Yoga for Everybody: The Language of Bodies

This entry was posted on Jul 15, 2013 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.

The Language of Bodies

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use words to describe bodies of various sizes and shapes, thinking catalyzed by excellent questions posed as part of the Curvy Yoga certification I’m doing with Anna Guest-Jelly. I realized that when it comes to bodies that don’t look at those regularly seen on the cover of yoga magazines, I’m wandering through a language minefield:

  • “Overweight” means that the person is over the “right” weight;
  • “Obese” sounds like “obscene,” and it’s also a more official medical term that clearly communicates someone is wrong size-wise, and “morbidly obese” is downright terrifying;
  • “Chubby” and “Husky” remind me of sections of clothing stores or clothing catalogues from the 1970s, and both mean something is amiss about a body (besides, chubby or chubbs tends to be an insult);
  • “Large” and “Big” don’t always fit since there are some people (like me) who are small and short but still curvy;
  • “Fat” is downright insulting and word associated often with ridicule or self-deprecation; and
  • “Curvy,” while a wonderful term for women with curves, doesn’t fit all women and doesn’t resonate as much with men.

Anna Guest-Jelly’s description of “yoga for all shapes and sizes” works the best of any words I can conjure, although it would be nice to have one great adjective instead of six whole words. Still, the problem I’m having with getting the words right is a mirror of a larger societal issue. We tend to say “African-American” or “Women” or “Gay” or “Jewish” as the word before man or woman or person often, connoting anyone who isn’t privileged by being in the center of the status quo (e.g. white, Christian, straight men). The same is true for speaking of people who don’t fall smack in the center of recommended weights for specific heights.

At the same time, I seek the right words to reach out to people of all shapes and sizes just as Anna is doing globally and daily because I know how much yoga brings us back to our bodies, and helps us practice loving who we are, whatever our appearance. And doesn’t everyone, especially those most marginalized because of their shapes and sizes, deserve opportunities to practice such a homecoming?

About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word at Goddard College (Goddard College); where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats (; and she blogs regularly at her website (

3 responses to “Yoga for Everybody: The Language of Bodies”

  1. Avatar claudia pierson says:

    Thank you! Even applies to those of us who are “skinny” In my immediate family this has not been favorable; consequently, I am always trying to hide my thinness. I wonder how my grandmother and dad felt about their bodies. I have friends who have been given derogative names about their bodies in attempts to “help” them. I highly doubt it helps anything.

  2. Avatar Sandy Blaine says:

    Absolutely, yoga should be for everyone and every type of body. In the words of Lillias Folan, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga!” And yes, how to convey that is a tough question. The young woman who teaches a “larger bodies” class at my studio calls it Yoga For Curvy Girls & Big Guys (and in the class description, she emphasizes that it’s a judgment-free environment). I like the name of her class — to me it sounds kind of of appealing — but I’m not the demographic so I can’t be sure how it comes across to those who are. I’d love to hear positive suggestions from the population for these classes about what would make them feel welcome and supported.

  3. Avatar Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg says:

    Thank you so much, Claudia and Sandy, for your thoughtful comments. It’s such a hard issue in our culture at large every which way, and I appreciate so much your thoughtful responses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *