My latest blog is up at YogaUOnline! Check it out!
My latest blog post is up! It’s all about the benefits of yoga for people with bigger bodies. Yes! You can find it here on YogaU Online. I am delighted to be a regular guest writer for them. Go check it out!
Early in my body positive journey, I latched on to the phrase, “listen to your body.” To me, this phrase was a powerful reminder to take back the wisdom and intuition held in my body. I didn’t have to listen to some external rule or diet book or “expert.” I reclaimed my body as the authority. I took back my right to eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and move my body in ways that felt joyful, caring, and kind. I suddenly had permission to work hard AND to rest. I could focus on how fun it was to hit the bag at the boxing gym, rather than how many calories I was burning. I could do yoga and actually feel the body I was in, rather than constantly wondering what I looked like from the outside. Foods were no longer forbidden, which meant I didn’t secretly long for them, or even more secretly devour them. I wasn’t condemned to a life of carrot sticks, so suddenly (and paradoxically) I could eat carrots with abandon and enjoy them. Raw or baked or even in cake! It didn’t matter what I was “supposed” to eat because I was the final authority on what I put (or did not put) in my body. “Listen to your body” became my battle cry of empowerment and choice around my own body. And guess what? I discovered that bodies are pretty smart, after all, and will tell us a lot about ourselves and the world, if we learn how to listen.
But how do you listen to your body? What does this mean, in practice? The phrase is thrown around with an easy, breezy attitude which belies how hard learning to listen to one’s body actually is. We are not taught how to do this in our culture. What is natural as babies and children quickly becomes very complicated and confusing. We are told that our bodies will fail us if we listen to them. The “tsk-tsk” of a grandmother as we fill our plate at a family dinner, the constant loop of weight loss commercials on TV, and the water-cooler diet talk all tell us that our bodies are not to be trusted. For a lot of people the idea of listening to their bodies is terrifying. We internalize messages like, “If you listen to your body, you’ll eat cookies all day.” Or, “listening to your body means you’re going to gain a bunch of weight because nobody really wants to exercise.” The subtext of these assumptions is that bodies (and their people) are basically untrustworthy. The assumption is that bodies need to be controlled, our ravenous hungers need to be controlled, and our deep-down core laziness needs to be controlled. If we don’t, we are doomed to a life of depression, loneliness, rejection, and shame.
I call bullshit on that. Did you know that we have more brain cells in our bodies than in our heads? Did you know that there is a whole phase of digestion called “the cephalic phase,” in which our pleasure in and awareness of the food we are eating actually helps our bodies to absorb more nutrients? Did you know our bodies have a set-point for our own natural weight, and did you know that we screw with this every time we go on a diet? Did you know that exercise ACTUALLY FEELS GOOD? And that we can tell when we’re eating well because our bodies FEEL GOOD? It is ok to feel good. It is ok to relax and enjoy the bodies we are in. It is OK to listen.
And, it is OK that listening to your body is complicated and sometimes challenging to learn. It is common that people with poor body image and disordered eating experience disconnection with their bodies. What does a hunger cue even feel like? Does “feeling fat” actually feel like something in the body, or is it an uncomfortable mental state associated with judgement on what you see in the mirror? How do you stop seeing exercise as punishment and start seeing it as fun? What if you really do just want to eat cookies one day? What if your body has conflicting messages? Reactions? Stress? Illness? Wrestling with these questions for yourself is part and parcel of learning to listen to your body. There is a lot of work to do with the mind in order to actually listen to the body! Becoming consciously re-connected with yourself and your body is not a linear path, and it is not an overnight change. It takes time and effort and hits and misses. It takes courage and mindfulness and tolerance of your own imperfection along the way. It takes repeated, radical, unconditional acceptance every day, to the best of your ability.
Listening to your body and your self is a learned skill. Just like we wouldn’t expect ourselves to become a master violin player overnight, we can’t expect ourselves to be expert at listening to our bodies overnight. We have to hit some missed notes and keep going. We have to practice – and not just here and there but regularly, over a long period of time. Eventually, with practice, we really can become more versed in the language of the body. We begin to understand the body’s signals, and we get better at following through and meeting our own needs. I know there have been times in my life when I doubted that I would ever get to that place, and there are (and probably always will be) times of struggle because bodies change and their needs change and we change. But, to me, it is worth the struggle for those times when I can be truly present to myself, which is ultimately at the heart of listening to my body and to my whole self.
Yoga is an incredible tool for learning to love your body. When I show up on the mat, or on my meditation cushion, what I am really doing is making time to be present to myself. I love the practice of actually experiencing my whole self, body and spirit. Moving my body in my yoga practice is now a loving, compassionate engagement with my whole self. But, to tell you the truth, this was a long time coming. I struggled to find my place in yoga. It was a challenge to get comfortable with having a practice that was MY OWN. It looks different from a lot of other yogis. What I didn’t know then is that this is absolutely as it should be! Everyone’s practice should be a genuine reflection of themselves. The problem is that the modern yoga culture is not always set up to help us find our own practice.
