Yoga for Plus Sized Bodies
Yoga is for everyone. No matter your past experience, weight, size, or abilities, there is always a practice out there for you. Many people state that they do not feel comfortable doing yoga because they are a heavier weight than they would like to be. Some claim they do not feel comfortable doing yoga due to a lack of prior practice.
If you are a beginner, you can still do yoga! If everyone was already an expert in yoga, what would be the point in taking a yoga class?
In addition, if you are “plus sized” you can absolutely still do yoga. We all have different shapes and sizes and we are all capable of practicing yoga.
You do not need to wait until you lose weight or until you reach a specific goal before taking a class or starting your practice. Unless you are told otherwise by a doctor, yoga can be very helpful for you!
Yoga is recommended specifically to increase your health, and it can do so for everyone!
If you are looking to lose weight, feel healthier, or even just increase your flexibility, yoga is a great practice for you.
Unique Challenges for Plus Sized Bodies
When it comes to plus sized bodies, there will usually be specific parts of a yoga practice that are more challenging. These may not be the case for everyone, but the following challenges are pretty common when it comes to yoga and plus sized bodies.
1. Breath work and Breathing– For some people with plus sized bodies, working with the breath might not be as easy. Having extra fat around the chest and belly can put pressure on the lungs, ribs, and diaphragm, making it more difficult to catch one’s breath or keep up with an exercise since movement requires breathing and oxygen. While most respiratory effects won’t be as intense for most, those with much higher fat content may find it is harder to breathe. Yoga can also help with strengthening the diaphragm and lungs, so there are benefits that go along with practicing it. However, if you find that you have trouble catching your breath, a more gentle practice might be better for you. (Gibson, 2000)
2. Blood Pressure– While this is not the case for everyone, many people who are overweight might find that they have higher blood pressure. There are also some people who are on the thinner side who might experience high blood pressure. Sometimes, this is due to genetics, other times it is due to being overweight. Whatever the case, if you have high blood pressure, you will want to be very careful when practicing yoga. This includes avoiding inversions. When you are upside down, your heart rate will lower but your blood pressure increases, making these poses dangerous for those with higher blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your instructor ahead of time to find out what is and is not safe to be doing.
3. Chronic Pain– Chronic pain is often seen in those who are overweight. This is usually due to the extra weight on the body putting pressure on the joints, organs, bones, and tissues of the body. The body can only withstand so much weight before it starts to experience problems. Chronic pain can also cause many issues such as insomnia, lower quality of life, depression, and much more. (Okifuji, A., & Hare)
Back pain is also common in those who are overweight. The majority of the population actually suffers from some form of back pain, especially since nowadays, most of us spend a lot of time hunching over while looking at computers and cell phones. However, for those who are overweight, back pain is more likely since there is more pressure on the vertebrae, causing one to have improper posture.
One condition often seen in those who are overweight is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is actually the most common form of arthritis out there. It is more common among those with plus sized bodies because extra weight can put a lot of pressure on the joints, causing them to rub together and negatively affect the cartilage between the joints. Osteoarthritis can have other causes as well, also showing up in older adults, but it is very commonly seen in those who are overweight. This can cause a lot of pain in the joints and make movement and exercise less accessible.
4. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression– While everybody experiences some form of anxiety, stress, and depression in their lifetime, certain people will go through it more than others. Many plus sized individuals suffer from stress and depression. For a long time, society has focused on smaller body types, and this can cause a lot of sadness and anxiety for anyone who doesn’t look exactly like the bodies we see on television or in magazines. Being overweight can also make it harder to be active and do activities one enjoys, and this can add to one’s stress. Yoga is a great way to work through some of this stress and become more mindful and comfortable in your body. (Dhananjai, et al.)
Benefits of Yoga for Plus Sized Beginners
Did you know that yoga has many benefits for everyone? No matter what your reason is for beginning a practice, yoga can help you in so many different ways. In this day and age, about forty percent of people in the world are actually overweight. It is more common than most people realize. This is why yoga can be beneficial for anyone looking to lose weight or just begin a practice.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of yoga for people who are overweight or looking to lose weight.
