Western yoga has a flavor for everyone, but can you truly embrace them all, or do some make you a little uneasy (naked yoga anyone)? When cultural prejudice and glam-washed yoga outweigh yogic philosophy the result is often sticky and uncomfortable. That’s the crack where the light gets in, fostering spiritual growth and understanding. So tipping the scales, however uncomfortably, in favor of fat yoga seems long overdue.
Yes, I said fat yoga. And, no, I don’t mean phat.
If you’re feeling offended or shocked, that’s exactly the point. For years, there have been dedicated classes tiptoeing around the issue, advertising to “curvy” populations or using other clever euphemisms that have more positive connotations. On the surface, and in the spirit of making everyone feel welcome and not judged, this seems like a good thing. While it certainly isn’t bad, there is a growing sentiment that it just isn’t enough.
Although yoga really is for every body, and everyone can start right where they are, yoga studios are often perceived as intimidating, competitive or judgy by yogic newcomers. This can impede those who feel they don’t live up to the glossy poster girl or guy image from giving yoga a try. If you get past that hump only to feel the instructor doesn’t know how to—or worse, doesn’t want to—instruct you, would you ever go back? I’ve certainly avoided instructors for much more minor perceived offenses.
The trick is that classes for depression, addiction, PTSD, insomnia, and a whole laundry list of other common health complaints are not only abundant but are clearly named, advertised and touted to very specifically declare their intent. Meanwhile, promoting a class for a specific body size or type has been approached with extreme caution and copious amounts of metaphors. This leaves a “rounder” person at a distinct disadvantage as they search for a teacher that is able to offer a supportive space free of judgment, assumptions, discomfort, and/or fear.
Which is exactly why some teachers and studios are dropping the pretense. Fat Yoga, and HeavyWeight Yoga are just a couple of the studios that are not only designed around supporting larger bodies, but also very clear about who their target audience is. These studios and studios like them are striving to go beyond just creating a welcoming atmosphere—they are consistently offering classes by and for people that our culture would call fat, obese or even “big boned.” Instructors understand the modifications that may be needed, but also aren’t afraid to encourage advanced poses for those who are ready.
Ultimately, fat yoga isn’t about segregating body sizes, it’s about admitting that we all have certain needs and expectations for our yoga practice, and that finding classes to support us shouldn’t be so daunting. Although the word may still seem crass, addressing the taboo around fat turns the light back on those that would judge and/or squirm, and provides room for all to strengthen their understanding and compassion.
Although our society as a whole has been moving towards the rejection of the skinny end of size idolatry, and body shaming has entered the mass consciousness as unacceptable, this progress hasn’t yet led us to a place where everyone feels welcome or supported in every class. Maybe the unabashed use of triggering words and class structures that further challenge the status quo will help speed this union along.