Walking Guide

You're NOT Too Heavy for Yoga!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If your idea of yoga is a stick-thin woman gracefully contorting herself into pretzel-like poses without breaking a sweat, it's time to shift your perspective. One of the things we adore the most about this ancient fitness practice is that people of all sizes, shapes and skill levels can reap its many physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Wherever you are on the path to your goals, yoga is a great way to stretch out after running, to relieve chronic aches and pains or to squeeze in an impromptu workout from your office chair.
 
That said, the prospect of entering a yoga studio and going mat-to-mat with a group of slim, Spandex-wearing yogis can be intimidating, to say the least. Luckily, there are a few tools at your disposal to help you ease into your first downward dog and beyond. First, brush up on the basics with our yoga cheat sheet. Next, explore various types of yoga to find out which is right for you. Finally, draw some motivation from a curvy yoga expert who overcame her own body image struggles to discover her confident inner yogi.
 
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all shapes and sizes, and also the author of "Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day." We talked with Anna to find out what inspired her to launch Curvy Yoga, what she's learned along the way and her tips for finding true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
 
What inspired you to start the Curvy Yoga phenomenon?
 
I practiced yoga for years, almost always as the biggest person in the room. The pose instructions never made much sense for my body, but I loved it so much that I kept going. I also spent many, many years of my life as a chronic dieter, always looking for that next diet that would totally change my life. Out of frustration, I at one point tallied up the number of diets I’d been on, and when I came up with 65, I knew something had to change.
 
As I began my journey of body acceptance, I had this thought one day in a yoga class: "What if my body isn’t the problem?" That thought eventually led me to become a yoga teacher, and then to start Curvy Yoga so I could share yoga in a body-affirming way that works for people of all shapes and sizes.
 
Why do you think so many curvy women are hesitant to try yoga?
 
Curvy women are told day in and day out by a myriad of people—friends, family, doctors, media—that our bodies are not okay, and that the only relationship we can have with them is an adversarial one. So, when mainstream representations of yoga primarily feature uber-flexible and thin bodies, it’s none too surprising that anyone whose body isn’t like that is loath to give it a try. That’s why things like Curvy Yoga exist: To create a space that’s intentionally welcoming and understands how to be supportive.
 
How do you think your teachings differ from those of traditional yoga instructors?
 
Curvy Yoga is all about making yoga comfortable and available for people of all shapes and sizes. Students usually comment on a couple things that make the class different from others that don’t have this focus: (1) The inclusion of information for more than just muscles and bones and (2) How the class is sequenced from the most supported version of the pose to the least supported.
 
Of course, we all know that our bodies are more than just muscles and bones, but sometimes you wouldn’t know that to be in a yoga class. By including cues like, "If your belly feels compressed here, try this," our teachers invite the students' whole bodies into the class. In a world that usually tells us to ignore, get rid of, camouflage or otherwise hide these parts of our bodies, it’s hard to overstate how powerful it is to have permission to both acknowledge that your whole body exists and to invite it into the practice.
 
What are your tips for a newbie who is headed to her first-ever yoga class?
 
The beauty of both the internet and how many yoga teachers we have these days is that you can usually do some searching and find out about classes and teachers in your area. If you don’t have a Curvy Yoga class near you, look for classes called “beginners,” “gentle” or something along those lines.
 
And don’t be afraid to ask questions! You can absolutely contact the teacher ahead of time or talk with them before class about your body's needs. Also, just like it takes a while to find the right hairdresser, the same is true for yoga teachers. If your first class isn’t a good fit, that doesn’t mean you can’t find one. I always encourage people to approach this as an experiment and try several different classes. And if you have a buddy who wants to try with you, that's even better!
 
Do you have any other tips for women who are struggling with body image issues, and need help accepting their bodies as they are?
 
First of all, I think we all fall into this category in one way or another. I believe this is part of what it means to be human—learning how to accept ourselves and our bodies. Body acceptance is too often cast as a destination you can arrive at and then be done with and move on with your life. In my experience, though, it is much more of an ongoing conversation and practice, which is why I think yoga is such a wonderful tool to support body acceptance.
 
I would encourage anyone on this journey to cut yourself some slack if you’re not perfectly body accepting at all times. You have the opportunity each day to do something as simple as take a deep breath, become present with your body and get to know it. One of my favorite questions is "What does my body need right now, and how can I meet that need with the resources I have on hand?" Though in the day-to-day it often doesn’t feel like much is shifting, over time (sometimes not very long at all!), you’ll catch yourself noticing that your attitude has softened or shifted toward yourself in some way, until your relationship with your body isn’t the same as it used to be.
 
What's the most important ingredient in a successful yoga practice?
 
