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?

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