IDEA’s Massive Yoga No No

Ragen Chastain - superfat - picture by Substantia Jones for
Ragen Chastain – superfat – picture by Substantia Jones for

I was forwarded an article from the Idea fitness website [with my strong trigger warning for fat shaming, stereotyping and bigotry]about modifying yoga for fat people that aptly demonstrates everything that typically goes catastrophically wrong when fitness professionals try to talk about how to modify exercise for fat people.

The article lists fat people by categories of fatness in a patently offensive section called  “Know Your Plus Sizes”:The Athletic but Fat Person; The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person; The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person; The Supersized Person.

How many ways can one author go wrong?  “The Athletic But Fat Person.”  The word but should be removed completely – there is no but, this is not a paradox of any kind.  Athletes come in all sizes (just ask the members of the Fit Fatties Forum)

“The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person; The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person” – It’s like adjectives in a blender.  The only way that this makes sense is if the author accidentally published a section from the fat bigotry mad libs book that she was playing with while taking a break from trying to figure out how to make this article the most offensive of its kind ever published.

The Know Your Fatties categories are, perhaps unbelievably, the least offensive thing about the article.  Each category gets a description in which declarative statements are used to let readers know that someone’s size tells you everything you need to know about them.  From their attitude (the Athletic but Fat will “do everything he can to prove that he can keep up with your class, even though it may kill him for the first 2 weeks”) to their abilities (The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person “is usually quite willing to begin an exercise program” – apparently Soft, Large and Flexible people couldn’t possibly have already started an exercise program), to their abilities (for Super Fat people – like me –  “Simply lifting the arms can be a challenge. The supersized individual can’t get up and down off the floor or be on her feet for long periods. Embarrassed and humiliated by her weight and health, she spends a lot of time at home.”)

There’s a word for making judgments about people based on how they look…wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue…

It is highly problematic to make assumptions about student’s fitness or mental state based on their size. There are fit and unfit students at every size, flexible and inflexible students of every size, students of every size who have trouble getting up and down off the floor. Students should be accommodated for their level without shame or judgment, and when it comes to fat students, modifications should be used in order to make the poses work for a larger body, not because we make assumptions about someone’s fitness/flexibility/confidence based on how they look.

Next the author includes a section called “What Plus Size People Want You to Know” that has four  unattributed quotes from people with fairly specific issues.The first of which is:

“I really don’t care and don’t want to know where my anterior deltoid is; I just want to relax my shoulders. Maybe later I will be open to learning anatomy, but for now I am here to learn how to relax, open and stretch my body in a way that won’t hurt me.”

There you have it…proof that fat people don’t care about anatomy – Maybe you could give us cues by pointing at a stick figure (drawn with an extra wide tip marker of course.)  I cannot for the life of me figure out how this has anything to do with being fat.  I’m sure that there are students of all sizes who don’t give a crap where their anterior deltoid is and that’s just fine.  Do let’s try to remember that just because some fat person thinks something, that doesn’t mean that all fat people “want you to know” it.

Many fat people don’t pursue yoga because of the bigotry and discrimination we find in classes, and authors and teachers who make assumptions like this are part of that problem.

If you’re interested in yoga for fat bodies, check out Abby Lentz at, and Anna Guest-Jelly at both plus-sized yoga teachers who give actual modifications that work for plus-sized bodies without all the stereotyping and assumptions.

Fitness professionals can benefit from reading the article and then doing the exact opposite of what it advises.  It is offensive to assume that students can’t do things because of their size.  It is dangerous to assume that students can do things because of their size.  Avoid stereotyping and stigma.  Take each student as they come, respect their bodies, respect their boundaries and be enough of a professional to know how modify the work that you do to fit students of many sizes and abilities.

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67 thoughts on “IDEA’s Massive Yoga No No

  1. Thanks, Ragen, for a beautiful summary of how weight-health conflation can offend and harm folks of all sizes. As a thin, inflexible person who has been injured in classes led by instructors who assumed I was not the total-beginner I was, I can’t echo it enough: Assumptions based on weight are BS and help no one!

