2-Day Yoga Immersion! “Why would I want to do that,” you might ask???

2-Day Yoga Immersion! “Why would I want to do that,” you might ask???

20140919DFV151411DSC05514Forrest Yoga New York Toothy SmilesAbout 15 years ago, I began practicing Forrest Yoga. My teacher was a cool, approachable young woman in Madison, Wisconsin. Rachel Kaplan. She lives in the Bay Area now, and has a psychotherapy practice.

I think that, like many people do, our first teachers hold a special place in our hearts. They did the really difficult work of capturing our hearts and imaginations—making us fall in love with yoga. To succeed, that person must have just the right touch, neither too heavy-handed, nor too unsubstantial.

Thanks to Rachel’s zeal and encouragement, as well as her own investment in her ongoing learning and study, rather shortly after starting to practice yoga I enrolled in an immersion weekend with Ana Forrest herself. Rachel told us all about it, and spoke enthusiastically about the opportunity to practice directly with Ana, who would be appearing at Moksha Yoga in Chicago. I decided to do it.

I enrolled in the full weekend: four or five classes, I can’t remember. Four I think. I bought my own yoga mat, and a bag to carry it in. Big commitments! I found a place to stay with a buddy from music school, and off I went, driving to Chicago to meet this teacher.

My first impressions were, if I recall correctly, mostly feelings of intimidation. And secondly, wanting a little more attention: I could sense that people were getting amazing assists from her team, but they kept walking by me. Arg! The frustration! I kinda felt like I preferred my own local, hometown teacher. The practice was a little more intimate with Rachel. This sort of felt like going to auditions for the major league.

But, the weekend concluded, and I had done more yoga in the space of on weekend than I had in the past four weeks combined, and I felt a-ma-zing! WOW! What a feeling. I drove home, and my boyfriend looked at me in wonder. “It looks like you lost 20 pounds of emotional weight!” he said, marveling at the effects. On a deep level, something within me changed, and shifted, despite some of my surface misgivings.

The wonder of what Ana does lies in part in the magic of the yoga ceremony that she creates. She no longer leads these four-workshop weekends in which the general population can participate. But, I remembered the experience of them, and decided that it was time to bring it back. Teaming up with New York yoga instructors Leslie Pearlman, Denise Hopkins, and Kirsten Collins is my (our!) effort to continue the legacy of the Forrest Yoga immersion weekend. There is something incredible about investing yourself in doing yoga of this kind for two days, with a room of other invested souls. The experience that the four of us are crafting on January 30th and 31st here in New York City is around setting intent, or Sankalpah. Each class is designed to help you communicate with your Chakras—your wisdom centers—about the intent that you choose and craft. This is deep, psycho-somatic work that will bring you to deeper connection with your body and your Spirit. It’s one of the many great aspects of the Forrest Yoga legacy.

Please keep your eye out for these events. Collectively Leslie, Denise, Kirsten and I are called “Forrest Yoga New York” and we present about three of these events annually. Join us for “The Chakra Roadtrip” at the end of January20140919DFV151411DSC05514, or keep your eyes peeled for the next one!

Click here to find out more about Forrest Yoga New York, and this upcoming event.

#BeautyObsessed

#BeautyObsessed

DSCF8080 F1 red dress, with purse, crouching

I hope you realize it’s ironic that I’m putting these fashion portfolio shots into my post.

Recently I lead my third annual retreat “Connect to Your Spirit,” at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Each time I lead a retreat (I only lead two a year. The other is called “Practice Gratitude, Receive Grace, at LuxYoga) I rethink what the theme means to me and design an entirely new curriculum. It’s the only way I know how to teach. Even if I’m teaching a workshop title, I’ll pull out the class, and re-write the whole thing. I’m constantly evolving, therefore how and what I teach will too.

This past year, while thinking about what it means to connect to your Spirit, I felt inside, and realized without an open heart connection to spirit will be very difficult. Near impossible.

I know, I know. This is nothing original. Christians have been using this language for years, beseeching us to open our hearts to Jesus Christ.

But, the framing here is different.

Isn’t it enough to say a hardened heart keeps us from connecting to ourselves? A closed heart is a closed eye that cannot see the beauty all around us, and therefore prevents us from enjoying our lives? This sort of framing is so much easier for people of all faiths and persuasions to connect to. It says nothing about God. It doesn’t even strive to answer the question “what is Spirit?” This framing orients you towards appreciating your time here on earth. That’s all.

DSCF8145 F1 black dress, side body shot

I was wearing so much makeup that my boyfriend did not recognize me when I got home from the shoot.

The key connecting concept between opening your heart and connecting to your spirit, as I found myself articulating it at the retreat, is experiencing Beauty. The moment I uttered those words, I knew I had entered into an intellectual conundrum.

“Beauty” as we think of it in our media-obsessed culture means something that it pleasing to the eye. And from a feminist perspective “beauty” is an elusive standard that keeps women disempowered. In the body positive movement, we are spending enormous amounts of time repositioning the idea of “beauty” to include everyone. And, as Melissa A. Fabello points out, this is incredibly helpful and healing to people who have never before considered themselves beautiful (just take a look at this video to see something amazing). BUT. She goes on to say:

“…deconstructing beauty’s value – not necessarily to eradicate it, but at least to examine it – would likely serve us better in the long run.”

Amen! Why spend so much time working with an idea that was flawed from the outset? Let’s take it apart, and redefine it. Beauty itself is valuable. How we have come to define it is the problem.

What I’m aiming to write about here, is this deconstruction and redefinition with a framing that comes from my own background, Forrest Yoga, and my teacher’s grounding in Native American medicine. I am and always will be a student of this way of thinking, because I am not a First Nation individual. Thanks to Ana Forrest, I’ve been introduced to a way of viewing Sanctity in the world that doesn’t rely on deities, Gods, or even children of God. To me, the things I’ve learned about Native ways of thinking, it bears resemblance to Taoism. In Taoism, there is no God. There is only “the way.”

Tao #1 says: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”

In Native philosophy it is called The-Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things. I’m no expert in the lineage of these ideas, but they strike me as similar.

What I said at the Kripalu retreat is: Beauty is a feeling. I don’t mean “I feel beautiful.” No: “beauty is a feeling” means that you can sense when something from the outside world has touched your heart, and in that moment, it has changed you. Even if it just cast a little ripple in the pond of your soul, and that ripple then quickly disperses: that’s still Beauty. It is the Spirit moving through you. It is a feeling.

At its lowest common denominator, in my own homemade understanding of it, Beauty is when there is an energetic shift, from a lower vibration, to a higher one.

Here’s some beauty that I’ve experienced in my own life.

  • The beauty of one person generously helping another
  • Experiencing loyalty
  • A person relieving the suffering of another person or living being, animal, or plant
  • Comprehension filling the space where confusion and misunderstanding previously existed
  • Epiphany, insight, and intuition
  • Experiencing a healing moment within yourself , where a difficult thought, emotion, or experience is transformed into something with clarity and spaciousness
  • Finding a creative solution to a problem: or seeing an opportunity where you previously only perceived an obstacle.
  • Being touched so deeply that it brings tears to your eyes
  • Experiencing kismet, serendipity or coincidence
  • Suddenly being struck with the speandour of our natural surroundings, and having that touch your heart
  • Spontaneous fun and laughter

Interestingly, some Beauty ties in directly with Magic. Magic, itself, I believe is Change. Think about it for a moment. How did the baby that you once were become a full-grown human. Magic. How does anyone grow in their thinking about the world, or change their own mind? Magic.

DSCF9057 F2 black dress headshot hair down

I actually like this shot a lot.

But, back to Beauty.

In my life, I’m aiming for Big Beauty. The kind of resolution that when I’m on my deathbed, I can look back and think I made a lot of Beauty here in this world. I may have just left this place a tiny bit better than I found it.

In an interview my teacher Ana Forrest wrote:

“I first heard about Walking in Beauty from the Dine (Navajo) Native Americans. It comes from a ceremony called ‘Beautyway,’ which helps ‘the patient’ to re-establish the balance in their life when they are ill, depleted, sad.

To Walk in Beauty means to walk in harmony with all things—not only physically, but also with feelings and our inner wilderness. Also with people, objects, animals…with life!”

Her brief discussion provides many more questions about Beauty than it does answers. What is harmony? How do we come into it with our feelings? What is “inner wilderness?” After spending time with her, listening and doing my best to learn from her, I’ve developed the hypothesis that I’ve elaborated above. It’s about opening your heart, transmuting energy from lower vibrations to higher ones, seeing with your own eyes that can see beyond the physical The-Spirit-That-Moves-In-All-Things everywhere.

Ana talks about Beauty Reports, which is, in her words “when we see or experience something that dances in our heart.” Many of her Beauty Reports include what she also calls “Sweet Medicine,” (a topic worthy of its own, full-length article), which, in brief, is where a challenging or difficult experience reveals a silver lining, or is midwifed through by assistance from the spirit or animal world, or shows its own vision of Beauty that you otherwise would not had the opportunity to see.