Weight Loss– Yoga is an exercise in itself. Though yoga might sometimes have less movement than other similar exercises, you are still utilizing your muscles and working with constant movement in some form. Yoga can help you sweat as well which means you are losing water weight and releasing pent up toxins in the body. In addition, the movements and stretches of yoga can help with burning fat and reducing weight overall.
Flexibility– Yoga can improve flexibility for everyone. While being overweight does not mean you are unable to be flexible, it can sometimes be more difficult due to pressure being put on the joints and ligaments. Yoga can help to stretch out these areas and relax them. Extra weight can also make activities more difficult due to the strain on the body, meaning that it is more difficult to increase flexibility. However, with a yoga practice, individuals can target muscles, joints, ligaments, fascia, and tendons, improving flexibility over time.
Muscle Strength– Yoga can actually increase muscle strength. Since the muscles are engaged during yoga poses, and there is often constant movement throughout the class, yoga can help to strengthen and build up your muscles.
Lower BMI– Due to the fact that yoga can help burn fat and increase muscle strength, one’s BMI can be lowered when having an ongoing yoga practice. This is especially true for those who start out with a higher BMI to begin with.
Stress Relief and Mindfulness– Yoga promotes mindfulness and stress relief through meditation, poses, and breathing practices. Those who are plus sized often have a lot of anxiety and stress that goes along with it. Stress, anxiety, or depression can be helped with a yoga practice. If you are often overwhelmed or suffering from stress, yoga might be a great option for you! One study actually looked into a group of people who were clinically overweight. The study examined the stress that this group carried related to being overweight and how yogic techniques were able to help them. The group was split into two with one receiving yoga practices and the other receiving aerobic exercises. While both groups had a decrease in stress levels, this decrease was shown to be higher in the group practicing yoga, meaning that yoga can be a great way to relieve distress related to obesity. (Dhananjai, et al.)
How to Choose the Right Yoga Class for Plus Sized Bodies
There are many types of yoga out there to try out, however, some practices are much better for plus sized beginners than others. Keep in mind that there are a lot of practices to choose from, and the best one for you depends on your individual needs and goals.
Weight Loss and Strength Building
Vinyasa yoga is a practice that involves multiple yoga poses linked together with the breath. Because of the constant movement, this can be a great practice for beginners who are looking to lose weight without the intensity. If you are looking to start slower, be sure to choose a gentle or beginner’s version of this class so that you can get used to it and keep up with the flow.
While vinyasa yoga can sometimes be slower, especially in beginners and gentle classes, there are also classes that are much faster paced, utilizing sequences like Sun Salutations that constantly keep you moving from one pose to the other without pausing for long. The times that you hold a pose will usually have you
Power yoga is a much more intense, faster paced vinyasa practice. It is not usually recommended for beginners, but if you are looking for an intense practice to quickly lose weight, you might want to check this class out. That being said, it is usually better to try a beginner’s class first and work your way up to more intense practices like power yoga.
Flexibility, Restoration, and Pain Management
Yin yoga is a wonderful practice that is done by staying on the mat the whole time and holding poses for longer periods of time. By holding poses for multiple minutes, you are able to really gain the benefits of them and experience deeper stretches throughout the body. If you are looking to increase your flexibility and release tension from the body, this would be a great practice for you. Yin yoga also works within the fascia of the body to open it up and make it more flexible. Keep in mind that some yin classes can be more intense for beginners, so look for one that is aimed specifically for beginners.
Restorative yoga is very similar to yin yoga. The main difference is that it is a bit more gentle than yin and is more so designed for helping with recovery and for healing from past injuries. It is also wonderful for pain management. Like yin yoga, this is also a class that can help with flexibility and opening up the fascia. If you are looking for a relaxing, gentle class on the mat, restorative is definitely a good option for you.
Another gentle yet effective practice is chair yoga. Did you know that you can do yoga while sitting in a chair? Chair yoga is a great class for beginners. If you have a harder time staying on your feet, getting up and down on the mat, or need a bit more support during poses, then chair yoga is a great option for you.
5 Challenging Poses for Plus Sized Beginners and How to Modify Them
This pose is usually done by folding forward and reaching towards the toes, and it is often included during vinyasa practices to bring you from a standing pose to a pose on the mat. The problem is that this pose can be more difficult for those who are overweight. If you have more fat in the midsection, this can make it harder to fold all the way forward. It also might be difficult to keep your legs straight.
One modification to this pose would be to use a block here and to keep the spine long as you reach for the block in front of you. Another option is to only fold halfway and place your hands on your thighs (not your knees) for support.
Child’s pose is a very popular yoga stretch, and it is also very relaxing! Usually, this pose is done by starting on the hands and knees and pressing the hips back over the heels while reaching the arms out in front of you or down by the sides. From there, you would rest your forehead on the ground and relax into the pose.
For those who have more weight in the belly, it might be harder to come into this pose. One option here would be to bring the knees out to the sides and let your belly relax down between them. If you have trouble bringing your forehead down to the ground, you can always fold the hands beneath your forehead or bring a block under it to support you.
Another option would be to use a yoga bolster here to support you. If you do this, you can simply lay over the bolster while bringing the knees out to the sides and releasing the arms down by the sides with the forehead on the bolster. These are just some of the many modifications for child’s pose. Find the one that works best for you.
3. Pyramid Pose
This pose is done by stepping the feet about three to four feet apart with one in front and one behind you. Keeping the legs straight and the muscles engaged, you would then fold over the front leg while keeping the spine long and the core hugged in. This pose can be more difficult for someone who is plus sized due to the extra weight in the stomach and thighs.
One of the best modifications for pyramid pose would be using a block. If you choose to try this modification, you would place the block with the short side on the ground and bring both hands to rest on it. While doing this, it is important to keep the spine long and to work with your breath.
4. Dancer’s Pose
Dancer’s pose is both fun and challenging for everyone. Even the most experienced yoga practitioners often need time to work their way up to doing this pose. If you were starting on your right side, you would lean the weight into your right foot while bringing your left leg up behind you. You would then reach the left hand back for the left foot while reaching your right arm out in front of you. For those who are plus sized, this might be a bit more difficult to do based on strength level, weight distribution, and stability.
For modifications to this pose, you can always try using a strap by wrapping it around your back ankle and holding onto it with your hand instead of reaching all the way for the foot. This, however, might still be difficult for beginners since it requires a lot of balance.
Another option would be to try this pose while bringing your front hand flat to the wall for balance. If you can’t reach back for the foot here, try using the strap along with the wall.
You might also try using the back of the chair to hold onto.
This pose is usually done by starting flat on the band with the knees bent and the feet on the ground. You would then bring your hands down by your sides and inhale to lift the hips up. From here, on the exhale, you would have the option of reaching the hands together beneath the hips.
For some, this pose might be more difficult, especially if you have more weight in the belly and the thighs. This also might make it harder to hold the pose for as long.
If this is the case for you, feel free to place a block under the glutes for support. Blocks can be super helpful for supporting you, and you can adjust the height by turning the block onto whichever side feels best for you.
5 Best Yoga Poses for Plus Sized Beginners (With Modifications)
Now, let’s take a look at five yoga poses that are great for plus sized beginners. Each pose has a different benefit, so it depends on your individual goals, and what you are looking for.
1. Back Pain Relief- If you suffer from back pain, Cat/ Cow is a great practice to relieve some of the tension within the spine and the back of the body. This is actually two poses combined together (cat pose and cow pose) and when linked with the breath, they are a great way to stretch out the back. This practice is fairly easy to do. Start on your hands and knees, and as you inhale, press into your hands and arch your back, turning your head up to the sky, and opening through your heart. This is cow pose. As you exhale, round your back, tucking your chin to your chest. Continue flowing through these poses while working with the breath for at least a minute or two. If this is too difficult for you to do, or if you have a past knee injury that prevents you from easily being on your hands and knees, there are other options. You can always place a pad, or roll up the edge of your mat under your knees, for support. Another great modification is to do this in a chair while sitting down. If you choose this modification, start by sitting straight with your hands resting on your thighs (not your knees). As you inhale, arch the back and look up to the sky, and as you exhale, round the back and tuck the chin to the chest. You can see how this mimics the pose and gives the same benefits without as much strain
2. Improving Posture- Downward Facing Dog is a great pose and can help to improve your posture by opening up and aligning the back of the body. This pose is usually done by starting on the hands and knees and tucking the toes. On an inhale, press into your hands to lift the knees from the ground, and on an exhale, press back to keep the spine long and to stack the vertebrae. Many people try to keep their legs straight here, but if you are unable to straighten the legs without rounding the back, it is best to keep a gentle bend in your knees. If you can’t bring your heels to the ground because of tighter hamstrings, feel free to keep them off of the ground.Now, if you are plus sized, this pose might be more difficult due to weight distribution and muscle strength. One modification for this pose would be to use a chair and to place the hands on the seat of the chair while pressing the hips back. Keep the spine long here and mimic the rest of the pose while keeping the hands resting firmly on the chair.