  2. Oh My Word! I tried to take a yoga class once. I actually do a lot of yoga moves for my Physical therapy and thought a full yoga class taught by a live instructor would be nice. I wasn’t even what I would categorize as fat at the time, @ a size 12-14. But I have a bad back and bad ankle. There are positions that I was warned by my doctor/physical therapist NOT to do due to the potential adverse affects they could have on those areas. They also know that I really pay attention to the signs my body gives me, and told me that it was absolutely ok to back off a pose if I felt the slightest discomfort. In PT when I learn new poses I often need help with balance, so I try to situate myself in such a way that I may use a barr, wall, chair, person, (insert sturdy object here).
    So, the first day of the class came, and I made sure I was early so that I could talks with the instructor, explaining my goals for taking the class and discuss my limitations. I had hoped this would create an open line of communication and allow me to situate myself with grace in a corner with a chair nearby for balance. It was dreadful. She wanted me to be front and center, for I was new and she wanted to be able to “help” me. When we got to positions that were in my no-no list, after I balked at having her try to force me into a position, she said it was ok to do a lesser position while the rest of the class did the no-no if we were too out of shape to do it. There were many references to positions on my no-no list potentially being too difficult for sedentary, overweight individuals. I tried to stick out the entire hour, but left around the 30 minute mark because I was ready to break out crying with frustration. I did NOT want that woman to see me cry!

    1. BTW, one of my very annoying responses to extreme frustration/anger is to cry. I did not want that woman to think I was crying because I was ashamed or because it was “too hard.”

      I’ve since learned more yoga moves but have shied away from actual classes.

      1. You might be interested in a Restorative Yoga class. This is a class designed for those with physical limitations and working with injuries. It’s slow paced and uses a lot of props to help the students with poses. I had double ankle surgery 3 years ago and now I have tendonitis and cubital tunnel syndrome in my right arm, and Restorative Yoga has been incredibly helpful! And the beauty of it is, everyone in the class is in the same boat. 🙂

        1. Helena, I’ve done it all my life, and all it serves to do is make me more angry/frustrated! I wish I could stop it! Kinda nice to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

          1. You are so not the only one. I’ve done it all my life as well. Makes me feel really professional when I choke up at work.

            Only thing that ever helps me is deep breathing exercises, & then not every time.

            1. I hear ya! I was in the Air Force for 10 years, thankfully it only happened 2 times in those 10 years. Had it happen recently at the current job… ugh.

    2. It is very, very unfortunate that yoga is now being marketed more and more along the western thought processes of exercise, weight loss, etc. and instructors having little to no real understanding of the practice. I have been fortunate to have had instructors who taught yoga as it should be…mind/body/spiritual wellness. They emphasized doing what your body is comfortable doing. There were no rewards, prizes or gold stars for the “good ones”. No commentary about “being out of shape” for the “not so good ones”, etc. It was fun, it was challenging, it was silly, it was joyful, it was mindful. It should never be about singling out ANYONE, EVER. Or putting people down, EVER. A good instructor will allow you to work at YOUR own pace and do what’s best for YOU.

      1. I know plenty of people who like Yoga, but none who live nearby (that I’m aware of) who could point me to a good instructor. I have severe tendonitis in the one ankle and degenerative discs, some positions simply hurt. I will check into the Restorative Yoga mentioned above and ask around…

        1. Since Ragen posted a link to Curvy Yoga above, I’m hoping this is okay to post here — also provided this isn’t feeling like I’m being pushy toward you. (Which is definitely not my intent, but I also Get It that a lot of times, people don’t want unsolicited suggestions.)

          However, if you do — I just got in my email this morning that Curvy Yoga is doing Curvy Monthly, a subscription to a monthly (downloadable) video online. Anna’s super good at offering a variety of modifications and accommodations, so it might be something else to check out.

  3. There are so many levels of WTF in that article. It made me laugh out loud in the office. Is this person meant to be a trained professional? or a trained bigot?

  4. I’m fat but very flexible. I go to yoga sometimes just to see the looks on the teachers’ faces when I turn their expectations upside-down.

  5. Funny thing, I spent hours on my feet just yesterday. I regularly lift things over my head (the consequences of being a short person with a kitchen with lots of over counter cabinets with shelves I cannot begin to reach without a ladder), and I walk most places since I don’t drive. I’m not particularly flexible, I’ll admit, but that has more to do with the fact that I don’t emphasize flexibility in my daily routine than it does with my waist circumference.

