Being a Fat Yoga Teacher. ~ Kate Robinson

Via on Feb 27, 2013

fat_yoga

This was inspired by the article called “If I were a man, I wouldn’t read elephant.” 

Caveat: I’m still in the nascent stage of my development as a teacher, but I’ve been fat for, well…ever.

Getting through teacher training was deeply empowering.

It was physically challenging and ultimately it served as an exercise in staying awake moment-to-moment in the body I have.

The first few days I had to surmount my Everest sized-paranoia, and the voice that kept bellowing “You don’t belong here. They’re all gonna laugh at you Carrie!” (Okay, that last part was from Carrie, but still.)

I know in every inch of my heart that I do belong wherever I end up, that my birth certificate is more than enough permission slip for me to enter a room.

And yet

Saddling up to my mat flanked by skinny hawt hawties (who were to become my dear friends), I felt vulnerable and inadequate. It took a few small triumphs of my haunches over gravity (mostly in pincha mayurasana) for me to feel in my bones, that I was home, with my peers, my studio, and my body…even the subtle one.

And yet

Walking into my first yoga class that I would be teaching with my meticulously selected soundtrack and sequencing I felt that same sour stomach frozen adrenal heart slapping sensation of otherness.

Even in my confidence inspiring sports bra & tights that held all of me, and my ample ass-ets in place, I remembered what I look like.

The wall to wall mirrors helped jog that memory in the blinding fluorescence of this gym’s studio that looked out over a busy Boston street.

Not that you ever really forget you’re fat. It’s just that if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who treat you with such an equanimity of acceptance that you cease to feel yourself as an outsider, you might move this fact to another less used file of your “reasons to hate yourself” cabinet.

that fat girl has yoga pants onSo there I was, greeting students as they walked in, and trying to discern what I was sure was shock when they saw that their Power Yoga class would be lead by a woman whose BMI would classify her as obese.

Shock, or perhaps disgust, or perhaps fear, or perhaps gas.

Who knows?

That’s the point, I don’t know what anyone is thinking, but my adolescent self-loathing is under the impression that she is a mind reader, and I must constantly remind her that we aren’t in junior high anymore where we got our ass slapped for being chunky on the soccer field.

I must remind her that she is valued for her vigilance, but she needs to sit down, take a Benadryl and remember she doesn’t know what people are really thinking.

And yet

I’m not so naïve as to think that everyone is A-okay with a plus sized yoga instructor, and so I must proceed with care.

There are going to be people that refuse to hire a fatty, no matter how much he or she has to offer. This is just the truth of our culture, and the only way I can fight it, or at least attempt with my one life to balance it; is to be the absolute best instructor I can.

That means paying deep attention to my students, and my practice. It means preparing for every class with the same urgency I do when I prepare for an audition. It means eating well, and taking good care of my nourishment and myself.

It means practicing aggressive self-love.

It is hard to be fat in this particular Westernized Yoga world. It is hard and it is risky. I open myself up to more ridicule, criticism and rejection, than the average yoga-bear.

And yet

This country is getting larger and larger. The average size of an American woman is now a size 14.

Many women I know feel like they can’t do something until they lose weight. One such activity that I hear again and again is yoga. I used to be about 80 pounds heavier, and let me tell you how horrified I was to walk into my first yoga class. (Turns out I was right to be scared,  in front of the entire class the teacher, before we started dragged a chair over to me and said, “You’re gonna need this.”)

So I cried through my first yoga class and didn’t return for years, vowing that once I started with my practice in earnest, I would become a teacher and do my best to offer classes to people who maybe felt to scared to walk into a class with a teacher that doesn’t understand living in a morbidly obese body.

I also vowed to teach a wide variety of body types, so that not only would I be teaching the overweight, but I would be teaching by example the skinny people who think that being fat means you cannot be graceful or athletic or strong.

And we fatties are so strong. Do you have any idea how much muscle it takes to carry our bodies around? If you removed our fat you would see a jacked musculo-skeleton.

