Every Body Is A Yoga Body

Jennifer Gray, creator of Big A#%!™ Yoga. Photo by Mike Hnida

Jennifer Gray, creator of Big A#%!™ Yoga. Photo by Mike Hnida

We’ve all heard the phrase “yoga body.” For most people, this calls to mind a fit, lithe, slender person dressed to the nines in the trendiest skin-tight yoga gear. This preconceived notion of what a “yoga body” is may be holding back the yogi in all of us that are, ahem, larger than average. For people who are plus-size, being surrounded by spandex-covered, gazelle-like creatures who can bend and twist like pretzels is anything but the ideal atmosphere to improve their fitness—let alone find their center.

Take it from me, a plus-size bride-to-be on a mission to becoming more physically active: finding welcoming environments where I can work out or become more in tune with my current body without the judgment of someone farther along in their fitness journey has been extremely difficult. I often feel like I don’t fit in with the fitness gurus who are half my size. Some people even seem surprised to see a person of my size riding along next to them in a spin class or attempting a crow pose next to their yoga mat. I’ve often wondered, “Where are all my real-bodied people at? I can’t be the only one…It’s not fair! Where are the classes full of people my size?”

Enter Big A#%!™ Yoga at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, a class specifically created for plus-size people who want to begin their yoga practice surrounded by like-bodied people. Their mission: to help everyone—large and larger—get in touch with his or her body through the practice of yoga. This six-week course debunks the “yoga body” stereotype and allows all willing yoga students to find yoga poses that work with their bodies, proving that every body can be a yoga body.

Big A#%!™ Yoga was created by Jennifer Gray, founder and co-owner of the Yoga Center of Minneapolis. A self-proclaimed “retired Big A#%!™,” Jennifer began her yoga journey weighing 200 pounds and with her muscles in atrophy (muscle deterioration due to underuse). She recalls, “I had no trust in my body, I couldn’t do things I needed to do, and I couldn’t stop the mind chatter.” Because there were no classes tailored to plus-size yogis, Jennifer pushed through regular yoga classes, wishing that there had been a class for plus-size people like herself. She notes, “Yoga was different for me than for people who were very fit.” After six months of rigorous yoga, Jennifer noticed changes in her body and mind. Her anxiety and negative body image disappeared (along with 55 extra pounds), and she came out a “completely new person.”

Bolsters, blankets, foam blocks, and mats are used in special ways for larger bodies to make the yogis more comfortable. Photo by Mike Hnida

Bolsters, blankets, foam blocks, and mats are used in special ways for larger bodies to make the yogis more comfortable. Photo by Mike Hnida

When Jennifer founded the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in 2000, she vowed to open up a class for people who are plus-size. Yoga changed Jennifer’s life, and she wanted it to change others. Putting all political correctness aside, she christened the class Big A#%!™ Yoga, so people “have to come with their sense of humor. It’s for people who are okay with who they are.”

The Big A#%!™ Yoga program was created for “anyone who feels they are out of shape, plus-size, and simply just wants to be in a yoga class with those who are in the same boat…everyone knows they are coming to a place where they can laugh and be comfortable with who they are.” While there is no weight requirement, this class is specifically for people who are plus-size, ensuring that people are beginning their practice surrounded by similar bodies.

Interested students start in Beginning Big A#%!™ Yoga, a class designed to teach the building blocks of yoga to people with little to no previous experience. Jennifer notes, “We just want people to feel good. We want people to challenge themselves and find trust in their bodies again.” Though losing weight can be an additional benefit of yoga practice, Jennifer stresses that this is program is not a weight-loss program. “We want that to come naturally. When you feel better, everything else falls into place.” The main goal, then, is for people to reconnect with their bodies and gain self-trust.

Through the six-week course, students learn basic yoga poses through in-depth demonstration and explanation from instructor Celia McCoy (a “real-bodied” person). Unlike most traditional yoga classes, this course begins with a great deal of discussion. This discussion allows people to become more familiar with each other and their bodies, and it creates an environment where people can comfortably ask questions. Students also learn to help each other and provide each other with constructive feedback without judgment.

Yoga is a great place for inactive people to begin their fitness journey. Jennifer notes that many people stop doing physical activity due to feeling defeated. This course, however, is tailored to be sustainable and support its participants. Jennifer notes, “We really focus on what’s right for your body. Yoga should not be generic; it should not say a pose has to look exactly one way. It really should be tailored for your body to create maximum benefits.” Students learn how to adapt yoga poses to their current bodies, while learning about what their bodies and minds can do. Jennifer adds, “We help you figure out a way to find ease in everything you do, rather than fighting against it.”

The bright and airy space at the Yoga Center. Photo by Mike Hnida

The bright and airy space at the Yoga Center. Photo by Mike Hnida

Through the practice of yoga, students can expect to not only find strength in their bodies, but in their minds. Because yoga requires an awareness of the connection between mind and body, the benefits of practicing yoga are both physical and mental. Jennifer notes that many people conquer anxiety issues and improve their self image, adding, “In the Big A#%!™ Yoga class especially, people build a lot of trust in their own bodies and learn they can do these things.” Jennifer believes the most beneficial result of yoga practice is that “students cultivate joy if they do these practices right. They feel better and want to do it more. The empowerment comes from feeling more joy in your life. It’s a really beautiful practice.”

An unforeseen outcome of the Beginning Big A#%!™ Yoga class was the development of a longstanding community of Big A#%! students who are very passionate about the program. Jennifer adds, “These people really get to know each other and trust each other. It’s very cool.” Though some members choose to transition into other yoga classes, many members of the Big A#%!™ community wanted to continue their yoga practice together. Jennifer therefore has created a second level of Big A#%! Yoga to allow plus-size yogis to continue their practice surrounded by their community.

If you’re ready to dive into the wonderful world of yoga (and you’ve let your size hold you back), make the commitment to yourself to attend Big A#%!™ Yoga. Surround yourself with people who are just like you—ready to laugh, learn, and love their current bodies. Discover what your body can do, and find peace and joy while being supported by the Big A#%!™ community.

The next six-week installment of Beginning Big A#%!™ Yoga begins on July 19. While the course is designed to meet each person at his or her current physical level, the course might not be right for people with severe limitations. The Yoga Center of Minneapolis is happy to provide a free consultation to determine if Big A#%!™ Yoga is right for you. For pricing, studio locations, and other information, visit www.yogacentermpls.com.

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