Oprah’s recent confessions about her struggles with her weight struck a major chord with me — and with many of my students who are beginning to battle the bulge through yoga. And I know exactly how they feel. I may have a long, lean physique now … but I didn’t always.
In this post:
My Own Battle with the Bulge
I was 40 pounds heavier years ago due to an underactive thyroid and overeating. Then I stumbled onto this psychotic-looking class at the gym: mats everywhere, a hundred feet and hands flailing around. The yoga instructor gathered me into the class and after the most intense workout of my life, which I could actually only do about 10 percent of, I was hooked.
However, my belly, thighs and other assorted food-storage places got in the way of many of the same movements that the limber [and tiny] more advanced yogis could do. Even stepping forward was hindered by my bigger leg-to-belly ratio. I talked to my overweight and bigger-bodied friends, and found that they were generally mortified at the thought of consciously choosing to walk into (much less be derriere-in-the-air in front of) a class with people half their size, twice as flexible … and wearing next to nothing. Yet the draw of yoga was strong, and I was attracted to the assistance of group energy. I put on my sweats for full coverage, took the spot the farthest from the mirror, and braved the room.
And guess what? Everyone else was too busy trying to get through the challenging poses (and not fall on other people) to even notice me, much less care about the jiggle in my middle.
I knew that if I kept doing vigorous yoga, I would lose weight. But how could I do the poses properly when my zaftig shape so often wouldn’t let me access their full expression? It was a catch-22 — one I was determined to break. Over time, with the help of some creative modifications from my teacher, I did. I was able to get a great workout while moving in harmony with my shape. Yes, I looked a little different than some of my fellow students. But when I see the look of amazement when they see me today, in my boy shorts, sculpted and weighing the right amount for my body type, handstanding with the best of them, I’m glad I found a way to stick with it.
Working up to 45–60 minutes of a good, strong style of yoga like my Core Strength Vinyasa, Seane Corn’s Vinyasa Yoga or Rodney Yee’s Power Yoga Total Body Workout programs, 3–5 times a week, is a great goal if you’re looking to get fit. If you have more curves than your average, Gumby-esque yoga master who creates poses to suit his/her own (and probably stick-thin) body, then you’ll benefit from the following poses (and suggestions for getting in and out of them) that will help you burn calories, sculpt and feel great, whatever your size!
Yoga Tips and Solutions for Bigger Bodies
- To step forward for the lunges, either swing your foot and knee wide, then squiggle it into place, or step forward until your thigh contacts the belly, stand, and hop the foot forward into the full lunge.
- In your forward bends, aim for a long spine, arching your heart towards the floor, lengthening the crown of the head away from the hips. This can give a deep stretch if the belly and thighs are restricting the full fold.
- To reach the floor from the lunges, or any standing pose, place the back knee on the ground, come to hands and knees, and once the hands are placed at the front of the mat, lift the knees into Plank Pose, and move through the vinyasa, or straight into Down Dog.
- To step forward from Dog Pose into Mountain Pose, step or hop your feet as far forward as possible, then lift your hands, come to stand, and walk the rest of the way up.
- Feel free to do a Vinyasa: (Plank, Pushup, Up Dog, Down Dog) between each side for an added challenge.
Note: If you are obese or just beginning to exercise, please consult with your doctor to make sure that a more vigorous practice is right for you. Work at a pace that lets you breathe deeply but not struggle to breathe. Rest in Child’s Pose or come to Mountain Pose until you can bring the slow, deep breathing back into your control.
Transformative Yoga Practice for Bigger Bodies
Warm up with 3-5 of my Core Sun Salutations first so you’re good and warm.
- Strength + Stamina Building Sequence
- Energizing Pose
- Hip Opening Sequence
- Abs Toning Pose
- Detox and De-Stress Sequence
1. Strength + Stamina Building Sequence
Tones the whole body, burns calories and provides cardio training.
Warrior II to Side Angle Pose
Step your right foot back into a long lunge, then ground the heel. Move the feet apart until the front knee centers over the heel, not forward of it. Parallel the back foot to the short edge of the mat and with open hips and arms reaching out over the legs, take 5-10 breaths here.
Move from Warrior 2 into Side Angle Pose. Modification: The front forearm can come to the front thigh, making space for the torso. Pull in the navel as you lengthen your tailbone down towards the back heel. Concentrate on finding length from the hips through the side waist, and spin the heart to the sky.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then return to Mountain Pose and repeat on the other side.
Bound Lunge to Fan Pose
From Mountain Pose, step the right foot back into a lunge, heel up, leg facing down. Square the hips, and interlace your fingers behind you (Modification: hold a belt or a strap in both hands if this move isn’t possible). Inhale, and arch the long spine. Hold for 1-3 breaths.
On an exhale, pour your torso forward onto your front thigh. Keep lifting the navel and lengthening the heart, Stretch the arms and shoulders away from the back for a gentle opening as you tone the front thigh. Take 3-5 breaths here.
Keep the hands bound, and move both feet to parallel. Start with bent knees, folding forward from the hips with a long spine. Maintain a slight, upward-dog arch in the upper back to counteract rounding in. Over time, stretch the legs straighter.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then spin the front toes forward, release the arms, step forward to Mountain Pose and repeat on the other side.
Warrior II to Half Moon Pose
From Mountain Pose, step the right foot back into Warrior Two. Prepare with 3-5 breaths here, then place your back hand on your hips, and step your back foot in as you reach diagonally forward of your front foot with your fingertips. Fingertips ground into the floor, wider than the front shoulder. For stability here, either use a high block under your hand or bend the front knee. Keep your gaze down to the floor.
Be sure the front knee faces forward over the toes, and press into the foot, lifting your back hip, leg and foot open into Half Moon Pose. Tack your navel back and curl the tailbone forward. From this core connection, spin the low ribs and heart to the sky. Top arm can unfurl, and even as you keep the navel active, expand in all directions.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then step the top leg forward to Forward Bend, then roll slowly up to Mountain Pose and repeat on the other side.
2. Energizing Pose: Fierce Pose Breath of Power
From Mountain Pose, bend your knees over the heels, and begin opening your arms on the inhales, and rounding the back to hug in on the exhales. Pump the breath slowly but fiercely here, and do as many as you can to tone the lower body and abs.
Take a forward bend after your final inhale.
3. Hip Opening Sequence
Low Crescent Lunge
From Fierce Pose, step your right leg back to Lunge Pose and ground the back knee down (Modification: If the back knee doesn’t reach the floor, place a block or phone book under it). Place both palms on the front thigh, and drawing the navel in, lift your chest to the sky. Slide the skull gently back with a long neck to complete the gentle backbend. If you wish, reach your arms up, extending from earth to sky.
Take 5-10 breaths here, lift the back knee into Lunge Pose, step both feet forward, then switch legs.
In your last Low Lunge, come into hands and knees. Place your right knee behind the right wrist, and stretch your back leg straight out behind you. Place two blocks or more as needed under your forearms as you fold forward with centered hips and a long spine.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then stretch back into Dog Pose, return to Hands and Knees, and repeat on the other side.
4. Abs Toning Pose
Kneeling Core Plank
Come to kneel at the front of the mat, hips over knees. Inhale, reach up. On each exhale, draw fists to the navel and lean back until you feel your abdominals contract. Keep your tailbone down and your lower back long. Inhale, and come back to neutral. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.
5. Detox and De-Stress Sequence
Come onto your back, knees bent, feet under knees. Place the arms by your sides and press down to lift the hips higher. Take a strap in both hands or interlace your fingers underneath the hips. Lift your chin a little to retain the natural neck curve, and breathe into the heart, and belly. Remain for 5-10 breaths, then release the hands back to your sides, and roll down inch by inch from spine to hips.
Extend the left leg straight onto the floor and the right leg into the air. Slowly bring your left hand to your right outer thigh or hip and lower your right leg to the left, all the way to the floor. Lengthen your top hip away from the ribs to create space, and spin your heart and head to the right.
Breathe here for one minute or longer, then switch sides.
Return to center and extend the left leg straight onto the floor and take the right leg into the air. If hanging on behind the right thigh is not an option, use a strap or a belt. Maintain the leg at 90 degrees, flex the foot and press up through your heel. At the same time, pull the leg down into the hip to provide a dynamic stretch. Straighten the top leg as much as possible.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then switch sides.
Rest completely in Savasana after your practice for at least 5 minutes.