The most important thing for a thriving yoga practice is simple, though often challenging due to the busyness of everyday life: show up. Come to your mat with kindness for yourself, and you’ll have everything you need to begin.

Anna's 8 Favorite Yoga Poses


Reclined Big Toe

This is one of my all-time faves! It’s definitely my go-to after standing or walking a lot during the day. The strap allows you to lengthen the reach of your arms, which makes it a doable pose for many folks.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Down Dog with a Chair
 
Down Dog is a staple in many yoga classes, but it’s a challenging pose that can sometimes be hard to get the hang of when done on the floor. I love this version with hands on a chair seat (it could also be done with hands on the wall), because it allows you to get the great hamstring opening and spine lengthening benefits of the pose in an accessible way.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Standing Forward Bend
 
This is another staple in many yoga classes. What I like about this version is that coming in with bent knees and hands on blocks allows you to figure out what works for you today. Once you’re here, then you can start to slowly work your legs toward straight, and possibly dial the blocks down if you have a natural bend in your elbows.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Tree
 
Who doesn’t need help being more balanced, am I right? This pose is such a great teacher for me, because it’s never the same from day to day! This version, with the bottom foot in kickstand and the back to the wall, allows you to build up strength and comfort in the pose. That way, you'll be ready to safely progress to the next steps—coming off the wall and bringing the foot up to press into the calf.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Warrior 1
 
I always feel so strong in this pose, and I think many students do, too. It’s a lovely pose for connecting with both your foundation (in your feet) and your center (in your core, but also your sense of centeredness).
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Side Angle
 
For anyone who spends lots of time at her their desk or traveling, this is a great one! There’s such a nice side body stretch here, which I love for exactly those reasons.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Triangle
 
Similarly to Side Angle, this one has such a great stretch, this time particularly across the chest. There’s just something about the moment of reaching that top hand into the air that brings a smile to my face every time. And if you put a block behind your foot in Side Angle, you can move from there to here with relative ease.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
 
Pigeon
 
Raise your hand if your outer hips are tight! This is such a common concern. Pigeon is a great answer to that, but it can sometimes be challenging, particularly for the front knee. This version gives you similar benefits in what’s often a more comfortable way for many bodies.
 

Image credit: Emily Gnetz

In addition to teaching local classes in her town, Anna also offers teacher training and retreats, and has an online studio with members from all over the world. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit CurvyYoga.com.

