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 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.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman