Self-Care Questionnaire: yoga teacher Abby Lentz on health and wellness

Heavyweight Yogi

yoga teacher Abby LentzIf you’ve ever thought you’re too old, or too big, or too something (insert your own adjective here) for yoga—or any other endeavor, for that matter—I’d like to introduce you to Abby Lentz. Abby is an Austin, Texas yoga teacher who doesn’t fit the mold of your stereotypical yoga goddess: she’s in her 60s and clinically obese. Her mantra is “do yoga for the body you have,” and she is a true inspiration for valuing yourself exactly as you are and for following your own internal compass. I hope you find her self-care secrets as enlightening as I did.

In the spirit of Abby’s lead, leave a comment and share one thing you did that you initially told yourself you couldn’t do. If I post your comment in the next Vegimental, you’ll win a copy of her latest DVD, Heavyweight Yoga 2: Change the Image of Yoga.

How do you take care of yourself?
It’s a long list of meditation, yoga, cycling, supplements, water, study, music, dancing, family, friendship, yearly check ups, healthy foods (I’m off gross sugar like desserts since mid-May. My goal is to go a year without processed sugar products.) The trick of course is being consistent.

What made you realize that you needed to learn how to take better care of yourself?
Fourteen years ago I had a severe colitis attack. Only having a baby was more painful. It helped me to recognize that no matter what else was going on in my life, I had to take care of myself first if I wanted to be able to do the rest.

What was your first exposure to the world of mindfulness?
After my son was born I went to Mother’s Day Out at the local YMCA. One of the things we did was yoga. It was 1972 in Charleston, West Virginia, so there wasn’t much yoga being taught and there weren’t yet VCRs or DVDs. I was fortunate to find Lilias Folan on PBS and that changed my world.

How do you integrate your wellness endeavors into a typical day (or week)?
The most consistent thing I do is meditation. I find it keeps really brings the start of my day to a place of calm and clarity. After that I do my personal yoga practice — which may be so short it takes place while the tea water boils. Once I’ve got my cup of green tea, I journal and set my intentions for the day. I’ve been journaling since 1976, so it’s a necessity by now.

How do you invest in your own, personal well-being?
When I hear the word “invest” I think of time and money, the harder to manage being time, which is limited. Making decisions on how to integrate everything I want to do into my day is really about my having a sense of what’s important and doable, both in the long and short views. After that, it’s also about being able to toss out all of the planning and do something entirely different — being spontaneous without judgment. I almost hate to say it, but being flexible and striking a balance helps me to invest my time wisely.

What do you do to take care of yourself on days you don’t feel like doing anything at all?
I listen to my body and I don’t do anything at all. That said, I don’t let many of those type days happen in a row. I love to bicycle — it makes me feel like a kid again — so after a day off, I get myself back on the bike if only to ride around the neighborhood. Of course, after riding, I have to do yoga to stretch it out and before I know it, I’m back on track.

What do you do on insanely busy days?
Deep belly breathing in the car at red lights. I know it’s a really busy day when driving is relaxing.

How has your wellness practice changed since you first started?
I’m no longer looking for perfection, but wanting to enjoy the journey. It’s not about conquering the poses but savoring them.

What have your forays into the world of wellness taught you about yourself?
Anything is possible! After all here I am at 61, obese with a new hip and I’m teaching yoga and creating wellness not only for myself, but also for many others.

Have you had any major breakthroughs? What were they?
I think the major thing is to be my authentic self. I know I’m an acquired taste, after all not everyone is okay with having a heavy yoga teacher. I have to be okay with that type of rejection as long as I’m being me. I’ve taken what many would say is a disadvantage, being fat, and turned it into an asset. The other breakthrough I had was that teaching yoga is not the same as doing yoga for myself. My personal practice has to be separate from what I do for a class.

What books have helped you learn how to take better care of yourself?
All of my role models have published yoga books that I refer back to over and over again. However, the book that really helped me believe in my dreams is Gregg Levoy’s “Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.” When I am doubtful about what I want to do, I go back to his words of support.

