Fat Yoga in the News

I was surprised to see an article on yoga classes that target fat people in a mainstream newspaper (in this case The New York Times).  Overall it’s a good article.  The main thrust is that different body types can result in needing to adapt poses.  

Poses considered standard for those who are fit or slim — standing with the feet together in mountain pose, kneeling with the forehead on the mat in child’s pose — are often difficult or even impossible for heavier students. Forward bends and twists are hindered by extra girth. Weight-bearing exercises like arm balances can also be more difficult.

There’s also a mention of Megan Garcia and MegaYoga (of the MegaYoga book and video.) I was half-expecting to see a “balancing” quote from a “fitness expert” about how fat people should work on losing weight so they can do yoga “properly” or about how fat people should be sure to so something aerobic to help them lose weight.  Instead, the “other opinion” came from the editor in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy Kelly McGonigal, who felt that “segregating” fat people into different classes is the wrong way to go.   

As for that…I think there’s a reason there are many different yoga classes out there.   Everyone wants a class that works for them.    For some people that’s  “hot yoga”.  Others have the basic poses down and want an “advanced” class.   Someone who is new might want a slower pace and more explanations.   People with arthritis or who are recovering from injuries may want lots of props to experiment with and time to try adapting poses as needed.    Fat yoga is a way of showcasing some common adaptations (and once you learn how to adapt common poses, then you can take those with you to any class) but it can also be a way to market to a particular community—US

One thing I learned in my fat yoga class is that not all fat people need the same adaptations.  Yes, fat adds bulk, but how much and where it’s at varies.  I have lots of belly bulk, so seated forward bends with legs together don’t work well.  A more pear-shaped woman would have a lot easier time!

13 thoughts on “Fat Yoga in the News

  1. Also – Rack of Doom can make yoga quite challenging! I regularly manage to suffocate myself in my own boobs without even getting a stretch (I’m naturally flexible) and those shoulderstands? Well, I can do them, but I worry about falling out of my top!

  2. @randomquorum Megan Garcia has photographs of herself demonstrating a way to use yoga straps (like from Iyengar yoga, etc) to help with the boobage issue, in her yoga book. :)

  3. Poses considered standard for those who are fit or slim

    This comment stood out to me. I like that fit was not necessarily equated with slim.

  4. My husband is training to be a yoga instructor, and he sometimes asks me to try a basic pose or two so he can figure out how to modify things for someone with a stomach, belly, and boobs.

    I think it stuns him that I’ll discuss my body with him after fifteen years of making it clear that it was a forbidden topic—but not anymore! :^)

    As a sort of aside, I started weightlifting a couple of months ago. I follow a computerized program (designed by a live trainer whom I see once a month or so) and there are a few free weight exercises that I simply can’t fit around my boobs and a few machines that were not designed with my size in mind. Luckily, there are always alternatives that work the same muscles. And I think my trainer is learning something, too.

    • A while back the man of the house and I were taking classes at a nearby community college that has a physical trainer program. We could sign up to use the “lab” (gym) with a physical trainer-in-training for $15 / quarter. So we did. It was a fun and encouraging experience. We also ended up giving our trainer lots of reasons to go back to her class and ask questions.

  5. I’m someone with a fair sized chest and a bit of a belly so even though I’m not OMGFATZ!!! I have a hard time with some yoga poses. It’s encouraging to read that minds are changing to expand to include those of us with expansive bodies! :)

    • Yes. One point from the MegaYoga book is that many of the poses were developed by men, who naturally tend to have narrower pelvises than women. A women’s wider pelvis can make it harder to balance with both legs together no matter how thin she is!

      (Megan suggests doing a bit of a hop to see how your feet naturally land and go with that distance.)

  6. I have taken a yoga class for fuller figures at northwestern wellness center in chicago. Loved it! Want to go back, but 12 hour work days don’t really accommodate much for anything.

  7. Thank you for posting this – didn’t realize there was fat yoga in Austin! Totally booking my first class today.

  8. I’m thin enough to count as “not fat,” but I still have problems with a bunch of yoga poses because I have Thunder Thighs and giant amounts of muscle on my calves. So any pose that requires me to bend my knee and get my heel as close to my butt as possible (frex, child’s pose: my butt is in the air) isn’t going to be my best pose. *cough* And I’m a size 10/12.

    Another person in my yoga class — a guy — is definitely thin, but he has trouble with linking his hands behind his back as his biceps are too well-developed.

    So ‘fat’ problems with yoga requiring modifications start when you’re still pretty small. I guess it’s just that those of us who are a size 10 or so have a fighting chance of not needing the safe space quite as much.

    I think my point is that yoga teachers who don’t know how to modify poses for ‘fat’ people (quotes because I’m certainly not fat) are really leaving out everyone above about a size eight, not just the people who go to fat yoga classes. And that is, as the article and above implied, denying a whole lotta people a chance to do yoga. Also sort of against the love-your-body point of yoga, but we knew that.

  9. I’m so glad to see this development come about. Although I agree that fat people should not have to segregate themselves-not really from others, but from the attitude of others, namely yoga instructors.

    I could have got into regular practice of yoga much earlier if it wasn’t for this kind of attitude;

    how fat people should work on losing weight

    We used to be actively put off yoga for this reason, it’s so important to make this point, the obesity crisis has been responsible for lowering the level and quality of our physical lives.

    not all fat people need the same adaptations. Yes, fat adds bulk, but how much and where it’s at varies.

    It’s also true that yoga can expose the habitual feelings and emotions through the postures. This also varies between people and is part of the variation of ability between even those with the same body size and shape.

    Its’ profoundly ironic about the negative attitudes being artificially introduced into yoga-that it’s all about looks etc- it goes against the spirit of yoga, which is very much a wholistic and internal process.

    You have to wonder about the competence of an instructor that thinks yoga is for the thin only, do they actually understand what yoga is?

  10. This is so interesting. I’ve always shyed away from yoga not because I worried about being too big for some of the poses (although reading this I would imagine I might have trouble with some of them, being big-chested and wide-hipped), but because I’m not particularly flexible. My enjoyment of dance classes as a (average-sized) child were ruined by the fact that I could never do a split. I’d spend hours in my living room trying to force my legs into a split, and still couldn’t manage, while the other girls in the class seemed to just drop effortlessly into them. As an adult it has occurred to me that human bodies must vary in flexibility, and perhaps my body just does not want to be forced into splits, but as a kid I just assumed I was somehow either defective or not working hard enough.

    I always assumed a yoga class would be the same experience, and I’d just end up feeling like there was something wrong with either my body or my effort because I don’t naturally twist into all sorts of contortions. So I’ve stuck with exercises that I’m fully capable of succeeded at. Props and modifications have always seemed like “cheating” to me with yoga, but I love this idea that the problem is not with people’s bodies, but with the poses, and that it’s the poses that need to be modified, not people’s bodies. Which, makes sense, in a “Yoga was made for people, not people for yoga” kind of way. ;) Anyway, this inspires me to consider giving yoga another try.

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