The voluptuous hot pink silhouette on the window is eye-catching. So is the name of the business – FatGirl Yoga.
In June, the studio will celebrate its second anniversary at the St. Cloud building on North Monroe.
The idea for the business took flight from a simple conversation.
“I was on vacation with my now wife,” said owner/trainer Stacey Sampson. “She mentioned yoga was something she might try, but she said she’d never set foot in a regular studio.”
Why? Because of her size.
While many people dance around euphemisms like – chubby, plump, or overweight – Sampson is much more forthright.
“The word ‘fat’ has taken on a connotation that is so shaming and demeaning,” she said. “But let’s be real; fat girls know they’re fat.”
She too, had felt uncomfortable in traditional yoga classes.
“I was really self-conscious when I was bigger than most of the girls,” she said.
Sampson, a certified yoga instructor, contemplated that conversation. What if there were a yoga studio where everyone, regardless of size, shape or ability felt welcome?
She introduced the idea by offering FatGirl yoga classes at West Central Community Center.
The classes were so well-received; she decided to open her own studio.
“Yoga is not just for skinny girls,” Sampson said. “But a lot of yoga poses involve bending over. For girls with larger stomachs and chests, it can be really hard.”
So she developed some modifications to basic poses.
Feeling pressure to keep up with the instructor can also be challenging.
“I make it a point to tell classes early on that they don’t have to follow me or what everyone else is doing,” she said. “It’s OK to take a break or get a drink of water.”
It’s also OK to have a snack if you’re hungry. Sampson always has a variety of snacks available. Sometimes on Saturdays, she brings doughnuts.
“One of the things I really wanted to impress when we opened was that we’re not going to talk about diet or what to eat or what not to eat,” she said.
Andrea Schroter took the classes at West Central and was hooked. She was thrilled when the studio opened and now even teaches some classes, including yoga for kids.
“FatGirl yoga is the only place I will practice yoga,” said Schroter. “For me, yoga is about trying things I sometimes don’t even believe I can do. At FatGirl yoga I can try anything without fear of tipping over, slipping out of poses, let alone worry about what I or others think about how I look while I am bending and twisting around.”
The name of the studio has never been off-putting for her.
“It doesn’t bother me even a little bit because I am fat. It’s no secret and my fat doesn’t keep me from doing the things I love,” she said.
And despite the name, the studio also welcomes men.
“Most of our classes are coed,” Sampson said.
Movement modifications and relaxed pacing aren’t the only things that make FatGirl Yoga different from other studios. On a recent Thursday evening, Sampson led a Slo Flo class. Upbeat contemporary music filled the studio.
“I’ve created a different yoga experience,” she said. “I play contemporary music and use layman’s terms. But we have traditional classes, too.”
The business grew quickly. Three instructors offer 15 to 20 classes, six days a week. They even offer goat yoga each spring.
“We’ll have between four and six classes featuring Nigerian dwarf goats,” Sampson said.
Tanya Dashiell had never tried yoga. But a friend attended the goat yoga class and loved it. She encouraged Dashiell to visit FatGirl Yoga.
“How could I possibly do yoga, let alone like it? Everywhere I turned, yogis are skinny, fit, they run, they eat right – that intimidated me,” she said.
But since the first class is free, decided to give it a try.
“My first class was nothing like I anticipated. I sweat as much as I did when running but my body felt amazing,” she said.
In addition, she felt comfortable enough to stretch herself.
“There’s no difference between fat and thin,” she said. “The difference is the confidence to carry yourself through whatever challenges you may face.”
That acceptance and feeling of accomplishment is enough to keep Dashiell driving in from Airway Heights to attend class.
“In a world of judgmental attitudes and hateful words, FatGirl Yoga is a studio where we all feel like a badass and we physically overcome what we thought was impossible,” she said.
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