Who have been your role models or teachers?
Lilias Folan has been the major force in my life. I first met her at the Feathered Pipe Ranch for her Women’s Circle. I never miss an opportunity to study with her in person. She is so amazing! Erich Schiffmann taught me about taking yoga off the mat and making it work throughout the day. I studied Restorative Yoga with Judith Lasater and learned not only how to give permission to find yoga in “doing nothing” but also how to be clear in my language with students. My students have been my best teachers. I’m always learning something in every class I “teach.”

What are you working on in your practice these days?
I’m beginning to work on the yoga poses that I like the least. At the top of that list is Sun Salutations. So, not only am I working on it for myself, but I’ve decided to make it the theme of my next DVD in 2010.

What’s your favorite vice?
I grew up watching TV and still love it. My favorites are many of the HGTV transformation shows. Guess whether it’s bodies, kitchens or backyards being done over, I’m loving it. Also, I enjoy watching the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress.” Usually it’s all about new beginnings and the joyful coming together of a couple, but also, I love it that when the right dress is found, the bride knows it, she feels it as much as anything she sees in the mirror.

Congrats to Sharon Rubinstein!
She wrote in with a great suggestion for dealing with capital-D doubts, and won a copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Buddhist Meditation. Here’s her quote:

“First, I educate myself. This can mean good old-fashioned research or speaking to others who may have experience to offer or just some wise perspective. Then, after I’ve exhausted all efforts, I back off. I step away and clear my mind as best as I can, for as long as I can. When I finally get to the point where I surrender all effort and thought, my gut begins to speak to me. It may even come to me in a dream, so I keep paper and pen by the bedside.”


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4 thoughts on “Self-Care Questionnaire: yoga teacher Abby Lentz on health and wellness

  1. Your email arrived at just the right time. my daughter in law is teaching yoga and is an inspiration to me. I know that Yoga is healing and I know it is so good for the body and I need to be good to myself in this manner but I am very obese, 69 and cannot get on the floor and get up again. I hope that this CD is for the larger figure. I have ordered it and looking forward to running it on my DVD player. I also have two others so I should be able to do some of the movements. I describe myself as being close to rigor mortis. STIFF.
    I love getting your messages.
    Mary Ann

  2. Mary Ann, good for you! Ordering those DVDs. They are definitely for larger bodies, and Abby is really inspiring. I think you will enjoy them. Your description of yourself is really cracking me up. That’s the great thing about yoga — it doesn’t matter how inflexible or out of sorts in your body you are when you start–it can help anyone feel better. Good luck.

  3. When I was in my 40s, I took up ballet again–I had given it up when I was 10 and long since regretted it! My daughter’s ballet teacher decided to start an adult class and I was most interested (even though I was FAR from a svelte ballerina in body)! After several weeks, I was the only adult left and she asked if I would mind moving into the teen girls’ class. I told her I didn’t mind if they didn’t. Well, one class led to another to another and I finally got toe shoes and was en pointe after 30 years of waiting! I was in several recitals with the young girls and even ended up teaching the little toddlers after a couple of years. It was a decades long dream come true!

  4. Any major life change is hard, but moving back to the farm of my childhood with my husband and toddler (and while pregnant) were so far off my radar that I barely had the chance to tell myself, “No, you can’t do it!” After living in or near some amazing cities and regions (Pacific Northwest near Seattle, WA; Minneapolis, MN; London, UK), it was very difficult to surrender the things I enjoy about city life and coastal life to be back in rural Nebraska. But in order to pursue the dream of a small business by entering into the family farming operation, we leaped.

    That decision opened up my life to become a yoga instructor–a lifelong dream that didn’t ever seem like it would actually happen–and I am happily introducing yoga to central Nebraska. My greatest happiness is that I am teaching at a residential drug rehabilitation center for women (mostly mothers). It’s wonderful to begin to see them become more aware of their intricate and amazing bodies. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be so fulfilled in my life when I thought I was giving up everything to come here.

    Thanks for the opportunity to realize my gratitude in words, Kate! Looking forward to the next Vegimental…

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