So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays! I can’t even count the tips.

So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays! I can’t even count the tips.

A meal that was not fraught. What a delight. But YEAH, that’s a lot of prawn.

There are a few times of the year when our body image anxieties reach a high pitch, and the holidays is one of them.

Why? A few weighty reasons.

  1. You’re gonna see people you haven’t seen in a while, and they are gonna see you. People may have changed! (Gasp!) How will everyone react?!
  2. Food, food, so much food. And, booze. And dessert. So much: TOO MUCH!
  3. Gossip. People talking about how other people look, behind their backs, usually not in a very nice way.

Let’s take a look at each of these in succession.

How we look. It’s beyond natural to want to really make a good impression on friends and family that you’ve not seen in a long time. Perhaps you’ve gained some weight (not that I personally think that it a problem, but other people seem to still think it is). Perhaps you’ve been sick, and it shows (again–cause for compassion, not for judgement). You know you’re not at your physical best. And you worry, because, not only does that dent your self esteem when you’re already feeling down, but now on top of that, you’ve forced into a situation where you’re worried about what other people will think, and what they will say–to your face–and what they will say behind your back. It sucks.

Here are some suggestions.

IN PREPARATION:

Black gloves and an updo. Oh, yes. Go to great lengths if you must. Lessons learned from Lady Gaga.
  • Dress your best. Take the time to find something to wear that you feel really good about, shopping, borrowing. Make it fun. In-character. Fashionable. Get a sympathetic friend to help you out, if you HATE figuring out what to wear alone. Be relentless in your determination to make the holidays feel good to you, so you emerge victorious, at least knowing that you took the best care of yourself.
  • Wear a smile. You ALWAYS are well-dressed when you do.
  • Rehearse gracious, de-escalating responses to incendiary remarks, like the following:
    • “It looks like you’ve gained weight!” Haha! Maybe!–My body does what it does. By the way: You look wonderful! I love you so much, and I’m so happy to see you. What is something really terrific that has happened to you recently? 
    • “You look so great! Have you lost weight?” I’m not sure! I don’t weigh myself. I really try to not get caught up in that: it makes me crazy and ends up taking up so much of my mental space, space that I want to spend thinking about truly important things. Speaking of really important things, how is your (fill in the blank, choose something you know is really important to that person in their life) going? 

 

AT THE EVENT:

  • Take deep breaths, and feel free to spend some time alone in the bathroom to regroup.
  • Bring your compassion for yourself along. If someone says something less than kind, breathe, smile, say something that shows your own self-compassion, and encourages that in them, even complimenting them as a retort. Use your rehearsed responses. Trust yourself to be your own advocate, and to do so in a way that is gracious, and instructive, even if the people you are talking to don’t or can’t understand.
I wish all bathrooms had such helpful reminders. This is a message in the bathroom at the Blue Hills Monastery in Upstate New York.

How other people look. Basic rule: it is none of your business. If you don’t have something kind or gracious to say, then you best not say it! There is no real reason to comment on another’s appearance. You can focus on their person. After all, the body is just an aspect of the person. Say something honest, about them. Say: I love you, and I’m so happy to see you! Or if that isn’t honest: It’s been so long! We have so much to catch up on. Tell me, what has been the highlight of the last year for you? 

FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. SO MUCH FOOD! 

If part of your body image anxieties revolve around food (how could they not??!) make an honest assessment of where you are with this issue, and then make a plan.

THE PLAN. Here’s my general plan. It might not work for you, we are different people with different histories and growth trajectories, but I offer mine as a sort of guidepost. Eat “normally.” Meaning: don’t NOT eat because there’s going to me SO MUCH FOOD at dinner. No, no. That suggests a restrict/binge cycle. Have breakfast. Have lunch. Then: eat “normal” portions at dinner. Not bird portions. Not THREE helpings. Like, one plate. There will be leftovers. Plan on enjoying those in the days ahead. Or not. There will be another scrumptious meal in your near future.

THE ENERGETICS. Here’s something interesting I learned from my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest. Our energetic anatomy and our physical anatomy overlap. So, if the part of you that is busy taking in conversation, or energy from another person, the corresponding physical apparatus will be partially or fully offline. At these parties, there are often many people, and the energetic input is like a flood. Because of that, it makes it even harder for us to connect to the feelings of our actual stomach. When I can’t detect my stomach, I make the decision not to eat too much, because I can’t feel what’s happening. This is the ONLY reason I will personally accept for not eating much at such events. Often people bombard their stomachs with too much food, in order to ground, or in order to get pulled back into the reality of the situation, or to try to feel something. Pay close attention. Take a break, in the bathroom to regroup, if you loose the capability to pay attention.

