Big-Ass Yoga

A yoga class where instructors have struggled with weight and help students feel comfortable in their bodies

| July-August 2009

Big Ass Yoga Class

image by Stephanie Glaros

The story is regrettably common: A would-be, bigger-bodied yoga student faced with attending a class designed for and packed with smaller-bodied students stops practicing—or never starts. Even the student who soldiers on does so only by steeling herself at the studio door. “I was the only person [in the fitness center class] who looked like me, the only person who wasn’t there working out all day, wearing a teeny-tiny outfit,” Jennifer Gray told Spirituality & Health (July-Aug. 2008). “I just came in and kept my eyes on the mat.”

In the West, yoga has been reduced to the “fervid pursuit of textbook alignment,” Anna Dubrovsky writes in “Stretching the Mind”. The meditative element suffers, and so does yoga’s reach—cutting off students who don’t come into it lean or limber. A new kind of practice is cropping up in response.

The Yoga Center of Minneapolis, which Gray opened in 2000, began offering “Big A#%!” classes a few years ago. One key: All of the instructors have struggled with weight, so they’re prepared to help students feel comfortable in their bodies. Over in Michigan, Meera Patricia Kerr has rechristened integral yoga—a practice that focuses on “an easeful body”—“Big Yoga” and released a DVD of the same name. Her book, Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies, is due out in November.

In our weight-conscious society, big people tend to disconnect psychologically from their bodies, Mara Nesbitt explains to Yoga Journal. Nesbitt, who has released two instructional videos for larger-bodied yogis, says, “Yoga is a good way of getting back in touch with your body and making friends with it again.”

Sue Ann
3/3/2010 1:46:10 AM

Enjoyed the article and comments. I'm an over weight woman wanting to learn Yoga and appreciate the suggestions for DVDs and books. Thank you. Will search for a class in my hometown of Fort Worth, TX.

10/28/2009 8:20:13 PM

Size really doesn't matter, although I understand that it's more about a person's comfort level in a class where people look like they are in better shape and maybe have more experience. I have seen larger women teachers and they are very adept at their practice. I have seen smaller people who really are not fit , even if they are not overweight. Having more body fat does not mean you can't get into the poses. and being thin does not mean you'll have the flexibility you would like. But what I love about this article is the concept of making people feel comfortable enough to practice yoga because it is so good for you in every way. Mentally, Physically, with regard to strength and flexibility and in helping to create a better body image and personal accomplishment and happiness.

8/24/2009 11:18:43 PM

dorrie, I think you have a book in you, great writing style...thanks for the laugh. From Maddie, a round Yoga teacher.

8/24/2009 6:23:48 PM

the problem is that north americans want to market the bits and pieces of all things traditional...hence the hubris of the noodle people...for heaven's sake, the appalling lulu lemonization of fitness has morphed into a kind of prejudicial presentation of exercise clothing designed for people with stick arms and legs and expresses this as "clothing for people who love to exercise" or something like that, I am not "big" but neither am I "noodle like". i lift weights,l do martial arts, am 62 years old, but none of the lemonized "exercise" clothing fits me, all too skinny in the arms, and come on, xtra xtra small...give me a break..l.let's go for the philosophy shown in stories like "Quest for Fire" where a thin, skinny female is regarded as, well, perhaps unhealthy. Then there's always the "Blind Man Blues"..."big fat mama with the meat shakin on her bones, every time she shimmies, a skinny woman weeps and moans"...

8/17/2009 11:31:20 AM

Dede Dodder: Have some respect.

Dede Dodder_1
8/17/2009 11:11:52 AM

I think "Bigger" people need to stop focusing so much on themselves. No one cares if your big, sweaty @$$ is in class, get over yourself. Also, smaller people don't spend all day working out contrary to your belief.

Dede Dodder_1
8/17/2009 11:11:00 AM

I think "Bigger" people need to stop focusing so much on themselves. No one cares if your big, sweaty @$$ is in class, get over yourself. Also, smaller people don't spend all day working out contrary to your belief.

Dede Dodder_2
8/17/2009 11:10:41 AM

I think "Bigger" people need to stop focusing so much on themselves. No one cares if your big, sweaty @$$ is in class, get over yourself. Also, smaller people don't spend all day working out contrary to your belief.

nina carroll
8/16/2009 4:04:46 PM

I enjoyed getting the email through a mutal friend who knows I recently became a yoga instructor. The article helped me realize to open to alternatives approaches when it comes to my teaching yoga as an instructor. Which is exactly the name of my basic gentle yoga classes Alternative Approach. I believe this is the issue we as a whole are having with one another and ourselves. We are not finding alternative ways to approach our offsets whether it's being with weight, illness,relationship,or any other obstruction we are allowing to get in the way. I believe there needs to be more gentle loving, caring, and openess to freeing ourselves and others from their fears, uncertainies,doubts, and negative vibes they're feeding to themselves and from what others who are judging.

7/23/2009 2:21:07 PM

Well, I am also really happy that there are classes for not so teeny people because I understand that it can be very challenging to start to practice when you are completely overweight and not happy about it ... But my advice is "don't be self conscious! Just go ahead because I have seen "big" people practicing yoga doing wonders like head stand (I am sur eit didn't come in one day) and I was very grateful to them to be around because they are inspiring no less than the teenies. What is great with yoga is that it makes people beautiful because when people are happy they become beautiful. So don't be afraid, you might not become a teeny but you will definitely be beautiful and people around you will notice! Enjoy!

chad henry
7/22/2009 4:40:36 PM

Big people who want to do yoga can search Amazon and the web to find home yoga instruction dvd's that cater to plus-size folks. Or they can call or email local yoga schools or classes (such as at the YMCA) and speak to a teacher beforehand to see if one of their classes would be right for them, such as a Level I or beginner class. Most teachers worth their salt will move around the class during each posture and give at least a brief comment or make a physical adjustment. AND there are many yoga books aimed at large people. If a person feels ignored in that class, they talk to the teacher AFTERWARDS, and not interrupt the class. If they don't like the teacher, then don't go back to the class. Any person can get ahead of the game by reading a book, trying the postures, or getting a beginner DVD, so they're not coming in cold to the class.

7/22/2009 10:58:37 AM

I am very glad for this trend. I am one of those who would "soldier" on, but recently, I decided it was important enough to me that I hired a teacher for private lessons. In the group lessons with the "teeny" people, I was always having to ask for an alternate pose, and taking up class time about it. Most teachers were accomodating, but it made me feel very self-conscious, to always have to ask. Sideways, the trend for sweaty hot yoga (aiming to be Olympic event) has reduced the number of room-temp meditative studios, making it harder to find a comfortable group class. Thank you for this article- I hope it encourages more size-friendly studios/classes.