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    The Portrait

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    The Portrait: Telling the story of Louisville, one person at a time.

    When you see Renee Beard leading a yoga class in a loose, off-the-shoulder top and yoga pants, it’s hard to believe she once weighed 360 pounds. In 2006, her daughter was born with a long list of health complications, and Beard turned to food for support. “There’s a lot of addiction in my family,” she says. “I chose food.”

    As a kid, she’d sneak spoonfuls of peanut butter at night and swipe candy from her cousins’ Easter baskets. “I knew the good chocolate sunk underneath all the crinkly grass,” she says. After years of stress related to her daughter’s health, she hit peak weight in 2013 and realized that, if things didn’t change, she wouldn’t be alive to give her daughter the care she needs.               

    Beard left her career as a beautician to work at her daughter’s elementary school. The job came with health benefits that allowed her to get an aggressive weight-loss surgery that restricts the size of the stomach. Soon after, she discovered yoga — and its similarities to addiction recovery (self-acceptance, staying in the moment, acknowledging personal responsibility while providing community support) — and now leads the 12-step class at 502 Power Yoga (locations in the Highlands and Jeffersonville) that brought her into the practice to begin with. She uses yoga as a recovery tool, including for first responders dealing with PTSD. “It’s not about tightening your ass,” she says. “It’s about pulling your head out of it.” Beard’s all about “falling out of a pose, taking a deep breath, and getting back in there.” When firefighters complain about being in a difficult pose for too long, she’ll joke, “You go into buildings that are on fire. On purpose. This is just yoga.”

    The 48-year-old doesn’t hesitate to talk about the 200 pounds she has lost in the last six years. And she is ebullient when describing her first handstand, which she did last summer. “I am strong,” Beard says. “I’m not that Renee that would sneak and hide and eat food and stay in the shadows.”

    This originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photo by Danny Alexander,

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