How This Local Yogi Became a Body-Positive Instagram Star

“When people see my photos of a yoga pose that feels impossible to them, they see themselves in me."

Dana Falsetti

Dana Falsetti

Two years ago, Dana Falsetti, a New Hope native, walked into her first yoga class, partially out of boredom and partially because of a decent student discount. It kicked her ass. She thought she was strong, that yoga would be “whatever,” but she could barely hold a downward dog. Now, Falsetti has more than 160,000 followers who avidly “like” and comment on her journey as a professional yogi on Instagram. She posts videos of herself twisting into crazy headstands, one leg effortlessly gliding up after the other.

She leads yoga workshops and online classes around the country through her company Nola Trees Yoga. In fact, she has two happening in Philly on Saturday and Sunday at Diamond Hot Yoga. She makes her living instructing women not only how to conduct their practice, but how to love their bodies while doing it.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Growing up in New Hope, a town of 2,500 people, it was easy for Falsetti, now 22, to feel like the biggest girl in school. She struggled with her weight for most of her life. Losing weight and gaining it back became a habit. Eventually, a binge-eating disorder took over most other things in her life. When she talks about this yo-yo habit, she says, “I just knew that I was fat and I thought if I could not be fat other things in my life would be better,” Falsetti says.

Still committed to her weight-loss obsession, Falsetti went off to college and lost more weight than she ever had, around 100 pounds her junior year. But nothing changed. She was isolated, unhappy and it was obvious her weight wasn’t the reason. So that summer, she needed an answer to her unhappiness, hence attending the yoga class on a whim. At first, she didn’t think yoga was what she was looking for. For the full hour Falsetti was hyper-aware of the way she looked, especially compared to the other women.

“When you’re heavy, it’s a feeling like all of my insecurities and all of my fears are visible on my body,” Falsetti says. In spite of that, she went back. And then she went back again.

Soon enough, she was practicing for hours at the studio each day, then returning home and practicing again outside in the yard. Her mom would hear her crashing into walls, attempting to kick up into headstands.

Yoga started to consume Falsetti. It ruled her life, like her eating disorder once did. She admits that at first, what motivated her obsession was mainly her pride. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna be the big girl who can do the headstand,’” Falsetti says. She’d always been like this, attempting to prove people wrong when they had the audacity to bet against her. Pride drove her for a while until one day … it just didn’t. She was practicing yoga for herself, not anyone else.

About two years ago, Falsetti started documenting her practice on Instagram, proving to herself one picture at a time that could do this. It’s only when she started searching hashtags like #curvyyoga and #fatyoga that she understood she’d tapped into a massive body-positivity movement. As she started using those tags, her popularity multiplied. Her followers morphed into a community of mostly women, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, all reading and commenting on her Instagram feed, which Falsetti considers something akin to her public journal. She was stunned by how many of those women felt that they were the only ones living in a size-14 body. How many had felt like this for years, decades, and just needed someone to say they felt that way, too. “They read my captions and they think I’m in their head,” Falsetti says.

Now, Falsetti leads workshops across the country focused on inclusive, body-positive yoga. Her classes are for everyone, but she especially wants to provide an environment for those who think they don’t fit in to the “typical yoga body” mold. Those who look at an advertisement of a skinny, white, blonde girl in yoga pants and a sports bra and think, Yeah, that’s not me. That typical Western image of a yogi is hard to shake, and can be a serious barrier to entry for those who feel “other,” Falsetti says.

She’s here to question that image; to question people’s assumptions about who can and can not do yoga. Perhaps most importantly, she’s here to help other women to question why they think they can’t do what she does. “When people see my photos of a yoga pose that feels impossible to them, they see themselves in me. That allows them to relate in a way that makes them question … You look at a photo of me and think I’m beautiful and see ‘Oh, she’s so strong.’ Why can’t you see that in yourself?”

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly — here’s how: