7 Yoga Tips For Plus-Size Yogis
I love teaching and practicing yoga because it is an inherently flexible practice: it can be modified for different levels and different spaces, and people of every age and body type can make yoga work for them. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at typical advertisements for yoga clothes, supplies, and studios, which always seem to show the same, toned, thin body over and over (and it’s not only advertising, either—any book about yoga, any training video, will almost invariably feature slender yogis). It’s understandable that people who don’t look like these representations might turn away from the practice entirely, assuming that they can’t do yoga if they don’t have the perfect “yoga body.” I think the most important thing that people need to learn is that there is no “yoga body.” There are only the bodies that we have, which are all different, and which can all do yoga. Large or small, young or old, any body can be a yoga body.
In a 2007 article for Yoga Journal, Carrie Peyton Dahlberg wrote, “large yogis can get the same benefits from a physical yoga practice as anyone else: flexibility, balance, strength, stress reduction, increased awareness, and a better link between mind and body.” If you’re a plus-sized person, yoga might require some simple modifications, but it can still be completely accessible and very powerful. When you’re starting out, remember the yogic principle of ahimsa, which means “nonviolence,” both toward others and yourself. When you practice ahimsa, you take care of your body physically (and take measures to avoid injury), and you also show yourself some love and compassion. Try to let go of judgment and comparisons with others and instead enjoy the moment you’re in, giving thanks for all of the wonderful things your body does for you.
Read on for easy ways that you can make yoga work for your body, regardless of size.
1. Don’t be afraid to modify poses
When you’re in yoga—especially when you’re in a group setting—it’s easy to feel pressured to do the most advanced, most “perfect” version of a pose. The truth is, however, that there is no “perfect” version of a pose; there’s just the version that works for you—the one that allows you to get the benefits of a particular stretch without hurting yourself. So don’t be afraid to modify poses to accommodate your body. In most yoga classes (especially those for beginners), the teacher will explain different options for each pose, but if you’re still not sure what to do, feel free to speak up and ask for help. Your yoga teacher wants you to have a great practice, so don’t be shy!
2. It’s also OK to skip poses!
It’s totally fine if there are simply poses that don’t work for you. When you’re carrying a significant amount of weight, that’s weight that you also have to lift in your yoga postures. Some postures, such as inversions like shoulder stand and handstand, may not be things that are good or safe for you at this moment. (That’s not to say that they never will be; Your comfort zone may change the longer you do yoga.) But just because you can’t do that posture doesn’t mean you can’t get the same benefits by doing something else. For example, if you’re not comfortable in shoulder stand, try lying on your back with your legs up the wall; you’ll still get an inversion, without putting so much strain on your neck and shoulders.
3. Listen to your body
There’s a difference between “hurts so good” and “I think I pulled something.” When you're doing yoga, listen to what your body is telling you. If a pose feels like a good, challenging stretch, that’s great. But if it actually hurts, pull back or modify the pose. Remember ahimsa? You’ve got to take care of yourself.
4. Seek you a teacher who works for your needs
In a perfect world, any yoga teacher worth his or her salt would be able to modify his or her teaching to work for a variety of body types; however, in reality, some teachers are going to work better for you than others. (This is true for all yoga students, regardless of body type.) Hopefully, you'll find a great teacher on the first go, but don't get discouraged if it takes a few tries to find the teacher who is just right for you. If you have questions about whether a teacher can accommodate your needs, feel free to talk to him or her before class. Discuss your concerns and see what he or she has to say. If that person isn’t the best teacher for you, he or she may be able to direct you to one who is.
5. Use props!
Yoga studios will have lots of props to choose from, including blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets. If you’re practicing at home, get creative with using the stuff around your house. A belt makes a pretty decent yoga strap, for example. Props are awesome because they can allow you to get into poses that might otherwise be impossible for you. For instance, if a standing pose calls for you to touch your hand to the floor, and you can’t reach, placing your hand on a block essentially raises the floor by eight inches. If you’re sitting with legs extended, and you can’t reach your toes, a strap around the balls of your feet will allow you to get into the stretch.
6. Seek out classes and videos tailored to people with larger bodies
Some yoga studios offer classes specifically for bigger people, and there are even some whole studios that cater to a plus-sized clientele. There are also quite a few other resources (DVDs, books, etc.) with advice for larger yogis. For example, the excellent video above from Body Positive Yoga explains how to deal with the important issue of keeping your boobs out of your face when you’re upside down.
7. Experiment with different types of yoga
There are lots of different types of yoga, from blood-pumping, sweat-inducing Bikram yoga to meditative gentle yoga. Take some time to try out different styles and see what works best for you. If you’re just starting out in yoga, try out a hatha class for beginners. If you’re looking for a slower-paced class, try out classes labeled “gentle.”