Many people find yoga intimidating – the typical image of a yogi is a thin, flexible woman stretching into positions unattainable for many. This media image often keeps people from even trying out yoga. For those with larger bodies, the challenges can be even greater – if they do attend a class, they may find that postures can be physically uncomfortable or can restrict breathing.
Yoga for Round Bodies was created by Toronto yoga teacher and massage therapist Tiina Veer to address this gap and help those in round or large bodies participate in yoga safely and comfortably.
I had the chance to sit down with Round Bodies-certified yoga instructor Cara Trotter to learn a little bit more about this program.
S: What got you interested in this type of training in the first place?
C: My focus as a yoga teacher has always been on accessibility for all body types. I enjoy teaching “specialty classes” including yoga for seniors, beginners, prenatal, and now round bodies because they create a safe space to address common issues that exist for a specific group of people. They also help to create a sense of community. Some people in round bodies feel comfortable attending “typical yoga classes” and that’s exactly the way it should be, but because of the way media portrays yoga, some people in round bodies don’t feel comfortable. These classes give those individuals a place to experience yoga and all of the amazing benefits of the practice.
The trend of yoga instruction moving from the original teaching format of one-to-one transmission towards group classes is great as it means that more people can participate, but there’s a compromise that comes with this – not every pose is accessible for every student. Once we have been practicing yoga for a while we understand that we can modify poses to work with our body and even skip poses that just don’t benefit our body, but because this isn’t the usual experience when it comes to physical activities, those who are new to yoga often come into poses even though they may not be working well for them. This is where specialty classes can be really useful as the postures can be tailored to work with specific groups of people.
What also really appealed to me about Tiina’s yoga training for Round Bodies is that it isn’t about weight loss, it’s about yoga. If you’re in a bigger body, you’re constantly getting unsolicited advice from people about how to lose weight. That’s great for people who want to, but you can be in a bigger body and not want to lose weight. The focus in the training is on Health at Every Size or HAES, the concept that how we eat, how we think and how we move determines our health, rather than our size. These classes are about yoga and body positivity!
S: What distinguishes Round Bodies classes from other yoga classes?
C: Depending on the roundness and physical ability of the students (people at every size have a wide range of abilities so it really does depend on the group) we may eliminate some of the traditional yoga postures that are typically inaccessible to round bodies. We also use props to modify postures and keep them safe, and we learn how to come into and out of postures in different ways.
S: What would a typical class be like?
C: I’m hoping to eventually get two levels of classes up and running. One would be more of a restorative class, and then a second class more of a hatha class. We tend to live up in our heads, disconnected from our bodies, and restorative yoga is a nice way to physically ground ourselves – get out of the mind and into the body. It can really set the foundation for any yoga practice. For the first couple of sessions students should expect a mix of restorative and hatha styles.
S: Is there a definition as to what round body means?
C: Not exactly, I would say it’s more of a self-identification. Many people with overweight bodies may not associate or identify with being in a round body because they might have very evenly distributed weight and that might mean that their yoga practice needs none or very little modification. There may also be people that aren’t overweight but have a large belly or large breasts or thighs and feel like their body is round.
S: Are the classes just for women?
C: Not at all, The classes primarily draw women, but men are definitely welcome too.
S: Are these classes exclusive to round/bigger bodies? Or can any body type participate?
C: Anyone can come in, but know that the classes will be tailored to a round body. These classes can be a great place for beginners to get started with yoga, or even those who have been intimidated by a studio environment in the past.
The media has had a huge impact on who attends yoga classes – all we ever see is one idealized body shape doing yoga and that is such a shame because it gives the impression that the practice is limited to a specific body size and type, which is not the case at all. Yes, we may need to do some postures a little differently and may even need to skip some altogether in a rounder body, but that’s also true when someone has an injury or low blood pressure for example, or when we modify and adapt our practice as we age. Yoga is for everyone!
S: We discovered this media bias when we were looking for stock photos to advertise these classes.
C: Yes we could find pictures of bugs doing yoga but not big bodies doing yoga! There are some really beautiful pictures of bigger women doing yoga that are starting to appear online, but they are doing very advanced postures – they’ve already reached that point where they’re comfortable with their bodies in their yoga practice. But to find even average-sized people doing average postures is really difficult.