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

 

The True Power of Yoga

The True Power of Yoga

IMG_4294Every now and again, as a yoga teacher, I think to myself what in the world am I aspiring to accomplish by teaching yoga???

These sorts of questions are, I think, healthy ones.

They keep me honest. They keep me on track. They keep me on my toes…

In the end, the questions with which I torment myself benefit my students. Because the clearer I am about what I want my students to learn from me, the better I will be at conveying those lessons.

It gets muddled. Am I just teaching how to do poses?

No…that’s not it…

My longing and aspiration through teaching yoga is to teach the magic of transformation. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading because I used some fluffy language…hang on for a moment. Hear me out.

IMG_4309

I believe that people have a deep desire for change. We are scared of it, to be sure, but we also long for adventure, and, well, it’s hard to deny that change is adventurous.

For me, magic IS change. Change IS magic. Think about it. When was the last time that a person you knew really changed, and for the better? Did you wonder how they did it? Did you have a longing to experience something similar? Probably, even if you asked that person to describe the process they might glance away and shrug their shoulders and say something like, well, I couldn’t really describe exactly how I did it, but…

Even for the person who has experienced the change, it is a mystery. A mysterious, yet REAL change: that is magic. And “transformation” is just a fancy word for change.

Now, transformation suggests that there was a before and after. And the HOW, the thing in between “before” and “after” is part of the mystery. But, I have an answer for the question what is the magic that got you from “here” to “there”?

I know. You’ve already guessed, right?

Yoga.

And, so when I ask myself, what in the world am I aspiring to accomplish by teaching yoga??? This is it. My heartfelt answer, is:

If I can show just ONE person how to become the kind of person they MOST want to be, that would be a good deed.

And now I ask you this.

What is more difficult a task than to change a person? Think about the people around you who you wish would change, even just in little ways. Good luck. There are better ways to spend your time than to try to change people, right?

But, what if a person really WANTS to change? What would you advise them to do?

You might not think to suggest to them “go to yoga.” And, personally, I wouldn’t blame you. It’s not like yoga teachers these days are known of as change agents.

  • You wanna gain some flexibility? Go to yoga.
  • You wanna decrease your experience of stress? Go to yoga.
  • You wanna get a cute butt, and learn to handstand? Go to yoga.
  • Maybe even, someone might suggest yoga for your back pain.
  • Maybe even, someone might suggest yoga to help you lose weight.
Yoga portraits at JR Studio on December 12, 2015 in NYC. (Photo by Ray Tamarra)
Photo by Ray Tamarra

But, if you had a serious, elusive change you wanted to make? A quirk in your personality that keeps sabotaging you? A dark memory that you can’t seem to get out from under? A false belief about yourself that, no matter how many times people tell you otherwise, you cannot disabuse yourself of?

People might suggest therapy. But yoga? Probably not.

I get it. It’s not well-explained, nor well-taught HOW yoga can help you become a better version of yourself.

And, this is the quest that keeps me teaching yoga. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE teaching the physical aspects of yoga.

But THIS is a lesson of value. If you can learn to change, you now have acquired a super-power.

Shall I show you how? 🙂 

IMG_3248

#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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“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.”

 

 

 

Yoga and Body Image Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Apology accepted. Respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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