In our last post we examined the myth that yoga is only for the young and blew it out of the water with Susan Hartely. You can find that post here to learn more about how Susan's yoga has changed over the years and what inspired her to comlete a yoga teacher training at 68!
Today I want to dive deep into the myth that young is only for the thin. Welcome to Part 3 of What a Yoga Body Looks Like.
Images from Amazon: Every Body Yoga - Author: Jessamyn Stanley - “no copyright infringement is intended”
I may be controversial here for some, but when we are the "cultural norm" it's really easy to lose sight of what's like to not be that norm. I am the image most seen in yoga magazines, Instagram posts, and other social media. I am a woman. I am thin. I am white. None of these are my choosing. It's just how my body is made, how my genes are expressed.
It's really easy for me to walk into a yoga class and see myself reflected in the other people there. I take that for granted a lot. I also take for granted how it makes me feel when I walk into that yoga class. I blend in. I'm one of the group. I don't stick out in any way. That's how it should feel for anyone coming to a yoga class. But it doesn't.
The myth that we need to be thin (fit, athletic, trim, choose your own adjective here) to do yoga has been perpetuated far too long.
It has succeeded in excluding a huge portion of the population that could also experience the benefits of yoga. Not because they need to lose weight, but because flexibility, stress relief, mindfulness and self-love are things that everyone could use more of. Let me repeat that really quick. Not because they need to lose weight.
I'm not going to lie, I fell prey to this myth for a while too. I would see a larger bodied person in a class and make assumptions about how active they were or what they might be able to do on their mat. I was consistently proven wrong and began to question my own assumptions. I paid attention to who showed up at yoga and who didn't, how assumptions showed up in the ways yoga classes were taught, how an instructor cued a pose, who yoga was marketed to and who it wasn't.
There is still a bit of fat-phobia in our country. We tend to assume that certain body types, shapes or sizes imply health, wealth, or happiness while others imply laziness, disregard or no right to be happy. Here's a thought I want you to chew on for a moment.
We can be healthy (and do yoga) at any size.
Read that one more time and let that sink in.
Now, let's get on to yoga.
I have been following a few yoga teacher thought-leaders on this topic and really love how they have switched up how they teach in order to make yoga accessible to all. These teachers are really thoughtful in the words they use, the examples they set, & the variations they provide, in order to guide people to make yoga poses fit their bodies, not the other way around. There is no one way to do any yoga pose. There is what works for you and your body.
Let's look at some common anatomical concerns and solutions you can try.
Images from Shutterstock.com “no copyright infringement is intended”
1. Abundance in the belly
Some yogis have a little more going on the core that can make certain poses feel awkward or not possible. Some examples are forward folds or twists. Amber Karnes of Body Positive Yoga has some really great suggestions to that are applicable to every yogi in the room. My favorite is Take Space and Make Space.
* Take Space by taking a wider stance.
1. Often yoga teachers cue to bring the feet to touch. Take this as a suggestion. You can
create more space, and a really strong foundation, by taking the feet hip width apart or
* Make Space by moving what you need to move.
1. In forward folds, try bringing the hands to the belly and physically tucking it up and in.
No matter your size, I guarantee it will encourage you to focus your hinge at the waist,
right where it's supposed to be.
2. In twists, use your hand to bring the belly along with you, moving any abundance to the
open side of the twist. Also, in a seated twist, try keeping your foot to the inside of the
extended leg rather than crossing it over.
3. In seated poses, move that booty so you can feel your sitz bones.
4. In prone poses where you lay on your stomach, smooth soft belly tissue up towards the
diaphragm to feel your pelvic bones more easily.
* Use Props
1. Bring the floor up to you. Whether it's a standing forward fold, downward dog, triangle
pose, or anything else, make the pose work for your body. Grab some blocks or a chair
and bring the floor to meet you where you're at.
2. Support your body. Blocks or bolsters are useful for anyone who needs a little extra
support whether due to weight, balance, or even fear.
3. Lengthen your arms or legs. Use a strap to create length when you need it.
2. Abundance in the chest
This one is for the ladies. We come in all shapes and sizes, including our breasts. Those of us who have larger chests might find certain poses uncomfortable or that our breasts get in the way, even smother us a bit. Here you'll want to Make Space and Use Props.
* Make Space by moving what you need to move.
1. In forward folds, try taking a wider stance. Give your girls some space
2. In twists, use your hand to move your breast to a more comfortable spot so it's not under
an arm. Or, instead of bringing your elbow to your knee as in a twisted chair pose, try
bringing that same hand to the opposite shoulder, skipping the knee all together.
3. In low lunges, try taking your front foot and/or your hands wider.
4. In inversions like plow or shoulder stand, make sure to really elongate through the back
of the neck. You can use a blanket or folded towel underneath the shoulders to create
* Use Props to create more space
1. In poses where you're laying face down, try a blanket or bolster under your pelvis to allow
more space. Or try a different pose. Instead of cobra, try sphinx.
2. In child's pose, try a block under the forehead to create space while maintaining a long
spine. Also try a wide-knee child's pose, big toes to touch, knees open to the edges of the
3. In plow pose, use a block to support your feet if they reach over your head.
4. In Warrior Three, use a block to support your hands, even if just at first, so the girls don't
throw off your balance. Strengthening your core and back will also help with balance poses
where your chest might throw it's weight around ;)
5. Get our your strap & take your forward folds to the floor. Instead of standing forward
fold or seated, try it supine. Lay on your back and use the strap around your foot to find a
deep hamstring stretch
No matter what your body looks like, you can do yoga. As I mentioned in the first pose on What a Yoga Body Looks Like, it's not about what you can do on your mat. It's all about how you feel when you step off your mat. With that in mind, make changes to poses as you need. Ask your teacher for suggestions on how to modify poses when you're not sure how.
Know that this practice is exactly that, a practice. It's not a perfection. It's not a competition. It's about you and you, the longest and most intimate relationship you will ever have. Make it the best one possible my dears.
1. What do you think? Have you ever shied away from yoga because you felt unwelcome, uncomfortable, or unsure how to make it work for your body? Leave a comment to share your experience
2. Catch up on the first two posts in this series What Does a Yoga Body Look Like? and It's Never Too Late To Start Practicing Yoga if you haven't already
3. Stay tuned for Part 4 next week!
4. Stay connected through my email list for future blog posts, updates, and healthy living inspiration. I share weekly-ish info, tips, and notes with my VIP email community. You can subscribe to my newsletter at the top of this page.
In love & light,
I'm Tonia, a Midwesterner transplanted to Colorado. I'm a mom of two lovely littles, a yoga instructor, DIY-er, teacher, stay at home mom, and a doTERRA Wellness Advocate. I blog about a little bit of all of these and everything in between!
Are you looking for natural health options, but don't know where to start? Book a 1-on-1 appointment with me! We'll spend about 30 minutes getting to know your health goals and concerns, learn a bit about doTERRA, and go over the most commonly used oils that meet your needs. You don't have to buy anything, but if you see something you like, of course I can help you!