Thoughts on yoga instruction to support body diversity in practice

TGIF. I went to the gym with a plan for leg day, and set up for box squats with two box heights. I started with 5×5 on the taller one, increasing the weight from 115lb to 155lb each rep. So far so good. Then I switched to the shorter one, went back to 115lb, and promptly screwed it up. The box was shorter than the bottom of my squat, and I stupidly released at the bottom and dropped my butt hard onto the box– and the weight onto my spine. It didn’t feel too good. I tried another set but wound up bailing. I did get 2×5 deadlifts and some weighted crunches done though, so it’s all good. A little leg day, and the weekend to rest.

Yesterday evening I did the second practice of Yoga January: day 5, rhythm. I enjoyed this one a lot more. The first half of the practice was a lot of random bopping around and just flailing however it felt good. I was still pretty sore, so it all felt good! I’ve been shoving all the furniture out of the living room to practice– my usual yoga spot doesn’t let me see the tv. My husband tolerates this with some amusement.

Afterwards, I read some of the comments on the video. One of the more frustrating ones for me to read was from a beginner who was fat and was discouraged to the point of tears by not being able to get her body into what was being demonstrated due to her particular geometry. Folks answered with some supportive suggestions, but of course no one said this was a fault of the instruction.

It’s especially frustrating because finally there are more people offering yoga for diverse body types– like Jessamyn Stanley, who is amazing– and honestly, if they’re not going to do the work to make their practices accessible, instructors need to be up front about how folks are going to need to find their own modifications because they only teach for bendy thin fully-abled people.

It only takes a few seconds to mention the option of a block or a blanket or a strap where it’s appropriate, or to say, for example, "No worries if you can’t grab your foot, stay here and twist." Especially for a non-‘yoga-bodied’ beginner it makes such a tremendous difference to just be given that cue– people are trying to imitate the instructor by default, which means that not being able to do that feels like failure, especially when we’re taught that our bodies are wrong to start with.

I have a lot more anger about this than I anticipated. I think I’m going to re-evaluate the direction I started with Yoga January and do a little research and then put my money where my mouth is and support a yoga instructor who commits to yoga for every body. Maybe I could find an intermediate practice for fat folks? That would be fantastic!

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2 Responses to Thoughts on yoga instruction to support body diversity in practice

  1. Gingerzingi says:

    Yoga definitely needs to catch up. I remember back in the Jane Fonda days, when “aerobics” were all the rage and the instructional attitude was very exclusionary. It was all ridiculously difficult and just not practicable for many people. Eventually that changed and popular workout shows started including options and adaptations. Let us know what you find.

    • G says:

      Have I ever written about my first exposure to yoga? It was somewhere in the mid 1990s, I think I was just into high school, and I picked up a yoga VHS tape at a store. Yoga was still pretty unusual then, and this tape was designed for old people who wanted to keep up their mobility. It was great! No body expectations, no illusion that yoga was going to turn you into a bendy hottie, just moving and breathing that tried to meet me where I was at.

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