Woman in the Big Yellow Dress: Black Women and Obesity
Late great comedian Robin Harris once told a joke about a large women wearing a bright yellow dress. He says the woman was so fat that when she stepped outside, someone mistook her for a yellow taxi cab and tried to jump on her back to catch a ride. One of the many reasons the joke connected so well with his audience is that almost everyone in the black community knows someone… a sister, cousin, or friend who fits the description of the woman Harris described in his joke. Everyone knows someone who health professionals would consider morbidly obese. Unfortunately, obesity is no joke. The obesity rate in the black community has reached epidemic levels. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health, black women are 27% more likely to die of obesity related illnesses. Obesity can lead to diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, which caused Harris’ untimely death at the age of 36.
The best way to deal with obesity is to lose weight. Sounds simple… right? Wrong. Losing weight can be a vicious cycle of small victories and large defeats as you try to cut the calories and find a fitness routine that works for you. “I’m overweight because I don’t eat right or exercise. I don’t exercise or eat right because I’m too overweight.” Yoga can be a plausible solution to help you drop the pounds and develop a healthier lifestyle. When you think of yoga, you may think of some uber-skinny 20-something woman twisted like a pretzel and think to yourself… “I can’t do that. I can barely touch my toes, let alone wrap my legs around my neck like some contortionist auditioning for America’s Got Talent.” There’s so much more to yoga than that. The practice of yoga is not just about physical fitness. It’s not just about performing a series of vinyasas at a pace rapid enough to raise your heart rate. It also deals with mental fitness. What separates Yoga from other forms of fitness is its balance of asanas (poses), breathing, and meditation.
There are also many types of yoga from Pranakriya to Bikram to Hatha and everything in between. In other words, there is a yoga class out there for people of all skill levels. It’s a matter of finding the right class for you. You may want to try a beginner’s or gentle class where poses are modified to meet your abilities. For example, if you are doing a floor pose like child’s pose, you may open your knees wider to accommodate a fuller abdomen. When you are doing standing poses like warrior, you may want to shorten your stance to avoid putting too much stress on your knees. Props such as blocks, straps and blankets can help make many postures more manageable.
As a full figured yoga instructor, I know what it’s like to walk into a class or a workshop full of people who are half my size. But I refuse to allow myself to become so intimidated and/or self-conscious that I suddenly decide I don’t belong there. Keep in mind that yoga is not a competition. No matter what the person on the mat in front of you or to the side of you looks like, you are there to further your own individual practice. Just do you.
Also, be patient with yourself and your body. It may take you longer to get into and out of postures. It may take you longer to transition from seated to standing poses. Most importantly, don’t give up after one or two classes. The R&B group The Whispers sang it best in the title cut to their 1987 album, it Just Gets Better With Time.