4 Things No One Tells You About Being a Yoga Teacher in a Bigger Body

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A few years ago I was substitute teaching for a friend’s power vinyasa class and sitting outside the hot yoga room when a student asked me, “Do you know anything about the new teacher today?” I smiled, introduced myself, and let them know I would be subbing.

The student paused, looked me up and down, and immediately became what I would describe as awkward. Shifting her feet and trying not to look me in the eye, they reassured me it was nothing personal but that they would be going home instead of taking my class.

When I signed up to become a yoga teacher, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I didn’t expect face-to-face reactions like this.

Despite the pain and shock I was feeling, I tried to let them know that it can be beneficial for students to take classes from teachers they aren’t used to because they might learn something new or challenge their comfort zone. I tried to remain positive and encouraging, but she finally admitted what was behind her decision. “I like a certain type of class, from a certain type of teacher. I’m here for a challenging and physical workout.”

I was stunned. I wish I had spoken up. But in the moment, I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything else. The student left, and I took a few moments to collect my thoughts in silence before I went in to face the rest of the room.

This is one example of what I’ve had to deal with as a yoga teacher in a bigger body

My Life, My Body, My Teaching

I’ve navigated the world as a woman in a mid-size body for as long as I can remember. I’ve always fallen somewhere in the range of sizes from 10 to 14 at my smallest and my largest. Because of this, I find myself on the receiving end of a lot of fat-shaming, fatphobia, and microaggressions nearly every day—especially throughout my years of practicing competitive dance and working in fitness and wellness spaces.

When I ended my dance career, I was looking for a creative outlet and a way to move my body regularly. The shift to becoming a yoga student was a relatively easy one: I was quickly drawn to yoga’s mix of discipline and creativity, similar to dance.

Almost 10 years after I took my first yoga class, I enrolled in a yoga teacher training (YTT) program at my local studio. But as I began the training, I felt a familiar feeling creeping into my thoughts, bringing up old doubts. Growing up in dance, I spent hours in a studio where the walls were lined with mirrors in all directions while I stood in my leotard and tights alongside my peers. It was no secret that I looked a little different than the traditional body type most people associate with “dancer.”

I had someone in my YTT tell me how amazing they thought it was that “someone like me” could be so successful in the training. I thought, “Someone like me?” I was a competitive dancer for 14 years. I’ve studied anatomy. I’ve taught dance classes for almost 10 years and have extensive experience helping others understand how to move their bodies while avoiding injury. And I’ve taken hundreds of yoga classes in my lifetime. It’s really no surprise that “someone like me” did well in my teacher training.

But the person I was studying with didn’t seem to see past my size 14 body. What she saw, after months of practicing next to me in our training, was that my yoga practice looks different than hers. But yoga looks different on every body. Yoga teachers are—I am—no different.

How to Navigate Being a Mid- or Plus-Size Yoga Teacher

I don’t regret my decision to pursue teaching yoga. I’ve decided to make it my mission to teach classes that are accessible for all different bodies. I take the time to plan my classes in a way that sets students up for success and gives them pose options when applicable. I’ve taken extra training courses in order to be able to speak to different bodies in the room and provide more inclusive cues.

But there are a few things I wish someone had told me before I became a mid-sized yoga teacher.

1. People Will be Surprised When you Tell Them You’re the Teacher

I’ve seen the looks on peoples faces when they learn that I’m the teacher. I’ve also heard the same comments countless times.

“Oh YOU’RE the teacher?”

“But you don’t look like a yoga teacher.”

This never stops hurting. In response, I asked a student once, “What does a yoga teacher look like?” They stuttered as they struggled with what to say. I’m guessing they were trying not to say words like “thin,” “tall,” and “flexible.”

A yoga teacher once told me that students are more likely to act this way when they haven’t been exposed to different types of teachers. As a result, I’m careful to teach only in spaces where I am not the only mid or plus-size teacher. The more that students are exposed to teachers of all shapes and sizes, the less they show up to class with a preconceived notion of what the teacher will look like.

2. People Will Assume Your Class Isn’t Challenging

I think a lot about the person who left before taking my vinyasa class. It still stings. The student made assumptions solely based on what I look like. They had no idea that power vinyasa classes are my preferred style of class to take and that I was a regular student in the very class I was subbing. I knew exactly the “level” of yoga my colleague typically teaches and what was expected.

Those adverse comments happened when I first started to teach all the time, even when students express it in a backhanded compliment by saying they were “surprised it was challenging” or “I actually liked that.”

Although these moments are hurtful, they have become fewer and further between as I find the right communities and spaces to teach.

3. You Bring Experience and Knowledge that Other Teachers Lack

I sometimes look back on moments when I’ve been discouraged or hurt by people’s careless judgement and wish someone had reminded me how important it is to have teachers like me.

I bring a lived experience in a mid-size body that many teachers don’t understand. Teaching a pose in a different way can make everything fall into place for students. I can see it on the faces of students when I cue a slight tweak or deviation from traditional cues that lands better for larger bodies.

I don’t think my teaching is better than that of other teachers. But I do think that adding my voice to the roster of teachers at a studio or community adds value and contributes to a more welcoming space where more students can feel seen.

4. You Make a Profound Difference in Students’ Lives

I wasn’t prepared for the difference and profound effect that I would have as a mid-size yoga teacher. Countless students, colleagues, and friends have thanked me for teaching in an inclusive way. It always fills my heart when a participant in one of my classes lets me know how they felt seen in my class.

Last year, I had the privilege of teaching at a large festival in my community. As I looked out over the crowd of hundreds of people, I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself, “This is what a yoga teacher looks like.”

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