio, and she also has a set of DVDs. Curvy Yoga, a website that trains instructors to work with larger bodies, also has a few free yoga videos and written modifications.
Sizing Up: Yoga for Larger Bodies
by Bess Hochstein
It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: Someone I meet for the first time is surprised to learn that I have a serious Ashtanga Yoga practice, simply because I don’t look like a svelte “yoga babe.” I’ve got curves, and I do yoga, and I’m fine with that, but even after decades of classes at shalas across the country, I can’t stop myself from scanning the room to see if there are others on the mat who don’t have that “yoga butt”—others, like me, who don’t conform to the stereotypical image of a yoga practitioner, the one we see again and again in the media.
While yoga is good for everybody, these images send the message that yoga is not for every body. But a growing number of teachers are bent on encouraging people who don’t look like string beans or bend like pretzels to get onto the mat and into a whole new mindset.
New York City–based instructor Michael Hayes, creator of Buddha Body Yoga, knows from experience how isolating it is to be the largest student in the classroom, or to use props when no one else is. When he began taking vigorous vinyasa classes about 10 years ago, “I was the only person using blocks,” he recalls. “It was challenging, feeling like you’re on training wheels when everyone else is riding the bike.” He realized there was a need for yoga tailored to larger students when he noticed that teachers would regularly point him out as a model for other big-bodied students looking to modify poses.
“I was usually the biggest guy in the class, and you get a sense that most teachers don’t know how to deal with that,” says Michael, who’s also a trained bodyworker and former dancer. “People of size need different help. Most schools have a routine that they’re following rather than looking at the individuals and seeing what they need.” Inspired to serve this population, Michael got his yoga teacher certification, studied yoga therapy, and traveled to Thailand to work with master teachers.
Nearly as soon as he began offering classes for plus-size students, The New York Times ran a story featuring Buddha Body Yoga, and demand for his classes went through the roof, prompting him to find a larger space and offer more frequent classes. He limits class size to four (and limits his students’ size to large) and encourages them to speak up, ask questions, and give feedback. “It’s not a quiet class,” he says. “I’ve got very rambunctious students. They let me know what’s going on in their bodies.” He uses plentiful props—super-sized blocks, chairs, physioballs, bolsters, and extra-long straps—that enable students to approach asanas in a way that works for their shapes.
Rather than building a base of long-term students, Michael’s goal is to arm practitioners with the knowledge and confidence that will empower them to join “mainstream” yoga classes. But, given the demand for his classes, as well as the many people who are too intimidated to even try yoga, he says, “Eventually, I’d like to see every school of yoga have a place for large bodies.”
Lanita Varshell, founder of A Gentle Way Yoga Center in La Mesa, California, was originally one of those too intimidated to try yoga. At 250 pounds, suffering through chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and a bad marriage, she finally went to a class, at a teacher’s persistent urging, “just to prove that I couldn’t do yoga, and to get her to leave me alone,” she recalls. “I cried quietly during the entire class. Not because it was hard, or hurt, but because it was something my body could do without pain, and because I was feeling body, mind, and spirit working together for the first time. I knew this was something that I had to do for the rest of my life.”
Not only did she commit to a yoga practice, she also committed to bringing this experience to others facing similar challenges. After years of practice and study, she created two unique approaches to teaching plus-size students: Meditation in Movement Style Yoga, which she describes as easy but deceptively deep floor-based yoga for the back, spine, hips, and mind; and Aalamba Yoga, a joyful, more active form of healing movement, done with support. She’ll introduce principles from both approaches in her Kripalu program this fall.
As a teacher since 1996, and a veteran trainer of yoga teachers on how to adapt their classes to larger, older, less mobile, and health-challenged individuals, Lanita allows her personal experience to guide her approach. “My concerns as a teacher when working with students carrying extra weight is getting into an asana safely—the extra weight and gravity can take them down toward the floor too quickly—how long should they hold it, and can they come out of it safely without injury?” she says. “These are safety concerns that I am always aware of, because I’m still living in a large body, whereas a small teacher may not even think of something that she or he isn’t feeling themselves.”
