I'm Changing the Image of Yoga, One Pose and One Student at a Time

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: We reviewed and subsequently recommended Abby Lentz's yoga DVDs. Her teaching style and devotion to making yoga accessible to everybody and every body is inspiring, and we were thrilled when she agreed to write a guest blog post for the dailySpark. By Abby Lentz, founder of HeartFelt Yoga

In addition to being a yoga teacher, I also see myself as a translator. I take the benefits of a yoga pose and translate it for the fuller, obese body. For me, it’s not the way the outer body looks--it’s how the inner body feels. This is what makes yoga possible for everyone. Most obese people feel they have to lose weight to even start their yoga practice. In fact, if they would start yoga with the body they have today, they can change how they relate to their body, making changing the numbers on the scale or clothes secondary.

Currently the image of yoga is still based on the already super-thin and flexible. Poses look to be so difficult that it contributes to this belief that not everyone can do yoga. However, yoga can be as simple as taking a deep breath and moving with intention. One of the major contributors to poor health is stress. Deep belly breathing is the first and easiest step to combating stress. To bring all the benefits of this breath into your life simply link deep belly breathing to some other activity--like sitting at a stop light, or watching TV or waiting for the coffee to brew--anything that you do every day. All of yoga can be that simple.

When people think of yoga, I want them to think of themselves, their friends and their family. I want them to think beyond the pretzel poses we often see. Models in yoga poses are used to sell all kinds of stuff, from cars to dog food to candles and massage oil. We see those images of yoga all over the place, not just in yoga magazines. They keep reinforcing that yoga is only for the already fit and trim, making it feel like yoga’s not for everyone.

However, it’s my belief that yoga is for everyone. My second DVD, Change the Image of Yoga, came about after a national magazine article about HeavyWeight Yoga contained no contact information on how to get in touch with me or a mention of my first DVD, Yoga for the Body You Have Today. There was no way to reach me without really digging through the Internet. I was so disappointed--I had to work really hard to remember that nothing is all good or all bad. Then after meditating, I looked over the article and realized that there was a picture of me, an obese person, doing yoga in a national magazine. I realized that this was a start.

Quickly I pulled out my yoga magazines and looked for people doing yoga who looked like me or even averaged sized. When I couldn’t find one anywhere I knew I had to work at changing the image of yoga. Beginning at the grassroots level, I decided to start with a Web page devoted to images of real people doing yoga--a place to let my students tell their stories.

Realizing that displaying snapshots would not to be able to counterbalance the professional photos out there, I decided to have a Change the Image of Yoga party at a photographer’s studio. Fifteen of my HeavyWeight Yoga students came and were photographed doing their favorite poses, then interviewed to begin my campaign to Change the Image of Yoga.

The message was such a success I decided to make changing the image of yoga the focus of my next DVD. I wanted people to see what I see every day when I teach. I want people to see how fantastic my students are. These are people who have conquered cancer, surgeries and many losses--real people with interesting stories to inspire others. I felt that people who watched my first DVD might think that yoga is only possible because it’s just me up there, and I’m a teacher and have practiced yoga for over 38 years. During every class, my students have shown me over and over again, that you don’t have to have done yoga for a lifetime to be successful at it. My hope is that viewers would identify with one of my students and think, “I look like that,” or hear a detail in an interview and think “That sounds like my story.” Through that identification, I hoped they would come to believe that they can do yoga.

The Change the Image of Yoga DVD was one of those things that if I had had more filming experience, I never would have attempted it. Taping had to be done quickly to accommodate the time and energy of my students. In the first DVD, I worked a single 10-hour shooting day. I knew my students had the heart but wouldn’t have the stamina to be in front of the camera and under the lights for anywhere near that long. That meant the size of crew had to be increased, so everything could go more quickly. We ended up with a crew of 12. Some independent films that have crews smaller than that.

Then there was the editing process, which was very complex. Since we had four cameras, we had miles of film. I had made a promise to my students that no one would ever look bad. That if there wasn’t a great shot to be had, then the camera would go back to me. Being sure everyone was represented on the DVD was another balancing act of editing. Then when everything was set, there was creating a complete Spanish edition of all the content.

As if that wasn’t enough, we added a commentary track on the DVD to give a lot more detail and insight on exactly what’s happening on the screen. I love watching the commentary track on commercial movies and enjoy hearing how things come together. There’s always detail in the class that you can’t give while teaching the class, because it confuses the instruction. With the commentary track I wanted to create an atmosphere as if we’re watching the DVD together. I wanted the viewer to understand why someone in the DVD is doing something different from everyone else, like sitting instead of being in table pose, or how did that person get their legs on the chair? The commentary track makes it possible to take the explanation of poses, or people’s stories, and deepen them.