We can be athletic, we can be yogis, we can be marathon runners without also being svelte. We are also becoming more vocal about our civil liberties, and our presence in the market pace.

We aren’t to be dismissed.

So I’m going to have to get used to holding my chin(s) up high, and trusting that me and my beautiful Buddha belly belong in class, and at times in front of the class, teaching through heart and example.

 

goldfishKate is a yoga teacher in and around Boston. She received her certification at Back Bay Yoga. She also is the author of the book “Darling Angel Meat” from Shoe Music Press and has her MFA in Poetry and Literature from Bennington. She doesn’t fit in most Lululemons clothes, and frankly could give a damn.

 

 

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Ed: Elysha Anderson/Kate Bartolotta

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44 Responses to “Being a Fat Yoga Teacher. ~ Kate Robinson”

  1. Shay Dewey shaydewey says:

    I too am a fat yoga lover, former teacher and I love this article.

  2. Louise Avery says:

    Lovely.. As a teacher with a belly that looks pregnant a lot of the time and boobs that make saravangasana a challenge.. I know how you feel.. but teach anyway. I do and most of the time dont notice whether I am too big small .. I just am.

  3. Ellen R says:

    I am also a fat yoga lover, thought about teaching and chickened out because of my size, so you go girl! I would love to move to Boston just to take your classes! But I have never been able to do pincha mayurasana, dammit. Thank you for the article.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Ahh, neither could I except with one of my legs facing forward, on tiptoe atop a piece of furniture …
      However, I quit that style of yoga, for the most part.
      Old school yoga is suitable for all sizes … and they were the first to learn not to laugh at, condescend to or discourage the diversely-sized student.

      Guess they've been around longer … so it's by default … grrrrr!

      But, extreme vistas opened up once I started in with old school yoga; my home practice has never been better supported, and I've never felt better after practice ..

  4. Rose says:

    Reading this article was like reading my own diary! I have lost about 80 lbs, become a runner, gym junkie, and Bodypump instructor. I have overcome so many fears, but every time I get in front of a class, I feel that people think I’m too fat to teach.

    But then I remember that I inspire people. I have had so many gym members come up to me and tell me that they aren’t afraid to run, lift weights, do yoga, take group fitness classes… because they see people like me, REAL people, who can do these things and excel at them.

    I am proud to be an instructor, to teach people just like me how to take care of themselves. I am happy that I can inspire others on their path to fitness, and I can commiserate with every hurdle they experience, because I have been there!

    Everyone is on a journey, learning how to eat, move, and breathe in the healthiest way possible.. the way that works for YOU.

    We all start somewhere, and there’s nowhere to go but forward!

  5. Alex V Yogi says:

    Sing it sister! Love this well thought out article and thank you for sharing the yoga and being an example of ahimsa!

  6. thanks so much for writing this! i've been a full-figured yoga teacher for more than 3 years now and i love every moment of it.

    yes, i have been denied teaching opportunities based on my body, and i think that sucks. i also have a tribe of people who are not just coming to my classes because they're at convenient times or because i'm the flavorofthemonth teacher. they come to my classes because they can relate to me just as i am. i teach people of all shapes and sizes – from super athletic to soft and round and everything in between. the abilities and limitations that each person presents constantly fascinates and amazes me.

    every time we show up to teach a class it is an act of subversion, requiring people to think just a little more and judge just a little less. keep walking your path. it's so worth it.

  7. Martha says:

    nice. thanks.

  8. Beth says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! But please don't practice 'aggressive' self-love! It kind of defeats the purpose really. Maybe you could practice powerful, persuasive or energetic self-love… or simply self-love.

  9. Helene says:

    aloha, since asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga, the other seven having nothing to do with anything physical , except pranayama , your weight should have absolutely nothing to do with being a yoga teacher. If your heart is int he right place and you are doing what you love then good for you!!!!!
    Namaste

  10. Melanie says:

    I too am a fat Yoga Teacher! I'm so grateful for this article! Thank you Kate for sharing with us! I'm so inspired by this!!

  11. kendahl says:

    You helped me give myself permission to add becoming a 215 pound yoga teacher to my list of life goals. In the mean time would you please move to PHX so I can be a student? I can assure you of a room full of not over weight but simply undertall students. Please write more soon.

  12. Sara says:

    I loved this article. But I was totally appalled to read about your first experience in a yoga class. I wish I could have a few words with that teacher.

  13. Jigme Chodron says:

    I feel embarassed to even enter a yoga class. I am too afraid of the instructor pointing me out when I just want to blend in and hide in the back.

  14. johnny says:

    having struggled with weight in the past, i want to say something that at first shocked me but then helped me get over my weight issues. of course there are genetic predispositions to being over-weight, but eating that dairy-free ice cream at midnight really doesn't help those genetics!

    the problem with being fat is not how you look. the problem with being fat is that it's dangerous. i used to think everyone judged me because my rolls were unsightly, until a good friend sat me down and told me how visceral fat was affecting my heart.

    so.. i think a lot of people share this sentiment of concern, but don't know how to talk about it. all you see is their eyes looking you up and down, pause on the paunches, and then the furrowing of their brow. and always remember it is your projections that govern your reality. as you said 'trying to discern what I was sure was shock when they saw'.. you were looking for shock in their eyes.. no wonder you found it! perhaps if you were looking only for love, you wouldn't even have noticed any shock.

    yoga will open your heart, hunny. it will! it will open all the emotions stuck inside and all the cholesterol stuck in your arteries, too!

    keep practicing.. not for how you look, but for how you feel :)

    namaste

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Well, I was merely one size too large at the time; and it had happened to me–in the young, skinny-yoga-land of a wannabe New York City studio … (after keeping off 85 pounds for the first time in my life). As long as you are under 65 and not hobbling around with a cane, NOBODY is immune from yogic fat shaming …

      I am first getting over it now, about 4 years later. I think I will blog about it.

      Thank you for that catalyst. Unfortunately, though, any cholesterol problem I had, had got a little worse–but most of my problems along those lines were heredity …

  15. Kim says:

    Wonderful! I am "thick" yoga teacher myself. I'm confident and strong and I know I am good at what I do. And yet… some days those thoughts creep back in there.

  16. ALotToLearn says:

    You're awesome! I love brain over body. You're smart and funny and that's what matters. I can fit into Lululemon, but I can't afford them. I am not overweight but I can't do pincha!

  17. Karen says:

    Kate, thanks for this article. I, too, am a very full-figured yoga instructor. I've been teaching for 9 years and still have trepidation when I take on a new class. I get a lot of complements, though and inside I know I'm a good teacher. Once I calm down, I know that people are seeing me for what I really am. This article helped me so much. You are an inspiration.

  18. Monica says:

    So inspiring and mold-breaking! This is so needed – Thank you for your love and strength.

  19. Anamatria says:

    GREAT Article!!!

  20. lisa says:

    Yoga was a huge factor in my becoming comfortable in my skin after nearly 40 years of disordered eating and weight and body obsession/self loathing…regardless of my size, which has been from underweight to 30 or 40 lbs overweight. It led me to become a teacher and a holistic nutritionist as well and to shift my attention inward to awareness and focus on how I FEEL. Yoga makes us strong, at any size, from the inside out and on many levels…and reading

    this article is a sweet reminder of the true beauty of authenticity and how it radiates outward…thanks for your inspiring and heartfelt essay. I bet you'll never know how many people you helped in their own journeys past fear and negative self talk towards growth and self acceptance. Yoga is for ALL bodies….NOW…

  21. Mindy says:

    Thank you!

