Human bodies come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and so do yoga styles, well not shapes and sizes, but you get it. If you're considering yoga but unsure if it's "for you", I'm here to tell you, it absolutely is! You can start doing asanas (yoga poses) now regardless of how much you weigh or how flexible you are.
Your poses might look a little different from the thin, hyper-flexible former gymnasts, dancers and other athletes who tend to dominate the images in yoga magazines and YouTube videos, but it’s not about looking like them. This is about you and your practice.
Try out these tips for adapting yoga to suit a curvier body so you can begin or continue your yoga journey with confidence, compassion, and joy.
Practicing Yoga – General Principles
1. Love your body. Forget about competition. Throw that attitude away! Competition has its place, but it isn't useful in yoga. I invite you to focus on compassion. Especially towards yourself. Avoid comparing yourself to those around you, your past and/or future self, and focus on appreciating your own physical assets. Think about all the amazing things your body does for you and be grateful for that. It’s beautiful.
2. Shop around. Sample different yoga styles and instructors. There is something for everyone. If traditional or power yoga is too demanding at the moment, try Yin or a gentle yoga class—be sure it’s a beginner’s or “all levels” class (though check out the instructor first because some of these classes may be more strenuous than a true beginner’s class, fyi). If standing for long periods is overwhelming or inaccessible for any reason, try chair or restorative yoga. Laughter yoga is even a thing (it’s silly at first but so much fun!) There’s even a style that literally translates to yogic sleep (yoga nidra), try it in a hammock and thank me later! Ultimately, look for a teacher who is encouraging, resourceful and supportive. Most of us would rather help you find the right style and teacher for your goals than you not practice at all.
3. Stay home until you’re ready. If you’re not yet ready to practice in a group class, it’s okay to practice solo while you build up your confidence. Eventually, you may want the guidance and moral support that develops in a group class, but Try private instruction with SocioMindful Wellness for in home (Atlanta metro only) or virtual one on one instruction. If that’s not an option for you, browse online for books, articles and/or videos for beginners and/or students with larger bodies.
4. Seek inspiration. A quick Google search will turn up images of plus-size yoga practitioners and teachers. Although many achieve advanced poses that many certified teachers can’t even manage, this shouldn’t be your primary yoga goal. Look into their stories and how yoga has benefited their lives off the mat and be inspired. Let them be your role models while you work within your personal limits, but remember, this is a practice to bring peace, unity and harmony to your holistic Self (body, mind & spirit)
5. Go inward. Remember that yoga is a mental discipline too. Reap the benefits of deep breathing, increased concentration, and greater compassion for yourself and all beings.
6. Ask an expert. Talk with your trusted health professionals about exercising, especially if you have chronic conditions or you’ve been sedentary for a while. Knowing in advance what poses may be more damaging than strengthening or restorative can make a huge difference in how you practice. Medical and fitness experts can help you stay safe while you work on your holistic transformation by letting you know whether your joints, muscles and fascia can handle the magic you’re about to sprinkle on them & enjoy yourself.
Specific Strategies for Practicing Yoga
This may be just what you need to level up or simply feel comfortable in your practice
1. Open wider. Simply widening your stance can reduce pressure on your joints and make it easier to balance in some of the most basic poses like forward bends and sun salutations. Shift your feet around until you feel secure and relaxed-think functional, not aesthetic—how does it feel, not how does it look. This will reduce injury and improve your overall practice.
2. Clear the way. Generic yoga instructions may not mention what to do if your chest or stomach gets in the way. Feel free to gently push body parts aside or modify the pose. Again, functional, not aesthetic. This small, yet effective adjustment can have a major impact on your yoga experience & practice, give it a try!
3. Use props. Straps, blocks, & cushions (e.g., bolsters, blankets, pillows) can help any practitioner go deeper into many poses. You’ll still receive the full benefits of the poses as long as you maintain proper posture for your body. You may even progress more quickly because you’re extending your range of motion. Look at props to your yoga practice as the Kelly Rowland to Beyonce. Beyonce does not necessarily need Kelly, but when they come together it's magical and they are unstoppable! Don't you want to be unstoppable?
4. Take a break. Move at your own pace and come to a complete stop if you feel like you’re overdoing it. You don’t have to quit the practice, simply give yourself a break in a resting pose. Often child’s pose is the only pose offered but mountain (standing grounded & strong, hands by the sides or in prayer at your heart center), seiza (sitting on your heels), corpse (savasana) and seated easy pose (criss-cross applesauce) are all great alternatives if child’s pose isn’t very “restful” for you—especially if you have knee issues 😉
5. Confirm yoga style taught before starting. Many group classes are simply labeled ‘vinyasa,’ ‘all levels’ or something similar and this is very vague and sometimes misleading. Ask if it is alignment based or functional. Question intensity level of the class. Some ‘all levels’ classes are really not that beginner friendly, based on many variables (many are however, so don’t be deterred). Confirm this in advance to avoid disappointment, frustration or the desire to never practice again. If you’re not comfortable with this much interaction, send an email prior to booking.
6. Expect surprises. Differences in individual body structure can make some basic poses difficult and some advanced poses a breeze. Forget about labels and just enjoy doing a routine that’s feasible for you. Function over aesthetics. Remember, it may be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Physical adaptations take time, give yourself credit, compassion, & permission to take your time 7. Speak up. If your teacher doesn’t volunteer information on how to modify a pose, ask for suggestions and alternatives. There will probably be others in the class who are looking for similar clarification and will appreciate your taking the initiative. The same goes for private and virtual instruction. Never feel embarrassed to ask for help, no matter how many times you need to. Remember, it is your practice & if your instructor seems impatient or unable to assist your needs, find another one. If you don’t feel you’re getting what you want/need from the class/session, that is your right and you need not feel guilty for making the change—even if you’re my student!
8. Trust your instincts. On the other hand, a teacher may try to lead you into a pose that’s too risky for you. Listen to your body and respect your limits. Take it from someone injured by an overzealous teacher forcing her into a pose beyond her range of motion, you know your body and its limits much better than anyone else. Trust & speak up for yourself. It’s always okay to say no, thank you.
Yoga is a transformative and low impact form of physical, mental and emotional fitness that can help you get and stay fit with less risk of injury if you’re in a body that needs a little more TLC in your yoga practice. Treat your mind and body to greater strength, flexibility, and peace by connecting with a yoga routine that works for you.