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Yoga for Big Bodies
I’ve always wanted to walk into a yoga studio and be greeted by someone who is obese or at least plus size. Or maybe a big heavy guy with a beer belly. Unfortunately, that has only ever happened in my dreams. Every time I walk in I meet a yogi who is incredibly fit, meditates and practices yoga for 28 hours a day, abstains from unnecessary things like food and too much clothing, and is super happy to see me.
Like, I know your nice, but you’re still insulting me with your skinniness! Haha not that it’s actually insulting, but where are all the studios that teach yoga for plus size practitioners? You’d think that since big girls like myself practically live in leggings we’d be more adept to picking up the hobby and lifestyle.
If you’ve been lucky enough to find a diverse yoga studio, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that yoga students can and do come from all walks of life. Whether you’re a school teacher, lawyer, teenager, baseball player, or dancer you can practice yoga. And most importantly, whether you’re tall, short, overweight, skinny, male, or female, you can practice yoga.
Yoga is for every body. Even obese bodies.
However, having said that, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to wrap yourself into a yoga pretzel anytime soon. Yoga for plus size practitioners may be slightly modified and slower paced that a typical set-up. So let’s dive in and see how you can get started!
Debunking The Myth of Plus Size Yoga
It is unfortunate that many believe yoga is designed only for young flexible individuals. The myth is that one needs to already be in shape to engage in this practice. That is far from the truth. Yoga, at its core, is not an exercise routine.
Yoga as we know it today, is derived from an ancient philosophy. It was first taught as a set of lessons to individuals seeking enlightenment; a collection of readings and devotional practices to be closer to the Divine. These practices and rituals helped the student to clear the mind of distracting and unhealthy ways of thinking in order to live a fulfilling and healthy life.
Over time, these intellectual studies evolved over time and included practices like breath work and physical movement. With specific breathing exercises and tailored yoga poses, combined with meditation and the ancient philosophical lessons, one can obtain their personal goals of a healthy life and well being. Nowhere in the ancient texts or modern styles of practicing yoga are body type, age, or gender mentioned. These factions do not determine who is allowed to practice yoga. Yoga is for all those who desire to seek wholeness for themselves.
In fact, if I were in a gambling and wanted to rear my inner femenist, I’m betting that yoga was originally male dominated. It’s much easier for me to imagine a bunch of pale white guys sitting around the pantheon in robes (or maybe in a sacred pagoda) that it is to imagine them including their wives.
The Regular Everyday Person
Tell me if this sounds like you: you’re holding a “few extra pounds”, feel stiff, have some aches and pains in your back and knees, don’t exercise much, and you like to enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner. If so, you’re normal! Congratulations! Now, if you’re more like me, add in the facts that you live in plus size yoga gear, love chocolate, and carry around a bit more than a “few extra pounds.” But I don’t really feel like I’m not normal….
However, this should not deter you from wanting to start a yoga practice. You may have asked yourself if yoga was right for you; wondered if being overweight would restrict you from the yoga practice. It does not; yoga is about accepting yourself for who you are in this moment. Yoga only helps you to be a better version of yourself.
Starting Where You Are
You can start yoga at any level of experience and at any body size. If you are new to the practice, are not very strong or flexible, that is ok. If you have six cats and live only in plus size lularoe cardigans, that is okay too.
Like with most things that are new to you, start slowly, take your time, be gentle with yourself, ask questions, and know that it is perfectly fine to make mistakes or need help. Here are some ways you can start your plus size yoga journey.
While you don’t actually need anything to get into yoga (although I wouldn’t recommend naked yoga to start out….) there are a few things that will make things easier:
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Yoga Part 1: Breath
At this point in your life, you probably think you’re pretty good at breathing. I thought I was, I’ve had a ton of practice after all. Especially when I walk up stairs. So you can imagine that I wasn’t super excited when I learned that I would be re-learning how to so something that has sustained my life for the past 30 years.
Breathing is the foundation of most yoga practices. Whether you’re engaging in a dynamic yoga flow or sitting in stillness for deep meditation, breathing is essential. In yoga, breathwork is called “Pranayama.” When the word is broken down into two parts, you will get a better understanding of the concept. “Prana” means “life force.” It refers to the breath that gives us life. “Yama” means the action we give the breath. For example, in a breathing exercise, you may briefly hold your breath, breathe slower, or breathe faster. This breath control is designed to provide a focal point (while meditating, for example) or to provide a specific benefit to the mind and body. When you need to relax an over-stressed mind, taking slow deep breaths can help achieve the goal of feeling calmer.
An easy way to start a Pranayama practice is to sit comfortably in an upright chair. If possible, make sure it is in a quiet room with little distraction. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath. As you are able, take slow deep breaths. Breathe in a way that you feel the breath fill up your lungs. Also, add volume to your breath so you can hear it. These are ways to bring more mindful attention to your practice. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and practice this style of meditation. If done consistently and regularly, you will gain that sense of ease your body and mind need.
