“I’m too fat for yoga,” said many of my friends.
There’s a misconception that you have to be thin to do yoga. I can’t blame them because I’ve been in their shoes before.
At some point in my life, I was overweight. I wanted to try pole fitness. But I didn’t go to the studio and book a class because all the women in the pictures doing pole fitness were skinny. I felt like I wouldn’t belong there.
It’s the same with yoga. Many of the pictures you see of people doing yoga are thin women. These pictures of ultra-flexible and skinny yogis discourage many yogi wannabes from trying yoga. In real life, though, it’s not like that.
My yoga classes are full of men and women of all shapes, sizes, genders, and religions. Sure, some of them felt self-conscious at first, especially my plus-size students. But after their first class, they realized that yoga is not only for thin and limber folks.
“I thought it was going to be so difficult. But it wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t so bad,” said my openly gay and plus-size student Paul.
When Paul first came to my class, he couldn’t finish the whole session. But after a few weeks of consistent yoga practice, he finally finished the entire class. He even got to do Wheel Pose.
As someone who has had body image issues, I know how it feels like to go to a yoga class full of skinny people. So, to help plus-size people start their yoga journey, I asked Paul and Gayle, and another plus-size yogi, to give tips that will encourage other plus-size people to try yoga.
Here are their top 13 tips:
Never Be Afraid to Use Props
If you’re a plus-size yogi and have trouble reaching for your toes in forward folds or the ground in some poses, use props such as blocks, belts, and a chair. Make sure to also buy a yoga mat for your body type. It’s the number one yoga prop you need.
You Don’t Have to Go Fast
Vinyasa and other fast-paced styles of yoga are fun and effective in building strength, flexibility, and endurance. But you don’t have to do them. It’s important to always listen to your body when practicing yoga or any other physical activity.
Take it slow at first to develop mind and body connections. By taking slow, you will observe when your body is ready to go deeper in poses or stop and honor where it is at the present moment.
Modify, Modify, and Modify
Avoid the pressure of looking perfect for your yoga poses. No one is perfect, and there is no perfect version of a pose. Also, yoga asanas look different for everybody. If you have to modify poses to make them comfortable and stable for your body, by all means, do so.
Ask Your Yoga Teacher’s Guidance
Your yoga teacher should be there to guide you every step of the way. Don’t be afraid to ask your yoga teacher if you cannot do a pose. Yoga teachers should know how to modify poses to accommodate different bodies and people with a limited range of motion.
If you have some concerns, better ask the instructor before the class so he or she can accommodate you.
It’s Okay to Skip Poses
Skipping some poses is fine. As a yoga teacher, even I skip some poses that are too complicated and I feel are not good for me. If it’s a peak pose, ask a teacher for another version of the peak pose. Some yoga instructors have different peak poses for beginners, intermediate, and advanced yoga practitioners.
Compete with Yourself
Yoga is not about competition. Do not compete with other students in your class. But you can always compete with yourself.
For example, you were able to hold Chair Pose for three cycles of breath today. The next day you practice yoga, see if you can hold Chair Pose for more rounds of breath. This way, you can see if you are improving. If not, it’s okay. You can always try again.
Always Listen to Your Body
Your body is intelligent. It knows when a yoga posture is not suitable for you. If you can still breathe freely in a yoga asana, it means you are fine. But if your breath is constricted, and you feel bad pain, not good pain, that means you have to come out of the pose.
Practicing yoga is all about ahimsa or non-violence to yourself and others.
Understand Your Limitations
Everyone has limitations. If you don’t have one, that’s a different story. As a plus-size yogi, you have limitations.
Many plus-size yogis are flexible, but some of them can’t do Forward Folds and other poses because their bellies get in the way. If this is your case, that’s fine. Most yogis, even minus size, can’t do some yoga poses for many different reasons.
If you can’t do some poses, own it. Don’t get discouraged.
Get an Accountability Partner
It’s so easy to skip your yoga class if no one knows you bought yourself a one-month membership. Find an accountability partner who will check on you and your progress. Better yet, convince this accountability partner to go with you to your yoga class.
Having someone you trust to cheer you up and motivate you when you feel unmotivated to practice yoga is priceless. Moreover, having an exercise partner makes you exercise more, according to this study.
Don’t Forget to Track Your Progress
Yoga is not linear, and there is no end to it. Traditionally, it is a lifestyle. But you can still track your progress as long as you don’t attach yourself to it. Here are the improvements you can look for in your yoga practice to see if you are making progress.
- Muscle gain or weight loss
- Increase in endurance and strength
- Better sleep
- Improved range of motion or more flexibility
- Ease of movement
- Better alignment or form in yoga asanas
- Reduced physical pains
- Less stressed
- Better mood
- Better self-esteem, more confident
- More positive outlook in life
- Increased concentration
- Improved control of the breath
Look for Yoga Classes for Plus-Size Yogis
If you feel self-conscious about going to group yoga classes because of your body type, go to yoga classes that only cater to plus-size yogis. If this still doesn’t work for you, consider doing yoga at home. There are tons of YouTube videos that teach yoga for your body type.
Body Positive Yoga is a YouTube channel that focuses on big bodies and beginners. Their lead yoga teacher has a bigger body and an even bigger heart.
Try Different Styles of Yoga
Not everyone likes the same style of yoga. If you go to one yoga class and don’t like it, try another style. There are many styles of yoga, and some of them are very different from each other. Keep trying a style until you find one that suits you.
It’s crucial to like what you are doing so you are motivated to continue to do it.
Try Different Yoga Instructors
The same with trying different styles of yoga, you should also try other yoga instructors. Not every yoga teacher will resonate with you. Keep looking for that yoga teacher who will support you in your journey as a plus-size yogi.
Yoga is for everyone. You don’t have to be fit or skinny to be able to do it. Yoga doesn’t require you to be anything you are not. As long as you can breathe, you can do yoga.