I’ve never taken a plus sized yoga class. I never felt the need to. I started practicing yoga on a regular basis in 2010, after I finally found a studio where I felt like I could be myself. They seemed happy to have me, and that made me feel great! Before this, I had tried yoga at a few gyms and also at a well-known yoga studio. The gyms were okay, but it wasn’t the most relaxing experience to hear treadmills whirring in the background while trying to focus. I also felt a bit intimidated by all the incredibly fit people leaping (it’s possible they were just walking) from one machine to the next.
I decided to commit to the yoga studio and started to develop a deeper appreciation for the practice. There was also something about the style (a hot yoga practice) that was working for me. The teachers were strict and I loved it. I had the primary goal of weight loss and I loved sweating and pushing myself. It was almost punishing. And I think on some level I felt like I deserved to be punished. Society doesn’t tend to look too kindly at heavy people, and I wanted so badly to blend in. It’s hard to blend in when you are the biggest person in the room.
I might have stayed at that studio for the long haul, if it weren’t for this one particular employee. This person took it upon herself to make me feel the opposite of welcome. Every time I would come in, she would look me up and down with such distaste, I would feel immediately embarrassed. The look on her face and the way she treated me personified all that I felt about myself. Eventually, I couldn’t deal with it any more, I stopped going to class and yoga fell out of my life.
A couple of years later, I found myself without a job and I needed some sense of schedule while I was considering my next steps. There was a yoga studio nearby and I decided to try again, signing up for a trial month.
The staff were so kind and the teachers offered a variety of styles and perspectives. I started to feel like the classes were a lifeline during a difficult time and I soon signed up for (and successfully completed…yeah!) a 40 day challenge. The regular practice had me feeling strong physically, and one day I realized that something magical was happening. That mean little voice inside my head that would constantly tell me awful things about myself was finally quieting down. This was a bit of a revelation, as that voice had been a mainstay for as long as I could remember. I began to realize that yoga had the power to do so much more than stretch and strengthen my body. I became curious. So curious in fact, that a hop, skip and two years later, I completed my yoga teacher training. Woot!
Now I teach classes in and around Vancouver and a few years ago I started teaching a series called Full Bodied Yoga. These classes focus on students working in bigger bodies and offer a space for them to be comfortable while exploring what can often be a very uncomfortable practice.
In an ideal world, any person in any body could make their way in to a yoga class with the comfort of knowing that they would be welcomed and accommodated. In the real world, this doesn’t always happen. Many of my students had tried yoga in the past and had negative experiences with either the teachers or fellow students. Some of them had been to class and had a good experience, but still felt somewhat vulnerable being the only person of size in the space. And then there are the students that are brand new to yoga, and were specifically looking for a class tailored to their bodies. This is the only way they would try yoga.
I must admit that I had never really considered teaching this type of class. Having spent many occasions feeling separated because of my size, I didn’t want to participate in something that might make others feel that way. I also hopped into yoga without needing a class tailored to my specific body, so I felt like others would as well. That said, I wanted the opportunity to teach more and I knew that I could relate to the challenges of practicing in a bigger body, so I committed to creating one beginners series. I honestly assumed that if anyone came, I would teach them how to modify and then they would go to any public class they wanted and I would never see them again. Six weeks, nice and neat. That was three years ago.
Since then, I have added additional Full Bodied classes (Beginners, All Levels, Yin and Yin Flow) to my weekly schedule and started a private online group for my students past and present. I have taught over one hundred individuals, and I feel grateful for each and every one. Some of those from the first class are still with me now. While I have been teaching them yoga, I have learned so much in return. I love it!
For the reasons above and so many more, I am so happy to offer these classes. Full Bodied (Plus Sized Yoga, Fat Yoga, Body Positive Yoga) Yoga is something that needs to exist so that we can be sure that yoga becomes a more inclusive practice. Do all big-bodied people need this? No. I didn’t. But I am so glad it exists as a place for others and I am thrilled to offer it. It is my hope that it becomes a jumping off point for these students so they can go to any yoga class with the confidence they need to modify for themselves. My classes are a place of empowerment, not restriction. It is my belief that full bodied folks can, and should, go to any class they feel good about and I am there to support them along the way.
Having my classes on DYWM allows everyone access to this amazing practice (in whatever style they choose) and removing a potential financial barrier can be an incredibly helpful first step. When David and I discussed what to call the classes, Plus Size Yoga seemed immediately recognizable (Full Bodied Yoga isn’t always clear to people). It also happens to be one of the top searches for people looking for this type of yoga. And if people are looking, we want them to find us!
Yoga has been a life changing experience for me. I am no longer at war with my body and if I can make that a possibility for even one other person, I will share this practice in any way I can. I hope that these classes bring as much joy to the practitioner as they do to me as a teacher.
Classes with Helen will be coming soon!!!