THE SOCIAL ANXIETY. Recently, I’ve noticed that I eat too fast when I’m experiencing an energetic situation that I feel uncomfortable with. It’s like, somewhere deep inside I’m thinking “when the meal is over, I can leave!” because that’s the way it worked as a kid. When the plate was clean, then I might be excused from the table. I don’t like the conversation: I eat fast. I’m tired: I eat fast. I JUST WANT TO GET AWAY! GAH! Oh, my. This is very disconnected patterning.

This past Thanksgiving I commented on the “speed eating” phenomenon to my cousin, and she laughed saying at a friend’s dinner, they clocked it at fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Ya spent all day cooking, and sit down to eat for FIFTEEN MINUTES?! Did anyone even CHEW?!

Tips to slow down:

  • Take one bite.
  • Put down your cutlery.
  • Chew.
  • Taste.
  • Swallow.
  • Taste.
  • Breathe.
  • Taste your food.
  • Consider how fast you want to take the next bite. Or if you even want to. Sometimes the food is not as tasty as you anticipated. You don’t have to finish it if you’re not actually enjoying it! But, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t actually KNOW if you’re enjoying it or not…
  • How much of your attention is on enjoying your food? How much of it is one the conversation? Can you pay attention to both? I have a hard time with that, actually…

Recognizing your anxieties and handling them head-on is an advanced, ADULT skill. Mostly we’ve been taught to ignore/deflect/numb, and at the holidays, we are confronted uncomfortably with so many of our boogeymen. Uncomfortable, fraught relationships with people who are unkind or judgmental. Our own unkind thoughts about other people. People’s assessments of us, and ours of them. Good grief. Of course I just want to eat fast and go home! It’s fucking exhausting! Adulting is hard. But, we can do it!

Before I got better at really noticing that large groups of people–not even necessarily family, just PEOPLE!–make me uncomfortable, I would just position myself by the cheese plate, and eat the whole thing. The only people I ended up talking to were other people who loved cheese. So, they were already pre-approved. Haha.

Before I got good at noticing that I was eating away my loneliness and my desire for other, safe, human contact, I would eat entire cheesecakes in solitude, by myself. So huge was my appetite and its need to be filled. The problem seemed so intractable, it was easier just to solve with food. At least cheesecake is reliable. And safe.

The trouble with holidays, is the seem to be referendums on our entire life for the past year. And, often, when we’re not working on ourselves, they catch us by surprise. Even if we ARE working on ourselves, and somehow feel like we’ve fallen short of our goals (always a setup for disappointment…try “setting intents” instead), they will catch us by surprise as we administer a hearty dose of flagellation.

The holidays don’t have to be a referendum. It’s just a yearly blip on the calendar. We can choose to cruise through them as such.

Or–and I’m not necessarily advocating this approach–you can use them as a yearly check-in on how you’re growing, changing, becoming more resilient. I started to know that I was getting better at it all when I could sit quietly with a glass of water and talk to people and “sort of” enjoy myself. No more cheese plate stakeouts. Huzzah!

But that progress relied on a steady, year-in-year-out self-study and examination using the tools of yoga and therapy. If you don’t have some tools, or support in place, the holidays will surely be as painful as they were last year. I think that’s a shame, and wouldn’t want that for you!

Which is why I put together a worksheet for you, to help you get started making a better relationship with your body. I call it The 5 Adoring Core Competencies. CLICK HERE to get your free copy! 

NEXT POINT.

The Gossip. UGH. We’ve all experienced it. You go into the kitchen, innocently looking for a glass of water, and there are your (fill in the blank relatives) talking about another relative. WHAT A DRAG.

“Did you see what she was wearing…?”

“Did you see how much she ate…?”

Sometimes, sometimes, people are talking about another out of true concern. But–does the talk really help them? Probably not.

A gentle reminder, again from the Blue Hills Monastery bathroom. I’m gonna start putting things like this in bathrooms. Positive vandalism! One of my favorite passtimes…

When I hear these sorts of conversations, or am involved personally in these conversations, what I’m feeling for is the place of HELP for the person. If it isn’t there, then I start to wonder what purpose this conversation is actually serving. Is it making the participants feel better about themselves by comparison? Is it creating a point of bonding for the people in the conversation, like they have something to concern themselves about together? Both of these are not good reasons to gossip, but they also show a deficit in social skills, specifically how to connect without doing it on the back of, or at the expense of others. This moment can be a teaching opportunity. A chance to elevate the awareness and basic decency in the world.

If the people try to drag me into the conversation, the only way I will get involved is if they can answer these questions: Is our conversation actually helping the situation? Does the person in question desire help in this regard? If the answer is NO to both, then the conversation is a waste of time, and I would say as much. 