While taping the commentary track I had another idea to cross-media content so I later filmed mini-classes, Online Extras, for YouTube.

This allowed me to visually extend explanations on little things like how to fold a blanket, or to see how chairs are easily moved for poses. Again, it gives more detail, because yoga is all about the details. The smallest change in yoga can help deepen a pose, so you can get more from it.

The thing I want you to realize is that you can do yoga. You can do it today. There’s no reason you can’t. The benefits of yoga can be yours. In starting to do yoga today you can be a part of this movement to change the image of yoga to be more inclusive. You can help to make yoga for us all.

Have you been intimidated to practice yoga because of your size? Have you tried Abby's DVDs?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: motivation obesity yoga


Want to check this out. Always wanted to try yoga but have felt a little intimidated. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 7/1/2020
Thanks. Report
CECELW 12/29/2019
I like to do yoga on the days i just need a little extra boost Report
SCHECK5 11/23/2019
Going to give this a try!! Report
wow, will definitely get into it. Report
Good job! I've always thought Yoga WAS for skinny people. What a pleasant surprise! Report
I wasn't intimidated to try yoga, I wanted to make sure it was safe for me since I have knee and back issues! I practise now with modifications when need be and I receive the benefits of what yoga has to offer! Report
This looks like a good way to do yoga if I could, but I can't. Report
Yoga is where I started when I started my new healthy lifestyle. I was too fat and flabby to do any other exercises without falling over!!! I did lots of seated and reclining twists and stretches and holds and in the process strengthened my core and relearned to control my legs and feet so I could walk without falling. I was 230lbs at the time and nearly bedridden with fibromyalgia. Now at 177 I can do more complicated poses (for me!) like the tree and eagle and star and stay balanced! Report
I just ordered and received this week HeavyWeight Yoga 2! It's wonderful. Report
Wow! Yoga for someone my size. I think that I am going to try it! Report
Wow! Yoga for someone my size. I think that I am going to try it! Report
Wow! Yoga for someone my size. I think that I am going to try it! Report
WhoooHooo! I have always wanted to try yoga, but because of my size and the fact that I'm as stiff as two boards together, I never did. I am so glad that this article has been posted. #Winning! Report
Tried it years ago and found it too difficult. After reading this, I'm going to try yoga again. No more waiting until I lost more weight. Report
LOVE LOVE LOVE this!! Yoga is one of the highlights in my life right now, and EVERYONE should experience it -- not just skinny people. Maybe if (when!) I get certified to teach, I'll specialize in yoga for larger body shapes :) Report
So glad to read this article! I started attending a yoga class about two years ago after receiving an email coupon for one free class to try it out. I was nervous because I was overweight, but there was no need to worry. It turns out that my instructor provides a sort of safe haven for people who might be uncomfortable in a "typical" yoga class. We have people who are overweight, who have limitations due to illness or injury, people who are older and people who have tried yoga classes at gyms and were intimidated. It helps that my yoga instructor looks like an average person, rather than a 20-something super flexible fitness instructor. If anyone is in the Webster, TX area, check out www.yoga4you.biz . Report
I love yoga. I need it. After a week of working out, I need to stretch and relax for an hour. I think everyone should do yoga. Report
I have done yoga since over 280 lbs. I have always been encouraged by my teachers. I promote yoga in my daily updates. Back Bay Yoga in Boston is fab:) Report
Years ago I bought a yoga dvd labeled Yoga for Weightloss. I love that DVD and try to do yoga Saturday and Sunday and any other day in which I don't have to work. My lower body is very tight so some poses are difficult but I know that over time I will eventually one day bend at my waist and touch the ground with my fingers. Report
Just wanted to say. Nice Job.
Size and flexibility do not go hand in hand.
I am one of the fattest persons in my yoga class, but I one of the most flexible.
My balance is way off, but I'm improving.
So don't let size scare you or ability.
Size really doesn't matter, but I have found that there are some limitation because of back and knee issues. Rather than have that stop me, I found a class using a chair for many of the poses as well using the chair for balance when doing the standing poses. Because I cannot get down on the floor, this class really was great. Report
I have been out of yoga for over a year and really miss it. I remeber the sense of accomplishment after a really good session. It really helped that my first instructor was great. After reading this article it makes me want to get back to it even more. Report
@TREKFAN You don't sound like a jerk and am glad for your comment. My teaching practice is not about weight loss.... it's about doing yoga. Yoga wasn't developed for people to loose weight, for its benefits far exceed what most people see going on with the outer body. People's inspiration comes in all ways and packages. I'm only offering a different choice. I can be here for people who are obese, for people who are older, for people who are just tired of their body war and want to do something different for themselves. Report
@HAVALOVER Chair yoga will work well for you and help preserve your knees. You'll want to strengthen the muscles/tendons around the knee while not putting undo pressure on the joint itself. Plus, you'll want to move the joint in a relaxed way to help prevent arthritis from setting in and to keep your current range of motion. One of the underlying benefits of yoga is awareness, so be mindful even on the standing poses, especially balance poses where your weight is coming down onto one leg, one knee. Report
@BUSTABU I now have 2 HeavyWeight Yoga teachers in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. AT the ArlingtonYogaCenter.com and at goodyoga.biz. Sure Jessica or Heather will be glad to have you fit into their practice. Report
@DOWN2SEXY Would love to talk to you about a franchise. I already have 2 HeavyWeight Yoga instructors in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. Email me abby@heavyweightyoga.com so we can get together. Report
@SICKOFME3 Dearest One, yoga is the one thing you can do slowly, gently and will give you a place to start reclaiming your health. The Arthritis Foundation loves yoga because it's so good for your joints — you'll want to keep moving to avoid loosing any more range of motion. Start by just doing a very little yoga (chair or bedtop poses are a great place to begin) and see how you feel the next day. Then add or subtract depending on your observations. If you'd like, there's some free HWY instruction on my YouTube channel that you could start with. Please, please, email me (abby@heartfeltyoga.com) and let me know how you're doing. http://www.youtube.com/profile?user
@JMLEE509 So sorry to hear about your knees and wrists. Placing some support under the heel of your hands (changing the angle at the wrist) may help. Adding extra blankets or pillows under the knees may work to soften, but knees were never meant to be feet so be careful even if you relieve the pain with padding. There should never be any pain in yoga — Sweet Discomfort only, but never pain. On my YouTube channel you'll find a way to do those dog/cat stretches so important for your spine, but without being on your knees:
@XHOOSIERLOSER Try doing the floor portion of your yoga practice on the bed top. This won't work for those poses that need a firm surface for support, but it will work for most of the gentle stretches. There's bedtop yoga DVDs out there, as well as one's for chair yoga. Let me know how your practice come together. Report
@THEHOOSIERMAMA before doing yoga, go to a physical therapist and find out not only what you should be doing, but what you need to avoid doing! From there adapt whatever yoga instruction you decide on doing according to your PT's instruction. Being mindful and aware is a benefit of yoga that goes beyond the poses. Report
Thanks everyone for so many thoughtful comments and suggestions. I'm so grateful for all your input. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to email me at abby@heartfeltyoga.com. I'd love to hear from you. Right now I'm in the process of putting together the content for my 3rd DVD to be filmed in 2011 and would love to hear what people need. Hugs! Abby
Very true - I'm gonna do an intro class for newcomers this week - primarily to get an obese friend involved who needs it! Report
Thank you for having this article and this guest blogger. As a person who started SP at 315lbs, and I know there are many of us, I appreciate topics covering those of us who are S.M.O. being given more published attention at SP. I wish there were more SP staff, other than D.Anderson, who were formerly 300+ lbs.

