by: Melinda Parrish
I’m a size 16/18 woman and I’ve been practicing yoga for over ten years. Throughout my journey as a curvy yogi, I’ve learned so much about my body, about the yoga community, and about the practice of yoga that has all really enhanced my life! When you’re a curvy woman, it can often feel like your size limits you or keeps you from having things you want in life. Friends, this is simply NOT TRUE in general, but it’s especially not true in yoga. If you’ve been hesitating to undertake a yoga practice because of your size, please read on to learn why size really does not matter on the mat, or anywhere else for that matter!
My greatest fear embarking on my yoga practice ten years ago was that other yogis were looking at my body and judging me for my size. I’m the biggest person in most yoga classes that I attend, but I’ve never once felt judged. In fact, I’ve had people pull me aside after class and say things like, “I was looking back at you while we were in downward dog! You look so strong and muscular in that pose, it was really inspiring to me!” This compliment FLOORED me, because in my mind everyone looks at me and sees a bowl of pudding forced into yoga pants and a sports bra.
It is important to note that yoga teachers may be looking hard at your body while you’re practicing, and sometimes making faces of concentration, confusion, or concern. This is because they undergo hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of hours of training where they learn how to assess people’s technique by sight. They’re looking to see if your hamstrings are firing when they’re supposed to, not at the size of your thighs.
A good instructor will communicate what she’s seeing to her students, but if you’re a new student, an instructor may be a little slower to offer that feedback because they want to give you space to get comfortable. Walk up and introduce yourself before class starts, and tell the instructor that you’re open to feedback and hands on assists. This way, they won’t hesitate to let you know what they’re observing, and you won’t be left wondering why they were staring at your midsection during triangle pose.
In truth, you are not going to be limited in your yoga practice because of size. Each asana is designed to recruit a series of muscle groups into creating a pose. There are no two bodies on the planet that look exactly the same when they do the same pose, regardless of size. It’s about alignment, and relying on the proper muscle groups—not contorting your body into impossible shapes. So while your downward dog might look different from your neighbor, it doesn’t mean either of you are wrong.
What I’ve found is that when I butt up against something in my practice that feels like my body composition limiting my practice, it’s almost always a technique issue. There’s a pose called rabbit where you are touching your head to the floor, butt in the air, grabbing your heels to release the back of your neck and elongate your spine. Well, I found that my boobs practically suffocated me when I got into this pose. But you know what I learned? It’s because I wasn’t really engaging my core to elongate my body during that pose. Having a good dialogue with your instructor can be super helpful here! I pulled my instructor aside after class to ask, “Why does it feel like I’m being suffocated by my boobs in rabbit pose?” We had a good laugh, and then figured it out.
Props can also be really helpful too, especially when you’re just starting your journey with yoga. Be sure to grab some blocks at the beginning of class and ask your instructor to help you with modifications so that you’re taking full advantage of how props can enhance your yoga practice! It’s like adding extra inches to your arms, which can be really nice for some poses, no matter what your body composition is like!
When I first started my journey with yoga, I would look at the sinewy women in the yoga videos and salivate over their lean bodies. “That’s how I want to look!” I would think. And while yoga can be a great part of any weight loss journey, it’s actually a practice that’s about acceptance of what is, not a race to win the skinny olympics, like many other types of group fitness can be.
The thing that I’ve learned by returning to my mat time and time again over the past ten years is that the soft animal of your body has its own needs. Some days, you can pop back into wheel and you feel like superwoman! Other days, your body needs that optional child’s pose instead of that last chaturanga. Some days your dancer is steady and other days you wobble and fall out. But this is what your yoga journey is about—getting curious about what your body needs and communicating with your body through movement, not shouting at your body about what you need it to look like and do, which is the root of many western forms of exercise. Yoga is about allowing, and accepting.
Overall, my relationship with my body is a million times better now than when I started yoga. Yoga has taught me confidence, self acceptance, patience, resilience, and how to be fully present and live in the moment. It’s an amazing journey that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of your size or fitness level. Not only because of what you experience on the mat, but because of how that time on the mat can really improve all areas of your life. There is no reason to let your size hold you back from having the life you aspire to!
As a lifelong athlete, former Naval Officer, plus-size model and body-positivity advocate, Melinda's passionate about the message that plus-size bodies can still be healthy and aspirational. Learn more at http://www.melparrish.com/