10 Tips for Teaching a Larger-Bodied Yogi. ~ Kate Robinson

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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.

 

Closing thoughts: If you have been drafting a “health concern” outrage comment in response to this article, see #1.

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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Photo credit: Pinterest

Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Brianna Bemel

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anonymous Mar 19, 2014 8:22am

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am an ex yoga instructor and currently not practicing in classes because of my weight. I just don' have the courage. It is a very painful issue. I can't do asanas I could do before the weight gain. Weight has been a life long battle for me. I am also in my fifties and have new physical limitations due to arthritis and excess weight. If enough people voice your opinions then maybe I will find the corage to attend classes again. Thank you.

anonymous Nov 1, 2013 5:07am

Im glad I stummbled onto this article. Always a fan of anything that addresses or reminds people to have an open mind.

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 5:56pm

I am really disappointed with the take Elephant Journal has gone with lately. While writers like yourself attempt to write in a way that will create a more inclusive space, the discourse you take up to do so is in itself oppressive and creates a dichotomy between those that are "fat" and "those that are not." This does not set up for inclusivity, instead it creates a space where those you label as "fat" now wonder if the instructor is going to move their "fat" to help them get into a position or wonder if the instructor isn't helping them because maybe they do think "fat is contagious through sweat." It might be worth focusing more on your own Jnana Yoga and considering the wisdom of perception both in your teaching and in writing.

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 12:32pm

Thank you!!!! We started in Child's Pose last night and it was hard. My belly did not want to cooperate and my breathing suffered. I am fine with it when we have been moving a bit and use it as a rest pose but starting out I REALLY wished I'd grabbed a block. 🙂 Looking forward to your tips on 'larger bodied folks'.

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 11:19am

LOVE this article! Where can I get the follow set of tips for larger bodies?

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 10:01am

Love this!! Thank you!!!!!!!!

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 7:08am

I have been fortunate enough to have found a hot yoga studio that feels pretty comfortable, but you are right on with this article! It takes A LOT to walk into the class. At nearly 300 lbs, I don't look like anyone else in there. Sometimes, I'm able to forget that for a moment. Sometimes, a glance in the mirror brings the reality back! My favorite instructors have been the ones who kindly offer alternative poses or modifications without drawing a lot of attention to it. They offer the same to others who have back or knee issues. In many ways, we really are all the same and we all have days when we need help.

anonymous Oct 29, 2013 6:42am

"It takes an incredible amount of courage to walk into what can be a deeply and quietly hostile environment." – Amen sister….some of them treat me like I am on the verge of a heartattack…LOL

anonymous Jul 3, 2013 4:14pm

Wow! I like what you write! Are you married?

anonymous Jul 3, 2013 11:18am

"9) Skinny people can be unhealthy and fat people can be healthy."

To the max. I am one of those unhealthy skinny people. My condition precludes me going beyond so-called intermediate level asana, and precludes me from doing any inversions or holding downdog too long.

And I tell the teacher beforehand. No shame. I'm on Obamacare now, and I'm not playing games.

Oh, also having been from sizes U.S. 12 (for the previous 7 years before about 5 months ago …) to U. S. 20 (twenty-one years ago in a hatha yoga class even BEFORE the boom), to the double-max:

"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."

anonymous Jul 3, 2013 8:42am

"It takes an incredible amount of courage to walk into what can be a deeply and quietly hostile environment." Wow – did that sum it up or what? I have felt the deeply and quietly hostile environment… and have also taken classes from deeply and quietly hostile yoga teachers, and come away perplexed and confused. Isn't yoga SUPPOSED to be about attuning to your own body and what it can and can't do? How can your OWN body be wrong… when that's the one you have? And yet… it is made to feel wrong.
THANK YOU for this column. Every word resonated with me.

anonymous Jul 3, 2013 1:24am

Oh I love this article… it's a thread we're starting to explore over at The Yoga Luncbhox – why most yoga images are so homogenous, how yoga is different for different bodies, and how we can make yoga more accessible for everyone. Reading an article like this fills me with joy. Will share out via The Yoga Lunchbox.

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 8:10pm

I think generally my yoga teachers have been kind. However, the level of discomfort with fat is sometimes palpable. I think it may have to do with the personality/issues of a person wanting to be a yoga teacher in the first place. Certainly yoga is not just about postures, but it is a large part of any studio training and it may attract those who value the type of body yoga postures supposedly give you. I think the discomfort can be about feeling sorry for you and not knowing how to relate to you.

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 6:25pm

This is greatness; thank you Kate!

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 3:23pm

LLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE ! Kate Jackson OMG I love this article. You are my hero. Thanks for writing this

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 3:19pm

Perfectly stated!! Absolutely perfect…

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 1:32pm

Thank you..so much. I have often wondered if I am a pariah or just REALLY good at all my poses, because it is very rarely that I get adjustments, but when I do I am grateful because i want to be the best I can be. Finally, someone understands. Thank you thank you thank you!

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 1:17pm

Love love love love love. Thank you, Kate. Namaste!

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 12:14pm

LOVE.

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 11:46am

I cannot express how much love I have for this article!! Thank you for being inspired to write it!

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 11:45am

Fantastic…i love you

anonymous Jul 2, 2013 11:43am

Bless you for this.