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Asana Practice, Modern Postural Yoga, Yoga Student Tips

Why I don’t believe in plus-sized yoga (Part 1: Just a modification)

Previously printed on Martinez.Patch.com, September 05, 2013

Recently a colleague asked why I haven’t blogged about plus-sized yoga before, particularly given recent media attention in the topic. I realized it is because I don’t believe in “plus-sized yoga.” As a yogi who has hovered above and below 200 pounds for much of my decade-long practice, there has only been Yoga. Some days I modify my practice because my knees are sore, or I slept on my shoulder “funny,” and I don’t see any difference between accounting for my tendency to hyper-extend and accounting for my tendency to have a beer gut.

You see, the reason I think “plus-sized yoga” is such a hot topic as a specialty now is because many yoga instructors don’t have a clue what it feels like to be overweight. While there are certainly male yoga practitioners (more than you may think, guys!) who struggle with weight or body image, much of my perspective in these two posts is oriented toward the many, many women who are a part of the yoga community. Recently I have lost some weight, and I realize that with each dress size reduction I  am losing my chance to represent an example of a plus-sized yoga practitioner.

Many of the instructors I’ve met have never struggled with weight in the same way I have. The bulk of my genetic material hails from Eastern Europe: My people were designed to have a baby on each hip while pulling a yoke through a tundra. Even at my thinnest, I was never going to be a professional ballerina. I understand that many of my colleagues had a different experience. Some have struggled with weight, but in some cases literally to meet the unreasonable standards of, well, professional ballerinas!

While many of the women I have worked with have had body issues, they have been on a slightly narrower scale than my own and come as a result of spending lives in athletic pursuits. Many of them were highly judged for their frame, in some cases being ridiculed for being a size 4 instead of a more appropriate size 0 or a hefty 2. In other instances, their thin frames have been a subject of ridicule outside of the studio, even as their form has been idealized within the studio walls. As a result, they are very sympathetic to the issues facing women with body types more like mine, but are unable to be as empathetic as they’d like. Just as a new prenatal instructor who has never been pregnant tends to be cautious, so too do thin instructors worry about what someone with more curve can and can’t do.

I’d like to pretend that plus-sized yoga doesn’t exist. I’d like to believe that it is just another modification for a body type, one you do not necessarily need to experience first hand,  just as I was not and have never been pregnant when I trained in prenatal yoga, an actual specialty practice. However, many yoga instructors view plus-sized yoga as something so “different”, requiring specialized training or specialized classes, they never consider it something that merely requires an adjustment or modification. Often, they don’t even know where to start.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my personal experiences on the mat with extra meat and how perspective shapes a “plus-sized” practice more than fancy props.

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