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Size-Friendly Yoga for Larger Audiences

While hip-hop yoga programs entice teens and dance divas, Megan Garcia, a plus-size model and a yoga instructor for more than a decade, is reaching out to larger participants. “Yoga is for everyone,” affirms Garcia, who leads classes in New York City and has released a DVD titled “Just My Size Yoga.”

Garcia herself is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. She welcomes the responsibility and privilege of being a role model of good health and fitness for plus-size women and wants to encourage all women to take up the gentle practice of yoga. “It helps to have a teacher who doesn’t look like Jane Fonda,” Garcia told the Associated Press. “People can think, ‘Wow, she looks like me and she’s standing on her hands. Maybe this is something I can do.’”

Since Garcia is a plus-size instructor, she is comfortable cuing participants to lift their bellies up and over their legs as they perform a twisting pose. Student Christie Lee offers this insight: “I have nothing against [women who are] a size 2 or 4, but when [they were] in a position, their stomachs were really far from the ground. But my stomach was touching the ground, and I thought I was doing something wrong.” When she takes Garcia’s class, Lee told the Associated Press, she sees her own body reflected and is able to relax (knowing that she is doing the moves correctly).

Garcia is an excellent role model and pioneer, but her success does not mean that only plus-size instructors can teach plus-size students. Any dedicated instructor can learn to teach people of different sizes, shapes and ability levels. What is essential is to know how to explain exercises with sensitivity for all people, including those whose body types differ from one’s own, so that each participant can leave feeling successful.

The notion of modifying an exercise program to fit the needs of participants is not new in the fitness industry. What is new, however, is the growing number of practitioners of all ages, shapes, sizes and ability levels who are starting up and sticking with yoga as their exercise of choice. To capture and retain this interest, industry professionals need to be ready, willing and able to modify yoga poses to meet the needs of a wide diversity of participants.

The research team noted that the findings support the practice of chi kung as a reasonable alternative to conventional exercise, with equivalent benefits. They also noted that many health benefits were found even with lower-intensity exercise levels—good news for older adults who do not want to do vigorous activities.

Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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