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Plus-Sized Yoga Classes -- Seriously?!

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A new trend is popping up everywhere: There are now entire studios devoted to yoga for overweight people. No skinny minnies allowed. Is the overweight train going too far?

obese woman doing yoga

When thinking of a yogi, you may immediately think long, lithe, agile ... thin. But these days, if you've ever entered any level yoga class, you would find an array of all kinds of people -- young and not so young, pregnant and not, tall and short, skinny and fat. Maybe in the case of the latter, not so extreme. Perhaps this is why "plus-sized" yoga studios are popping up everywhere: Mr. Hayes, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, only teaches big people and claims the concern of bigger people goes beyond the fact that they don't look the same way a skinny actress might, but that typical yoga classes "don't address the needs of big bodies. For example, forward bends and twists are hindered by extra girth." Helping students move better -- by "picking up and moving your belly fat out of the way" before getting into poses -- is what is being facilitated in these classes.

Hmm. Though certainly, most of us can relate to not looking like the skinny model or actress, or being as flexible as an Olympic athlete, is plus-sized yoga taking things just a little too far? Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Kelly McGonigal, thinks it's an unfortunate situation: "There's something wrong that we're doing as a community if people have to be shunted off to these classes designed for their size." Let's remember that the philosophy of yoga doesn't at all incorporate competition or weight loss -- it's simply a moving meditation that allows people to improve their overall physical and mental health, and the poses are geared for everyone.

Are separate yoga classes a good thing? If an overweight person feels too embarrassed about their size to attend a "regular" class, wouldn't that give them the opportunity to really embrace the yoga philosophy (rather than judge themselves and others), turn within, go at their own pace, and learn acceptance? Otherwise, we have a different issue on our hands, which hiding in a "plus-sized class" is not going to address.

Lastly, if someone is truly that uncomfortable, it might be time for more cardiovascular exercise to lose excess weight. Separating might just be skirting the issue ...

Do you think creating plus-size-only yoga classes is a good idea?

See Also:

Yoga Angst
Practice Yoga for Better Orgasms
Can Being Overweight Affect Fertility?
Introducing Obese Barbie

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56 comments so far | Post a comment now
aerialla May 16, 2009, 7:44 AM

As a heavier person myself I find nothing wrong with this. I myself feel more comfortable exercising with people who look like I do rather than the “Skinny Minnies” that tend to rule the classes that I long to take. You can’t tell me that the one fat girl in a classroom of toned lithe women is going to feel comfortable enough to get the full benefit of the class. There may not be a sign on the door for the majority of health classes that say “No Fatties Allowed” but that doesn’t mean that a bigger person won’t be made to feel uncomfortable enough that they leave on their own. This has happened to me several times. Yes there is a lot wrong with the perception of weight in society, especially American society. Bigger women have been treated as second class for far too long, what’s wrong with us getting special treatment for a change when we have withstood ridicule, cruel jokes, stares, pointing and made to feel that we were second rate, unhealthy, unbeautiful and unlovable next to our skinny minnie counterparts. I am very thankful that this yoga instructor saw a need for women like me to feel comfortable in a health class environment and is going the distance with it.

Anonymous May 16, 2009, 8:30 AM

Although I’m no longer plus sized, I was once the “big” girl in the room full of skinny minnies in a cardio-kickboxing class. I got nothing but support and love from them. They respected the fact that the big girl was putting in the effort even if I couldn’t always keep up. However, I think this is a nice idea. There are some flexibility, energy, health, etc. differences for the bigger person and anything that promotes health for them should be encouraged.

Kay May 16, 2009, 9:58 AM

Aerialla im with you on this!

N May 16, 2009, 10:42 AM

oh for the love of christ, if you are uncomfortable with yuour weight then do something about it like lose weight. people are getting to comfortable with obesity, its unhealthy they need to lose the weight not embrace it.

Anonymous May 16, 2009, 11:00 AM

What happens when the classes work their magic and they aren’t plus-sized anymore? Then they have to go to the “skinny minnie” classes or what?

Shelly May 16, 2009, 11:34 AM

I agree with ‘N’! We are getting too cozy with obesity and it is a serious health issue. Why would you feel uncomfortable around “skinny minnies”, because if you work out hard enough you can look like that to.

One Group Trainer's Opinion May 16, 2009, 3:20 PM

I teach group exercise part time, and it sounds to me like the trainer is the one with discomfort issues. Yoga can be modified for everyone, so the ‘different physiology, different approach’ arguement holds little merit to me. As for the members being uncomfortable with skinny minnies, I highly doubt it. Because it is my experience class participants are most comfortable attending classes with friends and family members, regardless of size. And it is usually through word of mouth that a class grows in numbers, so I don’t get how ANY Trainer would CHOOSE to limit their class size. Unless the Trainer is the one with discomfort issues. And in that case, I would say find a different profession. No point spending hundreds of dollars every two years for Continuing Education Credits to renew your Certification(s) when pretty much every course drills you on how important it is to teach classes for a GENERAL POPULATION and modify exercises accordingly to avoid injury. Duh.

Karen May 16, 2009, 3:26 PM

Makes total sense to me. These classes will allow larger women to enjoy the yoga experience by providing modified positions and techniques. What could be wrong with that?

Rachel May 16, 2009, 4:54 PM

No, this is exactly the same as hosting an “all white” yoga class or an “all black” yoga class. It’s segregation and it’s wrong. If you’re fat and you aren’t comfortable being around HEALTHY people than do something about it. But don’t expect me to feel sorry for you just because you feel akward around those of us who are “skinny minnies”.

jennifer May 16, 2009, 5:11 PM

yoga is about spiritual, mental, physical health and balance. obesity is a serious and deadly health issue. thankfully, it is also something that a person has the power of choice to change. by having separate classes for obese people, i fear that we are condoning their obesity. i do not believe that anyone should be shamed for being overweight, but i also don’t believe that we should condone unhealthy and dangerous behaviors.

Meera May 16, 2009, 7:27 PM

Well, you don’t have to be thin to enjoy the benefits of yoga. but you don’t have to be fat to be out of shape! The studies show that people who are overweight can be healthy and fit, even more so than thin folks who are sedentary and out of shape. As far as going to a special class just for bigger people, I think it depends on the individual. I teach a Big Yoga class, designed for the larger body, but I usually get at least half my class being “normies”. They come because they appreciate the meditative flow of the class, with the awareness focused within. Yoga isn’t just about the external body. It’s about the union of the body/mind/spirit and the quickest way to get there is to love yourself in the body you’re in right now.

Pamala May 16, 2009, 9:46 PM

Why anyone cares is beyond me. If I feel more comfortable with a fat class then so be it. I think it’s great that people take the leap to get in shape and if that means going to a class just for fatties then so be it. Do people realize how discouraging it is to feel out of place and looked down upon. I mean look at the crap posted above. Why would anyone want to associate with skinny folks if that’s the attitudes they encounter.

Tiara May 16, 2009, 11:00 PM

To Rachel, this is not exactly the same as an “all-white” yoga class. If you must compare it to something, its probably more like an “all-women” yoga class.
Also I am completely offended by the anti-fat sentiment around here. Women are beautiful regardless of size. Maybe the reason larger people don’t feel comfortable around skinnier (notice I didn’t say healthier. Just because you’re skinny doesn’t mean your healthy) people is because some of them are judgmental jerks.

mimi May 17, 2009, 2:33 AM

I’m with Pamala and Rachel on this one. The crap above makes me want to throw up. You could tell all the negative comments are mostly from skinnies, they have no idea/or choose not to relate to the overweight people’s feelings and issues. Untill you’ve been overweight, it is very difficult to put yourself in their shoes and know how uncomfortable it really is to be surrounded with perfect bodies and try to keep up with them and their stares. Enough said,” Where is this Plus Size Yoga? I want to join!”

Anonymous May 17, 2009, 2:35 AM

5 reason why this kind of class is needed.
1. “If you’re fat and you aren’t comfortable being around HEALTHY people…. - Rachel”
2. “people are getting to comfortable with obesity. - N”
3. “We are getting too cozy with obesity. - Shelly”
4. “…if you work out hard enough you can look like that to. - Shelly”
5. “i fear that we are condoning their obesity. - jennifer”

People typically condemn what they lack the depth to understand. I wonder how long any of you, who feel so superior because you aren’t “obese”, would voluntarily go any place where you would be judged so harshly as you have judged. Just for laughs I’ll throw this in; I bet at least 3 of you fatphobics call yourselves christian.

Peggy May 17, 2009, 2:37 PM

So, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t! If fat people aren’t active, we’re told all we need to do is get active and the fat will magically melt away! If we try to be active, like taking a yoga class, we’re often in a situation that is difficult and we’re looked down upon for holding up the progress of the others. So, some forward thinking, understanding people have started classes where we can feel comfortable doing something good for ourselves and have the exercises and equipment modified so that it will work with our large bodies and they’re being damned for doing so. What????????? Why don’t you people just mind your own business and take care of cleaning up your own house! Fat does not equal disease. 50% of “overweight” people are heart healthy. 50% of so called “healthy weight” people are heart healthy. 30% of “obese” people are heart healthy. And the latest studies show that people with a BMI of 20 or less have the same morbidity rate as the morbidly obese!!! So for all those “know it alls” who have stated their opinions above about what’s wrong with all us fat people, one of the big problems is you!

Ronda Wood May 17, 2009, 3:23 PM

Thank you Peggy - if one follows any of the media hysteria about fat people, it soon becomes clear: the prevailing opinion is that fat is just wrong, so WHATEVER we do is wrong, wrong, wrong! If there were any actual concern about a fat person’s health relating to a level of activity, all of these ventures would be applauded and supported. When people say to me “I’m only concerned about your health” that is a smokescreen for their actual sentiment, which is “I don’t like the way you look”.
Health at every size is a real possibility. All you folks with negative attitudes about fat people - a current cultural bias that you buy unquestioningly - should just get out of our way. I know you won’t change your opinion but you must learn to keep it to yourself - keep your mouth shut when you are around me!

Rachel May 17, 2009, 3:43 PM

I didn’t state that ALL skinny people are healthy but you are likely to find healthy people at the gym doing yoga…duh! And I am not “fatphobic”, in fact I have been overweight before! I just hate it when overweight/obese people expect to be treated with sympathy and have everyone else go out of their way for them just because of their size. If you’re unhappy about it, go to the gym and work out UNSEGREGATED!! Maybe it would give you motivation, it certainly did for me! I just don’t understand why you deserve to be treated differently.

Uly May 17, 2009, 7:50 PM

Rachel, it’s called the damn free market.

Hmmm May 17, 2009, 7:52 PM

Rachel said: “If you’re fat and you aren’t comfortable being around HEALTHY people than do something about it. But don’t expect me to feel sorry for you just because you feel akward around those of us who are “skinny minnies”.” - IMO, this is a very UNHEALTHY attitude — especially coming from someone who says they were once heavy — and very self-centered. Can you imagine, just for a moment, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes who just might be uncomfortable joining a club to exercise? Maybe you didn’t feel that way, but many others do and it’s not for you or anybody else to judge them based on what society has heaped on them.

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