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,



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.

The Yoga Diaries–a Book Review

The Yoga Diaries–a Book Review

yoga diariesI remember when I saw a request going around on Facebook, for a project called “The Yoga Diaries.” A young woman I didn’t really know was asking for people’s accounts of how yoga has changed their lives. Eventually, this person circulated into my consciousness also as the social media manager for one of my very favorite authors, Stephen Cope. She and I shared some sweet exchanges on Twitter, mostly about our mutual admiration of Stephen and how to get him in front of more and more people. And then, years later, as these things happen, again I saw her pop up on Facebook, now with Forrest Yoga colleagues of mine—for a book launch! The Yoga Diaries: Stories of Transformations Through Yoga had manifest in the world! My friend and colleague and fellow Forrest Yoga Guardian, Colleen Millen was among the contributors. Colleen has been writing for years about using yoga to help her with depression, and is a remarkably thoughtful, caring person. I was happy to see that she contributed! The book’s editor, Jeannie Page, reached out to me personally to ask me to write a review. I was delighted to receive this request, and even more so when I received in the mail a signed copy of the book.

 Jeannie’s kindness is all over this project. From the concept itself, to the graceful introduction that Stephen Cope wrote her, and the various wonderful endorsements from yoga luminaries like Ana Forrest and Elena Brower. The book drips with good karma.

The The Yoga Diaries is divided into categories that will help the reader seek out the areas focus that interest them the most. The sections are: physical healing, emotional healing, overcoming adversity, and living your purpose.

In the section Physical Healing there are stories of low bone density, weight loss, lupus, disc herniation, car crash, and stroke. In part 2, “Emotional Healing,” there are accounts of overcoming depression, the suicide attempts of a parent, insomnia with panic attacks and anxiety, trying to live up to your family’s expectations, the early death of a parent, and more. In “Overcoming Adversity” contributors tell about a myriad of tragedies including the murder of a child, surmounting drug addiction, unexpectedly birthing a child with severe disabilities, the divorce of one’s parents, the early death of a parent, becoming blind, and recovering from the kind of injury that robs you of your life’s dream. Finally, in the section “Living Your Purpose,” yogis recount stories of how yoga helped them move from a life and lifestyle that was unfulfilling and unhappy into ones that are filled with happiness and enthusiasm about their day-to-day activities, and the vision of their futures.

There is something here for everyone, and I read many a story that moved me to tears. Among the contributors were people I’ve known for years, like teachers Desiree Rumbaugh and J Brown, but people whose “back stories” I didn’t know. So often these kinds of stories go untold, because they are too personal or too painful or they aren’t really the kind of thing that you share with your yoga students at a random Tuesday evening yoga class, or even with friends at a dinner party. But they are the stories that really have value. In fact, these kinds of stories are invaluable because they tell about how people change. What kind of a price tag can you put on change for the better? This is the promise of yoga, and these stories help us to really establish the value proposition of yoga itself.

This is the kind of book that I might give to a person in my life who is thinking about doing yoga, but doesn’t really know what it is about, or who thinks that you already need to be fit and flexible to go to class. The stories are short: some no more than two pages. The writing skill of each contributor varies widely. Some are accomplished and published authors. Others are writing in their second language. And I think that this format and variety works to the book’s advantage: I envision it as accessible, and even attractive, to a variety of people. The contributors are men and women and of a wide range of ages and from around the world. Jeannie did a wonderful job curating this collection.

If anything my only critique is that the brevity of the stories often left me wanting more. This says more about me, than it does about any shortcoming of the project or the writers, and certainly I understand that Jeannie needed to put a container around the writing. The story of “how to we change, and how did yoga do it?” is a remarkably complex one with a slow story-line that often unfolds over years and decades. It’s a difficult tale to even contemplate telling, and the skill of the writer must be expert level to make it understandable and compelling. This, I think, is what makes Stephen Cope’s writing so very remarkable, and as an understudy and apprentice to him, I certainly hope that we can look forward to more in-depth, detailed projects from Jeannie Page.

“In Beauty”–what does it mean?

“In Beauty”–what does it mean?

tree of GodIf you’re on my mailing list, you will know that I ordinarily sign off with the phrase “in Beauty.” Every time I do, I think I should really explain what I mean by that.

Beauty itself is such a loaded term of valuation in our society. Standards of beauty may lead a person to feel good about themselves, or to feel bad. People who are attractive tend to be rewarded for it in areas that are completely unrelated, like a job, promotion, or the acceptance of other people. We mistake beauty for things like good-ness, competency, merit.

I think that it is no shocking thing to say that we do not live in a meritocracy. The lottery of birth places many people at an advantage, while others start way behind the starting gun.

