You're NOT Too Heavy for Yoga!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If your idea of yoga is a stick-thin woman gracefully contorting herself into pretzel-like poses without breaking a sweat, it's time to shift your perspective. One of the things we adore the most about this ancient fitness practice is that people of all sizes, shapes and skill levels can reap its many physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Wherever you are on the path to your goals, yoga is a great way to stretch out after running, to relieve chronic aches and pains or to squeeze in an impromptu workout from your office chair.
That said, the prospect of entering a yoga studio and going mat-to-mat with a group of slim, Spandex-wearing yogis can be intimidating, to say the least. Luckily, there are a few tools at your disposal to help you ease into your first downward dog and beyond. First, brush up on the basics with our yoga cheat sheet. Next, explore various types of yoga to find out which is right for you. Finally, draw some motivation from a curvy yoga expert who overcame her own body image struggles to discover her confident inner yogi.
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all shapes and sizes, and also the author of "Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day." We talked with Anna to find out what inspired her to launch Curvy Yoga, what she's learned along the way and her tips for finding true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
What inspired you to start the Curvy Yoga phenomenon?
I practiced yoga for years, almost always as the biggest person in the room. The pose instructions never made much sense for my body, but I loved it so much that I kept going. I also spent many, many years of my life as a chronic dieter, always looking for that next diet that would totally change my life. Out of frustration, I at one point tallied up the number of diets I’d been on, and when I came up with 65, I knew something had to change.
As I began my journey of body acceptance, I had this thought one day in a yoga class: "What if my body isn’t the problem?" That thought eventually led me to become a yoga teacher, and then to start Curvy Yoga so I could share yoga in a body-affirming way that works for people of all shapes and sizes.
Why do you think so many curvy women are hesitant to try yoga?
Curvy women are told day in and day out by a myriad of people—friends, family, doctors, media—that our bodies are not okay, and that the only relationship we can have with them is an adversarial one. So, when mainstream representations of yoga primarily feature uber-flexible and thin bodies, it’s none too surprising that anyone whose body isn’t like that is loath to give it a try. That’s why things like Curvy Yoga exist: To create a space that’s intentionally welcoming and understands how to be supportive.
How do you think your teachings differ from those of traditional yoga instructors?
Curvy Yoga is all about making yoga comfortable and available for people of all shapes and sizes. Students usually comment on a couple things that make the class different from others that don’t have this focus: (1) The inclusion of information for more than just muscles and bones and (2) How the class is sequenced from the most supported version of the pose to the least supported.
Of course, we all know that our bodies are more than just muscles and bones, but sometimes you wouldn’t know that to be in a yoga class. By including cues like, "If your belly feels compressed here, try this," our teachers invite the students' whole bodies into the class. In a world that usually tells us to ignore, get rid of, camouflage or otherwise hide these parts of our bodies, it’s hard to overstate how powerful it is to have permission to both acknowledge that your whole body exists and to invite it into the practice.
What are your tips for a newbie who is headed to her first-ever yoga class?
The beauty of both the internet and how many yoga teachers we have these days is that you can usually do some searching and find out about classes and teachers in your area. If you don’t have a Curvy Yoga class near you, look for classes called “beginners,” “gentle” or something along those lines.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions! You can absolutely contact the teacher ahead of time or talk with them before class about your body's needs. Also, just like it takes a while to find the right hairdresser, the same is true for yoga teachers. If your first class isn’t a good fit, that doesn’t mean you can’t find one. I always encourage people to approach this as an experiment and try several different classes. And if you have a buddy who wants to try with you, that's even better!
Do you have any other tips for women who are struggling with body image issues, and need help accepting their bodies as they are?
First of all, I think we all fall into this category in one way or another. I believe this is part of what it means to be human—learning how to accept ourselves and our bodies. Body acceptance is too often cast as a destination you can arrive at and then be done with and move on with your life. In my experience, though, it is much more of an ongoing conversation and practice, which is why I think yoga is such a wonderful tool to support body acceptance.
I would encourage anyone on this journey to cut yourself some slack if you’re not perfectly body accepting at all times. You have the opportunity each day to do something as simple as take a deep breath, become present with your body and get to know it. One of my favorite questions is "What does my body need right now, and how can I meet that need with the resources I have on hand?" Though in the day-to-day it often doesn’t feel like much is shifting, over time (sometimes not very long at all!), you’ll catch yourself noticing that your attitude has softened or shifted toward yourself in some way, until your relationship with your body isn’t the same as it used to be.
What's the most important ingredient in a successful yoga practice?
The most important thing for a thriving yoga practice is simple, though often challenging due to the busyness of everyday life: show up. Come to your mat with kindness for yourself, and you’ll have everything you need to begin.

Anna's 8 Favorite Yoga Poses

Reclined Big Toe

This is one of my all-time faves! It’s definitely my go-to after standing or walking a lot during the day. The strap allows you to lengthen the reach of your arms, which makes it a doable pose for many folks.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Down Dog with a Chair
Down Dog is a staple in many yoga classes, but it’s a challenging pose that can sometimes be hard to get the hang of when done on the floor. I love this version with hands on a chair seat (it could also be done with hands on the wall), because it allows you to get the great hamstring opening and spine lengthening benefits of the pose in an accessible way.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Standing Forward Bend
This is another staple in many yoga classes. What I like about this version is that coming in with bent knees and hands on blocks allows you to figure out what works for you today. Once you’re here, then you can start to slowly work your legs toward straight, and possibly dial the blocks down if you have a natural bend in your elbows.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Who doesn’t need help being more balanced, am I right? This pose is such a great teacher for me, because it’s never the same from day to day! This version, with the bottom foot in kickstand and the back to the wall, allows you to build up strength and comfort in the pose. That way, you'll be ready to safely progress to the next steps—coming off the wall and bringing the foot up to press into the calf.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Warrior 1
I always feel so strong in this pose, and I think many students do, too. It’s a lovely pose for connecting with both your foundation (in your feet) and your center (in your core, but also your sense of centeredness).

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Side Angle
For anyone who spends lots of time at her their desk or traveling, this is a great one! There’s such a nice side body stretch here, which I love for exactly those reasons.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Similarly to Side Angle, this one has such a great stretch, this time particularly across the chest. There’s just something about the moment of reaching that top hand into the air that brings a smile to my face every time. And if you put a block behind your foot in Side Angle, you can move from there to here with relative ease.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz
Raise your hand if your outer hips are tight! This is such a common concern. Pigeon is a great answer to that, but it can sometimes be challenging, particularly for the front knee. This version gives you similar benefits in what’s often a more comfortable way for many bodies.

Image credit: Emily Gnetz

In addition to teaching local classes in her town, Anna also offers teacher training and retreats, and has an online studio with members from all over the world. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit