As many of you know, I am a yoga teacher and a personal trainer. This past year (which actually still isn’t over), I was working, writing a master’s thesis, and finishing up grad school. My thesis topic was inspired by each and every one of my personal training clients (thanks you guys). Specifically though, the topic emerged after several somewhat overweight female personal training clients approached me to teach them yoga privately. I couldn’t figure it out. I encourage all of the people I work with to practice yoga outside of our sessions and do other forms of exercise. However, they were feeling uncomfortable attending group yoga classes.
As yoga teachers, we are taught and trained to create safe, non-judgmental spaces for all of our students. While conducting research, I attended classes imagining I was an overweight woman and observing how teachers and other students treat overweight women in the studio. This is what I learned: most classes aren’t safe or non-judgmental for all students. I was confused, and still am, that teachers are focusing on only one type of student. Maybe it’s just here in New York City, but it got under my skin.
I began to understand many of the ways yoga classes can help overweight women, and it became my mission because these women I care about don’t feel comfortable attending yoga classes! Overweight women need to be taught yoga in a safe, non-judgmental space - a space that ALL yoga classes call for.
And the type of yoga class I’m proposing will benefit everyone. When a person practices yoga asana, they are active, moving their body, and exercising, in addition to joining a supportive community. If overweight women feel comfortable attending yoga classes, research shows the physical activity they perform will encourage them to exercise outside of yoga classes. When yoga classes are successfully designed to include helping overweight women (which is the new normal in the United States), yoga teachers will help increase their mind-body connections, something we yoga teachers are all taught to do.
While I recognize that yoga is about more than just asana, it is true that a physical yoga practice expends energy. Yoga and its teachers can help students decrease their food intake and feel more connected with their bodies. Yoga can act as a stepping-stone for health promoting diets and changes in physical activity, and we as yoga teachers have the power to empower overweight women to take steps towards lifestyle overhauls to increase their well-being.