Since I started teaching, many of my friends have asked my advice on teaching larger bodied yogis.
I have become a sort of fat friendly mascot, or a “fatscot” if you prefer. I am happy to offer what distilled, if not snarky, insight I can.
1.) Do not assume to know the fitness level of any practitioner based on their BMI.
Seriously, you have no idea. Shhh, stop—you don’t know.
2.) If you see a fat yogi taking a modification or choosing another pose more suited to their practice at that moment, don’t take it personally.
Never assume their choice was simply a default choice, thus assuming weakness, and not self-care. If you have concerns, ask them.
3.) Do adjust and assist these students. Fat is not contagious, not through sweat at least.
4.) It is okay to give cues about moving flesh.
Twists and folds can be difficult when the skin is not addressed. Some yogis are too embarrassed to touch their own bodies, and so much of yoga is about exploring embodiment. It is okay to discuss moving the belly, the breasts and the thighs. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then ask someone with breasts and a belly. Don’t know anyone? Good lord, please expand your circle of friends.
5.) Cue a blanket or cushioning under the knees.
Seriously, if you don’t want your yogis to go home with black and blue welts from your 732nd anjanayasana, then cue the blanket, and give everyone a moment to get the damn thing. Compassion.
6.) Don’t be afraid to offer blocks.
If you see someone struggling—take a moment to suggest blocks for everyone. Don’t single anyone out. Do not shame your students. There is a difference between being new, being overweight, and being weak.
7.) Do think twice before you say something like, “More advanced students should…”
This is solid dialectical advice for most situations in general. However, “should” is one of those words that stumbles into the studio drunk and leather clad. It just doesn’t seem quite congruous with the work we are engaged with. Mostly, it seems to me that a more advanced student isn’t necessarily one that expresses a pose more extremely. Often times a more “advanced” practitioner is a more sophisticated modifier, or nuanced breather. “Advanced” and “should” are best left describing GRE prep courses, not poses.
8.) Do some research.
Ask some questions, get training and empathize with your students. I wish I didn’t have to say this but there can be a lack of imagination in the yoga world, and this quality is essential for empathy. Do you have a fat yogi friend? Ask their advice and invite them to talk at a teacher training. This is an easy way to prepare yourself, and your teachers to care for more types of students.
9.) Skinny people can be unhealthy and fat people can be healthy.
You are a yoga instructor, not a medical professional. You are not there to treat or fix bodies. Do not make assumptions about the overall physical and mental health of larger students. You are not a mind reader, and fat people usually know we are fat. Just arriving to your class is a major discursive act. It takes an incredible amount of courage to walk into what can be a deeply and quietly hostile environment. If you are a thin white teacher, this may sound hyperbolic. It is not.
10.) If you do not want to work with larger bodies, then own that.
If you are uncomfortable with fat people or if larger bodies disgust you, then please make it clear in your bio and class description. We won’t come to your class, and you won’t have to learn how to treat a variety of body shapes with compassion. We will take our fat asses and money elsewhere.
Also, I am not advocating obesity or anorexia. I am advocating for the need to treat people with compassion and kindness. In case you think I might be asking too much, rest assured I have a follow up set of tips for larger bodied folks before they head to class.
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. You can find out more about Kate on Facebook and on her website.
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Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Brianna Bemel