The plus-sized yoga teacher
Your body shape makes no difference to your teaching ability. By Nikita Thakrar
It appears as though anyone over a size 10 is plus size now. In the past 12 years since I have been teaching yoga, I have walked into several studios and gyms as both a participant and a teacher, only to be glared at. The number of times people have stared blankly at me and said “Oh, you’re the yoga teacher?”
I have even covered for a yoga instructor in a fitness centre once and had someone leave when they saw I was going to be taking the class! I have worn baggy tops, and loose trousers, and showed up with a confident smile, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding. One only needs to experience a class with a ‘plus-sized’ yoga teacher, to realise whether it is right for them.
I have never been interested in yoga merely for its physical benefits. I started learning from a young age with a traditional Swami, who instilled in me that it is a mind-body practice. I have since been to India and learnt in ashrams where yoga is a lifestyle. I have always enjoyed it as a medium to connect with myself, so achieving a particular body shape or physique has not appealed to me.
Modern society has created the ideal image of a yoga teacher in our minds; slim build and athletic figure. But if we are being honest, is that the result of yoga alone? Perhaps if we practiced 8 hours a day every day, we could all look like that, but otherwise, it is likely that those ‘ideal’ teachers supplement their fitness regime with other activities. Some may even come to yoga from a sports or gymnastics background, which paints a picture to beginners that if they attend a 1 hour class once a week at their local church hall they too can look like that.
Often when teaching yoga, I am not just standing at the front demonstrating and doing it myself. I am going around correcting, verbally instructing, and checking that nobody is injuring themselves. I am aware that some teachers join in throughout, but this has not been my style nor do I like being in a class where the teacher does not move around. Once I show the posture once or twice, it is then important for me to check that people are doing it correctly. Even the slightest tweak can enhance someone’s alignment and give them an overall positive experience. After all, this is their class and they should get the most out of it. This does, however, mean that there is a lot of stop-start in my own practice and occasionally I don’t even increase my heart rate at all when teaching a session.
Being on the bigger side does not mean I am any less able to verbally instruct or correct than someone with the ‘ideal’ yoga body. In fact, I have had people come to me at the end of my classes and say how refreshing it is to be among an unconventional and diverse group. I get positive comments on my style of teaching, tone of voice and calming presence. That is more important to me than looking good while I demonstrate postures.
Body shaming in the yoga community is real. I understand to a certain extent when a beginner does it but find it shocking when it comes from fellow yoga teachers. For example, not hiring someone to cover a class because of the way they look or venues not recruiting plus-sized yoga teachers to run their retreats is simply unacceptable. It has taken me a lot of courage to express that I feel as though my size acts as a disadvantage to my career and I am being held back from opportunities, simply because of the way the industry perceives yoga teachers. After all, the word yoga means ‘union’. Forming a union with your body and mind should not require you to have a particular body shape.