    But it’s nice to know that if I walked into a yoga class today being taught by someone who had read and believed that article, it would be assumed that just standing up is a major effort for me and I wouldn’t give a damn about my anatomy due to my weight. In point of fact, I probably would concern myself more with how yoga made me feel than the names and locations of specific muscles… but I would have felt that way when I was thin, too. Thinking about my insides usually makes me quite squeamish, but that’s a function of how my brain works, not my fat.

    Oh! Wait a minute! The brain is composed largely of fat, isn’t it? Maybe it is a function of my fat! Except that everyone’s brain is composed largely of fat and there are still people who become doctors and vets and nurses and so on and spend all day thinking about the inner works of people and animals.

    BTW, I really don’t care very much about whether anyone knows that I don’t like thinking about the specifics of my anatomy. I care more about teachers basing their choices in working with me in class on the level of knowledge and ability I demonstrate up close and personal rather than on vague, yet vicious word salad tossed together by someone who did absolutely zero research on the subject of the inability of all fat people to learn what she’s teaching.

    But if there’s one thing I think all yoga teachers should know about fat potential students, it’s that many of us are neither ashamed nor at death’s door simply because of our weight. We’d just like to be treated like individuals rather than diagnoses.

  6. Ragen, I’m going to move right past my thoughts on the bigoted, fat-shaming nature of the article to thank you for posting the information on the fat-friendly yoga links. I’m very grateful for these, since yoga is on my list of things I want to learn this year.

    Now, I’ll come back to the fat-hating article…WTF?!? The descriptions of the attitudes and abilities infuriated me. Demeaning and humiliating come to mind when I think of those descriptions. Ugh! Unhelpful and unnecessary, and unlikely to encourage me to take up yoga after reading it. And I’m a bit worried about the potential for safety issues, too.

  7. I followed the link to the original article and LOVED reading responses to the article. After about three or four “thanks” comments from individuals who are similarly clueless, I great number of folks, including Regan, jumped on to challenge, voice outrage and complain about the article’s contents. Whoot! I added my piece, too. It’s been one of those days…. got to work and someone moved my cheese (does anyone get this reference anymore) and it’s just gotten more interesting from that point on. Thanks for this community being here.. .wish I could get to FB so I could share this… but I can’t do that from a work computer.

  8. Excellent article. Bigotry is so embeded in society that this person who used the offensive language probably feels that she is outreaching to the “Plus-size community” and that is so sad. As a writer myself, I know the power of words and how they can be used and misused. Your Blog posts constantly open my eyes to the amazing amount of bigotry out there, that is both “Hidden” or blatant, that we are expected to just accept because our weight is outside of the perceived “norm”. Thank you for helping us fight back by seeing this for what it is.

  9. Not gonna lie. I also have a problem with yoga classes. I do have to shift my stomach out of the way. And I’m not in any way naturally flexible.

    I usually only do yoga at home nowadays. The reasons outlined in this article are part of it, but it’s also my temperament. I have a hard time staying still for the three to five breaths per pose.

    But like eating your greens, I know it’s good for me. So I will probably come around to another point in my life when I’ll give the classes a go again. And my size won’t stop me.

  10. I don’t get (my fat self) up off the floor very easily because my left leg was amputated at the knee when I was 11 years old, due to cancer.

    Shockingly, each day I manage to get out of bed, and despite myself, leave my house to work full-time as a pastor in a small-town congregation.

    I know that I don’t get up off the floor very easily, because I spend time on the floor almost every day stretching and massaging my calf muscles, which are sore due to having recently taken up running. Then, after I stretch my muscle-y (because it has to do the work of 2) calf, I lay all the way down to enjoy some time in the constructive rest position, which helps relax my hip flexors (the left being particularly tight and spasmodic due to the way in which my prosthesis is constructed).

    I also know that I don’t get up off the floor very easily because I live alone, and when I need to get up, Prince Charming (or Princess Perfect Yoga Instructor, or whoever) isn’t there to give me a hand up, so I have to figure it out on my own.