3. Strengthening the Upper and Lower Body– Chair Pose is a wonderful pose for building muscle in the legs and arms. This pose is done by standing with the feet hip-width distance apart and bending the knees, dropping the hips down and back as you keep the spine long. From here, you would bring the arms up at an angle and hold the pose for a few breaths. You can also bring a bock between the thighs and squeeze the legs around it for more traction here. Now, this pose can be difficult for some, so a great modification would be to hold onto a chair for support.
4. Hips and Groin Stretch- if you have tight hips and lower back pain, Happy Baby would be a good option for you. This pose is done by laying on the back and bending the knees into the chest. From here, you would grab your feet or ankles and bring the legs out to the sides, gently rocking side to side as if massaging out the lower back. If you can’t reach your feet or ankles, you can always try this pose by holding onto your shins instead. Keep your feet flexed to protect your hamstrings here, and take your time rolling side to side while breathing deeply. You can also always hug the knees into the chest here as you rock, but this is probably harder to do for those who have bigger bodies.
5. Deep Hip Opener- If you really struggler with pain in the hips, a Wide Leg Forward Fold would be good to try out. This is done by sitting with the legs out to the sides and keeping the feet flexed. Notice your own flexibility here. If you have your legs too far out to the sides, feel free to bring them in a bit. From here, as you inhale, bring the arms up and keep the spine long, and as you exhale, fold forwards between the legs. For those who are plus sized, this might be a more difficult pose due to more weight in the belly and less flexibility. Therefore, a good alternative is to use a bolster here and place it between the legs as you lay over it. If you don’t have a bolster, you can always gently place the hands on the ground instead, or use two blocks to bring your hands to. Another option is to use two straps, wrapping them around your feet and grabbing them in the hands of the same sides. From her, gently pull on the straps and keep the spine long, folding forwards on an exhale.
Best Yoga Tools for Plus Sized Beginners
Anyone can do yoga if they have the right necessary props. If you find that a yoga practice is more difficult for you, there are always ways to modify it to make it easier and more manageable. There are so many props out there that can help you out and even more ways to modify any pose that you might be struggling with. This is why yoga is possible for everyone. There is always a way to do a pose to match your ability. Let’s take a look at some of the best yoga tools for plus sized beginners.
Proper Yoga Mat
Having a good mat is essential for any practitioner. Not only does a padded mat keep you from being able to feel the floor beneath you, but it also helps to take some of the pressure out of the knees and other joints. In addition, having a mat with better traction is incredibly helpful. Many mats do not have great traction, making it easier to fall and lose balance.
Other mats, however, are specifically designed to get stickier and allow for traction the more you use it.
If you are a beginner to yoga, and you are still building up your balance, having a proper mat is especially important.
We have a great yoga mat made out of cork that is created by yoga instructors! We like to say that sliding is fun, just not in yoga. Therefore, our mat is especially useful in preventing slippage. The cork also adds extra padding for your elbows and knees, and we made sure our mat is extra long to give you lots of space to move around.
Yoga blocks are extremely helpful and can be used by everyone at any level to adjust a pose if need be. Pretty much all studios should have blocks to assist you, and if you are a beginner to yoga who is practicing at home, it is a good idea to have a block for you to use in case you need it.
