Starting a yoga practice can be intimidating for anyone: you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of yoga, but how do you make the leap to actually doing it? Yoga studios can seem like private clubs where you have to know the secret handshake and password before you’ll be allowed to join. Add to this scenario the popular image of the yogini: young, lithe, and twisted up like a pretzel in skin-tight spandex. What if that image bears little resemblance to yourself? If you are bigger-bodied, overcoming the mental and physical hurdles to trying yoga for the first time can be even more challenging.
Why Do Yoga?
Any physical activity will improve your mobility and general health. Doing yoga decreases stress, improves flexibility, and increases muscle tone and strength. Overweight people often have trouble with joint pain; yoga can help by improving the body’s alignment to reduce strain on joints by allowing the frame to bear more of the body’s weight. Yoga also develops your balance, which helps you feel grounded and increases longevity. People who are overweight often feel disconnected from their bodies. Yoga helps to bring the mind-body connection to the fore, which can improve self-image and acceptance of your body. Most importantly, yoga can help you feel better by both improving your physical fitness and elevating your mood.
How to Start
The best way to learn yoga is from a qualified teacher in a yoga class. Specialized classes for bigger-bodied students are becoming more popular, but can’t be found everywhere. As the yoga establishment recognizes a need, more teachers are being trained in adaptations for larger students. If these options aren’t available to you, you’ll probably have the most positive experience from your first yoga classes in a beginner’s level gentle Hatha practice. Kripalu, Viniyoga, and Integral are also good choices, if available because the teachers are trained to work with differing abilities and body types. Chair yoga is also a possibility for those with limited mobility.
Abby Lentz, the founder of Heavyweight Yoga in Austin, Texas, suggests speaking to the teacher before your first yoga class to ensure that you are comfortable and the teacher will be prepared to offer modifications and props as necessary. If you do not feel ready for a group class, private yoga sessions may be the way to go. This can be a great way to learn basic poses and gain the confidence to use props in an effective way before joining a group practice. Becoming knowledgeable about yoga is the best way to ensure that you will feel at ease.
Those who don’t have access to yoga classes can still get started by using DVDs at home. Lentz’s Heavyweight Yoga DVD (see below) is a great choice, as it leads you through basic exercises and offers modifications for people of different sizes and mobilities.
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition has been at the forefront of promoting inclusivity and diversity in how yoga is depicted in the media and practiced in the real world. A new generation of young yoginis, including Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti is using Instagram to promote body positivity and show their followers what an advanced practice with a bigger body looks like. If you are just starting out, keep in mind that the more acrobatic poses they are demonstrating are not the norm for yogis of any size.
Yoga and Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you must limit your caloric intake while also engaging in regular exercise that raises your heart rate. If weight loss is your primary goal, there are more effective methods than yoga. Yoga will make you feel better but is best thought of as a part of your overall wellness routine than as the path to thinner thighs.
A Word About Props
Props are going to be your best yoga friend. Using props doesn’t mean you are inferior: it means you are smart. If you try a type of yoga that is not prop-friendly, find another class. The same goes for any teacher that discourages that use of props.
Plus-Size Yoga Resources
Curvy Yoga with Anna Guest-Jelley, Nashville, Tennessee (and online)
Heavyweight Yoga, Austin, Texas (and on DVD)
A Gentle Way Yoga, San Diego (and on CD)
Mega Yoga, (DVD and print)
Big A#%! Yoga at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, MN
Big Yoga DVD
Buddha Body Yoga, NYC