“Do you have any advice for yoga teachers?” I asked Alison Warren.
“Yes,” she replied, with no hesitation. “You don’t have to feel pity for those who are larger, because that just underpins the narrative that larger is other, is untouchable.”
The yoga scene can certainly be intimidating for a number of reasons. “I don’t think everyone always thinks they are capable of yoga,” Alison says. The aspirational marketing approach of mainstream yoga reinforces this perception, prioritizing images of yogis who are thin, young, and able-bodied white females. “You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, which is misconstrued concept about yoga – that you have to be able to put your feet behind your head, and that’s not necessarily true.”
Mainstream yoga has been catering the able-bodied, athletic demographic, but these days, the yoga community is expanding outside of that box. Not every yoga teacher is equipped to support the diverse needs of “unconventional” yogis, like those with bigger bodies, chronic pain, injuries, or physical limitations. This can leave new students feeling discouraged and alienated in a yoga class.
Alison Warren and Bryna Parker are two St. Louis yoga teachers who are working to make yoga less intimidating specifically for larger-bodied yogis. Starting this January 7th, they are collaborating on Yoga for Bigger Bodies, an introductory workshop to empower folks to feel confident to step into any yoga class.
“Last summer I attempted to teach a yoga class for bigger bodies,” Bryna shares. “Then I decided we don’t need a yoga class for larger humans; we need to teach people in bigger bodies how to feel confident about themselves, how to modify poses, how to feel into their bodies so that they can show up to any class, anywhere, anytime and feel confident about how to move without that intimidation factor.”
You can check out the entire interview video below, along with more information about their upcoming workshop at Joy of Yoga.
Advice for Yogis with Bigger Bodies
- Arrive early to find a spot where you’ll feel most comfortable in the room
- Surround yourself with props, even if no one else is using them. Props aren’t a sign of weakness, they’re there to support you in getting the most out of your practice.
- Get curious about your body. Start thinking about “How does this feel in my body,” rather than “How can I make my body look like that shape?”
- Just show up. (Especially when you’re having a bad day). “There is a message in yoga that is uplifting, that is positive, that allows you to tune everything out and tune into yourself,” Bryna says. So even if you show up on your mat and you stay in child’s pose, or stay laying down, or even if you end up having a good cry – it’s worth it to have made it onto your mat.
- Keep coming back. You might take a class where you feel really awkward – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying again.
- Nobody is watching you – they’re too busy thinking about their own practice. “And if they are, they’re probably in awe,” Alison says.
- Try lots of different studios, yoga styles, and teachers. There are a ton of great instructors in St. Louis (check out this list), so allow yourself the time to find who speaks to you and who best aligns with your beliefs and ideas.