  22. Jeannette says:

    Hi – a question for Kate: Had you practiced yoga for a long time before deciding to teach and get certified? Or did you leap right in to the teaching path? I ask because I am cosidering whether that would be an interesting path for me to take. The journey to better and more stable health patterns for people such as myself – very overweight and yoyo'ing for the umpteenth time – is what is interesting and being able to follow someone empathetic to the challenges is the key. I would certainly prefer a teacher that understood where I came from, i.e. it is not only a physical journey, I am extremely well-versed in what one does to lose weight but not keep it off, as it is largely transforming the mind (no pun intended) that is the hard part. Jeannette

    • Kate Robinson says:

      Hi Jeannette!
      I had played with yoga, but didn't truly dive in until about 6 months before TT. I had been a fat marathon runner before hand, and a Division I hammer thrower before. (These things are not required certainly) I think the time was right for me to TT because I knew how important yoga was for my emotional health, and I wanted intensive learning. I wasn't sure when or how or even if I would teach; but the discursive act of just BEING big in a studio was enough for me to buck up and be present.

  23. Sara says:

    I am a strong(wo)man competitor, and the strongest women in strongman are also the biggest. The fatties. The women we light weight and mid weight competitors look up to in awe as they hoist 200# axle bars from the ground to overhead. So, yeah, you ARE so strong. I know this for a fact.

  24. Aiden Hovde says:

    Wow! I would love to be in your class. The yoga of courage—that's what I need.

  25. Elena says:

    Come on, there is a difference between "thick" and obese! A big part of the roots of yoga is worshiping the temple of the human body, which, if you are fat after years of eating poorly or underexercising, is no reason to perpetuate your flaws! Yoga is based is HEALTHY living. I am not speaking out against larger or curvy women who are intimidated to don stretch pants and show off their crack in a downward dog, hell that happens to ALL of us! But please, if you are a yoga teacher who is following an ayurvedic lifestyle and diet, there is nothing OK with being "obese". You aren't teaching you students all of what yoga entails . You can teach them self-love and acceptance, but you need to also teach that yoga does not end at the end of class. Yoga goes on, through every meal and snack, staircase and bus ride. If you truly live in the path of yoga you not only have unlimited love for yourself and others, but you practice that love through respect to your body and healthy living.

    Again, I am not saying that there is something wrong with being overweight and doing yoga, but someone teaching it should be an example of health and should explain the diet, mindset and exercise that continues from the class into our lives.

    Jigme Chodron–> maybe practice at home. There is no shame in your body, but maybe you should re-learn how to worship it. It is beautiful and powerful, no mater what size, so maybe setting up you OWN yoga space in your house will benefit your confidence and healing process more than a group class where you feel people have expectations of you.

    • Tilly says:

      It might interest you to know that 20% of people who are clinically obese never develop what are considered obesity-related diseases. And that plenty of normal weight people develop diabetes and heart disease. Ayurveda teaches us that much more thought and effort needs to go into determining a person's health status than just their weight. So consider that overweight yoga teacher that you have summarily judged as unhealthy and not following yogic principles may well be the healthiest person you know!

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        I agree. It depends on the efficiency of your organs, whether your fat is due to hypertrophic adiposity (rather than hyperplastic), heredity of diabetes (or OTHER comorbidities treated with drugs–as was my case).

        Correlation is not causation.

        Prejudiced people are demonizing fat.

        The last acceptable witch-hunt …

    • Kate Robinson says:

      Elena,

      I am large, and I am healthy. My body is a temple and I treat it as such. My temple may not look like yours. There are plenty of yoga teachers, with anorexia teaching and spreading that message. Historically there were emaciated yogis, and there were big bellied buddhas. I think your comment proves my point, that some people think we should hide, and be quiet until we look like whatever standard they have in their head from Yoga Journal. Ahimsa, ahimsa, ahimsa. Loving kindness, perhaps you could practice those at home before you summarily dismiss a large bodied yoga teacher?
      Love and compassion,

      Kate

    • colleen says:

      This is the first time I ever replied to anything online, I started off as a thin yoga teacher. 14 years ago. Certain health issues and circumstances in life has definatley challanged my weight and I do have a healthy diet. It has been a humbling experience to explore yoga 40 pounds heavier. It has given me the experience to be a better teacher because oi now understand its not so easy to do certain yoga poses and I've learned to modify. Yoga is for every body.It is unfortunate that you think this woman should practce privatly hidden in her own space trying to heal. It may be in your best interest to meditate and explore your own healing if you have such a strong opinion on a person who is not what you consider the ideal yoga weight. Sat nam

