Welcoming the Curvy Yogini.

Via on Sep 7, 2010

I’m a curvy yoga teacher. And yes, that means what you think it does.

When I tell people I’m a yoga teacher, they sometimes get this look in their eyes like they’re waiting for a punch line. Like they just can’t wait to say, “oh, that’s hilarious!” guffaw a little and move on. Sometimes it gets a little awkward in those few seconds before they realize I’m not joking.

Many yoga studios are also beginning to realize that curvy folks aren’t joking when they say they want to practice yoga.  Niche classes geared towards plus-sized practitioners are starting up, and these can be great places for people who never thought yoga was for them to give it a try.

What I’ve found, though, is that it’s one thing to offer a curvy yoga class. It’s another thing to create an environment where curvy practitioners feel welcome — both in the class and in the studio. Here are some tips for welcoming people with bigger bodies to your studio:

Marketing

· Include different bodies in your advertisements. This includes posters, emails, and websites. If you offer a class for overweight people but never show any in your broader advertising, there’s still a message of marginalization.
· Think about how you usually get the word out, and then do something different. Try local Y’s, community centers, and plus-size clothing shops, to name a few.

Environment

· Talk with your teachers about creating an inclusive environment. If you don’t have someone who specializes in teaching overweight people, try bringing someone in to offer a teaching training workshop.
· Get the curvy people out front.  Curvy practitioners, especially those new to yoga, are sometimes intimidated to walk into a studio and find a waif waiting to check them in.  Do yourself and your new students a favor: have a curvy teacher or student welcoming people in the lobby.

Philosophy

· Talk about it — for real. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea that yoga’s for all body types.  It’s not always easy to actually believe it and practice it. Dig into this conversation to discover and discuss any underlying negative biases your teachers (or you) might have. If you don’t take the time to work this through now, your curvy students will work their way right back out the door.

· Consider context. I once taught a curvy yoga class that was scheduled right after a weight loss class.  All us curvy folks had to wait in the lobby as scores of glistening, thin people left. It was a little surreal, to say the least!  A weight loss class isn’t inherently problematic; taking care of our bodies in healthy ways is wonderful. But we need to be careful about sending conflicting messages about changing our bodies and accepting them as they are.

Yoga for specific needs will likely only continue to grow in the future. Try these tips to get bigger bodies walking in your door—and staying!

* Photo courtesy of Eastern Serenity

About Anna Guest-Jelley

Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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19 Responses to “Welcoming the Curvy Yogini.”

  1. I’ve totally been there, Chandelle. My hope is that we’ll continue to see more inclusive classes in the future! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Sarah says:

    I don't fall under the curvy yogi category – but one of my favorite teachers does. She's great – teaches all levels and has a really amazing practice.

  3. I'm in the curvy catagory, too. AND I'm also the big girl in class. Most of the time, I can deal. Several asanas are more difficult b/c of my size–nuthin" wrong w/ props, using two mats, etc. Thanks for your post, Anna!

  4. jbnorton says:

    Great article Anna – as a kapha body type, I know I will never ever look like the vata waifs so often pictured as models in YJ and yoga clothing advertisements. However, when traveling with my vata waif friends to yoga workshops this means they have someone there to ground them a bit which is helpful when driving around a new city! ;-)

  5. amy koehler says:

    LOVE this article and LOVE that sculpture! I want one!

  6. yogavegan says:

    thank you for this.. i am also a curvy yoga teacher and found that it has both helped and hindered my getting hired as a teacher in certain situations. i have definitely struggled to 'prove myself' as a yogi and as a teacher with a buddha belly! i love this tips and for sure i am going to pass them on to studio owners as I travel down my path.

  7. yogavegan says:

    and PS I must add that when I began practicing yoga, I weighed well over 300, yes THREE HUNDRED pounds… and that is part of my story when I talk to curvy women…. as well as the fact that the yoga helped me get back in touch with my body, and definitely helped me release over 138 lbs…namaste all you curvyyogis

  8. Thanks for your warm comments, everyone! Yogavegan, you're an inspiration.

  9. Barry Gillespie says:

    Wanted to add a male perspective here. I'm 6'4" and built like a middle linebacker, gone to seed perhaps, since I'm 61. I weigh about 235. I get the same sort of response sometimes when people ask me what I do and I say I teach yoga. Their eyes sorta pop and sometimes there is along pause. The good thing is when people come up to me after a class and say that they find it so encouaraging to see someone built like me actually doing the practice and teaching it. It gives them hope that they can do it too. If you are curious there is a picture of me in the courses section of http://www.yogaworkshop.com doing passchimotanasana.

  10. Jess says:

    What a great post! I, too, recognize that glazed-over confusion when I tell people that I teach yoga. My classes are geared for everyone and I encourage even the curviest to explore what they can or have always wanted to work on. We are living the mantra of so many studios, that yoga truly can be for everyone, yet so many of them don't take tactical steps to encourage it. xo

  11. [...] the message of acceptance that is a hallmark of yoga? Where are the curvy yogis? Where are the plus size yoga clothes? Do we want to reduce a practice that was designed for the [...]

  12. Pandora says:

    Give me another info . Thanks .

  13. catnipkiss says:

    Hi Anna – a "better late than never" commenter, here ;) I have had the struggle of seeing myself as a curvy (and older!) yoga practicioner. Yoga re-shaped my body when i started, but some of the pounds found me again (but still with a changed shape) I am a big-boned gal, no way around it. I've got boobs, I've got a large caboose, and I have biceps that put most men to shame! Yoga has shaped me and toned me, but I am Just. A. Big. Chick!! I'm taking teacher training in the spring. Is there room in the Great Yoga Machine for women like us? I think so! It's about being healthy, so obesity is unhealthy, we can all agree. But not everyone is skinny and lithe, even among yoga-junkies! Now if I could only find yoga tops that keep my breasts from spilling out in the inversion poses…..

  14. A huge fan of yours though never taken any of your classes nor live in same state… ha ha…
    I love your existence and this article. I get the surprised look and request to prove myself as a yogi on what is it that I can do. I remember going into a workshop and hearing a yoga studio receptionist telling someone on the phone that yoga isn't for big people . Hmmmm…
    Now that I am working on my teacher training I hope to change that. When people make remarks that usually when they take a yoga class they base it on how the teacher looks, and then my response .. I would rather see who you are rather than who you want to be. there is a difference

  15. [...] first met Anna almost three years ago. I was introduced to her work through her blog post “Welcoming the Curvy Yogini.” Not only did Anna’s words speak to me but I was taken by her brief bio at the bottom wherein she [...]

  16. Mermaid70 says:

    Well-said! Fantastic article.

  17. SireneB says:

    I weigh over 300 pounds – and I started teaching a kundalini yoga class at my workplace this fall (actually 3 classes per week). I have a dedicated group of students – all middle-aged sedentary office workers like I used to be – some are coming to every class. Often I hear how much the class is helping them with day to day life, now that they have their energy moving. I think folks like us might need yoga the most!

  18. Well holler when you come east to North Cackalacky!

  19. Barry Gillespie says:

    Actually I think what i do might better be called "bulky" yoga … lol

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