LOS ANGELES, Aug, 4, 2015—Yoga is a $27-billion dollar industry, an industry that has primarily catered to the already fit and well-heeled. In recent years, there has been a movement to “decolonize” Yoga and bring it to the masses, including different ethnic groups and body types. The Body Positive movement in particular focuses on Yoga instruction, teachers and methods that accommodate, rather than exclude. Certain clothing companies are jumping on the bandwagon, doing their best to incorporate blog posts and motivational materials that encourage this “yoga for all” ethos.
But plus-sized clothing company Alight has started a firestorm in the Body Positive community with a poorly conceived infographic, “Yoga for Every Size: Guide to Plus Size Yoga.”
Among the many fails from this graphic is the use of an unauthorized image from Yoga for Round Bodies founder Tiina Veer as part of the layout. However, when you immediately lead with, “Yoga is ideal for plus-sized individuals because it burns calories and aids in fat loss”, you have already tuned out the majority of the Body Positive movement.
Veer requested the graphic be taken down as it does not represent what she and other Body Positive advocates stand for. She encouraged her Facebook followers to contact the company to express their displeasure:
“FRIENDS, I NEED YOUR HELP. It’s come to my attention that an image of me has been used WITHOUT my permission in a really bad, ill-conceived infographic about yoga for bigger bodies. It perpetuates stereotypes about big bodied people and health as well as the notion that the only reason big people should do yoga is to lose weight.
It’s starting to make its way around the web (thanks to being recently shared on a pop yoga blog). After years of work promoting body-positivity and yoga as a tool for improving body image, it adds insult to injury to have my stolen image associated with something that is so stigmatizing.”
As of this writing, Alight still has the infographic on its blog, but the company is doing itself no favors by doing so. They may be hurting their sales with this short-sighted, and ill-conceived attempt to “help” plus-sized individuals.
Why is it an automatic assumption that if you are plus-sized, and want to do Yoga, that it is because you want to lose weight? On a forum that I follow, several “fit fatties” weighed in on why they do Yoga, and it has little to do with changing or reducing their body size.
Marie said, “I do it because I have Ankylosing Spondylitis and I want to retain range of motion as long as possible. Also, because it feels good to move my body!”
Caroline does Yoga “for mental and spiritual health and stretching.”
Rebecca says it helps toward “decreased anxiety, learning to appreciate a body that I rejected for so many years, flexibility, strength.”
Kara does Yoga because, “It helps minimize the pain caused by my chemotherapy drugs, while allowing me to maintain (and improve!) my overall flexibility.”
As a Yoga instructor to all body types, I can recall maybe three of the hundreds of students I have taught over the years who have mentioned using Yoga for weight loss. It seems to be a premise fostered by the weight-loss industry and plus-sized clothing companies. However, when you start off with an incorrect premise, you come up with this ridiculous chart that offers incorrect “helps.”
Here are 10 reasons plus-sized individuals do Yoga:
You get in touch with Your Body.
Not the body you had in high school, or the body you had in your 30s, but the body you have NOW. No matter what your body type, unless you fit into the media-fueled paradigm of size and beauty, you more than likely have not been taught to appreciate the variety and uniqueness of YOUR body. Each moment on the mat allows you to learn to open up your unique self and go on a process of discovery; and you will find that you are amazed by the results!
You accept What IS.
The great athlete Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Yoga’s focus on breath and being here “now” greatly assists in acceptance of the present moment and present state of being. In a world that is always about postponing or withholding Z until X and Y are accomplished (especially in the so-called fitness and weight-loss industries), learning to accept what is and working with it can be a satisfying to the mind and soul.
You Increase your Confidence
Along with body acceptance comes personal confidence. They go hand-in-hand. When you are comfortable in your own skin (no matter how spacious that skin is), then you carry it with dignity and self-satisfaction.
You improve your Posture and strengthen your Core
The strong standing and spine lengthening postures of Yoga do wonders to build and strengthen the major muscles around the spine and the abdominal area. Yoga’s focus on alignment also improves awareness of the way you stand and the way you move. As a result, you walk tall, stand tall and, in turn, improve the health of your back and hips.
You increase your mental and physical Flexibility
Yoga’s focus on breathing and meditation not only increases your ability to center, but increases oxygen to the brain and the body. You will find your mental acuity is much more pronounced, along with improved muscle tone and fluidity. So your range of motion in all joints is improved.
You increase in Energy and Vitality
With the breathing (pranayama) performed in Yoga comes an increase of oxygen to the brain and the body. The more you breathe and the deeper you breathe, the better your lung function. An increase in oxygenated blood, equals increased oxygen to the muscles, which in turns pushes out toxins from the body. All this works toward making you more alert and energetic and gives you an increased feeling of wholeness and well-being.
You develop Peace of Mind
Yogic breathing also encourages relaxation. Many pranayamas emphasize slowing down the breath or deepening it. This activates your body’s parasympathetic system, or the relaxation response. Your breath is an indicator of your physical state, so when you can change the pattern of your breathing, you can significantly affect not only the way your body experiences stressful situations, but the way you respond to them.
You let go of things You cannot Control
Yoga means to “yoke” or “unite.” But we all know that taking hold of one thing means you release something else. When you hold on to worry, stress, anxiety, or matters that are beyond you, you fail to take hold or unite to the benefits that Yoga provides. Yoga uses the breath and asanas to assist in the release of these things, so that you are united and open to the things that matter.
You find a Community
Yoga classes are community-focused. Unlike a gym, where you may or may not talk to the person next to you on the treadmill, but really don’t develop a common ground, the Yoga community equalizes and puts everyone on the same level field of meeting on the mat. Joining with your fellow Yogi in similar flows, the unity of breath, and focus on building YOUR practice, creates powerful bonds not only with the particular Yoga instructor, but with other students. Strong relationships are developed from this, not only inside the studio, but outside as well. Your world is expanded in the most positive of ways!
You have Fun!
Yoga is a form of play. Remember when you were a kid, and you would frolic and do cartwheels, backflips or roll in the grass and you didn’t care who was watching? Yoga is the same. From launching into Crow or flipping over into Wild Thing, free flowing postures like those (and others) get you touch with your inner child and lets him or her play every time you are on the mat.