Last spring, I was teaching early morning classes at Square One. I was asked to sub for people with larger bodies. I was excited about this class existing at the studio and was helping to promote it. I was happy to see new faces coming to the studio and to hear about what the class offered. When I was asked to sub, I did a little research for idea. I had lots of information for modifications in general from my teacher training notes. Then I found the site Body Positive Yoga, led by Amber Karnes. There were videos offering many options for many poses. I had more information than I could use in one class. I am a new teacher but some of these variations are brilliant adaptions that even some of my experienced yoga teachers are new to.
Last year, while preparing to sub a body positive yoga class for people with larger bodies, I was awakened to a world of information and practitioners in all sorts of bodies, finding ways to adjust the poses for different abilities. I loved what I discovered and began doing more research, experimenting in my own practice and bringing this to all my classes.
I completed a 25 hour training called Yoga for All, learning strategies and modifications to make all-level classes more inclusive for all bodies. I am a new teacher but some of these variations are brilliant adaptions that even some of my experienced yoga teachers have not shared.
Which is why I think that this is important for all classes, all teachers. Because this is not just yoga for larger bodies, because we all have different restrictions and openness in our bodies. Our bodies are at different places every day. Knowing more options means bringing the benefits of a pose to more people. A few years ago, I found that child’s pose was restricting my breath. I felt like I was suffocating. When a teacher offered the option of opening my knees wider, with my toes touching, it changed the pose for me. I stopped dreading this “resting” pose. Simple modifications like this can take the struggling out of a pose and bring us more ease.
And that is the point, right? Our physical practice, the asana practice, brings us more in touch with our bodies. Which means we can be present in our body and maybe take that presence with us throughout the day. Yoga is bringing your body and mind and breath to the same place. Finding ease in our poses allows us to be fully present. This is some basic yogic philosophy that is hopefully evident in all of your classes. Hopefully your teachers are offering you a place to connect with your body, maybe as the groundwork for a more mindful existence.
Which is where body positive yoga comes in. Offering modifications do not mean an easier, or less challenging practice but offer a way for your body to experience a pose. Body positive yoga, while offering many suggestions for people in larger bodies, is not limited only to larger bodies. There are plenty of smaller framed folks who have tightness, who can’t access the poses the way Iyengar coaxes. Similarly, not all people in larger bodies are not just looking for a gentle yoga class. Check out #selflovingyogis on instagram for photos of plenty of people in different bodies doing challenging poses. In your gentler or slower classes, offering modifications can benefit all. My teacher, Jennifer Meek, taught me by example to have everyone in class try the “modifier” version of a pose, or using a prop. This allows everyone to experience the pose in this way, sometimes offering new insight to their own bodies. Sometimes we struggle to attain a certain end in a pose, such as our palms touching in garudasana , and in that struggle we miss the subtleties in our back and shoulders. Using a strap can help access that for everyone (thank you Amber Karnes for the idea!). It also takes away any stigma of using a prop, so that anyone who might have felt shy, or like they were not working as hard as others can feel comfortable and confident. In moderate or strong flow classes, knowing minor modifications such as lifting the belly skin in twists can make poses available to people who found it too uncomfortable before or who could get enough from the pose.
With all of this in mind I am leading a new class at Square One. Starting March 13th, A Yoga For All Bodies class will be offered weekly, Sundays at 6:30 pm. This is an all-levels class open to beginners and seasoned practitioners, offering a chance to explore alternatives and modifications to common yoga poses to make poses more accessible for all bodies. Whether your body is a little larger, a little less flexible or in need of options, we will find ways to get many of the benefits of poses that might seem beyond our ability. Yoga is not just for flexible, athletic, thin people--there are many ways to bring poses to our bodies. Each week we will focus on a certain group of poses, learn variations with and without props, and have time to try the variations to see what works for each of us. Our first week, we will learn variations for sun salutations and ways to transition between poses. I am so excited to share with you what I learned in my Yoga for All training--if you have taken a class with me in the past two months you have probably already practiced something from this without knowing it!
See you in class!