    Somehow, each evening, I do in fact manage to haul my fat, one-legged self up off the floor, and into bed, where I sleep the blessed, lazy sleep of the fat-and-disabled… 😀

    I’m unclear as to why I’m supposed to be “humiliated and ashamed” by this…

  11. The actual pose modifications were good. How much more useful could this article had been if they had trimmed the 2/3 fat bigotry — and sexism; did you notice the athletic fat person is a man and the soft fat person is a woman? — and added more pose modifications?

  12. “The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person;”

    Charming. I’ve always been inflexible. At one point, (while overweight, bordering on obese, by modern measurements), I was walking miles every day, doing dance aerobics every other day, lifting weights every day, *and* doing daily yoga practice. I had a resting heart rate of 58. I was strong as an ox. I had all kinds of stamina. I was in very good health, in general. And, I was *still* quite inflexible. Nice to have it explained – I was “very inactive” and “unhealthy”. Yawn.

  13. I feel a little ill. For 2 reasons.

    One, that anyone has been made to feel inadequate, ashamed or unwanted in a yoga class. Hatha yoga (working with poses) is a very personal practice, designed (in my understanding) to help create a healthy, comfortable body for the mind & soul to reside in. Poses & practices should be tailored to each person as they are at that moment. A good teacher will encourage their students to listen to & respond to their own bodies (if they don’t already know how, and many, many people don’t) & show them how to make their own modifications to whatever is being taught to the group, as well as making it comfortable to ask for help. If you have a body, yoga can accommodate it.

    Two, I wonder if anyone has ever retreated from my classes in discomfort. (For the record, I do not discuss weight in my class at all, & some students (fat & not) that wanted weight loss did not come back when I would not promise it to them.) I can’t put it better than Ragen. “Take each student as they come, respect their bodies, respect their boundaries and be enough of a professional to know how modify the work that you do to fit students of many sizes and abilities.” I have students of every size, age, gender & ability. It can be tough to navigate the infinite varieties & needs of the human body, and I will & have definitely screwed up. I just hope I have done no lasting harm when I did screw up.

    I know fat people can be flexible & athletic; the most flexible person in my teacher training class was my friend, who had been a ballet dancer for most of her life & was both short & fat. She opened my eyes to issues that I had never considered, such as her large breasts pressing uncomfortably on her throat in certain poses, or people making assumptions about her level of ability. I owe her immensely for her openness. She didn’t have to share with me. I’m grateful when a student (or blog) tells me what they need & how I can help them practice. Reading & observation can only take me so far. (Although Curvy Yoga is excellent!)

    1. Oh, & to second what Lisa68 said? My body is naturally rather inflexible. I’ve been practicing yoga for 17 years, & teaching for 7, and I have made miles of progress with my own flexibility in my own body. And I still regularly have beginners in my class naturally more flexible than me. It helps keep my ego in check!

      1. I’m still not the most flexible thing on legs, but I’ve found that working out in water has made me more flexible overall. I have fibromyalgia so it tends to be better for me to work out that way.

    2. such as her large breasts pressing uncomfortably on her throat in certain poses…

      Which reminds me — Dear plow pose, we still need to have That Talk. 😉

  14. I had been doing Iyengar yoga for years when I moved to California some time ago. I was pleased to find out that I lived near a studio that had a lot of yoga classes, including Iyengar. I became a regular at an intermediate/advanced class taught by someone who was a good teacher in general but with whom I didn’t feel much connection. She tended to talk down to me and I was confused that when I commented on my experience in a pose she tended to treat me like a child, either dismissing what I’d said or patronising me as if I’d said something precocious, when what I’d said was perfectly normal for someone who had a handful of years of yoga experience.

    One evening she had us do a handstand at the wall, something I had done for years with my previous teacher. She required the class to pair up and spot each other, with one doing the pose and the other standing next to that person because…well, I still don’t know why. When I did gymnastics as a girl we spotted each other on some moves to break a potential fall from the bars or the beam, but this was on the floor, and there wasn’t really anywhere to go if you fell. She didn’t tell the spotters what to do if the person in the pose was having trouble; nor did she tell us what was a warning sign that we weren’t ready for this pose.

