What does yoga have to say about freedom?

What does yoga have to say about freedom?

Erica_9894_FINALWhen I came to yoga, I was suffering. Quite literally. I experience migraine headaches, and had heard that yoga could reduce stress, and therefore reduce my migraines.

Many people come to yoga, to free themselves from physical suffering. I was one of them.

Yoga is described as the path of liberation. If you are seeking to become liberated, the question is, from what?

The overarching answer, says yoga, is suffering.

People suffer in all kinds of ways. They suffer most obviously from physical pain, like back pain. Carpal tunnel. Migraines. Acid reflux.

Physical suffering is just the first layer.

Dive underneath that, and you’ll locate the next layer of suffering: Emotional. These things manifest most prominently as depression and anxiety. Depression is described as melancholy about the past. Anxiety is fear over the future. Both keep us away from the moment that can actually change us: now.

Yoga teaches that all kinds of emotional suffering arises from your perceptions, which are clouded by ego, attachment, refusal, and fear. This was before it was known that emotions can also be modulated through our internal chemical environment.

As I practiced more, my physical suffering changed, and through it I could see that much of it was also affected by my emotional suffering.

This realization alone is a kind of liberation, which leads to an increasing experience of freedom.

In retrospect I realized one of the very first fundamental kinds of freedom is the ability to understand yourself, and your situation.

This brings us to the third layer of suffering: the kind generated by our thoughts. And, our thoughts are mostly dictated by our perceptions. Often, it is the way that we perceive things that causes our suffering.

This is true. But.

Where I think yoga falls short for us, sometimes, because our teachers haven’t reached for real teachings, is in how these ideas and philosophies were developed for ascetics, not for householders. Not for modern people who really are actually, legitimately trapped in circumstances that limit their freedom.

The freedom that yogis taught about was really intended for people of a certain caste. It wasn’t for everyone.

As a woman committed to humanism, free thinking, writing, and expression for all, I want to know how yoga can teach me about soci-economic freedom. Racial injustice. Extricating ourselves from the the kinds of religious,sexual, and reproductive confinements that we see circling in around us.

How will yogis define freedom now? What kind of liberation can we offer people whose actual civil liberties are being threatened and taken away?

Freedom is the ability to change your circumstances—internal and external. No one can ever rob you of your internal freedom, its true. But, it’s sure nice not to have to console yourself with that fact in the face of human rights atrocities.

Suffering also arises from entrapment in binaries. When you speak of freedom, it immediately introduces the opposite. There is only ONE way for freedom to truly exist: for everyone to be free. Which would mean that no one would have any knowledge of freedom, or its opposite.

Can you imagine a world where everyone experiences freedom, and the people—and all living beings—are so immersed in freedom, just swimming in it, breathing it, that they don’t even know what it is? Or that it exists?

So what does this have to do with the picture I posted? I was asked recently “what does freedom LOOK like?” because, ya know, we live in this digital, visual, social media world. I posted this picture, because, sidebends feel like freedom to me. They were one of the first experiences of freedom I had, in my body.

And yet.

A sidebend will NEVER substitute for things like reproductive rights, the right to earn the same wage for the same work, the right to vote free of harassment or intimidation, the right to love who you want, have sex with who you want, marry who you want, worship the god you want, die when and how you want. These things can only be written about, talked about, argued about, debated. But. In the end, we must remember this: for you to be truly free, ALL beings must be free. Everywhere. Always.

What does it mean to “Adore Your Body?”

What does it mean to “Adore Your Body?”

Screen-shot-2014-01-29-at-10-1.39.03-PM-960x474A couple of years ago I crafted a Signature System to help men and women get over their body image challenges. I named it “Adore Your Body.”

I was looking for some words that were “gender neutral” but still encompassed the mission. For me, the word “love” is over-used, misunderstood, and also has some sexual connotations. I didn’t want people to think the program is about masturbation! And yet, I know that some recoiled from the title. For many, to adore your body is a far stretch, already out of reach. For more people than you might think the starting point was “I hate my body”—it was for me!—and from that low, low point a step up would be, well, to hate it just a little less. Maybe, “loathe,” or “despise,” or even “tolerate” would be a really great place to move into!

When I crafted the course title, the body positive movement was just gaining steam. Since that time in 2013, the movement seems to have plateaued a bit: there’s far less writing on the topic, and I think perhaps thanks to Tess Holiday attention has pivoted to acceptance of fat bodies, which is in-and-of-itself a good thing! In the intervening couple of years, there was a lot of writing that I think transformed the project of bolstering your body confidence into yet another female social obligation, one where, if you fell short, it was just yet another task to fail. Bummer. In response to that new social pressure, some people decided to opt out. Why should I have to love my body? They asked? Isn’t it enough just to call a truce?

Yes it can be, and to my point, reaching a neutral place with your body is a terrific place that falls along this spectrum that I’m talking about, where HATE lies at one end, and well, I’m proposing that “adore” lies at the other.

Another critique of the movement was around the project of “body improvement.” So, if you want to improve your body, is that necessarily a form of body hatred, or could it possibly be another form of body love? My answer: it all depends on the intent behind the action. And, the only person who can really be honest about that is YOU. So you want to loose weight because you enjoy the project of working out, eating well, being at the gym, and having measurable results? Cool! But, I ask you this: would you be able to feel good about yourself if you were unable to do all those things? Would you be cool with an extra 10 pounds? Because if you can’t, then you’re probably not really adoring your body.

