Walking into your first yoga class can be intimidating for anyone.
But it can be even more uncomfortable and challenging if you are a full-bodied beginner.
While yoga teaches acceptance of all people, as an industry it doesn’t always cater to full-size bodies.
Consider the ads for yoga pants you see while scrolling through Instagram.
You might be left wondering whether there is a place for you in a yoga class if your waist circumference doesn’t squeeze into petite-size yoga pants.
Even the best-certified yoga instructor may not instinctively understand what a bigger body yoga student may need to feel comfortable.
For some, it may be modified poses that work for larger bodies and bigger bellies.
While for others, it may be a larger yoga mat or additional support equipment to feel comfortable.
All in all, yoga simply hasn’t factored large bodies in.
But that’s a shame, especially as two-thirds of American’s are plus size.
Physical Activity and Obesity
One main contributing factor of abdominal obesity — and general wellness — is a sedentary lifestyle.
Yoga is a gentle and low-impact form of physical activity. So, it is a great way to get your body moving at your own pace!
There are so many benefits of yoga that can improve the quality of life for a lot of people with obesity.
One of these benefits is heart health, an important issue for average-size and obese people alike.
Irregular or high heart rate can lead to complications like stroke and heart failure.
Regular exercise, even gentle yoga, helps promote relaxation and lowers your heart rate.
Maintaining a yoga practice builds feelings of strength not just in the body, but also in the mind.
It helps increase self-esteem and promotes body positivity.
The effect of yoga on your mental health is just as important as physical activity.
Yoga is full of health benefits that are for any body, size, and gender.
It’s about time we make yoga work for your body type, no matter what size pants you fit in!
Body Positive Yoga
Inherently, yoga promotes self-acceptance and body positivity. But unfortunately, fatphobia still exists within the industry.
The image of yoga we typically see splashed across social media promotes a petite, athletic build.
Lack of representation of fat people within yoga leads to the stigma around fuller-bodied yogis.
It is important to combat fatphobia in the yoga world, in order to make the practice accessible for all body types.
Luckily, several notable yoga instructors have stepped up to the plate.
Jessamyn Stanley, Jessica Rihal, and Dana Falsetti are influencers whose names you may recognize.
These yoga teachers bring fat positive yoga to countless Instagram feeds and help diversify the image of yoga.
They each offer online classes especially for full-figured yogis via their websites.
You might enjoy practicing at home on your own, but that is not the only way to do yoga!
Community is also a foundational aspect of yoga. But if you have a larger body, you might feel self-conscious walking into a studio for the first time.
Perhaps you’re worried you’ll look out of place.
That’s why Michael Hayes and Abby Lentz both created spaces specifically where fat people can feel like they belong.
Their organizations, Buddha Body Yoga in New York, and Heavyweight Yoga in Austin, respectively, offer valuable resources for plus-sized yogis.
It is all too common to encounter so-called body-positive yoga classes that incorrectly promote the idea that fat people should do yoga as a way to lose weight or shave a few inches off of their waist circumference.
However, this is not true body positivity!
Both Buddha Body and Heavyweight Yoga classes focus more on body acceptance and overall wellbeing, rather than the idea that fat people have to change their shape in order to be valued in the yoga world.
They also are wonderful resources for learning how to use yoga props to modify poses for plus-size bodies.
Using Yoga Props in Your Practice
Larger people may need some extra support in certain yoga postures.
Most yoga studios, especially those with curvy yoga classes, provide the necessary equipment.
However, if you choose to practice at home, it’s wise to invest in a few of your own props.
That way, you will have many options for modifications to make your yoga session a positive experience.
The go-to props most yoga spaces offer include straps, yoga blocks, and bolsters.
Additionally, there are a lot of household items you can use. Pillows, blankets, dining room chairs, or a sturdy folding chair are all incredibly useful to have on hand.
Depending on your size, you may even prefer an extra-large mat to ensure you are comfortable in any position.
10 Yoga Poses for Larger Bodies
One of the best things about yoga is its adaptability.
Many postures are perfectly safe for any sized body and easily modified for safety and comfort.
These 10 yoga poses are slightly modified from their original version to provide better stability, balance, and comfort for a bigger body.
Grab your favorite mat and give them a try!
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is one of many restorative poses in a typical yoga class, from gentle yoga to more vigorous styles.
It lengthens the spine, releases tension in the hips, and can help soothe low back pain.
- Begin in a kneeling position. Keep the big toes together, and widen the knees to leave space for the belly.
- Walk the hands forward until the arms are extended, bringing the forehead to rest on your yoga mat.
- Reach the hips back toward the heels and breathe into the back body.
A child’s pose may be modified for larger bodies in a couple of ways. If the forehead does not reach the floor, try stacking one fist on top of the other, and resting your forehead on your top fist.
Larger people may experience discomfort in their knees in a child’s pose due to more body weight placed on the knee joint while it is in flexion.
To avoid this, try using a prop such as a rolled-up towel or small pillow placed just behind the knees.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
In a typical yoga class, many yoga instructors refer to Downward Dog as a resting posture.
However, for yoga beginners or obese students, this asana can feel like a challenge! It strengthens the upper body while lengthening the spine, hamstrings, and calves.
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your arms straight.
- Tuck the toes and begin to straighten the legs as you exhale. Send your hips towards the sky.
- Press the chest back towards the thighs and broaden the shoulder blades.
When practicing downward dog, try a wider stance to leave space for the belly, and keep the knees slightly bent, especially if you have tight hamstrings.
You might also modify your Downward Dog using a sturdy folding chair. Set up your lower body in the same way, and place your hands on the seat of the chair as you lengthen your spine…
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
This asana is one of several basic poses in most any yoga class. However, depending on your body size, it might not feel so simple.
If you carry some excess body weight, there are ways to make this stretch more accessible for obese students.
With a couple of simple modifications, you can experience the benefits of Uttanasana.
- Begin standing with your feet hip-width distance.
- Bend forward, folding from your waist.
- Let your head hang and relax the back of the neck.
Again, you can always try a wider stance to leave a bit more space for your belly. If you cannot reach the floor, try using props: place one yoga block under each hand.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
This yoga pose is a great way to release tension in the glutes and relieve low back pain.
There are many ways to use props in this posture to make it more comfortable for large bodies.
- From a forward fold, step your right foot back and gently lower your knee to the floor.
- Untuck your toes and place the top of your right foot on the floor.
- Bring your hands to your mat on either side of your front left foot.
- Press your tailbone forward and hold for a few deep breaths.
- Repeat Low Lunge on your other side, stepping your left foot back.
Try a variety of modifications to make the positioning comfortable for you.
If the floor is too far away for your to plant your hands, use yoga blocks to bring the floor closer to you!
Another helpful prop is a pillow or folded blanket place under your back knee.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
Even the most dedicated yogis sometimes find this asana challenging.
Utkatasana is an amazing workout for your lower body, strengthening your thigs and glutes.
If weight loss is a primary goal for you in your yoga practice this is a great pose to know!
- Begin standing with your feet hip-width distance, or even a little wider.
- Bend your knees and reach your tailbone back, as if you are trying to sit in a chair behind you.
- Take your weight into your heels and keep your torso lifted.
- Press your palms together at your heart center and remember to breathe!
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Tree pose is a great way to center yourself as it requires mental focus.
It also strengthens the ankles and stabilizing muscles of the leg, and helps cultivate balance.
If you find balancing difficult due to a little bit of extra body baggage, keep a sturdy folding chair nearby to use a prop.
- Begin standing with the feet together. If needed, hold on to the back of a chair with one hand to steady yourself.
- Shift your weight into your left foot as your right foot lifts.
- Place the sole of your right foot against the calf or inner thigh, toes pointing down towards the floor.
- Keep your breath steady and focus your gaze on a fixed point. If using a prop, test your balance by hovering your hand a few inches off the back of the chair.
- Release your right foot back down. Bring your chair around to your other side, and repeat Tree Pose with your left foot.
If you struggle with balance or experience hip pain, the best way to modify this posture is simply to keep the leg lower.
