Being a plus size woman, the idea of starting yoga intimated me. I had not been able to physically exercise for quite some time after an injury. I was self-conscious about the way the clothes would fit. Besides, weren’t all yogis petite? I was worried people would stare at me. I thought I would have to do head stands or hand stands. I didn’t know much about the poses and I was certain my body would not turn itself into a pretzel.

A couple of years ago, my chiropractor encouraged me to try. He said it would be the best exercise for me and would improve my quality of life. My long distance running days were over due to my hip and low back injury, I couldn’t swim or bike at the time either.

So, I called a local yoga studio and spoke with one of the instructors. She recommended a gentle yoga class to star. Doubting myself, I dressed in my best, cover the butt and hide the rolls workout gear I could find, faced my fear and drove to my first yoga class.

When I walked into class, the instructor was petite and thin. “Oh Great,” I thought to myself, “She is going to think I am a complete fool!”

The anxiety kicked up notch. But, she was very welcoming.

The woman I had talked to on the phone told her I was coming. So, she and I spent a few minutes discussing my injury. When people started filtering in for class, I noticed that many were much older than me. I saw all shapes and sizes and no one gawked at me. By the time class began my nerves begun to subside.

Julia was a kind, calm and patient teacher. She worked with me on the poses. Showed me how to use props to get into proper alignment. There were no head or hand stands and I didn’t have to turn myself into a pretzel! Instead the movements were slow and gentle. My body loved it! By the time class came to a close and I was introduced to savasna, I was hooked! I kept going back.

Slowly regaining some strength and flexibility in my hip and low back. I branched out and tried the other instructors in the studio. Eventually, graduating to Vinyasa classes and was able to challenge my body more.

Crystal had a Friday morning class that I loved. As often as my work schedule would allow, I would attend.

As time passed, Crystal worked with me – not just on the yoga poses. She coached me toward meeting my personal goals of better self-care and healthier eating habits. She provided tools that helped me to identify and offer my gifts. And, this Spring, I started Yoga Teacher Training with Crystal!

So, how does the self-conscious, very anxious, plus-sized, middle-aged woman turn into a yogi.

Let me share a few tips I have picked up along my journey from some of my very talented instructors, like Crystal.

Realize yoga is for everyone: every size, every shape, every color, every age and all genders.

Yoga welcomes you without judgement or discrimination. All you have to do is show up to your mat with a present mind, open heart and willing body.

It does not discriminate based on body-type. I have seen plus-sized woman do the splits while one who is petite cannot dream of it. Let go of any pre-conceived notions you might have about what fit is supposed to look like. Drop the judgement of others – and yourself.

Find the yoga style and teacher that resonate with you. There are many styles of yoga – Gentle, Vinyasa, Hatha, Kundalini, Hot, Power, Restorative – the list goes on. Try one – if your body doesn’t love it – try another. Find the yoga flavor that fits you. Similarly, yoga instructors come in a variety of personalities. Each have their own style of instruction.

Most teachers will take the time to work with you.

Find one that will ensure you are in proper alignment and will offer modifications. If you have special needs, consider setting up a private lesson. Finding a yoga instructor that resonates with you, makes you feel welcome and inspires you is crucial to your practice.

Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself into advanced poses too soon. Only take the pose as far as your body feels the sensation – you should never feel pain. Over time, and only if your body feels ready – you can try something more advanced. Let your body guide you.

Learn to modify. Making a slight adjustment or using props can help get your body into proper alignment and relieve undo strain. Sit on blanket or bolster when in seated poses to ensure your pelvic tilt is correct.

Need some extra support in bridge pose? Grab a block. Use a strap or bend your knees if you can’t reach your feet in a seated forward fold. Putting one knee down on the floor helps when slide plank is too strenuous.

Modifications helps you learn the pose and allows your body to grow stronger. Then maybe one day, you find that you don’t need the strap because you can reach your feet or you don’t need the knee to support you in plank. Ask your instructor for help in finding the right modification.

Use the internet to see how someone with a similar body type looks in a pose. I have oftentimes googled a plus-sized version of a pose.

Finally, embrace the practice! Yoga is a journey of discovery. It is experiencing a union of mind, body and spirit. It is a lifestyle that brings your whole person into balance. Like me, you may begin yoga in hopes of physical improvements.

But, you just might end up finding peace of mind and food for the soul. No matter what your size, shape or experience – with yoga you are always learning to go deeper – physically, mentally and spiritually.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do yoga because of your size or shape. Yoga is for every body!