Weigh in on Plus-Size Yoga Classes
A story in last week's New York Times drew attention to yoga classes designed specifically -- and solely -- for overweight and obese students. The article's been commented upon at length, and with good reason: The question as to whether such classes are a good idea cuts to the core of several weighty issues.
The yogic knee-jerk reaction would be to say that people of all shapes, sizes and abilities should be able to come together to practice yoga in harmony with one another, and that concern about how one looks compared to other students in class is not compatible with yoga's egalitarian ethic.
But the reality is that it takes a certain hard-shelled breed of person to brave a yoga class where everyone around you looks more fit and is able to execute yoga poses with greater ease. I've seen overweight women do it with aplomb, sticking with their yoga classes even as they huff and puff while those around them glide effortlessly through their sun salutations. These good-spirited women tend to take inspiration from their classmates, and I've seen several of them gain skill and confidence as they've progressed.
But I've also seen too many overweight women come to class a time or two and then disappear. Not having conducted any exit interviews, I can't say for sure that they left feeling defeated or that they simply felt out of place or poorly served in a class designed for fitter, more experienced practitioners.
The argument that any yoga teacher should be equipped to help every student modify poses and make other adjustments to fully enjoy any yoga class points to an ideal that doesn't always hold up in reality. There's no binding set of standards or universal licensing process for yoga instructors; in truth, just about anyone can call himself a yoga teacher, regardless of training or experience. (Of course, those hired by gyms, YMCAs and private yoga studios are generally expected to show evidence of training and to have some experience teaching.) So while a yoga teacher might be expert in teaching the finer points of triangle pose, he or she might have no clue how to help an overweight student achieve that pose. And many yoga classes are so large (in number of students, that is) that even a highly skilled teacher might be hard-pressed to provide individual instruction to all comers.
Of course, overweight doesn't equal out-of-shape; many heavy-set people are excellent practitioners of the physical as well as the mental and spiritual sides of yoga. Still, those floor-to-ceiling mirrors common to yoga studios can be daunting to people who are insecure about their bodies, overweight or not.
For what it's worth, my 48-year-old body faces its share of challenges in yoga class; for one thing, my nose is too big for me to comfortably rest my forehead on the mat during child's pose. Part of my personal practice is to cheerfully accept those shortcomings and either work through them or around them.
One thing I do know: Yoga is good for just about everybody, and the world would be a better place if everyone practiced it regularly. So, if it takes a special class to get some people there, then I'm all for special classes. (Not that I was able to find a class for plus-size students at any of the Washington-area yoga studios I Googled. If you know of one, please tell us about it in the comments section.)
What are your thoughts about yoga classes for larger students?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
May 20, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , Women's Health
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