By Anna Guest Jelley
I’m a curvy yoga teacher. And yes, that means what you think it does.
When I tell people I’m a yoga teacher, they sometimes get this look in their eyes like they’re waiting for a punch line. Like they just can’t wait to say, “oh, that’s hilarious!” guffaw a little and move on. Sometimes it gets a little awkward in those few seconds before they realize I’m not joking.
Many yoga studios are also beginning to realize that curvy folks aren’t joking when they say they want to practice yoga. Niche classes geared towards plus-sized practitioners are starting up, and these can be great places for people who never thought yoga was for them to give it a try.
What I’ve found, though, is that it’s one thing to offer a curvy yoga class. It’s another thing to create an environment where curvy practitioners feel welcome — both in the class and in the studio. Here are some tips for welcoming people with bigger bodies to your studio:
· Include different bodies in your advertisements. This includes posters, emails, and websites. If you offer a class for overweight people but never show any in your broader advertising, there’s still a message of marginalization.
· Think about how you usually get the word out, and then do something different. Try local Y’s, community centers, and plus-size clothing shops, to name a few.
· Talk with your teachers about creating an inclusive environment. If you don’t have someone who specializes in teaching overweight people, try bringing someone in to offer a teaching training workshop.
· Get the curvy people out front. Curvy practitioners, especially those new to yoga, are sometimes intimidated to walk into a studio and find a waif waiting to check them in. Do yourself and your new students a favor: have a curvy teacher or student welcoming people in the lobby.
· Talk about it — for real. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea that yoga’s for all body types. It’s not always easy to actually believe it and practice it. Dig into this conversation to discover and discuss any underlying negative biases your teachers (or you) might have. If you don’t take the time to work this through now, your curvy students will work their way right back out the door.
· Consider context. I once taught a curvy yoga class that was scheduled right after a weight loss class. All us curvy folks had to wait in the lobby as scores of glistening, thin people left. It was a little surreal, to say the least! A weight loss class isn’t inherently problematic; taking care of our bodies in healthy ways is wonderful. But we need to be careful about sending conflicting messages about changing our bodies and accepting them as they are.
Yoga for specific needs will likely only continue to grow in the future. Try these tips to get bigger bodies walking in your door—and staying!
This article originally appeared on Elephant Journal. Reposted with permission.
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website and on Facebook andTwitter.