Yoga, Fat, and Internalized Oppression

Over at Dances with Fat, Ragen Chastain has a really nice take-down of an article on modifying yoga poses for fat bodies. The instructor who wrote the original article was apparently paid by the word–or, possibly, by the stereotype, because there was about a paragraph of useful pose modifying information buried by a ton of poorly thought-out assumptions. Like, did you know people who are 100 or more pounds overweight have trouble lifting their arms above their head? And that even an “athletic” fat person will have to bust their ass to keep up with a yoga class (but will do so as a point of pride).

One of the commenters noted that the author describes herself as plus-size, and that a lot of the article is probably internalized bigotry talking, which makes it even more face-palmy. The amount of cognitive dissonance required to stereotype fat people as inactive and unfit, when you yourself are a fat *yoga instructor* makes my brain bleed. She *almost gets it* because she says “One size—or one way of thinking or teaching—doesn’t fit, inspire or help all.” and then proceeds to categorize four “types” of fat yoga students and make assumptions about their experience and fitness level based on how they look.

Weight *does* have an effect on yoga, and it’s really useful to know how to modify a given pose based on body shape. There are certain bends that I can’t do as far as I used to, because the belly gets in the way. So knowing alternate ways to stretch the same muscles, or props to use to make it work, would be awesome. And having read the article, the pose modifications are actually useful. Like, doing the knee to chest pose one leg at a time. That’s an excellent idea, and I will have to try it. But I really could’ve stood to not wade through a bunch of b.s. assumptions to get to it.


One thought on “Yoga, Fat, and Internalized Oppression

  1. Tori says:

    Yep. One thing that frustrates me as a fat yoga student is that there is comparatively so little information on how to modify poses for fat bodies. I mean, some modifications exist in yoga-related media (blogs, DVDs, etc.), but that requires a yoga student to: 1) know such information is out there; 2) search for it, which is sometimes a long and tedious process; 3) be able to weed out helpful information from info that’s less informed/potentially unsafe.

    I mean, I’ve been practicing yoga since the year 2000. The number of teachers I’ve taken classes with probably numbers in the dozens, and the number of in-person classes I’ve taken is certainly in the high hundreds. So many teachers — good teachers, open-minded teachers, teachers who are themselves frustrated by this — have so little concrete information on how to modify poses for bigger people.

    All of which is a lot of backstory to say — There is a need and a strong desire for actual helpful information on how to help yoga asana work for our bodies. There is not a need to have it coupled with BS stereotypes and shaming.

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