So when the word beauty gets used in other ways, it is hard to shake its previous associations.

Personally, I use it in three contexts. First, when I sign off my emails. Second, when I remark or encourage my yoga students. Yes, I might be heard saying “beautiful!” in response to what I see them do in class. It is not a platitude. It means something specific, which is too hard to explain in the context of a yoga class where time and words get used up all too quickly. And the third context is personal, private use and acknowledgment of Beauty, in silence, in my mind.

When I sign off “in Beauty” it is referring to the Native American medicine paradigm of Beauty. My teacher, Ana Forrest has a whole article on the meaning of Walk in Beauty, and I’ll use her words here: “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!”

So, when I sign off that way, it is a prayer of hope, for myself, and for you, that we all find our way in life, that we find our Beauty way.

Personally, when I see a thing of Beauty, I see it filled with Good Medicine and also with Spirit.

Building on this, when I say to my students, Beautiful! it’s in response to my perception of those Good Medicine and Spirit signs. They are breathing well, and I can hear it, and feel it. The energy in the room feels pillowy and soft, but supportive. And then, I can SEE how when they (you!) apply their breath and attention in a specific way in the asana they shine up.

Ana would call it “sparkle” I think, like the way sun dances on water. That’s sparkle. I don’t see sparkle. I see shine and luminosity. And to be able to see that shine, to see the life force running along their limbs—Oh!—it almost enough to take my breath away. Because that’s Spirit, dare I say—that’s God!—and to perceive it in the bodies of other people…? Well, it is, in the truest sense…beautiful. Bodies filled with Spirit are Good Medicine to the people who occupy those bodies. And for the lucky person who gets to witness it…well I’d have to say it is one of the great privileges of what I do. It is Good Medicine for my body and Spirit too, just to be able to really see.

Last week I had an instance of Beauty when working with a new private client. All his attention was running through the body in a Beauty way. And in my mind, I had a personal moment of reverence, awe, and admiration, because to speak it out loud would have been to break it. Sometimes Spirit is best acknowledged through silence.

So with these explanations in place, to you I say: Walk in Beauty.

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3 Ways to Turbo Charge Your Affirmations

3 Ways to Turbo Charge Your Affirmations

bali sky shipI’ve always been suspicious of affirmations. They sound like New Age Big Brother, or the kinds of lies that the computer in 2001 tells just before he kills you.

That said, it is true—your thoughts are powerful, and where you put your attention, things will grow. In fact it is a law of creation: Your thoughts beget your speech. Your speech creates your behaviors. Your behavior determines your destiny.

But, I’ve found that in order to really get affirmations to be effective, you have to do these three things.

  1. Make them Yourself. Do NOT adopt the ideas or positive candy-thoughts of other people. Why? Because affirmations must be anchored in something real and truthful. Telling yourself repeatedly things like “Today, I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy” (recommended by Dr. Carmen Herra) when it’s clearly a LIE will only serve to create cognitive dissonance, which will turn your thoughts more and more to the fact that you are lying to yourself.
  1. Ground them in Truth. Taking the above example, what would be more useful is something like this: “It is true that today I am experiencing sadness and I’m feeling tired. But I have a CHOICE about how to react to these sensations. I will look deeply into WHY I’m sad and tired, and seek to resolve these experiences as their root.”
  1. Connect them with Movement: When you have thoughts, they don’t live only in your head. Other parts of you are capable of “thinking”—your guts are a great example. Your heart feels and thinks too. Bringing your affirmations into a physical practice—yoga is my preferred method, but you might like running or swimming or dancing—this will help to communicate with ALL parts of your being. When you engage your WHOLE body—not just your brain—it magnifies the power of your thinking.

Try these tips, and then share in the comment section how they work for you!

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Yoga and Body Image Book Review

Yoga and Body ImageI love to read. Every once and awhile I’m asked to read and review books. Here’s my review of the book, Yoga and Body Image.

Body image is the new hot topic, and many yogis who previously showed no interest in it at all are leaping for the limelight. Lift the lid and you’ll quickly discover that body image issues are more complex than you might think. I discovered this myself as I tried to articulate my own experience and began developing useful tools for others’ recovery. At any turn you might find yourself ensnared with complications from eating disorders, pressures from the media, physical disabilities, or gender and sexuality, just to name a few thorny accomplices to body image negativity.

Few if any of those yogis who have rebranded as “body image positive” have the scope of perspective or depth of inquiry contribute intelligently to the conversation. This is why it’s such a relief to see someone who has decades in the field as a yogi, a critical thinker, a visionary, and an academe spearhead this topic with such organization and insight. Melanie Klein is the lead voice on this project, and she partners with Anna Guest-Jelley (founder of Curvy Yoga) to bring a curated collection of essays about body image into one volume.

