Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Richmond

Yoga for Every Body in RVA

Sep 03, 2015 02:36PM ● By Clair Norman

Kathleen Baker assisting Kim Leibowitz, who has scoliosis

Too many potential yoga practitioners are staying off their mats because their bodies do not resemble the models on the cover of yoga magazines. Richmond studio owners keep busy by breaking down the misconception that there is an ideal body type for yoga and encouraging students to dump that false notion and reap the benefits. Students also learn that the positive after-effects of a yoga class continue outside the studio doors—life skills, sleep, body image and the ability to handle stress improves. The body that started the practice gains strength, flexibility and balance. The focus then goes from the external to the internal, where the real yoga magic exists.

The goal for studio owners is to invite students to the world of yoga, rather than intimidate them. Kathleen Baker, studio manager and instructor at Glenmore Yoga and Wellness, teaches students to have patience with their breath, open their chests and lengthen their spines. There are many techniques and poses that encourage these physical skills, and as with any skill, they take practice. Baker also holds special training in working with students with scoliosis and helps them learn ways to strengthen their spines and release the feeling of being stuck, which is often their experience.

She can sometimes see and feel the hesitation of new students concerned with inflexibility, inexperience, inactivity, weight, injury or insecurity. Mostly, she finds it’s the fear of the unknown. “One of the beautiful things about yoga is the only requirement is to be where you are,” says Baker. “You don’t need much to start a yoga practice. You really don’t even need a mat to be still and pay attention to the breath.” To be where you are can include accepting injuries and physical limitations.

Nora Pozzi, a yoga and meditation teacher at Integral Yoga Center of Richmond, says, “Yoga is such a beautiful art and science that can be adapted so that anybody can do it—children, pregnant women, people with injuries or in rehab; people with cancer, heart disease or any chronic autoimmune illness like MS, arthritis, fibromyalgia or lupus; and people with hip or knee replacements, including people in wheelchairs.” Pozzi also recognizes and celebrates how the yoga experience can grow beyond the studio walls. If a class is offered with a theme in mind, such as yoga for people with cancer, it can provide an opportunity to share resources and build an on-going community of like-minded people that are all on the same journey.

Heather Dombrovskiy, an instructor and owner of Healthy Life Yoga, works with students with physical challenges that include fibromyalgia, arthritis, cancer recovery, anxiety, ADHD and post-traumatic stress syndrome, among others. “Here’s what’s important about yoga,” says Dombrovskiy, “It comes from within. Everything is a choice from the student which allows them to be in control. Every pose has an adjustment, intensity option or similar pose to choose from.”

Her private yoga sessions three times a week with student Richard Widmark, Jr., who once weighed 669 pounds, led him to change his diet and lose 70 pounds. Widmark was so inspired that he told People magazine about his yoga classes. “Something changed in me, and I really enjoyed going,” he says. “I think I found my passion with yoga. I see myself in the future teaching it to people who are in the position that I’m in now; people who might be scared to walk through the door.”

Dombrovskiy’s passion for the concept of yoga for every body is evident and getting real results. The same holds true for Baker’s work with students with scoliosis, helping them take a satisfying and complete breath, which may otherwise be difficult. Pozzi strives to empower those in her classes to accept where they are in their journeys and to practice in a non-competitive way.

These teachers, and many others in the Richmond area, are proving on a daily basis that there can indeed be yoga for every body.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit, or