For me, yoga isn't just an exercise, it's a way of life. Forty-six years ago, my mother-in-law gave me the precious gift of a few hours to myself shortly after giving birth to my son. I walked into a YMCA Mother's Day Out program where they offered a yoga class. That class would forever change the course of my life.
Believe it or not, up until I walked into that YMCA, I had never even heard of yoga. After that first class, I fell in love with it and started studying on my own. Without the internet or even a VCR, I had to learn most of my yoga practice from books. After discovering Lilias Folan teaching a class on the local PBS TV station, her program became my "me time" during my son's naps.
Although I practiced yoga regularly, I didn't receive my teaching certification from Kripalu until June 2004. During my certification training, I realized I had been actively adapting yoga to work for my ever-growing and aging body without realizing it and made a commitment then and there to bring yoga to people of all sizes. HeavyWeight Yoga is my way to show the world that every body can be better with yoga.
Yoga Is for Everyone
I hear a lot from people who are overweight that they think they can't do yoga until they lose weight. Let's get this straight once and for all: Everyone needs to realize that the benefits of yoga can be had by anyone, regardless of their size or situation. One of my students who is bed-bound will never be able to come to the floor or be on a yoga mat, but from her bed, she can move her body to gain muscle strength, expand her lung capacity and improve her sense of well-being. All of this helps reduce her intense stress levels. Remember that if you are breathing, your body hasn't given up on you—so don't give up on your body.
Fear of injury is another common fear for people who are overweight, and it's a legitimate fear since some beginning yoga poses can be dangerous if you carry excess weight. As with any exercise routine, modifications can be made to accommodate your fitness level, weight and age, so don't be afraid to ask for recommendations from instructors.
People often come into yoga thinking only about the improvements to their physical self: flexibility, core strength, balance and the like. While all of that will happen, it's the sense of well-being that keeps people coming back to their mat for more. While we might think about yoga in terms of being able to touch our toes, it's more important to practice yoga in order to put on our shoes and socks or work through errands and responsibilities with less stress. If you're like most, the benefits of your practice begin as soon as you take your first yoga breath.
While yoga can be a great tool for helping you lose weight, the most important thing yoga does is to remind us that we often try to hate ourselves into getting thin. Lasting change can only come through self-love, though, and yoga highlights the path to loving yourself just as you are in this moment.
The Hardest Part Is Showing Up
My yoga practice is more than 46 years in the making, so the physical benefits of body movement for me at age 70 cannot be discounted. Being able to get on and off the floor with ease to play with my grandkids is priceless. However, if I had to pick one reason to practice yoga, it would be that yoga helps you to be at your best self when times get tough.
Make no mistake—yoga will never change what is happening around you. What yoga does do is change your reaction to that which you have no control over. It's easy to be your best self when life is good; yoga helps you be at your best when everything is going wrong. In time, it will become the invisible net that catches you so you don't hit the ground.
Even the first yoga class can connect people to their body in a way they haven't experienced in years--a lot of people cry. The question I most often get is "How did I get like this?" It's a question with so many answers. All I can do is hold the person and remind them that whatever their "it" is, it didn't happen overnight, and that starting now is what's important. I congratulate them for having already taken the first and hardest step—showing up.
Show up for yourself today with this 35-minute yoga routine that will leave you feeling balanced and at ease with where you are today.
About the Author
Abby Lentz is the creator of HeavyWeight Yoga, which she designed for people who are overweight or obese. She has been practicing yoga for more than 47 years and earned her Kripalu teacher certification in 2004. Her HeavyWeight Yoga DVDs continue to be top sellers on Amazon and she has been featured in leading fitness blogs including Women's HealthMag and BlindAlive. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their standard poodle.
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