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Comments

MICKEYF57 4/17/2018
Thank you, Anna. I have wanted to go to a beginners yoga class, I am not able to find a beginner's yoga class in my area. So, I log onto the internet and try to do the beginners yoga... many of the ones I have tried, are difficult for me, there are no alternative's to the pose. Until I see your's! There is hope after all. Thanks again! Report
AMYSUZEQ 3/13/2018
Thank you Report
BLPRETTYGIRL1 2/16/2018
Thank you. I have mobility issues and I don't bend very well. Report
SASHASMOM1122 2/16/2018
I love this story. I wish there was a CURVY YOGA around my area I definitely join. Thanks for this story, this is exactly how I feel!!! :) Report
KPRESTIA 2/16/2018
great article--shows that anyone can do these exercises--curvy or not!!! Report
THECOZE 2/16/2018
This is an awesome article!!!! Thank you for helping us 'bigger' girls have confidence that we can do these things too!!!! Report
SHOAPIE 2/16/2018
Great! Report
MBPP50 2/16/2018
Awesome! Report
LUNA_IS_MY_HERO 2/15/2018
great way to advertise on premium no advertisement Sparkpeople. Report
ONTHETEAM 2/15/2018
Please, plrase, PLEASE!! SHOW MORE EXERSICE WITH as you say "curvy people". Show US doing EVERYTHING so we don't feel so isolated or like a spectacle for the fit people to laugh at in the gym or at the track or on a trail... Report
WOLFKITTY 2/15/2018
I just seriously want to cry... it's so frustrating being not only the largest woman in the yoga class, but the only obese one. The instructor will sometimes suggest alternative poses, but most of the suggestions are just sitting the pose out, which doesn't help me stretch. Sometimes I do my own modified version but I'm not sure if I'm actually helping or hurting myself. Report
BARCELONAME 2/15/2018
Thanks Report
CRUSH88 2/15/2018
Thank you so much for encouraging curvy women to feel more comfortable with yoga. I love your videos. Namaste. Report
TENLEYSMOM27 2/15/2018
Fantastic article! Anything to broadcast the truth that yoga is for EVERY BODY! I’m so lucky to have a body-positive class and teachers in my area. I promise, your body will amaze you. You will find yourself doing things that you thought were impossible! And you will feel incredible ❤️ Report
I.M.MAGIC 2/15/2018
Love this! Even when I was young and thin, I had more tight short muscle than the long and lean, and felt SO awkward trying to fit the "pretzel" mind set! Now, I'm 64 and have some major mobility issues (fibromyalgia, osteo arthritis, connective tissue disease, gout...) and this actually looks do-able! I can't afford classes, but I can use what you just gave me to adapt any exercise to my current needs~ you gave me the confidence to try new things! THANKS SO MUCH! Report
KNITWIT123 2/15/2018
Very encouraging article. I've been in yoga classes where I felt like a cow because everybody else was not only thin but tiny. Love the poses and the pictures with the big smile. I don't recall a lot of smiling from the classes I went to! Report
NORCALTOPAZ 2/15/2018
I absolutely abhor when assumptions are made about larger bodies and movement and/or flexibility. This is why after seeing my university's fitness center, I decided to pay for a membership rather than use the one which is part of my tuition fees. I really appreciate this blog and its author's ability to dispel the myths of plus-sized fitness: health at any size! Report
CAROLYNINJOY1 2/15/2018
Awesome article and I appreciated the descriptions and photos. Report
WIZZLEWOLF1 1/28/2018
I need this encouragement. I started doing Yoga again after a six year hiatus. I am 50 pounds heavier now. OMG!! What a difference. However, I am not stopping. I just have to work with it until I get back down again. For me, I can do it now; it just isn't as easy. Report
CHIRUKEN 1/26/2018
I love Curvy Yoga! Until I accidentally stumbled upon the site, I thought Yoga was closed off to me. When I watched the videos of standing Yoga, I was amazed! I have issues getting down and up from the floor, so when I learned that it wasn’t necessary for every pose I was thrilled. In time, I hope to expand beyond my limited capabilities and I’m sure by following Curvy Yoga I’ll definitely get there! =^_^= Report
AQUAGIRL08 1/4/2018
Thank you for posting this! Report
KATHYJO56 12/10/2017
Nobody is too heavy for yoga. I just hate it. It is too passive for me Report
BETHUMZ 10/30/2017
Thank you so much for this article! Report
MRSKLAUSSNER 9/2/2017
I loved this article so much that I shared it! I never knew. I was one of those people. Now I'm gonna try it. Report
TRAVELERTHE 7/18/2017
Would the author and or model be willing to do a video so I could follow along with you? Looks like a good daily routine for stretching. Thanks. Report
ARTJAC 7/10/2017
great Report
BARCELONAME 7/10/2017
great article Report
RAZZOOZLE 6/24/2017
amazing article Report
BJAEGER307 6/24/2017
I can do this! Report
SHOAPIE 6/24/2017
Yes. Report
DEBBIEONWW 6/24/2017
this is so motivating and inspiring! Great article! Report
KITT52 6/24/2017
good to know any one can do this Report
NELLJONES 6/24/2017
This model did absolutely great! Report
SDOOFOUR 5/25/2017
I need to do this! Report
LESSOFMOORE 5/22/2017
This is a great looking article! Report
SPARKPEOPLE1951 5/22/2017
These are great moves and techniques that us "older" folks can use. Thank you Report
BLESSEDBEING 5/22/2017
Thank you, Spark, for sharing a great article that clearly shows yoga is good for Every Body, and not just the young, thin, athletic, super-limber pretzels! Cheers! Report
DIANEDOESSMILES 5/22/2017
I've been doing beginners yoga on youtube for quite sometime. In Oct I had my big toe removed due to ongoing problems with it. it of course has affected my balance so LOVE this with the way it's explained and yes,,, I will add some of these in !! TY I am CLEARLY saving this into my FAVORITES ! Report
RAPUNZEL53 5/21/2017
Great! Report
GMABOB1 5/21/2017
Wow - this would be a great way to relieve stress after work instead of filling my face. I always felt like a winded turtle in yoga - I think I could do these moves. Report
MATILDA41 5/21/2017
This is awesome. Going to look around locally to find something like it here. Report
AZMOMXTWO 5/21/2017
great way to help with a work out Report
ERICALEAHA 5/21/2017
Great tips thanks Report
97MONTY 5/21/2017
great information Report
BUSYGRANNY5 5/21/2017
Moves I can actually do!!! Report
PATRICIA-CR 5/21/2017
Wow, good to know! Report
LEANJEAN6 5/21/2017
Yoga helps sciatica! Report
EMGERBER 5/21/2017
Yoga is for everyone no matter what your fitness level or size. Report
SANDPOIN1 5/21/2017
Such a great approach to caring about yourself. Thank you! Report
KONA_SPARK 5/21/2017
I love this woman!! Report
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