Lifestyle

Yoga Is For ALL Body Types And Sizes

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woman training legs and loin during workout
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A quick Instagram search on any of the hashtags —#yogainspiration or #yogafit or #beagoddess—reveals endless images of lithe girls with long limbs and flowing hair, tiny waists and flexible spines bent into contortionist positions. The women, because they are almost always women, are young and flexible and—overwhelmingly—thin.

The subtle message all those images send is this: yoga is for people in thin bodies. (Preferably thin bodies silhouetted by golden sunsets in tropical locations.)

But the truth is, the subtle message is, actually, not so subtle. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that yoga is for thin people, that yoga is not for bigger bodies, fat bodies. The image of thin bodies practicing yoga are pervasive not just on Instagram, but in catalogues for fitness clothes and depictions on popular television shows.

But just because that’s the message we are receiving, doesn’t mean it’s true. You don’t have to be thin or small-framed to be good at, enjoy, or receive benefits from yoga. Yoga is for fat people, too.

Yoga is for every body.

What are the benefits of yoga?

To understand why yoga is for bigger bodies, too, you have to understand the benefits of yoga and how those benefits can, and should, apply to all body types.

According to Heathline.com, yoga can lower stress and anxiety levels, improve flexibility and balance, and increase muscle strength and tone. Yoga improves the body’s alignment, ensuring even movement that translates from your mat into your daily life, which helps to protect your joints from uneven strain.

Aside from the physical benefits, one of the most outstanding benefits of yoga is the way that it helps individuals thread together the ever-important mind-body connection, that connection that keeps your mind and body working together. A consistent yoga practice can also inform your life outside of the studio. By learning to link your movement to breath, to breathe during the toughest moments of your practice, you learn to connect breath to daily life, to breathe during all the obstacles that might be thrown at you.

Leading the charge

The idea that yoga is for bigger bodies isn’t novel. Advocates, such as Instagram influencer and writer Jessamyn Stanley, author of Every Body Yoga, and Michael Hayes, owner of Buddha Body Yoga in New York City—a studio with yoga classes designed especially for the challenges bigger bodies might encounter in a class—have been working to change the “look” of yoga for years. Companies such as Superfit Hero assist people in finding local body positive fitness providers.

Their efforts have been met with applause from the fat positive community, who have wanted to try yoga but have often felt left out in an industry that catered to (and seemed to prize) thinness. At his New York City studio, Hayes uses props and straps to make the movements accessible to larger bodies, who might have different challenges, different ranges of movement, and different strengths to build from. Because, yes, part of embracing the truth that yoga is for bigger bodies is recognizing that there are differences in the way different body shapes move. Every body type needs modifications, but that doesn’t mean one body type—fat or thin or anything in between—should be completely excluded from any particular movement.

As with any forward movement, there is push back. There are those who see embracing the idea that yoga is for fat people too, as a way to glorify unhealthy lifestyles or promote obesity.

Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, a Health At Every Size (HAES) aligned psychotherapist in NYC warns against the idea of equating body size to health. “This has been disproven over and over. Fat bodies are often healthier than the frail ones pictured in yoga and fitness inspo. The culture is fatphobic, placing untrue and unnecessary claims of health onto bodies.”

Being bigger bodied doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy, and wanting to create a space for yourself in a place from which you are systematically excluded isn’t promoting anything—it’s simply asserting a right to be.

Thin Privilege

As a former yoga addict and a person in a smaller-framed body, I cannot truly know the challenges a bigger-bodied woman faces when she walks into a yoga class and is confronted, mostly, with people who do not look like her, people who do not understand that some moves might be more challenging than they would be if she were in a different body. I cannot truly know the barriers a fat woman must overcome before even opening the door to a yoga studio, from the frustration she might feel walking into a yoga studio that doesn’t make space—literal space—for bigger bodies, or the disappointment that crashes through her when she walks into a fitness clothing store and cannot find clothes designed to fit her size.

The best I can do is understand and acknowledge that the privilege I enjoy when I walk into a class and my health isn’t questioned, when I struggle through a move and my fitness isn’t doubted, is in fact a privilege and it is not enjoyed by everybody. The best I can do is support the efforts by advocates like Jessamyn Stanley and Michael Hayes who are attempting to normalize the truth that yoga is for fat people, too.

Because the real message we should be sharing is that yoga is simply movement…and movement is for everybody and every body.

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