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.”