When is having a separate class for people with bigger bodies a service, and when does it cause more labeling, more separation? This is a question we spend time with every so often, at unfold studios and in the Samarya Yoga community. This is because we believe that yoga is truly for everyone. And we also believe that everyone adapts yoga to his or her own needs and wants. Just because someone has a larger body, a smaller body, an older body or an injured body, it doesn’t mean that they are doing special yoga – it’s all just yoga. The people that we see on the cover of a yoga magazine aren’t doing the “real” yoga, while the rest of us are doing some watered-down version.
However, this is the perception (and sometimes close to the true experience) of what is happening in many yoga studios around the United States. Classes are filled with young, flexible, athletic, white women who seem to fully understand what is going on in class – the terminology, the clothes and the gear, the pace, and what is expected. This can be an intimidating environment for some, for myriad reasons. So, while we who practice Samarya Yoga, believe at our core that all shapes and sizes of people can practice together, regardless of perceived barriers, we also see that having a dedicated introductory class can be beneficial for several reasons. Here are our top five:
1. Being with others with similar body type – This can provide a sense of safety, belonging and understanding. We know that all bodies are different, regardless of size, but knowing that you won’t be surrounded by lythe, stereotypical yoga bodies could be just what you need to help you walk through the door.
2. Being with others who are new to yoga – The language of yoga can be intimidating. When we know that we will be taken through the ABC’s, it can be a welcome relief.
3. Overviewing typical modifications for larger bodies – As earlier stated, all bodies are different, and still knowing a number of standard modifications for bigger bodies will dramatically increase your ability to modify many yoga poses (or other exercises you’ll find out in the world.)
4. Learning the underlying idea or “heart” of a pose – When we can figure out the main goal, idea or “heart” of a pose, we can choose other ways to achieve the same goal. For instance, say you’re in a yoga class and the instructor asks everyone to get on their knees for “camel pose,” but your knees don’t like that kind of pressure. Although there are many things going on with that pose, the “heart” is backward bending. And there are many accessible ways to backward bend. Voila! We can make our own modifications!
5. Knowing you can take your time – In a class dedicated to specific needs, we can slow down and trust that it’s okay to take the time to ask questions, to clarify, and to find what’s really best for each of us.
So, although we strive to provide this safety and support in each and every class, we like to make special offerings occasionally for just these reasons.
Whether you are new to yoga, or interested in coming back to it – a dedicated class may provide the community and connection you are looking for.
E.B. Ferdig is a yoga therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon, and is a co-owner of unfold studios. For more about the E.B., please see: http://www.unfoldportland.com/instructors.html
E.B. will be offering Intro to Yoga for Bigger Bodies, on Saturday, December 21, 10am – Noon. Cost is $30 for the workshop, or $20 for each student if you bring a friend. Check out with discount code: FRIEND10.
Written by teachers at unfold studios and guest authors.