Beyond asana, Lanita also addresses issues such as confidence and self-esteem in her classes. “Sadly, I get students on a regular basis who were either turned away by another style of yoga, even told that they were ‘too fat to do yoga,’ or could simply not do or keep up with other classes and styles,” she says. “My goal is to get their focus off their weight, and use relaxation techniques, breath, and yoga principles to help them accept and even love their bodies and their lives, just as they are today.”
The elephant in the room, so to speak, is the hard-to-kill hope that your practice might eventually get you that yoga butt, or at least help you lose a few pounds. And while both Michael and Lanita agree that regular practice often results in weight loss, they don’t view this as the goal. Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga Cristie Newhart, who has taught in Kripalu’s Healthy Living program Integrative Weight Loss, says she knows of no direct correlation between yoga and weight loss. “What I do know,” she says, “is that regular practice brings more mindfulness to one’s experience and creates more body awareness, which leads to greater sensitivity to the body. All of these things are key to lifestyle changes, and lifestyle changes do correlate to weight loss. The important change people make is that they stop speaking so much in terms of weight loss, and more in terms of wellness. They stop seeing themselves as a body that needs to be overcome, perfected, and changed. They’re willing to be happy now, and let any weight changes be part of an overall lifestyle plan.”
My own long history with yoga has demonstrated this to be true. Over years of practice, my diet has changed—seemingly of its own accord—and I know I have to go to bed earlier and eat lighter to get up for class at the crack of dawn. I’ve also gained a greater appreciation of all that I can do, rather than focusing on the asanas I can’t get into—yet. And I chuckle silently whenever I’m in a posture—like Upward Boat—where a little extra padding instead of a “yoga butt” actually gives me a bit of an advantage.
Bess Hochstein, a freelance writer based in Sonoma County, California, writes about yoga, travel, spas, the arts and culture, food and wine—all the good things in life.
The principles of Health at Every Size® (HAES) informs Curvy Yoga not only because of the soundness of seeing health as individual, but also because of how it connects with yoga philosophy. Like HAES, yoga is a practice for turning inward and getting to know yourself.
The inner listening that yoga facilitates and encourages keeps me coming back to the mat and allows anyone in any body to participate in the practice. Because as you get to know your body and how to adapt the poses to it, your ability to listen within grows deeper.
See alsoBodysensing: Learn to Listen to Your Body in Meditation
Yoga isn’t only for the thin, flexible, and fit.
Like many things in life, yoga poses are often taught (even to teachers in training) on an assumed thin, fit, able, and fairly flexible body. In some ways, that makes learning and teaching the poses as a teacher easier. In that context, there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do a pose, and your job as a teacher is to help students get their body to move into the “right” way.
The only problem? Way more of us are not already thin, fit, able-bodied, and flexible than are. Even if you’re one, two, or three of those, very few folks are all four. So that means the vast majority of students will not be able to do the “right” version of the pose. And that tends to encourage one of two things for many people: (1) dropping out (or not starting in the first place) or (2) forcing your body into a version of a pose that isn’t right for you.
Of course, learning to do new things isn’t wrong, nor is challenging yourself. And it makes sense that people cannot come to yoga, no matter their body shape/size/ability, and do every pose right out of the gate. But too often what happens is that people do whatever they can to force their body into the look of a pose and compromise their alignment, balance, and safety in the process because they’re not given pose options that actually work for them.
The other thing that happens is that people get discouraged or drop out because they feel like they’ll only be able to participate if they get a new body. So here’s the good news: You don’t need a new body to start yoga. Which is great, because guess what? You’re not getting one.
But don’t worry, because neither is anyone else.
The idea of a “new body” is a myth we’re sold. Plain and simple. It could never be anything but that because we all logically know we’re never getting a new body—that even if our body changes in any way (which, of course, it does constantly), it’s not new.
