Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yoga classes are gaining in popularity

Michael Hayes started Buddha Body Yoga in Union Square for heavy-set people after he was tired of being the biggest person in the room at yoga studios.

Michael Hayes started Buddha Body Yoga in Union Square for heavy-set people after he was tired of being the biggest person in the room at yoga studios.
Downward-facing dog isn't just for the lean and limber anymore.

Yoga classes that cater to the plus-size set are gaining in popularity - a trend health experts applaud.

"I started my practice because I was tired of being the biggest person in the classroom," said Michael Hayes, who runs Buddha Body Yoga in Union Square for "big people."

The 250-pound instructor opened his shop this month because demand was so high he outgrew studios where he was limited to weekday classes.

"They wouldn't give me prime-time classes because they assumed people wouldn't come," he said.

Alexandra Newman, 44, a teacher from Flatbush, Brooklyn, signed up for his Saturday session after finding traditional studios frustrating.

"The women were nice, but they had their legs stretched over their head. They weren't my size, and it was really uncomfortable," Newman said.

Buddha Body classes rely more heavily on props than other yoga classes. Participants can lean on chairs for the downward-facing dog pose so they don't put too much pressure on their wrists.

When lying facedown, well-endowed women slip bolsters under their bellies to help propel them into positions.

"Even when I'm really thin, I just have too much top weight to do some poses," said Phoebe Reed, 40, Hayes' partner and a nursing mom whose bra size swelled to an H-cup.

Buddha Body Yoga isn't unique.

In the past 10 years, yoga and other exercise courses for larger-size clients have steadily grown. At least one other Manhattan studio, MegaYoga in the East Village, as well as some in Seattle, Chicago and Nashville, offer sessions tailored to big people.

"Large women have been marginalized and when they go to exercise classes, people have presumptions about them. They don't feel like they are in a safe place," said Linda Bacon, author of "Health at Every Size."

That's changing, she said.

"People in bigger bodies are recognizing that they have a right to better exercise conditions," said Bacon.

"It's pretty exciting to see."

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