The table of contents alone promises an even-handed, eyes-wide-open look at the ways that body image cuts across many different topics.

Part One contains general articles about “finding home” in the body, and making it a safe place to inhabit. Part Two addresses being on the “margins” of yoga: an addict, a black woman, having cerebral palsy, living with HIV/AIDS, and being a middle aged yogi. Part Three covers yoga and the media with essays on the beauty standard, power and privilege, and the pressures of the entertainment industry. Part Four covers yoga and parenting, from the experience of being a pregnant yogi, to teaching children yoga. Finally, Part Five delves into gender and sexuality, with essays about masculinity, growing up Puerto Rican and the sexual stereotypes attached to certain ethnic groups, being male and “disabled” and how that affects a person’s sense of gender identity, and being an athletic lesbian.

In its sum, the volume very thoroughly examines the myriad of ways that body image challenges show up hand-in-hand with other topics. It never stands alone.

My own body image challenges stand at the intersection of my understanding of “femininity,” sexuality, eating disorders, and media. So, it was with an interested eye that I read those contributions.

Each of the essays is a personal account of the author’s relationship with body image and specifically how they have found solace and healing in the practice of yoga, if not always within the “yoga community” itself.

In her assay “Yoga is More than Just Workout” Dr. Sara Gottfried contributes a chapter weaving her own life experience with her vast medical knowledge of the woman’s body. She names a truth: that “while most of us don’t have a diagnosable ‘eating disorder’ far too many people suffer from a distorted body image. For lack of a scientific name, I like to call it Fear of Fatness” (p. 25). She goes on to link this to a bigger personal problem, one that yoga can address: her own tenuous connection to a deeper spiritual core. It’s far easier to focus on the externalities of the body than to do the deep work on one’s inner self.

Dr. Melody Moore builds on this theme in “Too Much is Not Enough” delving into the correlation between body image, eating disorders and the capacity to feel. Anorexia, she writes, is a way to starve out of feeling. People who binge eating, or bulimics, eat to soothe themselves through what they think that cannot tolerate to feel. “Yoga is a tool by which we can develop the capacity to sit with and through discomfort” (p. 49) and eventually handle our own inner selves with measure and maturity.

In “Yoga from the Margins” Teo Drake writes with clarity about the experience of being a trans person in yoga class. “Every time I enter a mainstream US yoga studio, I feel barraged by an emphasis on pretty spaces and pretty clothes and pretty bodies…When I’ve approached studios about catering classes and spaces to queer and trans folks, I’ve had to hear ‘Everyone’s welcome! We don’t need a separate class for queer or trans people!’ Yet I can’t even get into my yoga clothes safely to make it to class” (p. 97).

Chief among my quibbles with the yoginis who have been leaping for the body image limelight, is that they seem completely unaware of the ways that they themselves have contributed to the beautification of yoga as a practice, in the very way that make Teo Drake feel in danger in a yoga studio.

I am not saying that it is not O.K. to be beautiful. Yoga has a sweet way of shining up your light, increasing innate beauty and radiance.

What I am saying is that it is important to have a perspective of your own beauty, and how much of it is inherited, and how much of it is the product of your own hard work on the mat, and how the sum total of these things might make other people feel.

I am aware that I was blessed with good genes. My beauty is in part the product of my biology. Other aspects of it are from my own work on my inner self and my body. What I look like makes certain people more comfortable, and others more uncomfortable. As a yoga teacher, I believe that it is my responsibility to understand these dynamics.

In her essay “Power, Privilege, and the Beauty Myth,” Seane Corn examines the ways that she, herself, has contributed to the beautification of yoga. This is a must-read contribution, for her bird’s eye view of her career development, and her own acknowledgement that the way she looked had much to do with it. Corn realized that she received opportunities that other, more talented teachers, would not be awarded, because they didn’t look the part. Yet, she did something admirable: she turned her position of privilege—awarded to her thanks to her societally approved looks—into a platform for leveling the playing field.

As if her admissions weren’t enough, Corn takes a step the “new” faces of yoga and body image have not paused to do in their race for “the next thing.” She apologizes. Corn writes, “I apologize for the ways I perpetuated the myth that beauty is a certain size, shape, and color.”

Thank you. Apology accepted. Respect.

In another fascinating inside look at privilege, and the cost of attaining it in the music industry, Alanis Morissette speaks with editor/contributor Melanie Klein in an interview about the toll the music industry took on her sense of self, and the extreme controlling environment: “The unsolicited feedback about my weight and food intake severely impacted my self-esteem and my relationship with food…Every version of hunger ever known to humankind came up for me…Not only did I enter a state of anxiety, but my response was to eat alone and secretively, by the light of the fridge at four in the morning—only to be admonished for it the next day” (p. 161).

