Do I Have to Lose Weight to Start Yoga?

Do I Have to Lose Weight to Start Yoga?

Short answer: No. Let me tell you why, and how to get started.

As a yoga teacher who’s been practicing for nearly a decade and teaching for half of that, this is a question I’ve been asked a lot.

My answer forever and always? Hell naw! There’s no such thing as being “too fat for yoga.” Yoga is for everybody, regardless of size. Contrary to what you might see in mainstream wellness publications, advertising, et cetera, yoga’s got nothing to do with body size. In fact, everything about your body is perfect for yoga right now.

IMHO, social distancing has created the perfect incubator for home yoga practice. What better time to find confidence in a yoga practice than when you’ve been forced to fly solo? By the time social distancing is no longer a necessity, you’ll feel way more confident and comfortable attending all kinds of IRL fitness classes. Not that your end game needs to be IRL classes—after all, a solid home practice is a great thing to cultivate in and of itself.

But let’s be real—it’s totally normal to feel insecure about trying anything new, especially yoga. Legit, everyone feels insecure the first time they step on the mat. Our society is extremely fatphobic, and it makes sense that you would feel too intimidated to try yoga.

Here’s the good news: Yoga can be adapted for every body type and lifestyle, and you can enjoy a great class without buying special clothes or even leaving your house. Trust me, there’s a posture and breathing practice that’ll work for everybody, and the true teacher always lies within.

Let’s talk about it.

You don’t need to lose weight, but do consider losing body baggage.

Our culture has programmed us to hate fatness, but changing our bodies isn’t always the answer for everyone. Weight loss isn’t a magic cure-all, and making your body smaller doesn’t guarantee—or even mean—that your body hang-ups will go away. Trying to lose weight can be a real emotional roller coaster. Hell, sometimes trying to lose weight just makes self-loathing even worse. The only way to let go of body baggage is to heal our wounds from the inside out. This work might not always be pretty or all that fun, but it’s very effective.

I’ve found that it helps to stop following social media accounts that center normatively “fit” bodies and instead fill your feed with a diversity of bodies. Some of my favorite accounts to follow: @ihartericka, @tessholliday, @itsmekellieb, @nicolettemason, @jazzmynejay, @iamlshauntay, @themirnivator, and the late but great @mamacax. In other words, curate an online experience that’s perfumed with body liberation and fat acceptance.

And don’t let your people in your life kill your vibe either. Sometimes the people who are closest can reinforce our fatphobia. Or maybe they’re fine but not necessarily part of your journey to lose the body baggage. Why not work on your relationship to yourself instead?

One of my favorite ways to strengthen my love and respect for myself is to take myself on solo self-love dates. If you can take a walk or hike safely right now, spend some time outside. Turn your bedroom into a spa and give yourself a mani/pedi, or pretend to be a tourist in your own town and take yourself on walking tours of places you might otherwise not visit. Show yourself the love you crave from others and you’ll feel better over time.

Personally, I think your first solo self-love date should be to a yoga class—and there are plenty to do online.

Start from where you are—and with what you have—right now.

If you don’t have a yoga mat, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to buy special clothes—just find something that you can comfortably move around in, and if you’re at home don’t be afraid to practice naked.

Online classes, whether live or prerecorded, are a great way to anchor your home practice. If it’s too hard for you to follow along with the rest of the class, don’t sweat it. Trust me, it happens to all of us sooner or later. Just watch the teacher and focus on breathing and meditating. Sometimes we have to watch before our body can find its way into the postures.

Feel free to modify all yoga postures, all the time, even if your instructor hasn’t said anything about modifying and you’re kinda not even sure if what you’re doing is technically yoga. Trust me, it’s yoga. Everything is yoga. If you start taking an online class and get bored halfway through, feel free to ignore the teacher and make up your own flow instead.

Use props—even if the teacher hasn’t mentioned needing them.

Yoga props (I talk about my favorites here) make postures more accessible while allowing for a deeper, more integral stretch. In postures like Triangle Pose and high lunge, I love to slide blocks under my hands, and I love to throw a blanket under my knees in postures like Cat Pose and Cow Pose. A yoga strap can change the game up when it comes to seated forward bends, and a yoga bolster can make a simple Child’s Pose so much more accessible for those of us with more cushion for the pushin’.

I keep my props on standby all the time, even in classes when the instructor hasn’t said anything about using them. My typical arsenal includes two yoga blocks, one yoga strap, and a yoga blanket. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll grab a yoga bolster or use a pillow in its place. There’s definitely a stigma that using yoga props makes you weak, but that logic is so patriarchal and very basic.

Oh, and one more thing: You can leave a class anytime you want.

Personally, I think live yoga classes sometimes feel like psychological minefields. Never forget that you’re free to leave at any point. If you’re in a yoga environment that feels fatphobic and oppressive, you have my permission to bounce at any moment, for any reason. And it’s even easier to do that now, in a time of virtual and online yoga classes.

I like to remind myself that anyone who makes me feel like I don’t deserve to be practicing yoga is really just reflecting their own internal bullshit. Don’t shame yourself for being susceptible to self-hate; it happens to all of us. But try to remind yourself that you’re not practicing yoga for anyone but you, and you’re free to ignore every other human being in the building so long as you’re able to dive headfirst into your yoga practice.

Vigorous postural yoga, like the type I teach on The Underbelly, is hard, but not because you’re fat. It’s hard for everyone. It’s supposed to be hard—as far as I’m concerned, it’s kicking the shit out of you so you can let go of your emotional baggage. When your physical body is distracted by complex yoga poses, you’re able to reach a level of inner chill that’s kinda hard to achieve otherwise. Be patient with yourself, and treat yourself with the loving compassion you would show to your dearest friend. Remember that you are your dearest friend, and you’ll never meet anyone who can love you the way you can.

As long as you show up to your yoga practice with a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and find a smile inside, you’ve already got everything you need.

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