Why? Here’s the thing. In my mind “adoring” is an unconditional kind of gig. As best as fallible humans can pull of “unconditional.” “Adoring” means, I respect and honor you through thick and thin, through good times, and bad, though health and illness. You don’t have to do anything, achieve anything to be awarded my love. It is enough that you ARE, and for that I adore you.

Adoring is not the kind of emotion that says: I only approve of you IF you look a certain way, behave a certain way, achieve certain things, HAVE certain things. Those are the hallmarks of a conditional kind of love. That is not “adoring.” And, I believe, that is not even love. It is a cage.

O.K. that’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but, what does adoring look like in practice? When I slam up against all the difficulty and messiness of life: then what???

I have ideas for you, and some of them have to do with how do you practice yoga, because on the mat is the place where I began to unravel my own body hatred. If you don’t practice yoga yet reach out to me, and I’ll help you find a good teacher to work with. It’s important that you get some guidance in this department, because not all yoga instructors are trained around how to promote body positivity in the classroom.

If your body is injured, ill, or tired, respond to that accordingly. The demands of our daily lives often seem to take precedence over, well, everything, including the body that houses all other parts of us. Over centuries, we have come to treat the body like it is a machine, but it is not. The body is a mysterious, complex, and intelligent organism. What would it feel like to treat it with that kind of due respect?

Yoga portraits at JR Studio on December 12, 2015 in NYC. (Photo by Ray Tamarra)
Lounge Lunge is like my favorite pose ever. (Photo by Ray Tamarra)

Here are a few thoughts:

If you’re injured and continuing your yoga practice, you need to modify the postures. If you’re not sure how, find a skilled instructor who can help you figure out what to do in the poses that threaten your injury.

If you are sick (like a cold, or a headache, or something like that): don’t go to work! Don’t “push through.” Rest. If you are tired, notice that, and adjust your routine accordingly. Can you go to sleep earlier? Can you catch a 20-minute nap? Could you put your legs up the wall at your office?

The ways that we are cruel to our bodies begin here with small, daily occurrences. And, we have an opportunity to alter that relationship, every day, through small behavior adjustments.

If you gain some weight. Wait. Don’t do anything. Often people gain weight and freak out. They think it’s a bad thing to gain weight. And why wouldn’t they? Everything about our society tells us that to be thin is to be virtuous and to be fat is to be reviled. But, I ask you, why do you buy into this? Have you really thought it through? Where did this construct come from? How does it fit into a historical context? What is the function of this ideology? There was a time when being thin was unattractive and being fat was IT. These ideals as not inherently “good” or “bad.” We have decided that they are. And we can “un-decide.”

So, if you gain three pounds or five, or twenty, refrain from:

  • Putting yourself on a diet, cleanse, juice fast
  • Doubling down on your exercise regime
  • Thinking doomsday thoughts

Instead, get curious about what your body is doing, and why. Is it responding to the season? Is it building new hair, bones, or fingernails? When your body puts on some pounds, its not “doing it to you.” It has its own agenda, which you mostly know nothing about. So, get curious. Curiosity is part of “adoring.”

Watch the way you talk about your body. Watch the way you THINK about other people’s bodies.

Very often we think and say derogatory things about our bodies. There are so very many reasons that we do this. I’m not gonna get into it. I’ve got one thing to say: STOP IT.

Often we think ill thoughts about other people: Why did she think wearing that was O.K.? Fashion FAIL! Looks like she’s put on a few pounds. Getting wrinkles! She’s aged badly…

Take your pick of cruel thoughts. But here’s the deal: those are fears about yourself that you have projected onto other people. So, instead of doing a silent mental laceration of another human being, shift into a place of curiosity and compassion. Try these thoughts instead:

Wow, what an original outfit! I wonder what made her think to put those things together today. Or, maybe she was just down to the very last clean items. Haha! I know what that feels like!

 She’s got such a cute look: no matter whether she’s a little thinner or a little heavier, I just adore everything about her.

Wrinkles are so great. They show a life-line on the face. Hopefully there’s a lot of laughs there! I hope that the past few years haven’t been too hard on her…Maybe I should check in…

A word or twelve about food: We live in a “diet culture.” What does that mean, you ask? It means that in our society, dieting is considered compulsory and a sign of virtue, especially for women. Here’s what I’ve got to say about that. No one knows better than your body does what it needs to eat. The entire process of undoing ideas of “I should eat this” or “I shouldn’t eat that” can take many years. But in the end, no book, no other human or “authority figure” can figure out for you what you need to eat. It’s a private and intimate conversation between you and your body. And, believe me, your body WANTS to eat nutritious, yummy food! So, consider “adoring” to include going on a quest to find out what your body really wants, when, and how much. No one likes to be starved. Don’t do it. Don’t do it ever again.

Finally, be sweet, and gentle, and generous with touch. When you touch your own body—if you pay attention carefully—you might be surprised to discover that you poke, prod, pinch, twist, scratch. Most of these are probably not experiences that a person would submit to as a form of receiving love. Begin the process of building an adoring relationship with your body by touching it in ways that it responds to favorably. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be kind. These are ideals that can go along with “adoring.”

Start with the practices. And, if you’d like to go deeper, hop on my mailing list at www.ericamather.com, and you’ll hear all the news, including when I roll out my next body confidence coaching program. I hope to have to opportunity to work with you! I’m passionate about this project, and view it as a lifelong adventure, building a positive relationship with the body so that you can stop wasting time in the energy drain of body hatred and instead use your life for your own good, and for the good of everyone around you. I hope to hear from you soon!

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
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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…

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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.)

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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.