Upon hearing the word ‘yoga’ most people will unthinkingly think of a slim, young, beautiful woman elegantly bending down to touch her toes. Her posture is exquisite, her body streamlined, and her very being exudes an essence of total calmness and serenity.
Back to reality. For can it really be true that the entire yoga-going population actually fall into this box of limiting physical criteria? Or is the stereotype simply a widespread, media-induced misconception? And whether or not the stereotype reflects the truth, does it discourage people from even trying yoga in the first place? In an article in The Guardian that we featured in recently, this fear of being exposed as different at the gym, or in this case differing from the illusory typical yogi, was coined gymtimidation.
We called yoga expert Carmen Yague for an interview to investigate whether yoga is indeed reserved for a collective of aesthetically elite or if yoga really can be inclusive, once the Instagram illusion is transcended. She picked up the phone in India, Mysuru specifically, where she is visiting her Yoga Master Guru to study and deepen her understanding of the physical and mental elements of yoga philosophy.
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What is your background in yoga?
I first tried yoga at the gym and have since experimented with different styles, teachers and places. I now have my own yoga practice in London, Yague Yoga, where I teach yoga to groups and businesses and offer private sessions too.
What do you think about the stereotypes around ‘the typical yogi’?
The pictures of young girls doing yoga poses on Instagram belong to a very westernised idea of yoga, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it doesn't represent all the people who practice yoga nor does it truly represent yoga’s origins. Here in India, yoga was originally aimed at young men and women have only started going it very recently.
Are there mainly women in your classes or do men often join?
It’s usually around 70% women but sometimes I get classes which are half and half. The specific yoga that I teach is Ashtanga, which is tough and demanding of the body, appealing to both men and women.
What size are your students typically?
There are people of all different sizes in my yoga classes. Often larger people prefer one on one sessions - not necessarily because they can’t keep up with group classes, but because they feel more confident in a session tailored to their experience and abilities.
What are the benefits of doing yoga for larger people?
The physical benefits include becoming stronger and more flexible and also becoming more peaceful - but these are all side effects. The main purpose is restore the health of the body and mind. Once you have a strong body and a balanced mind you can start understanding who you really are. A person’s size won’t affect how much they will benefit from yoga - it's all about how much they are willing to put in.
What about age - is that a factor?
According to my teacher, everyone can do yoga - the young and the old, the sick and the healthy, the strong and the weak - everyone except the lazy. You may need to adapt the yoga exercises to your body in some way depending on the limitations you have, be it your size, age or even an injury, but you will learn to overcome these obstacles in time.
Does yoga help with weight loss and fitness?
Yoga allows you to find inner peace by teaching you to build internal heat and purifying you from the inside out. This is achieved through controlled breathing and bodily movements, making you sweat a lot. If you practice regularly, weight loss will be side effect. As well as enhancing your bodily awareness, you build stamina and strength due to the length and versatility of exercise.
Do you think yoga is inclusive?
Yes, of course yoga is inclusive, anyone can do it! People come to yoga for different reasons - some to lose weight, some to improve flexibility. It’s not just about touching your toes but also clearing your mind. And beyond that there needs to be a thirst for knowledge, health and peace. So as long as you have that, anyone can do it - big, small, old and young. Yoga is open for anyone who is willing to put in the time and commitment to be a disciplined yogi.
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It would seem the filters of Instagram and the magic wand of Photoshop that have skewed our vision of yoga are to be ignored. True yoga experts and teachers welcome anyone and everyone into their classes, regardless of their size, age or experience, so long as they show dedication.
Still not convinced? Check out these plus size yogis showing the world how it's done.