    My classmate did the move with me standing next to her, and then we switched. At that point, my classmate, without talking to me first (or at all), called the instructor over and said, with laughter, that obviously she didn’t feel comfortable spotting me. The instructor laughed understandingly and said that was perfectly reasonable for obvious reasons, meaning that I was fat. They both acted as if it was clearly a mistake that she had been asked to work with me, a mistake easily rectified and easily forgiven. They were looking at each other, not at me, while saying these things. Neither of them spoke to me. I was offended, but instead of responding with offense I said calmly that I’d done this pose many times and was fine doing it without a spotter. My partner continued to look away from me, and the instructor told me not to do the pose without giving any indication why, and then walked away. I did the pose anyway. It was straightforward even though I was distracted by myself getting angrier and angrier that my classmate refused to interact with me and the instructor actively backed her up.

    It was then that I realised that the reason I didn’t feel much connection with this teacher was that she held me in contempt. She couldn’t see me as a real yoga student even while I was at about the sixtieth percentile of skill in her intermediate/advanced class. I left and never went back.

    (to be clear, I didn’t expect my classmate to spot me if she felt uncomfortable doing so for any or no reason — that’s fine. It was the refusal to speak to me or look at me that I consider extremely bad treatment, even dehumanising)

  15. I am a plus-sized woman who taught Pilates for 6 years. I quit when my boss fat shamed me, which, at the time, fed into my own shame. I wish I hadn’t quit now; the world needs more variety.

    1. If I thought you were in NYC I would come take privates from you.
      Because of all the dancers here, body dysmorphia runs rampant. I go to a studio where there’s less of it than I’ve seen at the “top” studios, but you still have to pick and choose your instructors very carefully. And they’re in incredible shape and I have seen some of them shrinking; I suspect the studio owner is hammering them about their weight as well.

      Are you at least in the Metro area? Maybe looking for new students who just want to get their Reformer and Tower on?

  16. From a comment

    “This article was intended for instructors and those that may need a little extra confidence, which is not found amoung you women of size.”

    I don’t know what is worse, the gross generalization or the fact that we just got “you peopled”

    1. “You women of size.” Yeah, it reminds me of the time when I used to write a mental health issues blog and someone commented that “you mentally sick people need to just find Jesus and start praying.” I think I snarked back that they better pray that my bad bipolar self never found them in a dark alley! 😉

    2. “a little extra confidence, which is not found amoung you women of size”

      The implication here that this is because we are fat and not because of how people like this commenter feel entitled to treat us because we are fat.

  17. I took prenatal yoga while pregnant with a couple of my kids and LOVED it. Some poses were a little more challenging than others for someone with a rack’o’doom, but in pregnancy classes they are really good about finding ways to adapt things as needed. I found it incredibly relaxing and it felt great in my body, fat or not.

    Fast forward to post-partum. Had enjoyed prenatal yoga so much I signed up for a regular yoga class with a friend of mine, also plus-sized. We were made to feel like freaks, were singled out in front of others when we couldn’t do something, and no attempt was made to modify anything for us if needed. The whole experience was awful.

    Yoga has just been soured for me ever since. That’s really sad.

    1. Your comment made me so sad. That a bigoted instructor took something that had once been joyous for you and soured it for you is so very disheartening. 😦

    2. I thought I had a rack o’ doom when I was a 10-12 at 36 DD… little did I know how much bigger ye old rack would get when I got larger. Some poses are so terribly hard without modification!

  18. I talked to a co worker about this article and when I pointed out how it seems to be socially acceptable to make assumptions about fat people based on how they look. It was like I opened his eyes to a new world. His actual words were ” I never thought of it that way ” . He still believes the eat less exercise more motto ,but it might help him look at the situation differently . I was seriously gobsmacked by the , looking at people makes one a doctor writing .Its so disappointing that I spent all those years getting my bachelors when all I had to do is look at people and get my doctorate . Everyone is the boss of their own underpants , so it is her business what she believes and her right to share it . I just wish she hadn’t gotten any thank yous for that nonsense .

    1. I’m so glad you had a positive experience sharing with a co-worker. I have not had such an experience. Someone who treats me very well and I would have expected to be open-minded was actually quite negative and completely preachey about obesity as an illness and cause of disease, etc…. that was a sad day for me.

