Here’s What Happened When I Tried A Fat Yoga Class
Last weekend, determined to start the week on the right foot, I scheduled in a yoga class for Sunday afternoon. There are a bunch of different styles of yoga, like Vinyasa, that focuses on the flow from posture to posture; or Yin Yoga, a slower, mostly floor-based practice. When I was picking out a class I kept in mind that different classes appeal to different types of people, so I picked out something that applied to me. Literally. I signed up for a Fat Yoga class.
Fat Yoga, founded by eating disorder and body image expert Sarah Harry in Melbourne, is a roving yoga studio which offers classes and retreats for people who use the word ‘fat’ to describe their bodies. While yoga is traditionally an ancient Indian practice that incorporates movement with meditation and spirituality, loads of yoga classes in the West are more focused on downward dogging your way to a svelte yoga body. Harry, who identifies as fat, started up Fat Yoga because she didn’t feel like many yoga studios or classes catered to her needs, or the needs of other fat people. Fat Yoga classes are currently running in Sydney and Melbourne, and there are retreats coming up next year in Victoria’s Hepburn Springs and in Bali.
Did you balk at the ‘fat’ in Fat Yoga?
Often, the word fat has some pretty negative connotations – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I describe my body as fat because it’s a useful adjective, the way that someone might describe themselves as tall or as a redhead. Sometimes when I use the word ‘fat’, people panic a little and tell me that I’m not fat, because I’m beautiful. I like to tell those people that I’m both of those things.
Being fat doesn’t mean that I’m not strong, reasonably fit or sexy as hell. Harry and the other teachers at Fat Yoga also use the word neutrally, and teach participants ways to modify postures to accommodate their bodies. And yes – Fat Yoga is only for fat people. You’re not weighed or measured when you rock up to the studio but the classes are only for people who use the word fat to describe their bodies. This isn’t because Harry wants to leave people out. Instead, it’s about creating a space that’s as safe and as comfy as possible. She says, “There are very few places where bigger people can exercise with comfort in a class and with a teacher who understands their body and can cater to their needs, so I continue to provide that for larger people only.”
I do yoga regularly, but this was different
I already practise yoga semi-regularly for the physical and the mental benefits. Getting onto a yoga mat helps me loosen up my tight hamstrings, but it also helps me manage my anxious thoughts. As someone who already goes to yoga a couple of times a week I wasn’t sure what else I would gain from a Fat Yoga class. I totally underestimated it.
At Fat Yoga I felt comfortable in a way that I haven’t felt before. Stretching and twisting in a room of other fat people, I knew that nobody was judging my body. I didn’t feel like I needed to immediately pull my singlet down over my tummy if it rolled up during chair pose. When I wobbled out of a lunge I didn’t worry that my classmates thought I was weak. Instead, I just focused on breathing and activating my leg muscles to maintain a lunge so deep it would make Khloe Kardashian proud.
Feeling so comfortable meant that I was more present. My brain was in the yoga studio, instead of mentally adding items to my To Do list, or thinking up a good comeback to something someone said to me in 2007. During Fat Yoga I was able to synchronise my movements to my breathing. I focused on correcting my form, so that my muscles and my bones were aligned to get the most out of each pose.
You have options
Fat Yoga is different to regular yoga because the teachers will suggest ways to modify yoga postures so that they work better for larger bodies. This could be using a yoga block to make it easier to reach the floor if your tummy is getting in the way or adjusting your feet in tree pose. As well as these kinds of technical adjustments, fat yoga is different because there is a sense of community in the room.
It felt great to be exercising with people who had bodies that looked a bit like mine. Some people were smaller than me, some were larger and some people had much perkier bottoms. We were all there because we were fat and we wanted to do yoga. We wanted to focus on our strength and the things our bodies can do or that they might be able to do after a few more classes.
And I learned a little something
So often we associate exercise as something to endure, rather than something that’s enjoyable. Moving your body can be sweaty, fun and challenging without needing to feel like self-flagellation. Some people like to work out to lose weight or to tone their muscles but there are benefits that aren’t just about physical appearance. Exercise can be about mental health or about physical changes, like improving strength and flexibility. By creating Fat Yoga, Harry has given fat people one avenue of accessing that good stuff in a space that feels comfortable.
Not everybody can go to a Fat Yoga class – and that’s kinda the point. But there are heaps of benefits in finding exercise that works for you, whether that’s a 24-hour gym that’s open when you finish work or a personal trainer that wants to help you lift the heaviest things possible. If you haven’t found your thing yet, keep looking. It’ll be out there.
Lead image: Dana Falsetti Instagram
Ally Garrett is a Sydney-based writer and performer. Her writing has been published on Jezebel, The Wireless and The Guardian. Ally’s work often touches on body positivity, like her recent performance in Force Majeure’s dance-theatre show, Nothing to Lose. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allygarrett