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It seems that everywhere you look in the industry, yoga studios, yoga teachers, yoga teacher trainings, and yoga publications claim that they teach “yoga for every body.” That “all bodies are welcome.”
It sounds nice. But words and actions are two very different things. Yoga has never felt inclusive to me. As a plus-size woman who has practiced yoga regularly for years, I have found that the practice of yoga always feels like a curated space for a certain body type, especially given the prevalence of postures modeled by slim, able bodies on social media.
It’s not enough to simply have the intention to be more inclusive to bodies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. These words need to be put into practice. Yet even when they’re not, you don’t need to let these shortcomings define your yoga practice.
Yoga is your individual practice
I know firsthand how out of place it can feel to be the only plus-size person in class. I understand how frustrating it can be to feel like a teacher is not taking you into account. I also know what a shame it would be to walk away from yoga—a truly life-changing experience for the mind, body, and soul.
Years ago, I recognized how incredible yoga truly is—how amazing it makes me feel—and I have come to understand the benefits of the physical practice for both my body and my mind. I would hate to see anyone walk away from their mat out of frustration at their body for not behaving in a manner that they’ve seen other bodies perform. I want everyone to experience the benefits of yoga—and to recognize that, at the end of the day, yoga is an individual practice, and only we know what works best for us.
Inclusivity is challenging in more ways than one
It can be extremely frustrating to be in a body that isn’t represented and unconditionally accepted in the yoga space. It’s easy to claim that a teacher didn’t lead a sequence that felt good in your body. It’s easy to blame yoga teachers and the spaces that support them for not being inclusive. It’s easy to get mad at a studio for only hiring extremely lithe and bendy teachers in a certain size range. It’s easy to want to walk away because you don’t feel included or represented in a space. It’s easy to blame someone else rather than find a solution.
But at its essence, yoga is about how we process our emotions and manage to keep ourselves moving forward even in tough, challenging, and frustrating situations.
I don’t blame teachers for focusing on sequences that feel good in their own bodies and for giving cues that accommodate the majority of students in class. They often don’t know what works for those of us in larger bodies—those of us who have some extra fat that can prevent us from accessing a pose in a more traditional way or that could even cause pain.
I believe it’s truly impossible for a teacher to give cues that will work for all body sizes and types. As a yoga teacher, I know the importance of giving cues that first instruct students to enter a pose in a safe way, then offering additional cues to help the body find strength, relaxation, and comfort, and, finally, provide time and space in the pose for students to breathe and reflect in the pose. There is simply not enough time to teach all the cues that are specific to all the body types present in a class.
How to advocate for your yoga practice in a plus-size body
So, how can you find comfort in a space that isn’t as welcoming to your body size as you deserve? How can you advocate for yourself when it feels like there is such a long road ahead to inclusiveness?
Learn to take charge of your own practice. Take responsibility for yourself and your own practice until the yoga industry changes. When you focus on yourself and your own practice, you can find what works and what feels good for you.
1. Get curious and make a mental note
Turn inward and focus on yourself in your practice. This means noticing if something feels off or doesn’t work in a pose. It means not waiting for a teacher to mention a certain cue that allows you to make the subtle changes that feel more comfortable in your body. It means recognizing what cues work for you and applying them to future classes you attend, regardless of what that teacher instructs.
2. Ask for help
If you have trouble accessing a pose, ask your teacher after class if they have a suggestion. No matter what size a teacher is, they may have a tip that works for your body. You never know where a teacher has come from in their body journey or what additional training they may have taken to be more inclusive.
A great teacher will find an answer for you even if they don’t currently know. But remember, it’s not up to the teacher to find what works for you. Try practicing with a variety of teachers both in the studio or online. Find influencers on social media that provide tips for bodies like yours. Explore different variations of poses in class. This is a part of yoga, too. You don’t always have to do exactly what a teacher says. Slow down and turn inward to discover what’s happening in your body right now.
3. Be the change you wish to see in teachers, studios, trainings, and publications
Before you decide to give up and step away from your mat, I encourage you to first advocate for yourself by releasing outside sources from the responsibility of finding what works for you. Instead, seek resources that do work for you. They are out there, and it is always possible to find a yoga practice that fits comfortably in your body even as you’re waiting for the yoga industry to catch up.
Speaking up and letting teachers or studios know what doesn’t feel good for you will help them to improve, but it’s not required in order for you to feel better in your practice. Advocating for yourself can be a simple, silent practice. You simply need to start with you.
Also, taking care of your own needs and desires on the mat could be the source of inspiration or courage another student needs to do the same. Never underestimate the power of your own energy which can be shared freely with others, even when you’re not the person at the front of the class.
And be patient. Learning how to find the approach to yoga that works for you is a practice.
4. Follow teachers and influencers that lift you up
Through their practices, words, and fearless self-expression, these women have influenced my own practice to be more accepting of myself. I hope they can do the same for you. And you can practice along with me on YouTube anytime you’re looking for a supportive ally in yoga.
Taylor Lorenz is a travel and yoga writer, yoga teacher, and self-acceptance advocate from Ottawa, Canada. Her writing and yoga classes teach that travel is a form of expansion instead of escapism and that self-acceptance is the cure to many of life’s woes. She aims to help others feel comfortable and confident in their bodies and their dreams so they can live their lives freely. Follow her on Instagram and YouTube.