How to Start Yoga When You're Bigger Bodied

Bigger-bodied woman doing a yoga pose on a mat
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Starting a yoga practice can be intimidating for anyone: you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of yoga, but how do you make the leap to actually doing it? Yoga studios can seem like private clubs where you have to know the secret handshake and password before you'll be allowed to join.

Add to this scenario the popular image of the yogi: young, lithe, and twisted up like a pretzel in skin-tight spandex. What if that image bears little resemblance to yourself? If you are bigger-bodied, overcoming the mental and physical hurdles to trying yoga for the first time can be even more challenging.

Why Do Yoga?

Those with larger bodies should feel just as comfortable as those with smaller bodies when entering into a yoga studio. Regardless of one's size or flexibility, yoga's benefits are for every body. Often the challenge is to simply find a teacher and a space that recognizes this.

The benefits of yoga are profound for all. From increased balance to increased longevity, yoga helps you feel grounded and confident in your body. Yoga helps to bring the mind-body connection to the forefront, which can improve self-image and acceptance. Most importantly, yoga can help you feel better by both improving your physical fitness and elevating your mood.

How to Start Yoga

The best way to learn yoga is from a qualified teacher in a yoga class. Specialized classes for bigger-bodied students are becoming more popular, but can’t be found everywhere. As the yoga establishment recognizes a need, more teachers are being trained in adaptations for larger students.

If you do not feel ready for a group class, consider booking a few private yoga sessions. This can be a great way to learn basic poses and gain the confidence to use props in an effective way before joining a group practice. Becoming knowledgeable about yoga is the best way to ensure that you will feel at ease.

If finding a yoga class for larger bodies is not an option for you, explore a beginner’s level gentle Hatha practice. Kripalu, Viniyoga, or Integral yoga class. Because the teachers are trained to work with differing abilities and body types, these styles are most accessible. Chair yoga is also a possibility for those with limited mobility or in need of added support.

Abby Lentz, the founder of Heavyweight Yoga in Austin, Texas, suggests speaking to the teacher before your first yoga class to ensure that you are comfortable and the teacher will be prepared to offer modifications and props as necessary.

Props are going to be your best yoga friend. Using them doesn't mean you are inferior. It means you are smart. If you try a type of yoga that is not prop-friendly, find another class. The same goes for any teacher that discourages the use of props.

Online Communities

The Yoga and Body Image Coalition has been at the forefront of promoting inclusivity and diversity in how yoga is depicted in the media and practiced in the real world. A new generation of young yoginis, including Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti, are using Instagram to promote body positivity to show their followers what an advanced practice with a bigger body looks like.

If you are just starting out, keep in mind that the more acrobatic poses they are demonstrating are not the norm for yogis of any size.

Plus-Size Resources

Those who don’t have access to yoga classes can still get started by using DVDs at home. Lentz’s Heavyweight Yoga DVD is a great choice, as it leads you through basic exercises and offers modifications for people of different sizes and mobilities.

Curvy Yoga with Anna Guest-Jelley, Nashville, Tennessee (and online)

Heavyweight Yoga, Austin, Texas (and on DVD)

A Gentle Way Yoga, San Diego (and on CD)

Mega Yoga, (DVD and print)

Big A#%! Yoga at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, MN

Big Yoga DVD

Buddha Body Yoga, NYC

Online resources include:

Yoga and Weight Loss

In the case that weight loss is your primary goal, seek a dietician or physician to support your goals. That being said, yoga is a wonderful way to boost inner peace and self-esteem as you embark on a journey toward your best self (at whatever size you feel healthiest).

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.