Losing weight doesn’t make your body new. Neither does gaining weight. Neither does gaining muscle. Or suffering an injury. Or having an illness. Or dying your hair. Or having plastic surgery. Or having a baby. Or breaking a bone.
Some of these things may make your body feel different, but feeling, looking, or even functioning differently does not a new body make.
We’re all still us, which is better than it may sound. Because the other side of this “new body” myth is that it presupposes that new = better. Not only does this insult your “old” body, it also implies that all change is for the better, so that when something changes about our bodies that we don’t like, we’re doubly hard on ourselves.
But here’s the truth—for you, me, and everyone else—no matter what your body’s shape, size, age, or ability is, it’s yours. And that means it’s with you for the long haul—an ever-present reminder that the only true possibility if we want even a modicum of inner peace and freedom is to learn how to accept and love the one body we have.
Because even though it will change in various ways over time, nothing and no one is with us more than our one, only-new-on-day-one body. It shows up more for us than anyone or anything ever will, even when we’re not happy with it, even when we wish it were different, even when we lambaste it.
So you can just take that off the table: You don’t need to become more flexible, thinner, “more in shape” (whatever that means), or anything else to try yoga. You just have to show up.
Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done.
See alsoMy Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance
Yoga doesn’t care what you look like.
I’ve had mini panic attacks in my car in the parking lots of more than one yoga studio and turned around and gone home. I’ve also gotten halfway there, freaked, and steered my car to the mall instead.
Sometimes all the good intentions in the world couldn’t outweigh the nerves that arose when I contemplated going to a new yoga class as a fat person. Even to this day, when I know I can find a version of any pose that will work for me, no matter what the teacher offers (or doesn’t), I can still feel my nervous system clanging around, asking me: Is this really a good idea?
Trying anything new can be anxiety-producing. I totally get that’s not a size-specific thing. But when something like yoga is portrayed in the mainstream as the domain of the already thin, fit, and über-flexible, and you’re not those things, it only makes sense that you might feel an extra layer of fear. That’s how our culture works: On the whole, it says who’s in—and who’s not.
This is also how any form of oppression works in our society: Those whom society has decided to favor (read: white, thin, fit, able-bodied, male, heterosexual, middle-class-at-minimum) move through the world with greater ease than the rest of us. On the whole, the rest of us are made to feel we’re not measuring up in some way when we don’t fit those criteria, though they’re arbitrary criteria that Western society decided to privilege in the first place. So that’s what privilege means: Some people move through our world with more ease due to certain traits society deems “better.”
For example, one form of privilege is thin privilege. People who live in thin bodies are generally held up as beautiful, desirable, and the ideal we should all be working toward. Except, of course, all bodies are different, and every body can’t be a thin body, for a host of different reasons.
So what happens when thin privilege shows up in yoga, as it often does? A self-perpetuating cycle is created. Yoga is taught to thin students, who feel good about participating because it’s geared to their body, so then they become thin teachers who have likely only been taught to teach thin students, who teach thin students who become thin teachers and so on and so on. Soon, you’re to the point where when you ask any random people on the street who yoga is for, they’re more likely than not going to identify a thin, fit, über-flexible, able-bodied person.
All this to say that when fat people go to yoga classes, it’s with less privilege than thin people. This has nothing to do with individuals, who may or may not ���feel” that they have more or less privilege, but rather with our society as a whole. For example, a thin person may say she’s not privileged because she grew up poor. But that’s not accurate. Because while that means she doesn’t have as much class privilege as someone who did not grow up poor, she still has thin privilege. One form doesn’t negate another. We almost all have areas where we have privilege and others where we don’t.
For example, as a fat woman, I don’t have thin privilege. But as someone who is white, heterosexual, cisgendered, with advanced degrees, and who grew up middle class, I have an abundance of privilege in those areas. It’s not either/or.