Gossip does nothing but harm. 

HERE ARE SOME BASIC TIPS:

  • Pull your energy back into the present moment, with the people present
  • Insist on talking about only the people present in the room: their lives, their concerns 
  • If you are talking about another person, make sure it is used to help you have insights into your own life and experiences
  • Make it part of your ethics to only speak well of people when they are not around, particularly if they have done nothing to harm you personally
  • Combat gossip by countering with kind, generous, compassionate statements. Insist that you do not know they entire story as to why a person speaks or behaves the way they do. Never rob another person of their autonomy. Make space for them to speak for themselves.

OK. Good luck, soldiers of love! Go forth, and spread good cheer! And, remember, it’s O.K. to make holidays that YOU love, and feel good about. You don’t have to spend them with people who make you uncomfortable about yourself. In fact, that might be the healthiest thing you could choose for yourself, and your sweet, tender body.

Love to you!

Erica

 

Practicing Grace

Practicing Grace

When I started with this self-help, get better, try-to-be-less-crazy stuff, I had the impression that if I did it really, really well, my life would not only be better, but more importantly, much easier. 

Have you heard this somewhere along the way: that if you “get it right” your life will be easeful? More graceful?

I’ll wager a nickel you’ve gotten that message once or twice from the self-help establishment…

But–! Hold up now. In the Biblical sense, being endowed with God’s grace (call it what you will…Spirit, Higher Power…but, this grace idea is uniquely Judeo-Christian, I think, so not sure the mixed metaphors work here…) is inherently “underserved.” Meaning, anyone, anywhere, of any socio-economic condition, skin-color, or even gender are eligible for the grace lottery. Like being touched with a magic wand: Ping!!! Now you are graced! 

Here’s a definition: Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

More confounding yet, maybe…maybe even people who behave badly could experience grace?

Still, it’s very hard to stop believing that there is some corollary between being “graced by God,” meaning “blessed,” or somehow kissed by angels, and being…good. This is very hard for me to wrap my head around, perhaps because humans have defiled the idea of grace. But, it really seems like somehow we’ve made modern grace about BEING good, BEING better than others, BEING more deserving. 

Grace, of course, has other meanings too. It is associated with beauty of movement. Also, with good manners, as in “being a gracious host” or “having a gracious home.” The word “grace” also names The Graces of Greek Mythology, also known of as the Three Charities. They are Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrysyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). In general, things that are bright, and good, and make people feel positive about themselves, and hopefully, help other people feel amazing about themselves too.

Some of these gracious blessings, come with talent and a natural-endowment. Like having a skill in the arts, or in sports. Others, can be cultivated, like good manners, or diplomacy. And, here I think, is the truly important idea about grace, and perhaps where we missed a message: there’s a difference between inherent goodness, and earned goodness. People can ALWAYS work to become better versions of themselves, and, in fact, that is what a spiritual or contemplative life is about. Growing. Evolving. Attaining a higher state of consciousness. Doing the work to get there.

So which camp do you align yourself with? The grace-will-fall-into-my-lap-even-if-I-do-nothing camp, or the maybe-I-can-create-the-circumstances-for-this-to-happen camp?

Personally, I like a both-AND approach. Like the Tao #9 says: This is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back. 

If you were to WORK to practice Grace, to cultivate the conditions to invite grace into your life, what would that look like?

I relate almost everything to my yoga practice. Along the way, in my Forrest Yoga training I was exposed to the writing of Caroline Myss. She authored a book called Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond Bounds of Reason. In it, she explores what she names The 7 Graces, which stand in opposition to their shadows, The 7 Dark Passions (which are the 7 deadly sins, renamed).

The 7 Graces are, in Myss’ world: Reverence, Piety, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Knowledge, and Wisdom.

Enticing concepts, indeed. I’ve found, as an extreme thinker, that shiny concepts attract me but ultimately leave me feeling undernourished, like empty calories. What I cherish about my yoga practice–and especially my Forrest Yoga practice–is the way that we weave concepts into embodied experience.

An embodied experience is one where concepts are woven into a corporeal adventure, so that you understand said concept not just with your mind, but with all of yourself, and above all, your body. The expression “I could feel it in my bones,” or “I knew it in my guts” refers to that knowledge that comes through understanding something in your mind as it lives in the rest of you. See, your mind isn’t just stuck in your brain. It lives in ALL of your body.

Writing about these grace, and embodiment, is just one way to bring your attention to their currency.  But, I believe firmly that our lives are for experience, and experience happens through living in your body. Therefore, my teachings are best experienced in person, where our bodies can occupy the same space.

