In my yoga teaching practice, my ideal is to offer classes that are accessible, inclusive and welcoming. I intentionally offer classes for people who may be intimidated by traditional studios because of their age, size or socio-economic status.
An article in yesterday’s New York Times looks at the growing trend of yoga classes for “plus-size” people (I’m never sure of the proper terminology – sometimes “plus-size,” “heavyset,” etc sound too condescending – I’m a fan of “fat,” but am not sure how others interpret it and don’t want to appear insensitive… anyway, I guess I’ll just settle for “plus-size” until I get around to inventing my own language).
Typically, yoga studios are not havens for the plus-size set. The ancient practice might be based on philosophies that stress self-acceptance and noncompetitiveness, but that can be hard to consider when entering a studio filled with lithe, limber bodies twisting like taffy and gliding effortlessly into handstands and backbends.
“I go to those classes and I walk out feeling horrible,” said Ms. Ayers, a 35-year-old massage therapist. “When you are a larger person, there are certain things your body is not going to do, no matter how skilled you are. I’m actually fairly flexible. But I go into a regular class and it becomes clear that no one is going to help me modify a stretch to help my body. You either do it or you don’t.” [NY Times]
Nobody should not leave yoga class feeling horrible, but I suspect that it happens more often than people are willing to admit. It’s amazing and inspiring to see classes specifically tailored to the physical needs of people who aren’t young, lithe and limber. But I have to agree with the comment by Kelly McGonigal, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, who points out there’s something wrong in the yoga community if plus-size people are being segregated into their own classes. She would prefer to see studios work harder to attract a broader cross-section of students.
It’s going to be a long journey, which would involve making some systemic changes in how yoga is marketed in North America.