Why You Should Take Yoga if You’re Plus Sized.

Via on Aug 14, 2013

yoga for everyone

Often, when I tell people I am a yoga instructor, some—mostly women—will say, “I’d love to do yoga, but I am too big. Maybe I’ll try it once I lose some weight.”

I disagree.

I believe that if we wait until we are thinner, we’ll probably never start practicing yoga and reap it’s many rewards.

If I had to estimate, I’d say over half of my students are plus-sized and some of my most dedicated students are well over a size 14.

Having larger students has been a great experience for me because it has helped me learn how to adapt certain poses and effectively use props. (For instance, some larger students may have joint and knee issues which means sitting on a block or having a blanket under the knees, which is invaluable for some sitting poses.)

While being larger may mean making certain modifications, I tend to agree with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s famous quote that:

“Yoga is for all people: old people, young people, fat people, skinny people—only not lazy people.”

(While he was talking specifically about Ashtanga, I think this is applicable to all types of yoga.)

Yoga can be a great way to bring discipline, balance, flexibility and relaxation in your life, and those things are not reserved only for thin people.

So, if you are large/heavy/fat/or however you like to describe yourself, then here are some handy tips to keep in mind before you begin a yoga practice:

1. Find an instructor you feel comfortable with.

While you can learn yoga at home through webcasts, books and DVDs, I tend to think an instructor is essential because s/he can correctly show you how to achieve proper alignment as well as how to correctly use props and modify.

You may want to ask if the instructor has any experience teaching larger students. (There are some yoga training courses that are especially geared towards larger students.) Also, see if there are any larger instructors in your area. In some places, there are also classes (mostly aimed at women) specifically for larger bodies.

If you are feeling self-conscious, this may be a good option. However, if you’re concerned with feeling segregated from the general yoga population, then dive right in—the choice is yours.

Also, if you have friends who are overweight and practice yoga, ask them for teacher recommendations.

2. Invest in some quality clothing.

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on new yoga clothing, but it may be worth it to spend a little more for a quality product.

By quality, I am not talking about the brand. For example, if you have large chest, a sports bra or top that provides good support without smashing your breasts is worth it’s weight in gold.

While some manufacturers do not make yoga clothing over a size 12 or 14, there are many on-line stores that offer plus-sized yoga and workout clothing. Check to see what their return policy is, so you can send it back if need be.

When trying on clothing, move around in it. Lift your arms above your head. Do some mini-sun salutations or a few lunges. Does the top ride up? Does the waistband of the pants dig uncomfortably in your belly?

Also consider the appearance. Is this something you want to wear or does the idea of wearing it several times a month make you weep? If it’s the latter, look for something else no matter how good that built-in support is.

As far as fit goes, try to avoid baggy clothing.

As an instructor, I am not a fan of baggy because it is harder to see alignment. However, if you are really uncomfortable with showing off your body, stick to looser at first, but make sure you consider the above suggestions and find something you like.

3. Focus on what you can do versus what you can’t.

The first couple of yoga classes can be intimidating for anyone regardless of size.

There are probably always going to be people there who are more advanced than you. However, see if you can tune in on you and not those around you.

A good instructor can and should help you to zero on the things you can do versus what you cannot.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for modifications if you need them. If you don’t want to ask during class, then perhaps talk to the teacher before class and perhaps you can discreetly signal to him or her if you need a modification. (Perhaps raise your hand, point at yourself, etc.)

If you ever encounter an instructor who isn’t willing to modify, then it’s time to find a new one.

4. Don’t let your size hold you back from attempting challenging poses.

It’s a mistake to automatically assume that you cannot do certain poses because of your size and as a result, not even attempt them.

I’ve had some very large students who did amazing inversions and other advanced poses. As previously mentioned, most poses can be modified for almost any body. If something hurts, then don’t do it but usually, you have nothing to lose by trying.

As I tell my students, it’s only yoga, it doesn’t have to be so serious.

In closing, while I would not call myself evangelical on most things, I firmly believe that yoga should be enjoyed by many and not just people who looked like they walked out of a Lululemon ad.

While I may be thin, I don’t look like I walked out of one of those ads, nor do I have the “perfect” yoga body. If you’re plus-sized, don’t wait until you lose weight to start practicing.

Chances are your body is fine to practice the way that it is right now.

 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Ed: Cat Beekmans

About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.

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17 Responses to “Why You Should Take Yoga if You’re Plus Sized.”

  1. SireneB says:

    Yes! You didn't even mention the best reason – moving energy in your body will only make you feel better and enable you to be more active. When I went to my first Kundalini yoga class, I had been completely sedentary for years and weighed about 375 pounds, and while I could "plop" down on the floor, I couldn't get back up. Fortunately there was a lowered part of the room so I scooted over on my butt and dropped my legs down when I needed to stand up. But I was sold on doing it after the first exercise – ego eradicator gave me energy like I hadn't felt for a long time. I took class for 90 days straight after that first day. During that time, I learned that visualizing myself doing the listed exercise while doing a modification made a big difference. And as my teacher pointed out, this sort of yoga is a group experience, the goal is to move the energy in the group and different people will contribute more at different times depending on their strengths. So I made my strength the upper body movements, pranayam and chants … feeling like I was able to do my share and carry the energy of the class during some sections of the kriyas gave me a huge boost of confidence.