I am intimidated by LOTS of things, including yoga, because of my size. I really appreciated this article's content. I haven't tried Abby's DVDs yet, but they ARE on my "future purchases" list.

I have the Heavyweight Yoga DVD. I watched it and the commentary portion prior to any attempt to follow along. I have made 2 or 3 attempts at it. I still feel very challenged by the amount of pain I have in lying on the mat on the floor. I bought a round, thicker mat, and use extra padding but I still hurt a lot! I will continue working on bits and pieces and I know that I will improve over time. I really want to be able to do this and get the benefits I know are there for me. Report
I began doing yoga off and on about 4 years ago. I weighed 196 lbs. The class at the gym I joined was great and the teacher was very good about modifications for me. But, I was still self-consious, I found a book MEGAYOGA, by Megan Garcia, a full figured model and fell in love with yoga in a whole new way, she made me feel like yoga is for everyone. I am happy to hear that there are more fuller figured people out there making it available to all. Report
I've started doing yoga and I am one of those bigger people, good to see someone is adapting it for us. Report
I started doing yoga about 9 months ago on a weekly basis after hiring a personal trainer at the gym. Not realizing the effect, I stopped temporarily taking yoga but kept working out with my trainer after work, because of evening classes I was taking in addition to a full time job teaching. That was in February. It didn't take long before I realized I was dizzy a lot, my vertigo. Even my trainer noticed, and was making suggestions to get up slower or ask for her help. Since starting up yoga again 2 weeks ago, the dizziness is gone. Strength training is definitely more enjoyable now!

