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Leslie attended classes for 6 years; her husband for 3 months. Leslie had a major back injury and these sessions help her maintain her back strength without hurting herself.
Another participant said her son was in 6th grade when she started— he’s a junior in college now.
Yet another attendee, who was the youngest in the 6-person class, has scoliosis. Her boyfriend usually joins but had to stay late at his tech job.
These are typical stories of people who attend Abby Lentz’s HeavyWeight Yoga® classes in Austin, Texas.
HeavyWeight Yoga caught my eye because I, too, have a story…
My first yoga class was Bikram. Stretching out in a tropical heat wave sounded fun and challenging. I was a cocky half-marathon runner in my early 30s. “How hard can standing in funky poses be?” I said to myself. Aside from almost passing out, leaving a lake of sweat behind, and seeing spots, I puked for five minutes in the parking lot after class.
At age 42, I ventured into my second yoga class (try everything twice, right?) to work off some remaining pregnancy weight. I was smart enough not to try Bikram again but still couldn’t do half the poses. Like standing on my head. Without a wall. The instructor said beginners can modify the pose by just pulling their hips over their heads and keeping the knees bent (rather than stretching them above my head into a full stand). It took a couple of tries and some extra help to get those postpartum hips in the air. Suddenly, that puking feeling came rushing back to my brain, along with all the blood in my system. Of course, part of the blush was caused by embarrassment.
After a handful of sessions, I conceded that this wasn’t what my body and mind needed. What age and body type do you need to derive a modicum of joy from this activity?
Which leads to Lululemon Syndrome.
That’s what I call the cultish-like mentality that you have to be beautiful, thin, and vegan to meet the yoga clique criteria. The now-former Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson claiming the brand’s leggings became transparent on people’s bums because they are too fat to wear is a case in point. Former company employees write about the peer pressure to live the Lululemon lifestyle a la David Koresh. A close friend who is a current sales associate and marathon runner said she refuses management positions because the lifestyle is required and tracked.
If you’re a size 14+ or a 38 DD+ forget finding leggings or a sports bra at Lulumon or just about any yoga studio for that matter. You get my point.
Now, the #metoo movement has unveiled sexual assault and harassment throughout yoga studios worldwide. Even rape has occurred in the name of spiritual development, according to elle.com.
Of course, not everyone is like this. Nor, are all classes/instructors are the same. But these experiences tend to jade one’s perception of what is supposed to be a positive mind-body experience.
(Note: I hired a yoga physical therapist who instructed specific poses for my post-hysterectomy recovery. Those were private consults and very successful for rehabilitation purposes.)
Third Time’s a Charm
All of that is why Abby Lentz’s “HeavyWeight Yoga” made me think that maybe third time’s a charm. Meeting her, you can tell right away that Abby is about making people comfortable.
Weighing 250 pounds and standing at 5-and-a half feet tall, Abby doesn’t look like a traditional yoga teacher. But then again, her students don’t look like commercialized yoga students. Abby, who turns 70 years old this month, is on a mission to change the perception that yoga is only for those who are young, pretzel-thin and fully-flexible. After years of practicing, she trained to be an instructor at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, MA. “During the training I discovered how I had been adapting my larger body to yoga all along. I quickly came to realize that I could teach yoga to people with bodies like mine.”
When I entered her in-home studio, it was not pretentious or sterile. Artwork on the walls and costumed buddhas give a sense of ease and playfulness. The hour-long session went by quickly with the focus on stretching rather than power poses (though there are a few strength-building poses mixed in). Afterward, the meditative period felt relaxing. Mainly because I wasn’t rushed out of it after two minutes so the next class could set up. All said and done, I felt refreshed and good about myself.
We followed up the six-person class with hot tea and natural snacks. I chatted with students who represented a spectrum of ages and body types. Previous injuries seem to be a major reason why folks gravitate to Abby’s format.
“I’m not everyone’s cup of tea,” she smiled. True, she’s not the instructor you’ll find at Lifetime Fitness, which scored her points in my book. Abby’s instruction and pace are in line with her “3 A’s” motto: Become AWARE of your body, ACCEPT it just the way it is that day and (AFFECTION) come to love your self, over and over again. Thoughtful statements like “sweet discomfort” to describe how the pose shouldn’t be painful. Or “talk to yourself like your best friend” for a positive meditation.
“HeavyWeight Yoga is a solution beyond simple weight loss. It’s about giving people a way to recover their health, regardless of their size or circumstance,” Abby explains. “It’s also about providing a safe way for introducing physical activity into the routine of underserved communities,” she says. “It gets them in touch with their bodies so that, for example, when they’re at the gym they can avoid injury.
Abby took another unconventional step in her teaching: she offers group sessions in people’s homes. Have a group of friends who want to meet up on Tuesdays to socialize and do something healthy? Why not try a private yoga class? Hiring a yoga instructor who will tailor the routine to you and your friends’ capabilities is now a convenient alternative. No gym membership required.
If you’re interested in a weekend getaway, Abby hosts her 2018 Women’s Yoga Retreat at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin August 24 to 26. “Over the weekend I go through all the 24 foundational yoga poses adapted for larger bodies, wrapping up with an “Abby Unplugged” Sunday session. This is where I cover anything people want to learn and answer all questions about life both on and off the mat.”
About The Author
Thea Wood is the co-publisher of SheSpark.com and a certified image consultant from Austin, TX. She is a TEDx speaker and wrote the upcoming e-book The Intentional Makeover and co-authored the book Socially Smart & Savvy. Thea shares styling advice at TheaWood.com, helping women create a signature style that says who they are and where they’re going.