    Now, 4 years later, I still weigh over 300 pounds, can't sit in rock pose, and am not very graceful getting up from the floor. But, last year I started teaching some of the standing exercises to colleagues at work – including one woman who wouldn't even drink liquids during the workday because getting out of her chair and walking 100 feet to the bathroom was too difficult. I got her to the point that even when I was on vacation, she and another colleague videotaped themselves tuning in and doing their yoga on their own because they didn't want to skip a week. And in June, I completed teacher training level 1, and am on the schedule to teach 3 classes a week at work in a pilot staff wellness program, starting next month. Something I never expected to be able to do, or even want to do, 4 years ago.

  2. ardha chandra says:

    Very helpful and encouraging article. I would suggest to all instructors that they not assume their student wants to lose weight and to not refernce it in ANY way (except to provide those all important modifications) until the student brings it up. If you are an instructor who has never had a weight problem, beware of being condescending and judgmental . . . If you are thinking something like, "Oh you poor thing, I would never let myself look
    like that," refer your rounder-bodied student on.

    • kimberlylowriter says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      No, I never mention weight loss in my classes.

      People come to yoga for many reasons. Most of my students do not come for weight loss any way.

      • amphibi1yogini says:

        Do you mention tapas in the context of ab work (even core work), as well?

        Because that gets on my radar, too. And I'M a pliates student. I came to pilates through a gym at first, but then rediscovered it through yoga classes that saw no happy mediums between snail-pace movement and inversions/backbends previously taught only to the advanced (in a Level 1 class!). Why not unbundle the motivations?

  3. Kat van Groove says:

    Really, Elephant Journal?

    Besides the spelling / grammar errors, this article sounds like it wasn’t even read before being published:

    The wrong word: Signal the teacher “discretely” instead of “discreetly”?

    Grammatical mistakes: A sports bra that fits is “worth it’s weight in gold”?

    Worst sentence ever: “So, if you are a large/heavy/fat/or how ever you like to describe yourself…” I guess that makes me “a fat”.

    First though, I am a person. The female type, a.k.a. a woman. Second, it’s “however”. Third, this article is condescending and offensive.

    You couldn’t find an editor for this article? Incredible. And you want people to pay for the content on this site?

    And yet, this lack of attention to the written word fits the patronizing / slightly offensive tone of the article nicely, much better than the yoga clothes that inexplicably stop at size 12.

    The logic throughout is also lacking. The author is trying to encourage people to try yoga for the first time, right? She recommends investing in higher quality yoga clothing. But then warns them they won’t likely find a store that sells their size, so they should shop online. Which could be expensive and problematic in the case of wrong sizes / returns, especially for someone And then she tells them to do mini sun salutations to check the fit of the clothing, which they are somehow supposed to know how to do without ever having attended a class.

    This article doesn’t recommend checking with a doctor before starting a new exercise program, because Lo says that chances are the “large/heavy/fat/or how ever they like to describe themselves” (people) are probably fine right now.

    Should fat people do yoga? Yes, of course. It’s low impact exercise, great for stress relief, increasing strength and flexibility, and many good things.

    Should this article have been edited? Yes.

    Should it have been written by a “thin/skinny/bony/hungry-looking or how ever she likes to describe herself”? Sure, no problem: a good instructor is a good instructor.

    Should the author have interviewed even one of her many plus-sized students, to ask for their input / experiences? Yes.

    Yoga is a journey. Every pose is already a modification of an ultimate lofty, super flexible pose anyway, so we really don’t need a “fatties only” section of the class. There is no shame in modifying any pose. i do it in class all the time. a good studio / instructor should encourage all students no matter their size to listen to their bodies, find their edge, move away from pain, go into child’s pose or savasana if their breathing gets too fast, etc.

    It’s about baby steps, the process, learning to be patient with your limitations, respecting your body, accepting yourself. And lots & lots of breathing.

    Also important: comfortable clothing, not eating an hour or two before class, and drinking lots of water before class, especially before practicing hot yoga. Throw in a yoga may and you’re all set. That’s about it.

    Some yoga classes (and entire studios, e.g. Bikram) are more exercise class than instructive. More like a gym than a yoga studio. If you are a first-time yogi, it’s best to start with a beginner series at a studio that makes you feel welcome andcomfortable. You’ll learn as a group, and will receive more instruction / correction, e.g with alignment and posture.

    There are also many different types of yoga. Ashtanga is great yo get your heart pumping, but it’s higher-intensity and faster flowing, so you may want to start with Hatha or Iyengar. Hatha yoga is slow and gentle. Iyengar is especially good for beginners because of the intense focus on posture and form. Kundalini involves a lot of fluid spinal twists to get your energy moving through your chakras. Hot yoga is usually Ashtanga or Vinyasa-based, and is great for detoxification and deep stretching.

    A single studio may offer different types of yoga, but you may want to try different studios until you find home.

    Namaste, first-time yogis!