Half Salute to the Sun: A Moving Yoga Practice
If you’re new to yoga or concerned about your obesity being an obstacle to your practice, try this yoga flow. It is called The Half Salute to the Sun. As it implies, it is a shorter variation of a fuller yoga practice. For this, all you need is a chair to help with one of the postures.
Start by standing in front of the chair. Depending on your potential range of motion, you can face the seat of the chair or the back of the chair. Take a full inhale and raise your arms into the air. Don’t worry too much if your arms do not go all the way up or if they bend at the elbows. Just simply lift your arms as if you were going to touch the ceiling.
As you exhale, carefully begin to fold forward. To protect your back, place a good bend in your knees. In most cases, a yogi would fold forward to touch their toes. But if that is not conducive for you, fold and place your hands on the back of the chair or seat of the chair. Take a new breath in and extend your spine. The intention is to feel like your spine is getting longer. You can do this by pushing your hands into the chair and feel as if you’re moving your torso forward. When you exhale, fold again.
Using the chair as your brace, inhale to stand up all the way, lifting your arms toward the sky. Exhale to lower your arms down by your side. This completes the modified Half Salute to the Sun.
Yoga Props (If you need some extra help)
I remember when I first went to kindergarten I was told to walk on a balance beam. I failed, miserably. And while yoga has helped my balance and coordination to some extent, it still isn’t great. In fact, when my husband her a banging or crashing sound in our house he just yells, “What did you run into babe?”
I had a game-changing shift in my “yoga career” when a compassionate yogi told me that she used to be 80 pounds heavier than she is now and that one of the keys to succeeding in plus size yoga is to use “aids.” Chairs and walls make wonderful props to use when moving through a yoga practice. They can be used to stabilize your body when attempting balancing poses, for example. They assistance the body when your range of motion is limited for any reason. Other props that yogis may use include cushions, pillows, bolsters, yoga straps, and blocks. All are tailor-made to help guide the yoga student into some yoga postures.
Modifications of Poses & Sequences
As I mentioned earlier, one does not need to jump fully into a yoga practice. Think of doing yoga as running a marathon. Before you lace up your race-shoes you’ll need to learn how to walk, then jog, then build up your endurance, then run. It’s the same with yoga. Ease your way into a practice that suits your body and your needs.
The modified Half Salute to the Sun yoga sequence is one of many examples of how a yoga sequence or pose can be modified to fit the yoga student. The goal is not necessarily to reach the full posture. It is more about being fully aware of your own body at the present moment. Yoga is about aligning with your inner truth and accepting who you are. With continued steady practice, you begin to see, not only an improvement in your body but positive changes in your mood. You will see and experience an increase in self-confidence and feel more motivated. As your body and mind changes, you may feel inclined to go a little further with your yoga practice. For example, instead of using a chair for a forward fold, you may be able to reach your knees or shins then eventually your toes as you gain the strength and flexibility.
There are a good number of resources to research when you’re looking for a plus-size yoga practice that fits your current needs. Going to a yoga class at a yoga studio, may feel intimidating at first, and that’s ok. You don’t have to start off there. Instead, look online for yoga resources. YouTube is loaded with beginner YouTube videos and, once you find a channel you like you’ll have enough sessions to last you for a year or more.
Once you have a bit more confidence you may benefit from having a some like-minded peers to encouarge you. The way that I always find yoga studious in to check out Yelp and Google reviews. Also, don’t underestimate the power of checking out a studio’s Facebook page. Most small studious have them and post regular pictures of their classes. If you can spot some overweight people in the pictures, you can try a class or two and see how well you fit in.
Private Yoga Lessons for Obese Beginners
While in-person classes are a cost-effective solution, if you aren’t ready for that level of public viewing but still need some assistance and instruction, there is another way. An alternative to a full class is to take a private yoga lesson. Certified yoga instructors are often willing and able to give private yoga instruction. In this situation, a teacher can give more specific instruction that is personal to the student. If you have specific needs, physical conditions, or want to ask direct questions, having a personal instructor is ideal.
To find a personal instructor, you can visit YogaAlliance.org for yoga instructors in your area. Also, call or visit yoga studios in your area and ask about the yoga teachers. Feel free to interview some that would be able to offer exactly what you need for your yoga journey. Whether it is a reduction in stress, gaining flexibility or strength, or finding safe and effective techniques to manage back pain, a personal yoga teacher can be very helpful.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years and it continues to benefit people of all ages, races, cultures, sizes, and gender. Yoga has an “open-door” policy and is not restricted to any one type of individual. All you need is the desire to want to practice, and the world of yoga can be at your fingertips.
At the end of the day, if you want to do yoga, do yoga. Yoga for morbidly obese people is no different than yoga for anyone else. You may have to temper your expectations slightly and move a bit slower than others but you can still improve your health, increase your flexibility, and boost your confidence! So get out there and get it!