      1. I am sorry to hear that . I have experienced that to, and it sucks to hear someone tell you that you aren’t healthy. I just feel people are so brainwashed about weight , that some its just going to take time for them to learn ( and sadly some never will ) . Susan don’t get discouraged , just keep sharing and you will find people who are open minded . I have two very awesome co workers (one of them is with me on health at every size all the way ) ,but I didn’t know until I spoke up. There is also this great community of people who have common sense on their side. If it makes you feel any better , my mom hates it when I talk about h.a.e.s. We are okay that is just something we can’t talk about , even though she does try to be the food police from time to time.

  19. Wow–I’m impressed. That article all at once acknowledged that fat people are shunned and stigmatized in public fitness environments AND reinforced the bigotry that causes said stigmatization by stereotyping and “categorizing” us. Mind = Blown.

    1. And doesn’t it make things worse to read in the author’s bio that she’s a plus-sized woman herself? Not helping our cause with that reinforcement. 😦

        1. Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly why it makes me sad.

          And to have other commenters “you people” us by saying we don’t have self-confidence and high self-esteem? My mental response: Wow, you’ve never met me and just because I mention I’m fat, you can through the magic of the internet know that I have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence. I would say that I want what that person is smoking, but no I don’t because I don’t want to make a snap judgment about someone based on their physical appearance.

  20. I was going to leave a comment pointing out that I’m 5’1″ and 200 pounds–which I suppose is “supersized” in her opinion–and I stand in place at table for work 8-10 hours a day with minimal breaks, so I CAN stand for long periods of time. But I don’t want to have to create an account for that site and get even more junk mail than I already do. Oh well!

    1. My hat is off to you. I don’t have a problem doing a lot of walking, but standing in one place KILLS me because of my sciatica. When I was doing nursing clinicals, I was in screaming agony because there was no place for me to sit down during the shift and we didn’t do all that much walking.

  21. I’m so glad I have places like this to come to. One of my facebook friends used to be overweight, ended up with disordered eating and is now in a place where she controls her eating in what is considered a healthy way (ie low fat, lots of veggies etc) and teaches pilates.

    She recently linked to her own story about this, stating that she was so happy with her fitness she became a fitness instructor to share her enthusiasm.

    I didn’t want to point out that if she had an office job she might not be in her current fit state or able to eat the way she currently chooses to. She also doesn’t have kids, and as far as I can tell, any interests outside of fitness and her husband.

    I know it sounds like I am knocking her choices, but I wanted to make her decisions and results clear, since the link went to website entitled ‘you can get fit’ thus implying her results are achievable by anyone.

    This triggered some unhappiness on my part because I don’t want to be a fitness instructor or cook all my own food or spend all my time considering those two things. So without following her behaviors, I can’t achieve her sort of fitness. It’s unrealistic. I’m just happy to get 15 or so minutes of movement in each day and enough iron to keep my anemia at bay.

    On a happier note, my local news featured a construction company that has its workers do a few minutes of yoga each day before starting work as a sort of warm up before their very physically hard work. All the guys who spoke said they felt it helped avoid sprains and strains.

  22. Ugh. Unhealthy, inflexible people can come in any shape or size. I am about Ragen’s size (a little taller and slightly heavier) and I have no trouble at all lifting my arms. Where I do have trouble is grabbing my hands behind my own back because I have rotator cuff problems in my right shoulder. I have become a bit more flexible with time and patience working this area, but I still have to be careful.
    Because guess what–everyone has different physical abilities and we can’t tell by looking at a person’s size.
    Yeah, this article pisses me off too.
    So I don’t know…am I an athletic but fat person or a soft and flexible person? I’m a reasonably healthy, fat, 48 year old who happens to enjoy exercise and has certain issues such as hypertension and hypothyroidism, that a 48 year old of any size might also have.

  23. As a fatty who really likes yoga, I sometimes have difficulty with the poses because – to be frank – my boobs and thighs and stomach get in the way of my completely sandwiching myself together. It’s always been a dream of mine to open a Body Positive Yoga Studio that modifies on the spot so the moves always feel accessible at any size.

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