When we know that, generally, thin privilege rules the day in yoga classes (though, thankfully, that is slowly starting to shift), it makes sense that going to class as a curvy person can be a big deal that is intensified even more at the intersections of other identities. It also makes sense that even when you become more comfortable with your body, there still may be different contexts that bring it up again.
See also10 Ways to Hold Space for Difficult Emotions in Your Yoga Classes
But every class isn’t a Curvy Yoga class.
Some people don’t think that this is an issue, though, or rather they don’t think it should be. The most common complaint I hear people have about Curvy Yoga is that some folks don’t think it’s needed because they think all students should be able to practice in all classes comfortably. These people fear that classes that are explicitly welcoming to curvy bodies are stigmatizing and silo students into never being able to participate anywhere else. But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Curvy classes aren’t the only place to practice; they’re just a place to practice for people who want it. These classes are no different than classes for seniors, pregnant women, people with back pain or any other type of specialized class. People have come together in solidarity and community when they so choose to get the support they want in a way that works for them, whether yoga related or not, for probably as long as we humans have been around. And even if all classes became curvy friendly overnight, I still think there’d be a place for Curvy Yoga classes because of the intentional community they create.
The next thing people share with me is usually something along the lines that yoga doesn’t care what you look like. Here’s what I always tell those folks: I agree! It would be wonderful if all yoga classes were accommodating of all bodies! But we don’t yet live in that world. Because while the practice of yoga doesn’t care what you look like, much of the culture certainly does, and yoga teachers, classes, studios, and students are part of that culture.
The truth is that not every yoga class is designed to meet the needs of curvy bodies, not even classes called Beginners, Gentle, Hatha, or even Restorative. Because many yoga teachers learn to teach students who live in thin, already flexible and able bodies, it’s not the pace of the class that’s most relevant, but the instructions and options that are included (or not).
Yoga instruction we see in most classes these days has come to us through a blend of yoga asana, gymnastics, aerobics, and more. Like any other facet of culture, it is influenced and shaped by the current moment. This is why we see poses today that weren’t around even 20 years ago, never mind more. With that in mind, it’s even less surprising that current yoga instruction (and past yoga instruction) mostly targets the already thin—because all contemporary fitness culture (and society) does the same. And the types of yoga and fitness information that fat people typically receive, like “Try harder,” “Go faster,” “Sit this one out,” or even “Use props” (if there’s no information on how or why to use them) are nothing but shame-based so-called motivators, not truly relevant information about the needs of curvy bodies.
And these are just the technical, yoga pose–based reasons why creating space for curvy people to practice is important. The other reasons are based on the exclusion that many fat folks feel in yoga classes that do not offer, or sometimes even fail to attempt to offer, pose options that work for them, even in classes that are purportedly for everyone. Many of these classes do not offer more than one pose option, even if the teacher is well-intentioned in being welcoming (as many are). When yoga classes lack body diversity and relevant instruction, it’s not difficult to realize that curvy folks may feel as if they’re on the fringes—because they’re often literally told to just hang out in Child’s Pose (which is not even a comfortable pose as it’s traditionally taught for many curvy-bodied people) while the rest of the class does the “real” poses (whether that message is conveyed implicitly or explicitly).
This isn’t to say there aren’t yoga teachers and classes that have raised their awareness about the thin privilege dynamic and consciously sought ways not only to say that their yoga is inclusive, but to enhance their skills in order to meet the needs of a variety of students. Blessedly, these teachers do exist, and their number is growing all the time.
I remember when I first started practicing yoga. The teachers gave the same instructions over and over again, and everyone else seemed to blissfully go along with them (though, in hindsight, I realize that probably wasn’t even true). I, however, kept thinking: “How can I stand with my feet together here? My knees hurt!” or “Put my belly on my thighs?! It was there the second we leaned forward an inch (2.5 cm)!”
The underlying internal commentary I heard was simply this: “What’s wrong with me?” “What’s wrong with me?” “What’s wrong with me?”