Create a “kickstand” with your right foot by keeping your toes on the ground, and place your heel against the left ankle.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Warrior II, along with the other Warrior variations, is one of many effective strength-building yoga postures.
It engages your entire body, especially the glutes, quads, ankles, and arms, while lengthening the hip and torso.
- Begin in a wide stance, facing the long edge of your yoga mat.
- Flex the toes of your right foot and pivot on the heel so the right toes are now facing forward.
- Ground down through the outer edge of the left foot as you bend into the right knee.
- Keep your shoulders and hips open. Raise your arms to shoulder height, right arm reaching forward, left arm reaching back. Gaze over your right fingertips.
- To exit, straighten the right leg, and pivot the foot so the toes are again parallel to the short edge of the mat. Repeat Warrior II on the other side.
For fat people, joint pain may be a concern due to supporting extra weight.
If this is the case for you, start with just a slight bend in the front knee as you build up your strength.
If you experience hip pain in the back leg, try turning the back foot slightly inward.
Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This seated twist provides many benefits.
It energizes and mobilizes the spine, stretches the upper back and torso, stimulates digestion, and can help alleviate menstrual cramps.
Twisting postures are common in a typical yoga class, but might feel challenging for yogis with extra curves.
Luckily, there are simple modifications that make Ardha Matsyendrasana totally accessible no matter your size!
- Begin seated with your legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor, as close to the left sit bone as possible.
- Rather than cross your left foot over the right leg (as in the traditional version of this posture), keep a wider stance to leave more space for your belly
- Wrap your hands around the front of your left shin and hug your left knee toward you, sitting up tall.
- Take a deep breath and as you exhale, twist toward your left knee. Keep your right hand on the front of your left shin, and reach your left fingertips to the floor beside you.
In addition to the modified body position, try elevating your hips by sitting on a folded blanket, or two yoga blocks placed side by side.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
One of the most common yoga poses, Setu Badhasana offers a gentle stretch for your spine while strengthening the lower body.
- Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet planted at a hip-width distance.
- Bring your arms to your sides, palms facing down.
- Ground your upper back and feet into the floor. Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips.
- To avoid joint pain, be sure your knees stay aligned, and do not bend past your ankles.
To help with stability in your Bridge, try looping a yoga strap around your outer calves.
Press your shins into the strap to keep your legs fully engaged.
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Happy Baby is a wonderful posture for relaxation, as well as relieving hip pain and easing low back pain.
Obese students may choose from a few different modifications to discover the best way to practice this asana.
- Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Bring your knees in towards your chest, keeping them separated.
- Start with your hands on the backs of your thighs.
- If possible, move your hands to your calves or ankles and start to bring your feet toward the ceiling, shin bones perpendicular to the floor.
- Take a deep breath and feel your inner thighs lengthen.
If it is difficult for you to hold onto your feet or ankles, try wrapping a yoga strap across the tops of your feet.
Then, hold one end of the yoga strap in each hand and pull down, drawing your knees down toward the floor.
Another modification for this posture is to keep the big toes together next to the groin. Hold onto the ankles as you separate your knees.
Thankfully, the industry of yoga evolves continuously and as a whole, strives to promote inclusivity.
Now more than ever, there are many fat-positive resources available, especially through virtual classes.
Yoga is so versatile, everyone from larger people to even those with morbid obesity can find a yoga style at the appropriate physical activity abilities and give you a positive experience.
Chair yoga, restorative, and other forms of gentle yoga are wonderful options for larger people taking their first yoga class.
Of course, the best way to begin your yoga practice with a registered yoga teacher. But, in-person classes are not the only way to do yoga.
If you cannot find a yoga class friendly to people of all sizes in your area, you can definitely find an online class specifically tailored to your body type.
By practicing at home, you won’t have any worry about being the biggest person in your yoga class.
One of the best things about online classes is that you can choose your class length and move at your own pace, without worrying whether you will be able to keep up.
Remember, yoga is for everybody, and for every body! If you love yoga, there is nothing holding you back from beginning your practice today.