And so, I have a call-to-action. In 2016 I would like to disrupt the common idea of “beauty.” Join me this year in a hunt for Beauty. Find our what “dances in your heart.” When you see it, when you feel it, when you have and experience of Beauty, share it. Tell us about it. And be sure to tag it. We’ll redefine the hashtags #beautyobsessed and #beautyobsession.

I think that this practice is crucial. An open heart is key to so very many things. In closing, here is a powerful quote from one of our modern writers about the experience of yoga, Stephen Cope:

A true contemplative is one who lives with a broken heart. A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.

Her’s to living with a heart wide open. To being touched, and broken, so that our hearts are broken bigger. I am Beauty Obsessed. Will you join me in my #beautyobsession?

bali sky ship

Nothing can match the Beauty of a sunset. And a ship in the sky.

 

21 Things Ways of Being Kind in 2016

21 Things Ways of Being Kind in 2016

I started to make this list, and then by beloved had a great idea. Why stop at what I can think of right now? What can we do to continue to learn to be kind to one another in 2016? Let’s make this a running list. Add at any time, in the comments. I look forward to seeing your contributions!

  1. Always tip. Always
  2. Hold a door for a UPS man. Or a FedEx Man. Or a lady with a stroller. Or a man with a stroller. Or an elderly person. Or the pregnant lady
  3. Help put the with the luggage in the overhead bin
  4. Clean up after yourself so someone else doesn’t have to
  5. When someone bumps you on the subway, look at them and smile. It was probably an accident. And we’ve all accidentally bumped someone
  6. Let someone else go first
  7. Think of ways to be sweet, when you want to be sharp or sour
  8. Offer a word of encouragement
  9. Flirt a little. Flirting always improves everything
  10. Compliment someone’s actions
  11. Give a gift for no good reason
  12. Say thank you
  13. Say please
  14. Say excuse me
  15. Ask, will you forgive me?
  16. Say, why yes, you’re right!
  17. Avoid arguing over the details
  18. Say I love you
  19. Wonder, what would love do? How would Love behave?
  20. Imagine if the tables were turned how would you want to be treated
  21. Think about what would make the other person happy, truly happy. Try to find out
EMT3

This is a pic of me with my band, way back when. We had fun together. And tried to be kind to one another. Good memories.

That which is sacred in you…

IMG_0298

A sacred place in Hong Kong

At the end of every class we say “namaste.” My teacher Ana Forrest translates the word to mean “that which is sacred within me salutes that which is sacred within you.”

More popular translations say something more like “the light in me sees the light in you.” (As an aside, I think it’s worth noting “namaste” literally means “I bow to you.”)
And yet, with either of the more florid translations, there are some givens that I think deserve deeper consideration.

Those givens, or “assumptions” are:

1. There is something sacred in me
2. I might have an inkling of what it is
3. There is something sacred in you
4. Perhaps you know what it is
5. Either way, this sacred thing in me is cognizant of that sacred thing in you and acknowledges it

If you think about that, it’s a lot and merits some unpacking!

At the very least, I think the place to begin is to consider what does this word “sacred” mean to you? Are there things outside of yourself that you consider sacred? A place, a thing, an ideology, a person?

And if it is sacred, what does that mean about our attitudes towards it? How to we think about it, treat it, talk about it?

I’m not entirely sure how to answer these questions in times when everything seems desecrated. Privacy. The planet. Lives of plants, animals, and people. Honor. Loyalty. Commitment to ideals.

And maybe it’s exactly because we’re living in such times our relationship with “sacred” is increasingly important. 

Over the weekend, I lead a retreat I do each year, called “Connect to Your Spirit.” For a moment, let’s assume that Your Spirit is something sacred within you. One of my retreat participants offered up her top three tips for connecting to that sanctity within. Here are Allison’s tips.

  1. Lift your arms up and take a breath in at the same time (like the first part of a Sun Salute! Suyra Namaskar!)
  2. Sing a happy song, or as the very least, chant an OM.
  3. Light a candle.

Try one of these things as you contemplate that which is sacred within you…

Many blessings, (on this “sacred” day that was co-opted by the church to encourage the assimilation of “pagan” people and their Solstice rites into Christianity. Ha.)

IMG_0297

Again, in Hong Kong, incense that you can purchase and burn to honor the sacred dead

 

Body Positive WHAT?!? Musings + 8 Tips for teaching Body Positivity in the Yoga Classroom

Body Positive WHAT?!? Musings + 8 Tips for teaching Body Positivity in the Yoga Classroom

A few months ago, I went to a networking/promotional event in the fitness and body image field. A woman introduced herself to me and stated, “I’m a body positive fitness instructor.”

Now, disclaimer here: I’ve never considered myself a person who is in sync with the times. I’ve come to understand who and what I am, in that regard, and view myself with respect.

So, when she said this thing, “I’m a body positive fitness instructor” I found myself thrown into a little cognitive disarray, like, wait! What did I miss?

And then I realized…ohhhhh: this is the new hip and trendy thing to say.

And then I thought: what the hell does that mean “body positive fitness instructor,” anyway!?

My own investment in body positivity spans the entire length of my yoga practice and career. It is steeped in concern for understanding my own body, other people’s bodies, injuries, how we suffer, and HELPING myself, and my students.

These core concerns are entirely natural to me, as they are at the heart of Forrest Yoga, and my recovery from distorted body image, compulsive over-exercising, and emotional eating. It’s been startling to realize that now “body positive” exercise/movement/yoga is a “thing.”

I’ve found myself wondering:

What’s the overlap between the body positive movement (whatever that means) and the fat activist movement?

Do I have to be a fat yogi in order to be able to talk about body positivity?

Will anyone take me seriously when I talk about body positivity, seeing as, for the most part, people seem to think my body looks pretty good, and I’m by most standards “thin-ish”?

 If you now have to state you’re “a body positive (fill-in-the-blank fitness instructor)” does that mean that everyone else is “body negative?”images-4

 I myself have a body positive program called “Adore Your Body” and in the context of these questions, I’ve even felt called to address the question, what does it mean to “adore your body?”

First off, let me say, I think that the space of body positive yoga or fitness is nebulous at the moment, and that’s part of why I’m asking these questions. Secondly, as a student of pedagogy, for me it’s just not enough to claim that you are a body positive teacher. I want to know how you are teaching body positive principles in your classes, and what are those principles anyway? It’s not enough to say I teach my students to love themselves. Oh, really? How exactly do you do that, and are you sure that they all learn to love themselves in your classes? If you don’t have solid answers for these questions, I won’t believe that your classes are as-advertised.

I DO think that saying you are a “body positive” instructor is a backhanded diss to the rest of the world, in a slightly passive aggressive manner. It’s the same bone I have to pick with the people who call their style “Intelligent Vinyasa.” REALLY? Are you so very sure that the rest of the world is unintelligent? And if you have to prove that you are smart by saying it, are you really that smart?

I digress.

And, I’ll get to everything.

O.K. does one have to be something other than stick thin to talk about body positivity? Here’s what I think: while it is easy for people to understand a fat person might have experienced a dearth of body positive messages in their lives, I also believe that, to follow the line of reasoning that you must “look the part” negates a fundamental truth of the topic.

That truth is: everyone experiences some body negativity of some degree or another, at some point life, some more than others because of circumstances. Even remarkably good-looking people experience body anxiety. Spend some time with some models, and you’ll discover this. And, even people who think that they ought to gotten over body negativity years ago are still plagued by this pesky problem.

Body dissatisfaction is so prevalent as to be achingly, annoyingly, boring. Older people are like why are we still talking about this? while younger people are just starting with the whole messed up journey. Blergh.

And yet, it still is a foundational problem for many people.

I believe that anyone has a right to talk about body image challenges, and also to stand up for the message of healing and awareness. Moreover, we need many voices to understand how this affects so many people. That’s why I founded the Adore Your Body Telesummit.

As for the overlap of fat activism and body positivity, the fat ladies are really leading the charge on dissembling our buy-in to diet culture, a move that we all stand to gain from. So, I think that we all should pay close attention to what those smart and sassy gals are saying.

And even if you’re an unhappy thin person, you should know their message is for you, although it may not seem like it is because you’re not fat. Yes, we need to put a stop to fat shaming. Yes, we need to see the bias towards thin privilege. But we can also include every person in the circle of ideologies that confine, shame, and otherwise maintain the obedience of the populace. Diet culture and the beauty myth are key components to this, and they affect everyone, whether you’re fat or not.

Finally, I realize that my own use of the phrase “Adore Your Body” can cause recoil for some people, for a number of reasons. Some people now feel pressured by the body positive movement to love themselves, like achievement in this area is some measure of their success as a human. Others would like to just stop hating their bodies, and doing that would be a major accomplishment. Adoring is an idea that is beyond reach, and therefore discouraging. Yet, I stand by these words, because they point to an idea about our existence. Body positivity extends far beyond ideas of fat and thin. Globally, it has to do with how we consider our presence and purpose in the world.

At the beginning of my blog “Stuff I Learned at Yoga” I shot videos entitled, “You Are Not Your Body,” and “Your Body is Your Ally,” and “Embodied Knowledge vs. Intellectual Knowledge.” You can go see these new “vintage” videos, which are at the heart of my orientation towards adoring the body.

It’s summed up like this.images-5

The body is something other than YOU. It is it’s own entity. It is part of nature. Would you hate your body any more than you would hate a tree, a mountain, or a river? I hope not. Instead, I hope that you can generate understanding and compassion for the body, this innocent thing born of the natural world, and as such, treat it with the kind of care—adoration even—that you would your favorite living being that walks this planet.

That’s it. That’s adoring.

So, what does it mean to be a body positive yoga instructor?

I hope it’s clear by now: it’s not enough to say that you are a body positive yoga instructor, or any other kind of health, wellness or fitness professional, for that matter. This question (which I’m putting together a conference around, so stay tuned!) is important:

How can we teach yoga in a way that promotes body positivity?

  1. Adhere to the basic definition of body positive: Accepting your body as it is and attempting to make everyone else feel comfortable in their own skin as well.
  2. Teach people to Feel. Their. Bodies. Start by feeling the breath. Do this yourself. Model it.
  3. Teach the value of the pose lies in the journey of learning it, not in any outcome, or perfect form. Do this yourself. Model it.
  4. Teach people that their bodies are a source of wisdom. They posses their own intelligence, which reaches far beyond what we can understand. Find ways to help them feel their bodies, and talk to them, and listen for its wisdom. Do this yourself. Model it.
  5. Teach poses in stages. Actually teach. Don’t just show what the pose could look like once they’re advanced like you; break it down. What’s stage one? Stage two? Stage three? Someone can’t do stage one? Find something that they CAN do that will help them to get going. Find the states yourself. Do them. Model them.
  6. Teach people to pull apart their internal dialogue that tells them they can’t because they’re too old, or young, or fat, or thin, or tall, or weak or whatever. There’s one thing we want to explore in yoga: what CAN you do. Let’s find it, maybe together, and then DO it. Do this yourself. Model it.
  7. Teach people to respect their bodies by touching them with respect, courtesy, and care when you give hands-on assists. Make sure that when you demo poses, you take care of your own body, and if you touch it, you do so in a respectful way. Speak about your own body with care and concern when you demo.
  8. Learn about the bodies of people who are not like you. Learn about injuries, and illnesses, different sexes and genders, sizes, shapes, and ethnicities. Be curious. You don’t need to be an expert on everything, you just need to demonstrate interest and concern for another’s well-being.

If you need to find teachers who tend to do this well, I suggest you find a Forrest Yoga teacher. As I mentioned at the outset, the whole “body positive is a trend now thing” was startling to me, because I feel so steeped in it through Forrest Yoga, a practice of deep embodiment. Yes, Forrest Yoga is also a very vigorous practice, and often one of strong and advanced practice, and for some people this is off-putting. Where’s the ease? they ask. But, at its core is a deep concern with the practice being physiologically friendly, made-for-you, healing, struggle-free (that’s where the ease is) and above all, bringing you into your body, and into feeling.

One of the reasons in almost every step listed above I said “Do this yourself. Model it” is because the most important way that we can teach yoga in a way that promotes body positivity is by working on it ourselves, figuring out what we’re doing, and then teaching it to our people through embodiment. See, it’s about body positivity, which means, everything must be embodied. Just thinking good thoughts and saying nice words like “I’m a body positive yoga instructor” isn’t enough. It’s a good start. But change happens through action. If being body positive is a goal of yours, ask yourself, every time you step into a classroom “how do I teach in a way that promotes this core value of mine?” Then, do it.imgres-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 Easy Things You Can Do Today to Improve Our World NOW

16 Easy Things You Can Do Today to Improve Our World NOW

1. Pick up a piece of trashimages

2. Smile at a stranger

3. Give a small amount of money ($5?) to an organization/cause you believe in. What I learned through fundraising is that no amount is too small. Many drops will fill a bucket to overflowing

4. Stop watering your lawn and eventually replace it with indigenous plant species

5. Buy water barrels to catch rainwater. Use it to water your plants in times of drought

6. Flush your toilet only once a day, per person in the house (each flush is 8 gallons of potable water!). Sounds gross, I know, but I swear, in the future humans will look back at the folly of pooping into water that you could drink

7. Tip your barista

8. Bring a mug to your coffee shop. Carry a water bottle

9. Never again buy bottled water

10. Put decals on your windows to prevent songbirds from inadvertently flying into them

11. Compost your organic waste

12. Don’t buy foods with palm oil in it (destruction of the forests to plant palm is killing orangutans at record pace)

13. Pick up a piece of trash. Put in the nearest waste can (Really! Bend over in the street and pick it up instead of walking around it and ignoring it!)

14. Learn about the experience of a person who is nothing like you (fear and hatred exist in the absence of understanding and it’s sibling, compassion)

15. Buy and use ToGoWare–stop using disposable utensils

16. Leave your leaves on your lawn. That’s why they’re called “leaves.” :) No seriously–return the nutrients of the tree to it’s own roots. This is part of the natural cycle of plants. Over the winter, the leaves will mulch. In the spring, use a lawnmower to grind them up. They are fertilizer for your lawn and all the plants in your yard.

What has yoga taught YOU?

IMG_2155Every day I think about this question, and then go forth into the world to teach other people what I have learned. I do this because I try to live by this adage:

Good teachers teach what they were taught. Wise teachers teach what they have learned.

I’m curious: what has it taught YOU? And, more importantly, what have you learned?

The distance between what we think we are teaching, and what our students learn can be vast…And so, it is a curiosity of mine, from the standpoint of tracing how knowledge is passed along, and has a life of its own.

Reply below! I look forward to reading, and conversing!

In Beauty,

Erica

 

Adore Your Body Reboot

Erica MatherThe first Adore Your Body Telesummit was, in my opinion, a tremendous success.

What does that–success–mean?

Read some of these comments and see if you can feel what I mean.

“Regardless of size, people all face the same root problems as others. How concept of ourselves can warped early on, but we have a chance to reshape our view of ourselves .”

“Didn’t realize how powerful activism of fat women is today—gorgeous!”

“I loved everything! I think it was Amy Bloom who said that women have so much more to offer than just their looks. That definitely made me realize that I’ve been relying on looking physically “perfect” to make up for what I believe to be deficiencies in my personality.”

“You can be confident and beautiful in a body of any size. you don’t have to wait to be thinner to live a full wonderful life.”

“I think my biggest a-ha was that people who hate fat people or treat fat people horribly are bigots! I don’t know why that struck me so hard but it was something that I never realized before!”

“This is ubiquitous across all races, sexes and genders. Nobody is immune to these destructive feelings.”

“Hearing that these bendy supple young and beautiful women, who I look up to, are just as fucked up about their body image as I am… I am not alone in my suffering from chronic dieting and body shame.”

“So many other women suffer from the same things I do and even though some have gone farther in their journey’s, they still have bad days. And it’s okay!”

“I loved HeatherAsh’s interview. The short term versus long term nourishment really hit home for me. I have been thinking about that everyday and noticing more or what I do can be short term nourishment.”

“I realized that no matter someone’s shape, size, or status, us women always find a way to dedicate an extraordinary amount of time obsessing over bodies and too less time focusing on meaningful work that can advance our gender forward. This obsession is our ball and chain.”

“Your summit served as a great introduction to a different way of thinking and approaching healthy eating and exercise. I didn’t even realize how stuck in diet mentality I was (and still am). I am heartened by this introduction to such a community of honest, beautiful (inside and out), outspoken women. I am inspired. In my challenging moments I have been looking back to the notes I took to give my self renewed focus , strength, and comfort. Thank you!”

I’m rebooting this event because, in case you missed it, I want you to have your own revelations and epiphanies from listening to the 11 luminous speakers.

Some of the feedback I got that I intend to work with as I look to the 2016 Adore a Your Body Telesummit is a desire for more voices from the margins. I wanted this too, when I programmed the 2015 event, but had not yet made the connections I needed. I think that you’ll be pleased with the roster I’m putting together for this Spring.

Until then, every last interview is worth the 20-40 minutes of your life. These ladies are funny and thoughtful, with wisdom to share and from which you will grow. To hear their interviews, sign up here.

Top 10 Ways to Pacify Your Junk Food Monster

Cookie Monster Junk food… What does that mean? In my book, junk food is high calorie, low nutritional content, manufactured and packaged food. Doritos, Pringles, and Reece’s Peanut Butter fall into this category, for instance.

These kinds of foods play on our biological impulses to eat things that are sweet, salty, and fatty.

They are all difficult to come by in the wild and are all flavor-indicators of a necessary nutritional component, meaning these flavors are signs that nutrition that we NEED is present.

Maybe with the exception of sweet, but salts contain electrolytes and fats are absolutely essential for all kinds of metabolic and hormonal functions as well as structural maintenance.

Manufacturers actually engineer junk foods to be as addictive as possible, finding the combination of salt, sweet and fat that will be the most irresistible. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us documents the deliberate history of this in the United States.

Within the past ten years, “healthy” junk food has appeared on the scene. Newman-O’s, Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Pirate’s Booty are a few examples that come to mind.

Is this still “junk food?” I think so, yes, because, while made with better ingredients, and often are less salt and sugar, they still are pretty devoid of nutritional content.

Here are some guidelines and tips to help you cut down on your junk food consumption.

10 Ways To Deal With Junk Food Temptation

1. Consider why you like to eat these foods. Are they filling the space of something else in your life? Sweetness of a different variety?  Excitement? Purpose? Connection? Comfort? Pay attention to your emotions when you’re “indulging.”

2. Make sure you’ve eaten a decent meal before you reach for the junk. Nuff said.

3. Learn how to make your own. Like peanut butter cups?  Make them. This will slow down the “immediacy” of the food experience.

4. If you MUST have some junk food now, make it the best possible rendition. Like chocolate? Get the highest quality chocolate you possibly can.Love ice cream? Get the organic milk variety. Potato chips are your thing? Go gourmet.

5. Are you craving a particular flavor? Study this. Sometimes this can be a sign that you are deficient in nutrients. Want something salty? This could be a sign that you’re low in vitamins and minerals. Crave sugar? Your body may not be getting the energy that it needs in the form of solid nutrition.Long for fat?  Fat helps metabolize certain vitamins, and keeps your digestive system “moving.”

6. This is radical advice, but sometimes works—allow yourself to binge. I’ve done it myself with peanut butter. It worked. I read about this technique after-the-fact in one of Geneen Roth’s books. Eat all the fill-in-the-blank that you desire until you’ve had your fill. Indulge!  Ride it out, until you get sick of that food. Maybe literally. Definitely figuratively.

7. Slow down. Breathe while you eat. Chew thoroughly. Find out if you can really, really taste what you’re eating. Does it taste as good as you thought it would?

8. I’m what I call a “curious eater.”  I like to find out what things taste like—even junk!  This doesn’t mean I want to eat a whole portion. If you want to just have a taste, then do that. Give the rest away, or share with a friend.

9. Eat sitting down, at a table—no snacking while walking or driving!  No snacking while sitting in front of the T.V. or at the movie theatre. Be aware and present for every food experience.

10. Notice if you tend to eat junk alone. If you do, pledge to share your “guilty pleasure” with another. You may find that other people will not support your “habit!”

What are your biggest junk food temptations? Which of these tips and guidelines do you plan to try out first? Share in the comments below!

A version of this post originally appeared on Live Well 360.

3 Top Considerations When Sequencing for Injuries & Larger Body Types in Group Classes

3 Top Considerations When Sequencing for Injuries & Larger Body Types in Group Classes

yoga sequencing tourGroup classes are the way that most people are introduced to yoga. In an ideal world, everyone would have a personal practice guided by a skilled yoga teacher who would design a sequence specifically for that individual.

But this is not economically feasible for the majority of the yoga students.

And, as teachers, we are left with the burden delight of the Open Level class, where once in a blue moon no one is injured and everyone is basically on the same level. Hurray!

But this situation is rare, as you teachers know. On a difficult day there’s a beginner, an advanced practitioner, a person with carpal tunnel, a person with a herniated disc, two pregnant ladies in different trimesters, and a man carrying an extra 150 pounds.

Oh, geez. Now what?

I believe that some decisions about how you teach your class you must make in advance to be prepared for this sort of scenario. If it is our mission to make yoga accessible to any and all people, then we must actually teach in a way that truly represents that mission, down to the very way that we teach the smallest possible movement or breath.

Here are my top 3 considerations to look at, scaled from “big picture” to “minutia.

1.  Do you teach a method that is contraindicated for certain injuries, conditions, or body types?

In addition to Forrest Yoga, I also teach a style I call “Forrest Inspired Vinyasa.” While we don’t spend as much time doing down dogs and vinyasas as in a more traditional vinyasa class, we still spend much more time doing those things than we ever would in a Forrest Yoga class.

And, whenever a person comes in with a wrist injury, I wilt inside a little bit. This particular class style is most likely going to be problematic for their injury. BUT. This reality is something I know, and can prepare for. And, I make it a point to think through these things, in advance.

There are certain things that I’m less prepared for, like the student with an eye disorder who could not put her head below her heart. Ever. We made all kinds of modifications for her, but in truth, the class style itself was a poor fit for her condition. Think about it for a moment: what do you do in a vinyasa class with a person who can NEVER put their head under their heart. What kind of poses does that exclude?

How about the larger bodied person, who will probably never step their foot forward from a down dog to a lunge? How would it feel to you to be constantly reminded of a limitation, every time you moved through a vinyasa? Certain people have more tolerance for those kinds of aggravations than others, while others might more easily get discouraged and give up. It’s hard to know who you’re dealing with exactly when you meet people for the first time in an Open Level class.