    Kat van Groove

    • elephantjournal says:

      Hi Kat:

      Thank you for catching our editorial errors—while we do our best on each article that comes through, the fact of that the matter is, like you, we're human and sometimes we miss things. So my apologies, on behalf of the editor of this piece, for offending your eyes. Would you consider writing for us? You have some great tips that could be of benefit to many. If you're interested, please email us at write@elephantjournal.com. ~ ed.

    • kimberlylowriter says:

      I am sorry you find this article so offensive.

      FWIW, I did have a long conversation with a plus-sized student of mine who has been coming to my classes for a long time and is a friend.

      I wrote this in mind with the intelligent readers I have come to expect at ej. Of course anyone-regardless of size-should check with a doctor before embarking on any sort of physical activity.

      In my experience at least as teacher, most people have some idea about various styles of yoga. Thanks to Google, sites like ej, anyone can find a plethora of info about there about different styles and even see what a basic sun salutation looks like.

      My goal was not to talk about different styles of yoga as there is so much info out there, but to encourage larger people to try yoga.

      Lastly, I don't know why you take offense at the suggestion that larger people shop online. It is a (sad) fact that even lines who carry larger sizes often do not stock them in their stores or the selections are limited. I DID say "Check to see what their return policy is, so you can send it back if need be."

      Again, sorry you found this to be so offensive, but I can honestly say that I did not write it with that intention in mind. Even with the grammar mistakes, I fail to see how anyone could think this was condescending to anyone.

  4. The Mess says:

    I've practiced yoga for many years now. I suppose I'm "a heavy, large, fat" depending on what measure one might be using. I like the article and actually missed all the problems you found with her grammar.

    I was wondering what a yoga "may" is? I might want one those, but in all my years of practice have never heard of one.

    Thanks and namaste

    Gayle

  5. Lillian says:

    I thought this article was great. As a large woman I was very intimidated to even think about taking yoga. I did go to a class and loved it but haven't had the time to put this as a priority in my life "yet". Anyone who read the article and then took that much time to go into detail as why they do not like it, has way to much time on their hands and to much internal anger.

  6. Pam says:

    I found the discussion interesting and informative. It is ok to not always see eye to eye it opens the door to new ways of thinking. I was not offended by the article it made me want to get involved. The other persons concerns were valid and well stated gave me pause for thought. Thank you both.

  7. Mark says:

    I began my yoga practice while I was carrying too much weight. Not only was I the heaviest person in the class, I was usually the only male. I felt more "out of place" than most. I continued to develop my practice and it has been the main reason I have lost weight and been able to return to injury free running. Good article!

  8. Yogini says:

    Kat,

    Wow. You are very judgmental about the writing of this article. Finding such fault and writing such a long comment could mean you have way much time on your hands. Perhaps time that would be better spent in a yoga class, breathing out and releasing the underlying anger.

    No one is perfect. An example here, your typos, grammatical errors and misspellings. Maybe you could find them.

    "Yoga is a journey. Every pose is already a modification of an ultimate lofty, super flexible pose anyway, so we really don't need a "fatties only" section of the class. There is no shame in modifying any pose. i do it in class all the time. a good studio / instructor should encourage all students no matter their size to listen to their bodies, find their edge, move away from pain, go into child's pose or savasana if their breathing gets too fast, etc."
    " Throw in a yoga may and you're all set."
    "Ashtanga is great yo get your heart pumping, but it's higher-intensity and faster flowing, so you may want to start with Hatha or Iyengar."

  9. Bella says:

    Wow. I am shocked at reading the comments. This is a site to share and encourage each other. Yoga is about self awareness and to be kind and compassionate to yourself and others. EJ should consider reviewing before allowing such negative feedback. To the person who took so much time lashing out, may you find peace and harmony. Remember karma!

  10. Mindy Kittay says:

    I am often the largest, by weight, woman in yoga class. Sometimes I fall down but at least I tried to do the pose :) I always feel better when I show up and participate and I encourage anyone, no matter your size, to at least give yoga a try. Thank you for the article!

  11. amphibi1yogini says:

    Plus size has been so defined down by some yoga studios these days. It is downright frightening!

    The best rule of thumb is to see the size of the general students filtering in and out of the class you want to take, and try to notice if the really larger, younger student looks like they could be a tad hyperactive – since I live in a part of town with a lot of size diversity – there will be some who won't be shunned by the supercilious yoga skinny teachers who run the place and they will show up to that kind of Open Level class.

    I avoid such classes now. I take genuine Open Level yoga taught at the pilates studio 2 blocks away. YMMV … lol …

  12. Kathryn O says:

    Loved your article — it gave me a new way to look at how I will approach yoga now that my children are off to college and I have the time to devote to yoga once again. So thank you!

    As far as the critic above goes, it's sad that someone can get so worked up and miss what I found to be the whole point — don't worry about what people think, just do it for the love and benefits of [insert activity here]. My understanding the articles posted here were written from all walks of life, professional writers and from those who just had something to say. Hopefully amateur writers will not be scared away from expressing their thoughts due to such wrath. I'm grateful for what Kimberly Lo had to say, not how she said it. My wish is that the critic find more peace in her life.

    Namaste
    Kathryn

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