Whenever a person wishes for fame, it’s circumspect to bear in mind the personal cost. Morissette’s story gives a little peek into the price she paid.

In a story of beauty, she goes on to tell how her brother helped her to find her way to a healing practice of yoga.

One of the few other academes to contribute to the volume is PhD candidate Chelsea Jackson, who writes on the historical representations of black women in the United States, and the impact it has on the psyche of the people portrayed:

“Aside from the hyper sexualized images that objectify black women, we have also been presented as people who are not in control of our own emotions and usually resort to aggressive attitudes or physical lash-outs when confronted by stress or trauma. Not only does this incomplete narrative illustrate a story that is imbalanced, but it also begins to construct an illusion that is our only reality. Images become internalized, thus creating our reality based in incompleteness” (p. 155)

Ms. Jackson is talking specifically about black women, but her observation about fractured representations extends to all of yoga culture. When the media narrows in on representations only of thin, young, white women, it not only disfigures white women’s sense of self, it also disfigures that of everyone who stands outside a very small circle of inclusion.

She relates the historical representations of black women to current experiences in the world of yoga: “I regularly post photos and videos of myself moving through yoga postures on various social media platforms, and I often receive comments on how impressive my ‘stripper moves’ are from both men and women” (p. 156).

These sorts of comments are shockingly inappropriate, particularly in the context of yoga. My own body has been the battleground of these sorts of wars, but Jackson’s account and academic analysis suggests that black women experience a certain tone of sexual commentary that women of other skin-types do not.

Each essay has so much to contribute to this conversation; I could go on, and on. And this is just the point of bringing all these voices “under one roof”—no one voice can be the voice of yoga and body image. The topic is just too huge. And when we come at it from only one angle—eating disorders, blackness, or gender—we actually do a disservice to the topic itself, and disengage people who could find healing in the conversation.

This volume is a tremendous contribution to the literature on body image, and in yoga. It is an incredible gift to our ever-evolving yoga community, a community that increasingly must fight to hold up the ideals of non-violence and inclusion in ever-more complicated ways as our yoga world grows and becomes commoditized.

In short, Yoga and Body Image is a “must read.”

2014 in Review & Lessons for Ease in 2015

2014 in Review & Lessons for Ease in 2015

Inhale 2015. Exhale 2014I’m feeling humbled by 2014, so much so that I’m hesitant to proclaim anything bold for 2015.

In fact, this may be the big lesson from 2014–to expect nothing.

Here are my top hard-learned lessons from 2014. I hope they will bring us ease!

1. Growth and change will come mostly only from necessity and the force of circumstance.

I’m pretty self-motivated and actualized, but there were steps and leaps even I hesitated around taking because, well, I didn’t really HAVE to. Then, circumstance kicked my ass and she forced change upon me.  How impolite.

A coach of mine always asks WHY you want what you want–what for, how will it change your life? There needs to be a pull (or push) for growth, in order for it to happen. It’s all too easy to just stay the same, right?

So as you think about the changes you want for 2015, consider the WHY of it and focus on that. Then the change will seem all the more important.

And if it’s not that compelling, you probably won’t change. Until life forces your hand.

2. Falling in love is the easy part–learning to keep your loved one is where the magic (and hard work!!!) begins.

Love will certainly make you do all kinds of things that you never thought, or planned, or anticipated doing.

As my beloved says, love is a good reason to try.

To try what, you might ask? To grow, to be a better person, to be bigger of heart.

Often I found myself feeling the opposite: small, hard, angry. And one thing that helped me often was the question: What would love do?

Would love respond in a way preoccupied with its own interests?


Would love not try to listen, try to understand, focus on the beloved even in a moment of strife?

Absolutely. Especially then.

Try using that question as a guidepost when in a difficult spot with your beloved: what would love do?

3. People can be full of fear, malice, and selfishness. Be open, kind, generous any way.

This year has been full of all kinds of heartbreaks for black people in our country. While my sorrows pale in comparison, personally, I’ve been trod on a little bit too.

But, another lesson I learned from my beloved, is not to let those experiences harden you, or change your true nature. Continue to be kind. Continue to be generous. Continue to find ways to open your heart. Why on earth would you allow horrible people make YOU horrible too?

Finally, like I stated at the beginning, the biggest lesson of 2014 was (IS!) to learn to let go.

As Lao Tzu says in Tao #9: this is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back.

If you win, great. If you lose, great.

Do your work. Then let go. Breathe and smile.

I must remind myself of this, continually.

Let the lessons of 2014 prepare us for all that 2015 will bring. Many blessings for you in 2015. May she be a kind, generous, and forgiving year.