When Rachel Townsend took up yoga several years ago, she wasn’t even sure she could do the most basic poses. She was learning from the comfort of her home using DVDs and books.
“I felt like I couldn’t make my body relate to a skinny person doing yoga, so I sought out plus size resources and taught myself at home,” Rachel said.
Before long, the DVDs and the books were not enough. Rachel was ready for yoga classes. Her first experiences were not all pleasant. Some of the instructors were clearly uncomfortable having a plus-size student in the class. Some of the teachers were intimidated by the idea of having a plus-size student and simply didn’t know what to do to guide Rachel through the classes.
By this time, Rachel was passionately immersed in yoga and wanted to find a class she could be comfortable in. She located a plus-size instructor and class in Chicago and enrolled. Once she was among like-minded students, she could focus completely on the experience of each class instead of worrying about anything else.
“Yoga is one of the best tools to learning to accept yourself , especially for women,” Rachel explained. “Plus-size women are often told they’re not good enough and that they must change. I don’t think that’s true. Yoga helps give you a better view of yourself, especially with such toxic culture about what we ‘should’ be. Yoga brings you home to yourself, and that’s very important.”
Rachel teaches classes for plus-size women in two Chicago-area locations. Her classes are popular–she’s just added a more advanced level yoga class at one location.
“Many of my students come in with the idea that they won’t be able to do certain things or that the classs will be too hard,or that their body won’t do yoga,” Rachel said. “They come into the class almost ready to give up before they’ve started. Once they start, the students realize that’s not true, they can do it. They work with where they are.”
Rachel knows this because she has been down the same road. With every class, she encourages her students to put aside body image thoughts and lean into the work at hand. “My biggest inspration came from other teachers who taught me that I can do things that I never thought I could do because of size. Like most of my students, I came into yoga with this idea that a lot of poses wouldn’t work for me and my teachers showed me that wasn’t true.”
Today, when Rachel attends other yoga classes to learn more the instructors sometimes mistake her for a beginner because they assume she cannot do the more advanced poses.
Rachel simply laughs and lets her experience shine through.
If you’re in the Chicago area, you can find Rachel’s classes here: