At first glance it could be any studio. The women, dressed in colourful outfits, pile into the bright space, then stretch and bend under the watchful eye of a yoga instructor.
But eventually you can’t help but notice.
First — all the participants carry a few extra pounds.
Second — not one of them seem to give a fig.
And that’s exactly the point at this plus-size friendly gym.
In these times of chiseled torsos and size-zero envy, FitZonePlus – which bills itself as “fitness for the rest of us” – offers a non-judgmental, encouraging environment.
It’s the brainchild of Suzanne Gracan, 44, who created it in response to her own frustrations with the fitness industry.
After a serious fall immobilized her in 2001, she realized that her weight - 360 lb.- was a serious health risk.
She joined various yoga clubs but felt discouraged by the instructors.
“It was like ‘oh crap — what am I going to do with her,’” she said. “Or it was ‘oh well … just do your best.’ It was just so humiliating.”
To escape the “attitude,” Gracan hired her own instructor in 2002 and together they developed a program geared toward heavier women.
It developed a following, and in January, Gracan put aside a career in sales, marketing and administration to develop FitZonePlus.
The doors opened last March, with the studio, at Bathurst and Bloor Sts., offering yoga and Zumba classes.
“It’s a wonderful non-judgmental space where everyone is welcome,” says Gracan, who now weighs 219 lb. “Everybody feels comfortable, we relax, we have fun, there’s no stress and people get a chance to get healthy.”
And Gracan isn’t the only one targeting this demographic.
Toronto’s Tiina Veer, a registered yoga teacher, runs Yoga for Round Bodies and yoga teacher training out of the Halcyon Health wellness centre in Toronto.
She has been teaching since 2004 and agrees there’s a “size stigma” in our society and that often “women are the harshest judges of each other.”