Many people (particularly women) have expressed anxiety about attending yoga classes as a fat person. The stereotypical yoga class attendee is white, thin, beautiful, and wealthy, as we all know from the pictures on all of the yoga articles. Though this stereotype doesn’t keep everyone away, including increasing numbers of men, it can be a big barrier for all but the most confident of people. Heavier yogis who successfully conquer their fears and attend yoga classes have described instances of feeling singled out by instructors and other classmates, as if their size suggests they have less ability than others in the class.
Mainstream Yoga Classes Can Cause More Stress Than They Relieve
We live in a society where fat is reviled. Even saying the word fat makes people uncomfortable, so they substitute “curvy” wherever possible. People in yoga classes, uncomfortable with fat, overcompensate and try to make the fat person feel welcome or sympathize with them over some simulated shared experience. This only makes them feel singled out. They realize the reason people are noticing them at all is because they are fat.
Do we want to have a yoga studio designed only for fat people? Maybe it’s not ideal, but maybe it’s something we need. Sometimes people just want to go to an exercise class and not have to think about the fact that they are fat. Maybe they just want to go to yoga and not worry about how they are making the other people in the class feel about themselves. That seems reasonable to me.
“Fat Yoga” Studios are Specially Trained
The benefit of the Fat Yoga studios, in addition to being a sort of neutral zone for fat judgment, is that instructors are used to dealing with heavier bodies and the issues that come with them. There are yoga modifications that can and should be made to accommodate heavier body weights to prevent injury. These are not necessary because fat people are less athletic or less capable than other people, but because their bodies are different and different poses add strain on different joints and body parts. Instructors who aren’t used to dealing with larger bodies are not as likely to know how to do this for the few heavier yoga participants they get in their classes.
Fat Yoga Fills a Clear Need and Should Be Embraced
Rather than being an example of some of the over-specialization of yoga that has happened in recent years, Fat Yoga fulfills a true mission and purpose. American society as a whole pays lip service to promoting healthier ideals of body image, but this has not yet translated into a feeling of true comfort and neutrality with people’s body sizes. Yoga classes are still attended primarily by people who look a certain way. Until that changes, its key to provide a space where people who need this type of exercise can feel comfortable getting it.