This week, a very kind friend of mine put my name out on a local newsfeed when someone asked for a body-positive yoga teacher. (Thanks, Poorna!). What she found after she put my name out was that a lot of people encouraged the person not to worry about going to a class specifically for larger bodied students. They told her that all yoga classes are good yoga classes, and that she shouldn’t worry about finding someone who specializes in body positivity. I really wish that all yoga classes were welcoming and practical for a wide diversity of bodies, backgrounds, and needs. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been my experience. Yes, there are lovely teachers out there who do know how to make people feel included, but most of the time I have to know how to modify poses for my body. I also have to know how to take care of myself emotionally whenever I go into a “regular” yoga class. I have seen people struggle with a teacher’s instructions, and blame themselves for not being able to do it “right.” This is not OK, but it is common.
I think that there is something to say for finding a class that is actually designed for your specific body, and your specific needs. It is OK to want and need a safe space where we can be in the bodies we are in without fear of judgment, shame, or injury. It is just plain nice sometimes to be in spaces where we don’t feel like “the other.” The reality is that just showing up on the mat can be challenge for us Curvy girls. Studios can be intimidating, invalidating, or unwelcoming. Teachers can inadvertently (or even purposely!) send the message that we don’t belong, or that there is something wrong with our practice if we don’t perform certain asanas (physical postures) the way they do. As a Curvy yogini, I have had my fair share of annoying, disappointing, and downright negative and offensive experiences with yoga classes. For years, I thought I was a terrible yogi because my knees bow out when I my toes touch in Mountain Pose, I can’t bring my let straight through from a downward facing dog to a lunge, and my belly gets in the way when I go into twists. I wondered why child’s pose sucked when teachers waxed poetic about how relaxing it was. And, eagle arms… forget it! When I asked about these things, I was told that eventually I would get there. Um, these boobs aren’t going anywhere, so that is not an acceptable answer. A modification is just a modification. It does not make us bad yogis, and it does not take away from the pose. Usually I find that a good modification can actually bring me deeper into a pose, and I get a lot more benefit out of it than if I had just “kept trying” to do things the way other people do it.
In their defense, I do think that most yoga teachers really mean well, and have good intentions at heart. It is the rare bird who goes into yoga teaching to be a judgmental meany! However, many yoga teachers really have no idea how to support a curvy student, and a lot of us curvy students have our own internalized stigma to contend with, so we don’t even know how to ask for what we need. It is hard to say, “Hey, this smooshes my boobs, and what do I do with my belly?” This can be embarrassing, and even if we do get up the courage to ask, the teacher may not actually know what to do with flesh she has never had to content with.
So, what is a Curvy girl to do? First we have to get comfortable doing yoga our own way. Maybe you can do this in a hot-core-super-power class, but why not make space to learn in a comfortable, supportive environment? Vote with your feet, and go to the classes that make you feel tended to and seen. Take private yoga classes with a body-positive teacher (I’m available!), or get a group of friends together for some semi-private classes. Ask questions from body-positive yoga teachers you trust, and learn how to follow your own wisdom no matter what the teacher at the front of the room says. And whatever you do, however you make your way, just keep showing up on your mat.
Check it out! I am the guest blogger for ASDAH! Here is a link to my post, entitled, “On the Cushion and Off the Hook — An Exploration of Yoga, Meditation, and Body Positivity.” I’m totally excited to get this message out there!
Two weeks ago, I started new meditation and restorative yoga classes at Maitri Yoga Center. Yay! It has been a fun time to start these classes because the topic at the studio this month is renewal. Renewal is what is happening in my business and in my life, so I thought I would kick off this renewed website with a post on renewal!
Let’s start with the word renewal. According to Merriam-Webster, renewal is defined as “the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again.” When I think of making something new, fresh, and strong again, I think of growth. By growth, I mean the authentic, deep, meaningful kind of growth. The kind that brings sustainable change to your life. The kind that takes you places you never thought were possible. The kind that really, actually makes you new, again.
Real growth offers the promise of new possibilities, new happiness, and freedom from our old patterns. So, why do we even need to talk about renewal? Because sometimes growth is hard! And for me, this is when resistance rears its head.
Resistance is a part of renewal. It is a natural part of the process of growth. I sometimes think of a tiny seed underground. It is normal and natural for that seed to take in nutrients from the soil, break out of its shell, and push through the dirt to reach for the sun. That is a lot of hard work for the tiny seed! But, going through this process means that seed will sprout and grow into the beautiful new flower she was meant to be.
I often have to push through a lot of dirt to get to a place where I can feel the sun. Even now, as I am growing my business and teaching more meditation and yoga, I feel the work of growth. I am keenly aware of the inner “dirt” I have to push through to grow! I might have to let go of some of my fears and insecurities. I might have to shift the ways I support and care for myself and others. I might have to change. Scary! Luckily, I have some tools to help me along the way. Mediation is key for renewal. Meditation allows us, like the seed, to take in the nourishment we need to be able to break through the dirt and debris, and find the sun inside each of us.
So, in the spirit of renewal and growth, I invite you to join me for some meditation – in person, on your own, or even right now. Let’s nourish ourselves as we break out of our old shells and work our way towards new growth. Take a breath, open your heart, deeply surrender, and reach for the radiant sun inside.
Join me on Fridays for my new classes at Maitri Yoga Center!
10:30-11:15 Meditation (FREE), and 11:30-12:45 Bliss/Restore
You can also find me on Thursdays at Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram.
Rejuvenating Yoga, 5:00-6:30