There’s a stereotype of the slender, young yogi who can bend like a pretzel. It can be off-putting, for sure, for those of us who don’t fit that image, either in age or body shape—or both.
One woman didn’t let that stop her from mastering yoga, and the surprising outcome is now helping thousands to realize the benefits of the practice too.
Abby Lentz is 70 years old, and resides in Austin, Texas. She’s a yoga instructor, but her class is far from typical.
Lentz began practicing yoga in 1972 after she had her first child at the age of 24. She lived in Charleston, West Virginia, at the time, and began to learn yoga at the YMCA.
My son Nathan just turned 41! That makes it 41 years that I've been practicing yoga. Thank you Mother's Day Out at the YMCA in Charleston, WVA…. it all started there!
“I fell in love with it,” Lentz told Humanity.
Her interest deepened when she discovered Lilias Folan’s yoga class on PBS.
As she continued to study, she began to understand the practice, and improve her abilities.
At first attracted by the physical benefits of yoga, Lentz kept being drawn in by the psychological benefits.
“You keep coming back to yoga because of the sense of well-being. You begin to really understand your body and how you feel. You make a deeper connection with yourself,” Lentz explained.
It is the psychological aspects of yoga, she learned, that are the foundation for the physical components. Over time, it’s that self-awareness that helps you reach your physical goals.
As she grew older her body began to change, and she found herself subconsciously compensating when performing poses and movements.
She also began to gradually gain weight.
“It just was one of those things that just crept up,” Lentz explained.
She couldn’t do some of the poses she used to be able to perform. Standing on her head to watch the “Johnny Carson Show” used to be easy; now she was no longer able to do it.
She also didn’t seem to have the same vigor she once had.
To add to the difficulties, Lentz and her husband’s publishing business had encountered a problem.
They wrote a serial publication for users of Hewlett Packard’s HPe3000 computer. However, Hewlett Packard discontinued production of the HPe3000, and the couple lost a significant portion of their revenue from advertisers.
In addition to their financial struggles, Lentz’s mother became ill. Lentz would have to travel to Maryland to help take care of her mother, and then fly back to Austin to work.
During this time Lentz began to weigh over 200 lbs.
“I was stress eating at my sister’s house. I came back, after [my mother] died, from that routine and found myself unable to physically move with the ease that I once had,” Lentz explained.
Eventually, Lentz had to find another job in order to supplement the family’s income.
She briefly considered pursuing an MBA at the University of Texas.
She had graduated with a undergraduate degree in sociology with highest honors in 1982 at age 30. However, yoga was always her passion.
Lentz followed her heart, and decided to become a yoga instructor.
At age 56, she went to study Kripalu yoga, and found her calling.
“I left Kripalu wanting now to make yoga [available] for people who had my body size, for people who had my challenges,” Lentz explained.
Lentz had learned that she could still practice and benefit from yoga without needing to change her physical appearance—and what’s more she could teach her students with similar body types to also realize the benefits.
In 2004, Lentz started HeavyWeight Yoga for overweight students and for students with other physical limitations.
HeavyWeight Yoga focuses on what Lentz refers to as the three “A’s”: awareness, acceptance, and affection.
Over the course of teaching at in-person classes, retreats, conferences, and through her DVD series, Lentz has taught over 25,000 people yoga.
She’s adapted the poses so heavier people can perform them safely, but the most important thing is how you feel when practicing. When Lentz is teaching yoga, there’s one thing she emphasizes.
“People can’t be looking thinking this is what I need to look like on the outside,” Lentz said. “No, this is how you need to feel on the inside.”