Yoga studios for curvy women are springing up all over the country as more teachers and students challenge the idea that fitness is reserved only for the fit. These studios aim to make yoga accessible to students of all sizes, and they want to help students love their shapes. That’s why teachers are embracing the label of “fat yoga”, which is uncomfortable for some people.
“This can make it harder for students to choose what’s right for them because no one wants to feel like they’re the only one who can’t do something,” says Anna Guest-Jelley, founder and CEO (that’s Curvy Executive Officer) of Nashville-based Curvy Yoga.
After a decade of practicing yoga, she had an epiphany. “It was just that my teachers didn’t know how to teach bodies like mine.” Guest-Jelley modifies her classes to teach the curvy body. She includes instructions such as telling students to move their stomach flesh out of their hip crease when bending forward. Another modification is that she tells students to take a stance that’s bigger than hip-width in standing poses.
These modifications can help people of all sizes. “Just because the classes are useful for curvy people doesn’t mean they’re only useful for curvy people!” Guest-Jelley says.
The difference between Curvy Yoga classes and traditional instruction is apparent from the beginning when students walk in her door. Guest-Jelley doesn’t assume her students are beginners just because they’re curvy but greets newcomers with open-ended questions to get to know them.
Before classes begin, instructors hand out any prop that might be needed. Having to get up and leave the room for a prop often makes students feel as though they are the only ones who can’t do something. Then the class begins with body affirming quotes, poems, or meditations.
“While I’m comfortable referring to my own body as fat, and do because I think it’s important to reclaim it as a neutral descriptor, I know that because of the negative bias it has unfairly gotten in society that not everyone is ready or wants to do that right away,” Guest-Jelley says.