Starting a new fitness class can be intimidating. With the majority of images we see in the media featuring straight-sized women practicing yoga, it’s easy to feel like the practice wasn’t made for every body. Going to a class where you feel like the only beginner and the only big girl can be scary, but practicing yoga offers countless mental and physical benefits to help you feel balanced, as well as relieve muscle pain. So don’t wait on your body to change to enjoy the benefits of yoga—you already deserve to feel incredible!
To get you started, we chatted with our favorite plus size yoga practitioner, Maria of @asap.yogi. No stranger to entering a fitness space as a plus size woman, she shares the yoga poses she recommends to beginners.
These poses are great for performing at home, especially if you haven’t found a yoga studio where you feel welcomed. So, unroll your mat, kick off your shoes, and get your asana on! Maria recommends focusing on your breathing and hold each pose for 15-30 seconds. And as you dive in, know that Maria, who’s been practicing for years, still finds yoga to be challenging—so don’t worry if you’re perfect right off the bat!
1. Child’s Pose
This pose focuses on stretching the hips, thighs, back, shoulders, and chest.
Begin by kneeling on your mat and letting your big toes touch. Bring your knees hip distance or wider, and sit back on your heels. Lay your torso down between your thighs. Lengthen your back and rest your forehead on the mat. Stretch your arms out in front of you with palms down.
Need a break during your practice? Child’s pose is always a great pose to return to if you need a moment to catch your breathe or take a break.
2. Downward-Facing Dog
You’ve heard of this pose before, because it’s a staple in any yoga practice. It focuses on stretching the hamstrings, shoulders, calves, wrists, and spine.
Begin on your hands and knees in tabletop position, with your wrists aligned directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Straighten your arms and relax your upper back. Then lift your knees off the floor and reach your hips up toward the ceiling and back behind you. In the image to the right, Maria’s doing a three-legged dog with one leg lifted, but don’t feel like you have to do that if you’re just getting started on your yoga journey.
You may have heard yoga teachers explain that this is a resting pose. While it might not feel like rest at first, the more you practice, the more it will begin to feel like rest.
3. Cat Pose (of Cat/Cow)
This pose helps to improve the spine’s mobility.
Begin on all fours in tabletop position, with hands aligned below shoulders and knees below hips. Exhale and lift your back to the sky and chin to chest so that your back is arching toward the ceiling—this is cat pose and pictured at left.
Note that Cat/Cow isn’t one pose, but rather a motion between cat and cow that helps your back and spine feel comfortable. It focuses on stretching and strengthening the lower back, upper back, and abdominals. Read on for the full movement!
4. Cow Pose (of Cat/Cow)
This pose helps with mobility of the spine.
Immediately following cat pose, inhale and move into cow pose by dropping your belly towards the ground and lifting your head and face to the sky. Repeat, constantly alternating between cat and cow. Use your breath to guide the pace. With each exhale, move into cat pose. With each inhale, move into cow.
Cow pose is featured in the image at left. That pose and other backbend poses can reverse the time spent with your back hunched over a computer and reduce back pain!
5. Butterfly Pose
This pose focuses on stretching the inner thigh, groin, knees, and hips.
Get started by sitting up on your mat with a straight back and your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees and bring your feet together and towards your pelvis—the soles of your feet should be touching each other. Grab your feet with your hands for extra support. Continue bringing the heels of your feet as close to your groin as possible and press your elbows down onto your thighs so your knees come towards the floor.
6. Wide-Leg Seated Forward Fold
This pose focuses on stretching the hamstrings, calves, groin, pelvis, and spine.
Begin by sitting on the mat with a straight back and your legs straight out in front of you. Open your legs as wide as is comfortable for you. Slowly begin to lean your body forward while placing your hands on the floor for support. Keep your legs straight, with knees and toes pointed toward the ceiling. Flex your feet and keep your thigh muscles engaged. With a long and straight spine, bend forward as you walk your hands slowly away from your body. Continue to bend forward as long as it is comfortable for you.
7. Cobra Pose
This pose focuses on lengthening abdominals and strengthening the lower back.
Begin by laying flat on your stomach. Place palms on the mat, underneath your shoulders. Keep your neck neutral, don’t look far up or down. As you inhale, lift your chest off the mat without using your arm strength to help. For beginners and before your spine has been warmed up, this post, called baby cobra, is all you need to practice to feel a stretch in your spine, so you do not need to extend your arms and keep your elbows straight. Keep your shoulders back and down, head lifted, and gaze straight ahead. If this is not enough of a stretch for you and your spine is already warmed up, extend your elbows but be sure to keep your shoulders back and down away from your ears.
8. Pigeon Pose
This pose focuses on stretching the quadriceps, groin, glutes, and hips.
Begin on all fours, hands and knees in tabletop position. Bring your right knee forward and place it down behind your right hand. Let your right shin and foot come forward as you do, so it is almost parallel to the top of your mat. The outer right thigh should be touching the mat. Stretch your opposite (left) leg long, on the mat behind you. Be sure that your left leg is straight, your left toes are pointed, and that your left heel is pointing toward the ceiling. If your left leg cannot lay straight behind you, you can place a yoga block under your leg for additional support.
It’s easy in this pose for your hips to come out of place, so make sure that your hips are square to the mat and there isn’t one hip that is more forward than the other. Keep your weight even, don’t put all of your weight on one side of the body. Begin to lay forward, with your upper body over the bent leg, until you are laying flat. If this is uncomfortable, just bring your upper body as far forward as is comfortable.
Be sure to do this hip-opening pose on both sides of the body.
9. Bridge Pose
This pose focuses on stretching the chest, neck, spine, glutes, and lower back.
Begin by lying on your back, and with bent legs, set your feet on the floor. Press your feet into the floor, push your tailbone upward, flex your glutes, and lift your glutes and hips off the floor and toward the sky. Keep your thighs and feet parallel to each other. Place your hands on the mat on either side of your body or clasp your hands together under your pelvis. Hold this pose for 15-30 seconds. Relax and repeat.
Ready to hit the mat? Make sure to set your phone up with a self-timer to snap shots of yourself getting your stretch on and post with #FitToThrive so we can see how incredible you are. While you’re there, scroll around and see all of the other bodies of all sizes that are thriving.
Still not convinced to start your yoga practice? If Maria didn’t convince you, check out the rest of our favorite plus size fitness influencers to see how other plus size athletes are proving that yoga is for every body. Remember, generally yoga teachers ensure classes are judgement-free and encourage modifications. Respect your body, listen to it, and modify poses so that they are accessible to you. Those who are wise enough to know and respect their body’s limits are rewarded and you can always learn those limits from practicing in the comfort of your own home.