Because of my extensive training in Forrest Yoga and ongoing apprenticeship with Ana Forrest, I’m better prepared than most teachers to handle these sorts of complications. I have ideas at the outset about what to do (I have a contingency plan), and I know how to trouble-shoot on the fly without disrupting the flow of the class.

But at its foundation, there are some problems with my class style itself. And these are issues that I need to be aware of. These are issues that WE, collectively, as yoga teachers, need to be aware of.

Think about other styles of yoga that have certain contraindications. What do you come up with?

2.  Do you teach a set sequence, or do you teach a sequence that varies?

Personally, I have chosen to teach a sequence that varies.

Here’s why: suppose you teach a set sequence that is heavy on forward bends and hamstring openings, and in class have a person with sciatica, another with a hamstring injury, and a third with a herniated disc.

All of these injuries are contra-indicated for forward bends. I don’t believe that it is morally or ethically responsible to allow these people into your class and teach it, knowing full well that the poses and the sequence are injurious to those people. But, you’ve painted yourself into a corner if you only know how to teach one sequence, or one kind of set of postures.

And yet, this kind of thing happens all the time.

3.  Are you constantly expanding your understanding of injuries and other people’s bodies?

It takes a lot of effort to educate yourself about injuries you’ve not experienced and body types that are not like yours.

If it’s not your gig, then it is ethically upright and honestly transparent to acknowledge that your class is not suitable for people with certain types of injuries, or that it may be difficult for people who are carrying extra weight.

As I’ve mentioned above, a problem I have with Vinyasa—a practice I do, and love—is that it is very difficult on the hands and wrists, and for people who have and wrist issues (that’s like everyone who works at a computer) can frankly be injurious. As yoga teachers, we may not really be aware of this so much, because WE spend our days very differently than 90% of the population.

Or imagine if you weighed an extra 150 pounds: how do you think your hands might respond to all of the repetitive motions with additional pressure on the hands and wrists?

Stepping a leg forward from a down dog to a lunge can be tremendously difficult for a person who is carrying even as little as 30 extra pounds. Like, for instance, a pregnant woman.

So how can you educate yourself? Here are four ways to get started.

1.  Get curious. Start to really look at your students and see how they are struggling, and then imagine what that might feel like. Then, look for solutions.

2.  Consider the experience in your own body. Imagine if you had a hamstring injury. Catalogue all of the poses that you wouldn’t be able to do while you injury rested, for a YEAR. What would be good alternative poses, or modification ideas? What if you had a belly that “got in the way?” What couldn’t you do? What would be some good ideas for modifications.

As you start to gain a library of options, be ready to offer them up in class, either in the moment, or before the pose. Saying things out loud like “if you are hamstring injured, do this modification/pose instead” creates an atmosphere of accommodation and a culture of compassion where students begin to understand even if they are not currently injured that you are paying attention and will work with them.

3.  Talk to your colleagues about what THEY do when they encounter a certain kind of injury or body obstacle. What are some of their tricks when a person can’t step forward because of a round belly, or when someone comes to class with a disc injury? Keep everything in your toolbox. You never know when it might be useful.

4.  Take trainings that educate about these kinds of concerns. I am running a 100-hour training this February at PURE Yoga in NYC, where we will go over in detail¬ the kinds of modifications you can use, and actual healing techniques you can employ to help people, whether in private practice, or in group classes.

With regards to larger bodies, there are a handful of people who run trainings to help educate in this regard. But, you could also look locally to see if there is any one person teaching or a studio where they specialize in classes for larger bodies, and then inquire about the most appropriate way to learn and engage. I advise approaching this situation with as much diplomacy as if you were asking to sit in on a private healing session—creating space for people with larger bodies to practice may well be a sacred circle in which they don’t actually want participants whose bodies and lives exist outside that sphere.

I believe wholeheartedly that thinking about the experiences of other people important undertaking for yoga teachers, because in order to teach compassion and kindness, we need to widen our circle of empathy beyond our own personal experiences. The bodhisattva loves all people, and love means that you have a unique understanding of how people suffer. When you understand HOW they suffer, only then can you remove his or her suffering. It is not enough just to love. When you love generally, sometimes you actually increase a person’s suffering. Intention to help is not enough. The METHODS we use and their efficacy are equally, if not MORE important. Love is made of an energy called understanding. To understand, we must look deeply and care enough to learn about the students in front of us. Only then can we help to remove their suffering.

This blog post is one in a series of articles all month long on the topic of Sequencing To The Individual hosted by Kate over at You & The Yoga Mat. Follow along on social media #sequencingblogtour.