Tips for Teaching Curvy Private Students: Guest Post by Anna Guest-Jelly

I have a very special treat for you today…my friend Anna Guest-Jelly!  If you don’t already know Anna, she is wise, thoughtful and funny and a very skillful {and successful} yoga teacher.  Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.  We are so lucky to have Anna sharing her wisdom with us and offering super actionable information about working with private clients who are in bigger bodies.

Without further adieu, my friend Anna Guest-Jelly…

Have you ever thought to yourself something like, “I’m pretty sure I know how to support my private curvy students, but I’m afraid to mess it up?” If so, you’re not alone!

I hear from teachers frequently who really want to make sure they’re doing the best they can to create a supportive environment for students of all sizes, as well as to provide pose options that actually work for a variety of bodies.

Here’s the good news: in your private sessions with curvy students, you can absolutely draw on what you already know and do well as a teacher! All you need to round out your confidence is some additional ways of looking at your own perspective to check for any assumptions you might be bringing to the table, as well as some tips and tools that can help curvy bodies. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Check Your Assumptions

    Many industries, such as the beauty and diet industries, benefit when society thinks only one type of body is acceptable. As a result, most of us have been conditioned to think that curvy bodies are wrong and have to be changed. And because we as yoga teachers are still part of the society that perpetuates these beliefs, we have to check what assumptions we bring to the table.

    One common assumption made about curvy people is that their sole goal in relation to their body is to lose weight. That may or may not be true for your student, though; they might be there to learn how to relax, address tension or injury in their body, start a yoga practice, or any other number of reasons. Approach a conversation about your student’s needs as you would with anyone else — let them frame it and guide you. Relatedly, another common assumption is that curvy people are beginners in yoga. The underlying message here is that if a person had ever done yoga before, they wouldn’t be curvy, which is of course untrue. Ask your student about their experience with yoga and let them fill you in from there. Yet another important assumption to check is that curvy bodies are inflexible, aren’t strong, and most likely won’t be able to do much. This is as individual for curvy bodies as it is for thinner bodies, though. Body shape or size doesn’t tell you anything about the person’s abilities or needs. All it tells you is the person’s body shape or size.

  1. Remember, It’s Not About Your Body

    I often hear from teachers who don’t identify as curvy who are nervous about teaching students with bigger bodies because they’re afraid the student will think they don’t know what they’re talking about. And if you don’t learn what you’re talking about, that will be true. But just as you don’t need to have personally experienced a back injury to teach students how to practice safely for their backs, you don’t need to be curvy to teach curvy students. Educate yourself about how best to support curvy students and deliver that information in clear ways, and you can support students of all shapes and sizes.

  1. Focus on Body Parts and Options

    It can be very confusing to know what language to use — curvy, bigger-bodied, fat, etc. I’m here to tell you that there’s no perfect word that everyone universally agrees on. The vast majority of the time, though, you aren’t going to need an adjective such as curvy while working with your student because you don’t need to describe the person’s body when you’re interacting with them. Instead, you need to help them work with their body through focusing on individual body parts and body needs. Rather than saying something like “Some people with bigger bellies find that x is helpful here,” try “If your belly feels compressed here, try this.” If this is true for you, you could also say “Sometimes my belly feels compressed. Here’s what helps me.” Focusing on body parts and options lets the person check in to see what’s true for them and not feel limited by whether or not they would describe a particular part of their body as curvy, bigger, etc. If a need for an adjective does arise, listen for the language your student uses and let them set the framework.

  1. Resist the Urge to Make Jokes

    Talking about bodies can be uncomfortable sometimes. And talking about parts of the body that most of us are taught to ignore, get rid of, stuff into compression garments, etc., can be even more uncomfortable. Knowing that, it can be helpful to practice the language you’ll use on your own time. For example, are you comfortable saying belly? Or does something else work better for you? The most important thing is you choose something you can deliver the same way you’d say foot or back, not with a whisper, giggle or pained expression because when you feel awkward, the student will likely feel even more so.

  1. Be Yourself

    You don’t have to become a new person to teach curvy students. Use your knowledge, skills, openness, and ability to be present with kindness to meet your student where they are and learn with them about what best works for their body.

As with every student, build a relationship and let it grow!

Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.

Anna is the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit And to learn more about Curvy Yoga Certification, visit

2 Responses to “Tips for Teaching Curvy Private Students: Guest Post by Anna Guest-Jelly”

  1. Janie

    Thank you Anna!!!!! Your wisdom and total practicality always are spot-on!! Do you have any advice for this issue? I have a deep wish for my all my students to NOT be focusing on weight loss. When they bring up weight loss themselves, I wince a little inside, but I try not to react. I’ve tried to offer general statements like: “We use our bones as our alignment guides. The outside of the hips is just our battery pack” with mixed success. Other times, I skip over a student’s statement about weight loss by re-directing or focusing on another thing that they said — along the lines of “Yogis would say the most important part to focus on is how it feels when you do bridge pose at home.” Do you have suggestions on how I may be able to convey that I don’t think that their body needs to change size — when they are saying that it does?

    • Anna

      This is such a great question, Janie — thank you for it!

      I think the best way we can support our students in this context is honestly exactly as you already are. I also choose from the things you mentioned, depending on the situation.

      What I try to remind myself is that as much as I want people to not focus on weight loss, it’s entirely understandable that they do. When friends, family, media, and society give us all constant messages that weight loss is desirable, it’s not surprising that people bring that to the yoga room. What I try to model, share and remind myself is that my goal is to create a space where they can experience something different — where they can encounter those gentle messages like you said, that the most important thing is how the pose feels.

      For many of us, those messages about weight loss have been inscribed over years and even decades, so I like to think of my class as carving out a space for something different and trust that over time those messages may start to sink in for people. The other thing that helps me here is recalling my own experience, which is that it took a long time to unwind all the negative messaging I’d developed about my body, so I know that as much as I want to speed that up for my students, it will probably take them some time, too.

      The other thing to mention here is that curvy bodies have generally been told for a really long time that the only acceptable way to relate to their body is in an adversarial way, and one of the ways people get around worrying that someone else is going to call it out is by calling it out themselves. So you meeting that with gentleness, kindness, and redirection acknowledges the student (so they don’t feel ignored or unseen) but also offers some space to relax into simply being with their body as it is.

      Finally, one of the main reasons I think yoga and body acceptance go together so beautifully is because both are absolutely an ongoing, life-long practice. So sharing some languaging around that can be supportive sometimes, too — something like “Oh, I know; just like yoga, cultivating a more positive relationship with our body is such a practice, isn’t it?”

      Thanks again for your question — and the ways you’re supporting your students!


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