It’s not a question I needed any time to answer, because I always knew the answer. I’d known the answer since I was a child: too fat, too fat, too fat.
See also10 Ways to Love Yourself (More) in the Modern World
You don’t always have to listen to the yoga teacher.
When teachers don’t acknowledge that more exists in their students’ bodies than muscles and bones, they leave the rest to the imagination. And in a thin-privileged world, the “imagination” (because it’s more like all the received messages up to that point) has a tendency to fill in the blank with this: “My body is wrong.”
Because as we’ve discussed, whatever we keep in the silence is a ripe candidate for shame. And when teachers don’t acknowledge that your belly may feel compressed in a forward bend and that you can simply step your feet a little wider or move it to make space, you’re left to either stay and feel uncomfortable or, as is true for many people, assume that yoga isn’t right for you and abandon the practice entirely.
This doesn’t have to happen, though. With the necessary information to practice in a way that works for their bodies, curvy folks can then practice in any type or style of class they choose, including curvy-style classes or not. That’s the beauty of all the yoga options available today: People can go with what works for them, not be forced to choose between struggle or not participating at all.
I’ve seen this so often as a teacher. When I first started Curvy Yoga, I assumed that the only people who would be into it would be other curvy folks like me. Boy, was I wrong.
From day one, I’ve had students of every shape and size in class. At first, I found myself thinking, “Have these thin folks gotten lost?” But soon, my mind and heart opened to just how many of us are affected by feelings of bodily disconnection and feelings of not measuring up, no matter what our body shape or size. I quickly realized through talking with my students that being in a body affirming space where everyone is given the support and tools they need to be in their own body and experience is a rare and powerful thing.
Here’s the thing, though: Just because many shapes and sizes may attend curvy-type classes, that doesn’t mean we can just get rid of the name, call the class “yoga for all” or something like that, and call it a day. Because I do think that drawing attention (and more importantly, knowledge) to the issue of curvy bodies in yoga classes is essential, as is letting folks know that these are places that are explicitly welcoming. Fat people do face unique stigma, bias, and discrimination based on their size that must be acknowledged and addressed. There truly are things that students and teachers need to know in order to help curvy students practice more comfortably. And as more of us bring this into our lives, practices, and communities, I think we’re slowly moving away from a narrow (often literally) definition of yoga and into a more open and individualized practice that suits the needs of the user. This means considering the needs of curvy bodies as well as all others. We all benefit when the focus is on listening to our body within the parameters of safety because it gives all of us the permission to find what works for us. And it is from this place that the seed of body acceptance can grow.
See also 6 Excerpts on Yoga and Body Image
Reprinted with permission from Curvy Yoga© 2017 by Anna Guest-Jelley, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
About the Author
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat. Anna is also the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit CurvyYoga.com
Where can I find Curvy Yoga??1 min read
So I decided to conduct my own research and search on Google — as you do.…
I found that searching for the terms “curvy yoga” or “fat yoga” — the results returned were for American based yoga studios/classes. Leaving potential London based yogis to believe that there is not anything that caters for their desire to find a body positive yoga class closer to home.
If you are thinking that there aren’t any curvy classes in London you’d be wrong. There is CurveSomeYoga, but it we are being told we are difficult to find. We are currently addressing this issue.
Check out this video to see what you can expect from our classes https://youtu.be/XFxfuO0_BkU.
Classes are currently available in Islington and Anerley, with more classes being added to our schedule all the time.
If you’re not in London, don’t worry we will continue to do online classes.
When individuals do find us they always say that they have been searching for these type of classes for a long time with little success.
What I’d like to know is what phrases or keywords do you use when you’re searching for a curvy yoga class?
Please email me at [email protected] to that we can ensure that our classes can be easily found.
We look forward to seeing you on mat soon, so we can help you with your yoga journey.
#fatyoga #bodypositiveyoga #fatgirlyoga #plussizeyoga #fatgirlyoga #curvyyoga #psyoga