February 28, 2013

Being a Fat Yoga Teacher. ~ Kate Robinson

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.

So 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.


Kate 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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