Yoga is not strictly a thin person’s domain. Thick women and men are learning that they, too, can reap the benefits of yoga, such as increased flexibility, decreased stress and improved cardiovascular function.
It can be intimidating to enter a typical yoga studio if you are plus-sized, but there are studios aiming to change that. “When I would go to a yoga class, a long time ago, I would look at their faces and see they had no idea what to do with me,” says yogi Michael Hayes, founder of Buddha Body Yoga in New York City, which specializes in yoga for larger bodies. “As we’d go through the class, they’d calm down. I’d still be watched, but … I showed ownership, which they really liked.”
It was that ownership of the body and individual attention that Hayes stresses in his practice.
“I broke down the postures and started rebuilding it," Hayes says. "There are many roads, and I’m just taking another one, a different one.”
Fat Yoga, the brainchild of Anna Ipox, located in Portland, Ore., is another studio spearheading the movement of yoga for larger bodies. “Fat yoga has no objective or claim toward weight loss,” Fat Yoga asserts on its website. Hayes sees yoga as a way for plus-size people “get into their body, work from where they are, find their strong points, and relax and calm down.”
If you don’t have a studio geared specifically toward plus-size yoga, don’t be deterred! Hayes advocates for kindness to the self during your practice. “When you go to a studio, you get the support you need, and you have to give yourself the permission to … not do the things that you cannot do,” he says. IDEA Health and Fitness Association has created guidelines to help yoga teachers assess bigger bodies and modify poses to help plus-size yoga students.
Common modifications for big yogis include shifting bigger bellies and supporting joints that may be stressed, particularly knees. Hayes recommends the Iyengar style of yoga for beginning larger yogis, as it focuses on proper alignment using such tools as blocks and straps, which allow the participant to safely and effectively enter the poses. He even has an Iyengar wall in his studio that is outfitted with straps, allowing his thick students support for all poses, including more advanced asanas. Check out Michael using a wall here:
With time and practice, zaftig yogis will begin to see what Fat Yoga calls "fat remixed," which they describe as an increased range of motion, freedom of movement and body acceptance. Flexibility also comes with practice. “There's a reason why I'm a flexible guy,” Hayes says. “It's an individual thing. I used to stretch all the time as a kid, which drove my mother absolutely crazy!"
A home practice is a great way to explore yoga and supplement a regular studio practice. Abby Lentz — who runs HeavyWeight Yoga via Heartfelt Yoga Studio in Austin, Texas — has created a DVD, "HeavyWeight Yoga: Yoga For The Body You Have Today." Yogi Annie Carlin’s site, Supportive Yoga, has great advice, encouragement and tutorials. Sarah Herrington — founder of Om Schooled, which trains people to teach yoga to children — is also the author of the book “Essential Yoga: One-Hour Classes You Can Take At Your Own Pace.” While not specifically plus-size yoga, this book breaks down the pose, giving you a better understanding of the movement, and offers several long sequences, as well as shorter, themed sequences to get you started, including Stress Buster, Facing Fear and Lower-Back Tension Release.
Want to check out some modifications right now? Try these videos by Amber Karnes at Body Positive Yoga:
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) Yoga Modifications for Plus-Size/Larger Bodies. Watch here.
Pigeon Pose Modifications. Watch here.
Buddha Body Yoga’s YouTube Tutorials.