  26. Anon says:

    While I applaud your courage and self love, I have to echo the posts above that fat is not healthy, no matter how "strong" your muscles are. Carrying that extra weight in visceral fat is a poor example of health, especially from an instructor. The excuse that as a society, we are all getting fatter anyway so we might as well embrace it, makes me very sad. As a former fat person, I can vouch for the fact that fat people are not victims. They are people that made choices that led to the body that they inhabit. Being fat is no accident. The universe and society isn't picking on you. Being large is one thing, morbidly obese is quite another.

    I accept all body types and people, but if my fitness instructor has a body that they don't take care of, they aren't' credible in my book. Would you take real estate investment advice from a homeless person? Didn't think so.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Except that yoga is not "fitness" per se.

      And boy, did I make a wonderful choice to have been fat. In my case, I chose the kind of parents who would guarantee to pass on their genes.

      Let's party on!

    • Kate Robinson says:

      Interesting choice to stay anonymous.

  27. anonymous says:

    Bela Karolyi has a big belly, should he have not taught gymnastics?

  28. Jessica Nif says:

    Admittedly I am a friend of Kate’s. We did our 200 hour teacher training together. I am also a fat kid. I have been practicing yoga for over 2 years and I have gone from obese to just a little overweight in that time. I can do asana that people with a normal BMI cannot. Does that make me a better yogi? No. What makes me a better yogi is the way I live my life. I’ve taken classes led by all shapes and sizes and I’ve learned something from all of them. I think we should all practice a little more loving kindness and raise each other up rather than making someone feel shame. If they are in a yoga class they are obviously at least interested in finding a healthier outlook on life both physically and emotionally. So please stop your fat hating. Kate’s class made me sweat and worked me harder than a skinny teacher.

  29. juliannecorey says:

    Kate, I'm in Boston too (Cambridge mostly) and I teach yoga and Nia. Yoga has taught me how to learn about my body. Nia has taught me how to LOVE my body – regardless of size, injury or circumstance. I taught Nia as my body changed for many months of a twin pregnancy, and again, losing double-baby weight. I love what you said about not waiting. In Nia, we are invited to listen to our NOW bodies to learn what they need in order to get stronger, healthier and tap into healing, in ways that are unique to the individual. I am personally inviting you to attend one of my Nia classes. Even if Nia as a movement form doesn't turn you on, I promise it will give you tools to continue to empower yourself and your "all-sizes" students. This Sunday, Nia open house at Namo yoga studio at 4pm – come move with us all shapes and sizes. Sounds like you'd make a GREAT Nia teacher! xox, Julianne

  30. @photinakis says:

    Kate! I love this! Being a plus-sized gal, it is pretty terrifying walking into a yoga class, but I always walk out really happy that I was there. I'm still trying to learn what adjustments to make to certain poses work for my frame, but it's something I enjoy. And I can't fit into Luluemon either, I love that you mentioned it in our post.

    I have been to BBY many times and love it there, though I've often been (by far) the largest person in Vinyasa or whatnot. If BBY or any other Boston studio ever offered a class for larger folks, I would be there in a heartbeat. (I know there are some out in the Boston burbs, or so I have heard, but nothing AFAIK in the city!)

  31. Kumari deBelloc says:

    Master Shivanandaji had a beautiful, round yogi pot belly!

  32. Vicky says:

    It is just important to be empowered! that is what you say here… we all have our "fat" if you will, whatever it is… Self acceptance and confidence is what we need to reflect to our students. Thank you for sharing!

  33. yoga bear says:

    To me, there is nothing sexier than a big confident girl who is comfortable in her body. Oh, there is one thing more sexy-that gal in a yoga class.

  34. Mary says:

    Really great article. All the power to you.

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