There are generally four types of people to consider when teaching yoga for obese people— and many variations within these types. One size—or one way of thinking or teaching—doesn’t fit, inspire or help all.
The Athletic but Fat Person. This type carries more weight than is considered healthy, but it is pretty evenly distributed over the entire body. He is active, positive, motivated and heavy, and will do everything he can to prove that he can keep up with your class, even though it may kill him for the first 2 weeks. This person can fit into a lot of traditional yoga classes, but you should encourage him to come out of poses earlier than more fit students and not place too much weight on his ankles and knees. He may need props and extra blankets to help his body into a pose.
The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person. This person is usually quite willing to begin an exercise program after being convinced that like-minded people will be there. She may, however, feel embarrassed and intimidated. Most of the weight sits in her belly, stomach and buttocks. She can sit on the floor with legs either spread or crossed and may even be able to touch her head to the floor. She can do many of the poses and enjoys stretching her body. Sun Salutations, lunges, headstand, shoulder stand, triangle pose and balance poses are not recommended. Instead, begin with floor-based, back-supported and simple standing poses.
The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person. This type may sit all day at a desk and then go home and watch television most of the evening. He knows he should take his health more seriously, but can’t seem to motivate himself or doesn’t know where to begin. He is usually pretty inflexible all over and will never have dreamed he could do yoga until someone drags him to a class. This health-challenged person can be suffering from any number of stress- and inactivity-related issues and may not fit into a regular class very well. Begin this student very slowly, preferably in a private or specialized class, to “open” his body slowly and carefully, while building confidence.
The Supersized Person. This type is well over 100, sometimes 200 to 300, pounds overweight. Simply lifting the arms can be a challenge. The supersized individual can’t get up and down off the floor or be on her feet for long periods. Embarrassed and humiliated by her weight and health, she spends a lot of time at home. This type desperately needs yoga’s stress-reducing qualities and gentle movements. She can do chair yoga and sit-and-stand yoga quite successfully; however, you need to work with her individually or in a small group. If emotional issues come up, she may benefit from working on them with a qualified health professional.