For this gym rat, it's vertigo or yoga...I vote for yoga!

Just my 2 cents

Sandy Report
I have been taking a weekly yoga class for 4 months. My original incentive was balance retraining and improving shoulder range of motion. The benefits have far exceeded my expectations. The stress management aspect alone is worth the effort! I have increased both strength and flexibility. This blog reinforces what I have slowly come to realize over the past months. Yoga is now an essential part of my wellness quest. Report
My daughter and I tried yoga in March due to the advice of 300poundwoman. I rented a DVD from Netflix titled Just My Size Yoga w/Megan Garcia. What a workout! I even worked up a sweat!

Yoga is not right for me; I have carpal tunnel in both wrists and bad knees. After 15 mins of being on my hands, I was unable to push myself up from the floor because my wrists hurt so bad and my knees were so mad at me.

But, hey, at least I tried something new! Report
I have been practicing yoga for about 5 years. I live in an area in which yoga classes are limited in supply, so there are few opportunities to find a class with people who are "like me." At first, I was very self-conscious about being the only obese person in the class. However, I was very fortunate to find a welcoming class. After a while, the uncomfortable feelings disappeared and I felt like I belonged and was an important member of the group. I still feel that way to this day. I have practiced with several different teachers, and they all are very inviting and accepting. By the way, I still practice with my original teacher. She is tiny and petite with a heart and compassion as big as the whole outdoors. I feel very blessed to know all of these people!

I haven't tried Abby's DVD but would like to sometime! Report
I was a bit intimidated to try yoga, but now that I've been going for about a month, I am no longer intimidated at all. At least half of us are overweight, but who cares?? We get as far into the poses as we are able and I've found myself going a bit farther each time. I've never heard of Abby before, but may consider getting a dvd to try at home. Thanks for the great article! Report
The class I take is one that combines not only yoga, but some tai chi & pilates, too. Our instructor emphasizes listening to your body and breathing. At first I couldn't do much of anything and my balance was so off, I was forever falling over. I've improved so much over time. The mind/body connection is wonderful. I recently sprained my wrist so won't be doing any downward facing dog or planks for a while...but I can still breathe and do some of the balance work and poses that require some stamina (like intense pose). Can't wait to heal and be able to do all (yoga hasn't quite given me the patience I so desperately need as I wait not-so-patiently to heal more). Report
This is great! Some of the stories remind me of when my partner and I (both quite round) took a Pilates class. Some mornings all we could do is laugh our way through the workouts, but we were so proud when we discovered that "hey! I can do that move now!" Now if only the instructor would have stopped making comments about doing Pilates to look great in a bikini and started commenting on getting healthy and stronger, we would have been set! Report
I am a "big girl" and I love Yoga. Over the past 10 months I have amazed myself at how strong I have become in my Yoga class. At one time I couldn't even balance on one foot and now I am able to tuck my foot up into my upper thigh while maintaing perfect balance. It really does have a psychological effect in how I view me. Underneath these layers of fat, I know how strong my body is. Report
I practice Iyengar yoga and my teacher is very much of the opinion that you have to do where you are. We make extensive use of blocks, chairs and belts. It has really helped with correcting some of my issues. This sounds like such a great idea! Report
My daughter teaches yoga and has taken me and two friends under her wing and teaches us one day a week.

Yes she is thin (so was I at one time) but she is very good about showing us how to modify something so that we still get the benefit without killing ourselves. This is specially good for me because even when I was a child I was never flexible.

I am going to check into these dvd's so I can do more workouts at home.

Thanks for the good work. Report
You are totally awesome cant wait to try when I get some money hun thank you so much for doing something for us non skinny people Report
I have not tried Abby's DVDs, but am a devoted student of yoga. I can honestly say that it changed my life! Yoga taught me that I could be strong & flexible, no matter my size. It opened my heart and helped me to get off anti-depressants. I cannot sing the praises of yoga highly enough! PLEASE, if you have not tried it, DO TRY! And how lucky we are to have DVDs like Abby's to get those of us fearful of starting over that initial hump. Report
I'm SO excited to find this! For years I've been lamenting my inability to do yoga, which I loved back in my skinny days. I just ordered the 2nd DVD online from amazon.com, and I can't wait until it arrives on Friday! Thank you, Abby! Report