DURING A RECENT Lunch Break Bodyweight exercise class by videoconference, Kris Walters was using a chair to assist with some leg exercises; one of her knees was acting up. She was practicing what she preaches. “Move in a way that feels good to you today,” she told her students. “Don’t worry about how you want to feel tomorrow or how you felt yesterday.”
Moving in ways that feel good is a hallmark of the philosophy Walters shares with her business partner and fellow instructor, Lara Roche-Sudar. With their recently launched venture, FreetoBFit, they’re part of a growing body-positive fitness community, people who work to make sure their classes are welcoming for everyone — no matter their size, shape, color, gender, ability or circumstances.
It’s hard enough to gather up the courage to try a fitness class you’ve never done before — can I do the thing? Will someone make fun of me? It can be even harder for people whose bodies don’t fit the conventional representation of health, and who have often suffered trauma because of it.
The recent explosion in online fitness classes gives folks a way to ease in, making it possible to try out instructors around the country and even the world — without ever leaving our houses and without anyone else watching (except maybe a pet or family member).
Roche-Sudar is a powerlifter and amateur aerialist; Walters is a burlesque dancer and actor who started out teaching barre classes. Before the pandemic, they taught at Studio Deep Roots and at other local spots, and they’re making plans to return to Studio Deep Roots soon. Walters and Roche-Sudar, and other body-positive instructors, have one thing in common, whether they’re teaching in-person or online: They want clients to feel good about their bodies, not only when they leave class, but also when they walk in. “The very first thing they get from us when they start working with us is acceptance,” Walters tells me.
Accepting their own bodies doesn’t always come easily for either of them, just as it doesn’t for many of us.
“I had an unhealthy relationship with my body from my midteens to my mid-20s,” Roche-Sudar says, including eating disorders and compulsive exercising. But when she took up strength training, she saw people of all shapes striving to do something healthy for themselves. It taught her to “focus on what your body can do versus how it looks.”
Practitioners like Walters and Roche-Sudar are quick to laud the array of colleagues opening up exercise to more types of bodies and bringing diversity to an arena traditionally dominated by thin, white, competitive types.
I can now take online yoga classes from Jessica Rihal, a plus-size yoga instructor in California whom I’ve long admired from afar as one of her 11,000-plus Instagram followers. Through her, I discovered Everybody Los Angeles, whose colorful website reflects its cheerfully relentless commitment to inclusion and whose online classes are reaching people far beyond L.A. Another plus-size person of color, Jessamyn Stanley, operates a website and yoga app called Underbelly Yoga. Sites like Decolonizing Fitness offer online video options to support people of different abilities and backgrounds.
But I’ve also discovered body-positive options nearby. Seattle’s 8 Limbs Yoga and Seattle Yoga Arts work to include people of all levels and abilities. Walters recommends Georgina Shaffer of Azul Sup & Yoga, who does body-positive stand-up paddleboard yoga in Arlington, and Tasheon Chillous, who does online body-positive classes and personal training in Tacoma.
Who knows? Doing all these classes in the comfort of our own homes might just give more of us the courage to feel better about ourselves when we work out, no matter where — or how — we do it.