Body Inclusivity Within Yoga

Body Inclusivity within Yoga

This guest post is from Gillian McCollum, an Intuitive Eating Health Coach and Body Positive Yoga Teacher based in Edinburgh. Gillian is an advocate for body inclusivity within yoga and aims to make it accessible to everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ability, body shape or size.

Since the commodification of yoga by the West and with current emphasis on personal image and branding, we’ve seen an archetype develop of what yoga is seen to look like.

Most typically, the yoga body is portrayed as being female, white, young, able-bodied, slim, toned, tanned, flexible & affluent. These unrealistic, narrow standards of the yoga aesthetic (not unlike the more general female beauty ideal) have been internalised by mainstream culture and have resulted in the exclusion of many from this sacred practice.

It’s the responsibility of today’s 21st-century yoga practitioners not only to remember the true essence of this eight-limbed practice but to ensure its accessibility to all people regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socio-economic status, body size, shape and ability.

For the scope of this piece, I’ll be mostly focusing on the body diversity aspect of this conversation. Posing questions that we may wish to consider if we’re ever to encourage people that fall outwith the yogi stereotype to participate in our classes and reap the far-reaching benefits of yoga.

Studio Environment

Yoga is nothing to see and everything to feel, yet students often use the mirror in class to pick apart their appearance and as a tool to measure their ‘physical performance’ against. This detracts from them searching for the deeper connection to and within their bodies.

If there are mirrors in your studio, can you face your students in the opposite direction? Can you draw a curtain across the mirrors or encourage your students to close their eyes during stationary postures?


The use of hierarchal language within class can make students feel ‘less than’, like they don’t measure up or have to be made a special case of. For example, using the word ‘variation’ of a pose as opposed to ‘modification’ of a pose is a small adjustment in language but can lead to far-reaching feelings of inclusion.

Perhaps letting go of the messaging that yoga is always graceful and pretty? Sometimes it’s messy and clumsy and that’s OK.

Similarly, using guide language as opposed to prescriptive language during class helps students foster a sense of self-enquiry and connection to what they feel and experience in their own bodies as opposed to being told what they should feel by typical textbook standards.

So instead of ‘you should feel the stretch in xyz area of your body’, invite students to be curious and explore for themselves what they feel and where, like ‘notice where you feel sensation in your body’. This helps students come home to their body and to care and respect their own unique body in their own unique way.

It’s also helpful to begin a pose in its simplest and most basic form (with props where possible) and add-ons, as opposed to working back from what teachers often describe as ‘the full expression of the pose’.

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Did you know as well as an Intuitive Eating Health Coach, I'm also a Body Positive Yoga Teacher?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My mission with my Body Positive Yoga classes is to make yoga accessible to everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ability, body shape or size. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ To provide a space where all bodies are celebrated and respected and to be particularly supportive for those who struggle with body confidence and self-acceptance.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Developing this physical and spiritual practice allows us to develop trust, respect, and acceptance in who we are on and off the mat. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It’s a way to feel good in your body and to make peace with your body, exactly as it is right now. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My classes provide a safe and supportive environment to explore gentle, joyful movement with no judgment or expectation to ‘keep up’. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Since many gyms and yoga studios can feel intimidating to those who are shy or body-conscious, BOPO yoga classes are held in an Edinburgh city central neutral venue with no mirrors. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I also take a hands-off approach in class so all adjustments will be communicated verbally.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Individual classes and 6-week blocks can be booked through my website. Link in Bio.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #bopo #bopoyoga #bodypositviveyogateacher #bodiposi #bodypositive #bodyrespect #bodyacceptance #bodylove #bodytrust #bodyimage #bodyliberation #bingeeating #disorderedeating #dieting #dietculture #dietrecovery #ditchthescale #donewithdiets #emotionaleating #fatacceptance #fatphobia #haes #healthateverysize #healthcoach #intuitiveeating #nondiet #positivebodyimage #weightstigma

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Rather than demonstrating poses yourself, which may feel somewhat unrelatable for the average student, consider using your students to demonstrate (with their consent of course) and perhaps not your most experienced, flexible student at that. This will help foster congruence between teacher and students.


In yoga (as in life) the body is never the problem and should never be framed as such. Instead, the pose and props are the puzzles to be solved by the teacher in how best to support the student’s body.

Developing a positive message around the use of props in class is important for students of all levels, not just beginners. The availability and use of props should be matter-of-fact rather than seen as a consolation prize for those who aren’t able to ‘do the actual pose’.

Setting props out for all students at the start of class is a great way to do this instead of asking students ‘who need them’ to go get their own. It can often feel like a walk of shame for those new to yoga.

Nutrition Advice

Leave the food talk at the door (including vegetarianism, veganism, cleanses and detox’s). Not only is it likely you aren’t trained in nutrition (and if you are you would know not to offer advice in this way) but you also don’t know someone’s personal circumstances. They could be in the throes of or in recovery for an eating disorder. Their relationship with food could be disordered and well-meaning advice from a yoga teacher could be extremely triggering. Trust that the yoga is enough and leave it there.

Retail Environment

It’s becoming more common to see retail areas pop-up within studios and gyms as a way of increasing revenue, no shame here, we’ve all got bills to pay. However what message is your choice of merchandise sending out? Do you sell juice cleanses or diet bars or do you stock a clothing range that stop at a size 14? (Side note the average UK dress size is 16 and the average bra size is a 36DD). Could you instead focus on yoga equipment such as mats, props, water bottles & towels or perhaps more spiritual items such as books, candles, incense and crystals?

Representation & Communication

As a teacher or studio, pay close attention to the messaging within your advertising, social media and recruitment choices of teachers and staff. Ask yourself; are bodies of all different sizes and shapes represented in these areas of your business or do they reaffirm the yogi stereotype?

When a potential student visits your social media platforms do they only see young white women in super bendy yoga poses?

Do the social media accounts you follow, promote diversity?

When they walk into your studio or gym do they see themselves represented in the bodies of the staff and teachers?

Do the images in your print and digital advertising represent a diverse range of bodies?

Same goes for ability; be accurate in your promotion of a class both in your language and in the image you select. If you are running a beginner’s class is a photograph of the teacher doing an arm balance the most appropriate image to use?

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Body Inclusivity Within Yoga

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