Overweight? Yoga is for You Too!

17 July 2013

Do a Google “Images” search using the word “yoga,” and you’ll notice most of the people in the photos are thin and fit (and most of them are women). You’ll see a thin woman on the beach in warrior pose; there’s a thin woman in front of the sunset in tree pose; and then there’s a skinny woman in a nature setting in lotus pose. This constant theme of skinny yogis isn’t necessarily wrong, and it’s hardly surprising—thin sells. But, the overwhelming number of all these yoga images is a bit deceptive, as it implies yoga is exclusive to thin, fit women, especially when these images tend to include only asanas (poses) conducive to skinny bodies.

If you’re like most people, you might well begin the get the idea that yoga and its health benefits, such as stress/anxiety reduction, improved flexibility and balance, relief from depression, pain and insomnia, plus improved fitness, are meant only for thin people, and not so much for the 63% of American adults that are overweight and the nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults who are classified as obese. This is absolutely not true! Yoga is for all types, shapes and sizes (and let’s not leave men out either), but you might just need to know how to get started.

If I’m overweight why should I do yoga?

For those people who are carrying excess weight, low-impact exercises like yoga may be more comfortable (and suitable) than other forms of exercise like running, jogging, aerobics, dancing, jumping rope, stair climbing, tennis, person-on-person contact sports, and gymnastics to name a few of the high-impact activities often recommended. And, keep in mind, most asanas can be modified to fit your body size and type.

Yoga definitely isn’t that spin class with the instructor that has a drill sergeant’s mentality. It’s not any type of “Insanity Workout.” The mental component of yoga; deep breathing, positive meditation and increased awareness, can boost confidence for people of all sizes and shapes.

How is yoga asana practice different for people who are overweight?

When overweight people consider heading to a beginners’ yoga class, one of the scariest parts is walking through the door for the first time. Just like the Google Images mentioned above, the class may be full of women who are half your size, and some of the asanas, and the pace of going through the transitions from one pose to another may be particularly challenging (if not downright daunting) for larger bodies.

If you’re overweight, you’re going to need to move slower, especially when transitioning from one asana to another. It’s kind of like a luxury liner trying to keep up with a kayak.

There are also some poses; inverted and balancing asanas, that will not work for bigger-bodied students, especially when beginning. Sometimes you may have to observe other practitioners in these poses and think, “I’m not ready for that yet.”

Nevertheless, don’t be intimidated by joining a group class, assuming you’ll fall behind and have to sit out certain asanas. Before class, call or meet with your instructor and see if they have experience with bigger students. Oftentimes the two of you can work together to prevent pacing issues and plan modifications and alternative poses instead of those that will be uncomfortable or embarrassing.

Some tips that can make yoga more comfortable for overweight students?

Try widening your stance. In many standing postures, your feet are often supposed to be hip-width apart. But if you’re bigger than normal, it may help to spread your feet farther apart until they’re at a comfortable distance, this will help to increase balance and stability.

Remain in touch with your body. Take the initiative to make yourself more comfortable.

Use props whenever appropriate. If your instructor wants you to touch your hands to your toes during a hamstring stretch, don’t respond with an eye roll. A yoga strap will probably help you to eventually achieve this stretch and it may support you in other asanas, too. A yoga block can also provide support, by helping you connect with the ground. Your instructor should be willing to demonstrate the best practices for using these props.

Be positive. Remember, yoga isn’t about competition, and it’s not about being perfect. Use yoga practice as an opportunity to connect with your mind and body.

Don’t get discouraged. There is no overnight success, and patience is part of yoga too. There may be setbacks, but stay focused on the progress being made.

If you’re overweight, watch the following video for some inspiration…

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