Once a year, I lead a retreat called Practice Grace, Receive Gratitude, in partnership with my teaching buddy Benjamin Sears of Lux Yoga. All the words in the world will never encapsulate the teaching, learning, and transformation that occurs at this retreat. If these concepts–grace and gratitude–are part of your spiritual and transformational life, definitely bookmark us and this retreat. People come back annually to experience it, and deepen and enrich their relationship to themselves, with and through Grace.

This is the way of Heaven. Do your work. Then quietly step back.

Practice Grace. Feel the Joy of being alive. Feel Grateful. Then–all things everywhere will feel like Grace to you.

Big love,

Erica

 

 

 

The Consequences of Being Yourself

The Consequences of Being Yourself

One of the things I learned at yoga was this:

The greatest services you can do for the world is to heal yourself. Why? Because unless you are well, you cannot help others.

image3
The skys in New York are always arresting…

As a girl from the Midwest, steeped in a puritan world-view, self care was basically an indulgence. Taking care of yourself made you that horrible word a person would never want to be associated with: selfish.

But at yoga, I learned that self-care was the opposite of selfish. It was a sacred duty.

I believe that this idea comes from an aspect of the yoga teachings that is blurred together with the ideas of karma and dharma. Dharma is your life’s sacred work. And, we all have things to learn. So, the work of healing our hurts and traumas so that we can be the best version of ourselves, well, that is our highest calling in life.

I learned another thing at yoga, too:

You are enough.

Have you heard this? I bet perhaps you have. It’s another, well, frankly, subversive idea, because everywhere in our lives we are taught the opposite. Never is a person smart enough, thin enough, good-looking enough, ripped enough, wealthy enough, loved enough…

So, where does this idea—you are enough—come from, you might ask?

Another mish-mash teaching, yogic, Buddhist, who knows, they all are second-cousins once removed after all, BUT! The essential teaching, as I’ve understood it, is that at your heart, you are divine. And, well, the Divine, is pure good, right? So you must be pure good, right? And, well, THAT’S enough, of course!

image1-1
I am a field of flowers…

Ah. Here’s where I get tangled.

And here’s where I think that many seekers do what we call a spiritual bypass, which is basically a feat of logical distortion to keep everything looking really pretty.

Let’s back up. I think that “you’re enough” is a very good, very effective way of getting everybody to calm the fuck down, and stop questing, and perhaps even to look at WHAT really IS.

Right? Because if you stopped trying to be something that you’re not, you could get accustomed to who and what you really are. And “you’re enough” is a way of saying “hey, you’re O.K. just the way you are, so relax a bit, and just be yourself.”

This is a good thing. If people stopped trying to be something that they are not, I think that our world would be a much more transparent place. And, people would know themselves for a change.

 

But this attending idea that everything that you’ll find when you look inside is good, and cool, and beautiful…? Well, that’s where everything goes sideways.

There’s another reason people quest to be something else. It’s because if they really did the hard work of looking inside, they might find something they didn’t like. Sometimes you already know this, even without looking too far. You look in the mirror and wince. And then put on a full face of makeup. It’s like that, but looking INSIDE, instead of outside.

So, what if you looked inside, and you discovered that you are truly an asshole. And all these years you’ve been trying to tell yourself that you’re not? Is that “divine,” or “enough” to be a jerk?

image2
I’m not a jerk…I’m a snaillllll….

 

I tend to think that the idea Our Creator is inherently loving is specious. I end up more on the Taoist end of things: nature is all things. It’s death AND life. It’s good AND evil. I’ve learned somewhere from someone that the original energies that formed us keep us in the dark about what we truly are, because if we knew that were are Divine, we would not have the very human experiences that we do. Creator has no body, see, and wants to experience EVERYTHING. All the good things and all the bad. And, I think, the only logical answer for why that might be, is that Creator is ALL THINGS. Not just, selectively benevolent, and good…

 

So, in truth, I think that it CAN be divine to be a jerk. The real question is, are YOU O.K. with knowing that you are a jerk, and living your life as such? Is it “enough” to be a jerk? Is your “healing” life’s work accomplished if you accept your jerk-like nature? It’s really up to you, I’d say, and this—the deciding—is part of the quest. Working to become a “better” person, if that’s your wish, or fully embracing who and what you are. JERK. After all, a scorpion never tries to be a canary. The folly is yours if you ever expect a scorpion to behave like a canary. But, if you realize that you are a scorpion…are you ready to deal the consequences of being yourself…?

 (Photo by Ray Tamarra)
Bwa-ha-ha

 

 

 

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

 

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.

Like what you read here?  Sign up for my mailing list and receive my complimentary teleclass “Secrets to Intuitive Eating.”

 

 

 

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!