Did you know that we have our own yoga blocks? It is important to us to be able to have a block that has a good grip, just like our mats. Certain blocks are harder to use and will slide, especially as you sweat. We created a block that is made out of cork to prevent sliding, and we have made different blocks to choose from based on your individual needs.
For those with bigger bodies, blocks are especially helpful in assisting to do poses correctly. There are many poses that might be a bit more difficult for those who are plus sized based on the level of flexibility needed and prior experience. We highly recommend giving our blocks a try if you are a plus sized beginner who needs a bit of extra support during poses. Blocks can help to modify these poses correctly and, most importantly, safely!
Our blocks are made of premium portuguese cork and have a larger base for better balance.
Yoga straps are very helpful. Even yogis who have been practicing for years can still use straps. Let’s say you are trying to touch your toes during a seated forward fold, but can’t quite reach. The problem in this scenario is that many people would then round their backs and attempt to force their hands forward. A better option would be to use a strap here to keep the spine nice and long and to prevent hunching over while reaching for your toes.
There are many yoga poses that you can use a strap for. For those who are plus sized, straps can be especially helpful. Touching the toes is usually harder when plus sized if you hold your weight in your belly. A strap can be very handy in this scenario, and with many other poses as well.
Did you know that all of our block sets come with straps? That’s right! Our yoga straps are one hundred percent cotton and extra long, making them easier to use for any pose you need them for.
Another great yoga tool is a bolster. Bolsters are like thick, oval shaped pillows that can be used to modify poses, especially ones that are done on the mat. Bolsters can be laid on (like in child’s pose), they can be placed under the knees when lying down to take pressure out of the lower back, and they can also be used on top of, or in between, the legs when doing a forward fold for extra support.
How Body By Yoga Can Help Plus Sized Beginners
No matter where you are in your yoga journey, we want to help you!
We have a ton of resources for those just starting out and for those with larger bodies. No matter what your needs are, we have something to offer you.
All of our on-demand classes are available on all devices, and once you’ve purchased them, you have lifetime access to them.
If you are a beginner, we actually have an on-demand yoga class just for you called Yoga Boost! This class involves four beginner yoga workouts and is made for those who don’t normally do yoga. Want to learn more about this program? Click here!
We also have a program called Yoga Fix which is designed for beginners as well. The difference is that Yoga fix is much more gentle and is for absolute beginners. This is a five day system with a new practice each day. Each workout is twenty minutes long, making them great to do in the morning or before bed. This program is great for those who are healing from past injuries, looking to reduce pain, trying to fix their posture, and so much more! If this program resonates with you, you can check it out here!
If you are looking to lose weight, the good news is that we have an on-demand yoga class designed specifically for weight loss called Yoga Body Strong. Our Yoga Body Strong program involves three levels– beginners, intermediate, and advanced– and has nine classes overall. This program uses power yoga and targets muscle groups throughout the entire body. You can check it out here!
If you want to start up a yoga practice but are looking for something with more support, chair yoga might be the best bet for you. A chair yoga class takes place mostly while sitting down, but some poses can be done standing up while using the chair for support and balance. Chair yoga is great for beginners, people who are older, those who have larger bodies, those who are less flexible, or those just looking for an extra gentle practice with more support. We love chair yoga and we have a program designated to it called Yoga Vitality. This program includes four levels so that you have room to grow, and has modifications for all poses if needed. You can check out our Yoga Vitality program here!
These are only some of the many amazing programs that we offer. If you want to see our other classes and learn more about them, click here! We have something for everyone!
We also have a ton of free tutorials if you want to get an idea of what we offer.
We want to help you however we can.
References: Dhananjai, S., Sadashiv, Tiwari, S., Dutt, K., & Kumar, R. (2013). Reducing psychological distress and obesity through Yoga practice. International journal of yoga, 6(1), 66–70. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.105949 Gibson G. J. (2000). Obesity, respiratory function and breathlessness. Thorax, 55 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S41–S44. https://doi.org/10.1136/thorax.55.suppl_1.s41 Okifuji, A., & Hare, B. D. (2015). The association between chronic pain and obesity. Journal of pain research, 8, 399–408. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S55598