Yoga for Bigger Bodies

Today’s Times has an article on yoga classes for plus-size people. Several teachers have started to offer “yoga for bigger bodies” — and it seems this is an under-served niche. Many of the interviewees said they felt intimidated, embarrassed, or ignored in yoga classes. Some poses are impossible for larger frames, and teachers don’t always know or offer variations. Nevertheless, one expert hated the idea of segregation:

“There’s something wrong that we’re doing as a community if people have to be shunted off to these classes designed for their size,” said Ms. McGonigal, 31, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and is an instructor at the Avalon Art and Yoga Center in Palo Alto, Calif. …Rather than creating separate classes for plus-size yogis, Ms. McGonigal said, she would prefer to see studios work harder to attract a broader cross-section of students to their open classes.

Oy. There’s nothing wrong with offering a tailored class. Yoga was originally taught one-on-one, with each pose being given to the student when he or she was ready. This includes physically ready. Since we’re mostly dealing with group classes here in the U.S., it makes sense to have similar bodies grouped together; the most difficult class to teach is the nefarious “open” level cash cow. I remember carefully planned lessons, thrown out the window when I had some motley crew of new beginners, stiff old men, injured athletes, and yoga professionals show up. There’s just not enough time to speak, adjust, or demo each variation for each person. In fact, some teachers wanted to start a yoga studio with classes for Vata, Pitta or Kapha constitutions — the Ayurvedic body types — but we joked that of course everyone would just go to the one to imbalance them further. (The firey people would by nature choose the most athletic class, instead of the one to cool them down; the heavy people would choose the calmer class instead of the one to fire them up.) Yoga for Bigger Bodies is kind of a start at a Yoga for Kaphas class.

I’d even love to see classes for less stigmatized characteristics like “Yoga for Flexible People” — cause often there’s hidden danger for these body types, too. (Loose people are often sinking into their joints at every opportunity, and need to shorten and draw back in their stance to build strength. More on this later.)

I just think “open” classes are mis-named anyways. They’re more like “somewhat self-led intermediate” classes because of the sheer numbers and unpredictability. Wouldn’t you rather have a class with more specificity?

But, I totally agree that it’d be nice to see a wider variety of shapes in the depictions of yoga. Using skinny, flexible women as 99% of our yoga models creates misconceptions that yoga is just for skinny, flexible women, or that the GOAL is to get skinny and flexible. And feminine. :) More on that later, too!

If you’re in New York, you have several options, of course. Two teachers mentioned by the Times were Megan Garcia of MegaYoga and Michael Hayes of Buddha Body Yoga. Both specialize in larger, overweight, and injured people, and teach classes at various studios around town. Megan also has a book if you can’t find classes in your area. And A Red Lotus has a great, searchable list of yoga classes for various special needs. If you know any other resources, please share in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Yoga for Bigger Bodies”

  1. Great post. As a yoga teacher, I often get a variety of body types in my classes, especially because I offer a program called Big Yoga, which surprisingly, attracts many people of normal weight who appreciate the meditative approach to yoga. As an Integral Yoga trained teacher (for over 30 years!) I appreciate the basic IY Hatha 1 class, because it can be adapted for so many different physical challenges. My original Big Yoga DVD is an adaptation of the Integral Yoga Hatha One class, and can be a transformative practice for yogis at any level, because of its focus on the inner body, rather than the outer body. My new book, Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies, is coming out soon, and I’m sorry it didn’t get a nod in the article.

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