• Five Steps to End Unrealistic Beauty Standards Once and For All

    When we were growing up—in the 80’s—there was only one real beauty standard (white, thin, blonde), and only a few media channels through which we were educated (magazines, newspapers, television, and the movies). Now, there are many, rapidly-evolving ideas about what is beautiful, thanks to modernized attitudes about diversity, representation, and inclusion. There are infinitely more channels through which multitudes of beauty standard ideals—some of which are more toxic than ever—are being disseminated, faster, and with even more high tech photo-altering capabilities.

    Over the weekend I was at a meditation retreat and was telling two participants about my new book, Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Embrace Your True Power. These women had a great question: Do you think that it’s easier to do this now than it was when we were growing up? I said, “It’s complicated.”

    In this environment, which is arguably more accepting, it seems that young people are, ironically, forced to make more difficult choices about their bodies and identities, more swiftly. Social media also has encouraged everyone to falsify their reality, by only showing the “highlight reel.” The promise of beauty, perfection, and leisure still has a strong hold over all of us.

    The cult of thinness hasn’t disappeared in a sea of diversity. In fact, it just may have gotten stronger. But there’s an upshot to the sharply increased volume of imagery, precisely because it shows a multitudes of possibility. It reveals a pathway, and an answer to how to end unrealistic beauty standards once and for all. This answer is simple, but not easy. Like yourself. Like your body, simply because it’s yours. Like your nose, simply because it belongs to you. Like your voice, just because it’s yours.

    How to begin to like yourself? Here are five simple, but not easy steps:

    1. Take the time to get to know yourself.

    It is impossible to determine if you actually like yourself if you don’t know yourself. In yoga, this is the discipline of svadhayaya. Approach getting to know yourself as a lifelong journey of friendship.

    2. Resource your friends to help.

    Unsure what is likable about you? Ask your friends. There is a reason they want to spend time with you, that has nothing at all to do with how you look, or the shape of your body.

    3. Identify the sticky points.

    Everyone has things about themselves they don’t like. These are places of opportunity and growth.

    4. Determine if the sticky points are really you, or simply habits you’ve acquired.

    Sometimes the things we don’t like are not true or real to the core of our nature. This is where yoga is so helpful. Practice will encourage discernment or the ability to identify what is you, and what is unhelpful conditioning or samskara. (Note: samskara aren’t inherently bad! We can also have helpful conditioning).

    5. Rid yourself of unhelpful habits; embrace the true core of you.

    Sometimes what and who you really are isn’t what you would have hoped for. Being ourselves frequently has consequences, some that can be painful. Our task as humans is to like our core selves, no matter what. When you do the work of liking yourself, everything about you becomes beautiful. People who like themselves have a luminosity that eclipses the physical body. And, this is how we will, collectively, end unrealistic beauty standards once, and for all. Will you join me? Now, of course, what I’ve presented here is an incredibly condensed map. If you’re intrigued, and want to know more about making friend with your body, I hope that you will take a deeper dive, by reading my book. 

    Diversity in representation shows that liking yourself could emerge from looking like yourself, instead of like someone else. Paradoxically, body image acceptance isn’t really about your body at all. It’s about your spirit and your soul. When you like yourself—the being that lives within the body—the body is a joy, a gift, a delight, no matter what it looks like or what it can do. And when everyone likes themselves, then unrealistic beauty standards just bounce off boundaries composed of kindness and affection, and everyone simply goes on about their day unaffected emotionally, intellectual, spiritually. Simple. Not easy. If liking ourselves were so easy, we would have a very different world!

    By Erica Mather

    Practice with Erica Mather on Omstars

    Author, Yoga Therapist, Forrest Yoga Guardian, and Master Teacher Erica Mather, M.A. is a life-long educator. She teaches people to feel better in, and about their bodies. Her book Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty-Standards and Embrace Your True Power (New Harbinger, April 2020) is a 7-step spiritual journey helping women befriend their bodies and utilize them as tools and allies on their quest to live their best lives. Her Adore Your Body Transformational Programs help overcome body image challenges, and the Yoga Clinic of NYC supports students, teachers, and health professionals learn about empowered care for the body. Mather is a recognized body image expert and a Forrest Yoga lineage-holder, hand-selected by Ana Forrest to guide and mentor teachers while they learn about Forrest Yoga. She lives in New York City and teaches at PURE Yoga. Visit her at www.ericamather.com.

  • Making Peace with My Body Paved the Way for Personal Empowerment

    A quiet, slow and deeply powerful sense of freedom was made possible when I declared a truce with my body. That sense of equanimity nothing short of astounding. It was unfamiliar, exhilarating and I welcomed it with every fiber of my being.

    It didn’t happen overnight, though. It did, however, begin with the keen awareness that I was tired of feeling terrible and that my relentless battle with myself kept me from fully showing up to create larger cultural shifts for all marginalized groups. That awareness gave me the opportunity to make a new choice, the choice to be kind to my body by calling a cease fire.

    My mindfulness practices in the form of yoga and Vipassana meditation gave me the space to recognize that another way of being and feeling was possible. I’d felt dissatisfied at best, full blown shame at worst since I was a young girl. I’d waged war and been immersed in the dominant culture’s toxic beauty culture for so many years that it seemed normal and unremarkable.

    I felt overwhelmed as a young girl by the empire of images that dictated the worth and value of girls and women based on how well they met the dictates of the Eurocentric, racist, classist, ageist, ableist, heteronormative and sizeist beauty myth. It seemed impossible to measure up and daunting not to try. My body always felt too big, my voice felt too small. I felt constricted and trapped inside myself. It wasn’t until many years later in my first Women’s Studies class that I understood the connection. Patriarchy benefits from the silence and bodily control of women.

    Feminism expanded and freed my mind. It liberated me from my own internalized oppression, the ways in which I’d absorbed and incorporated the larger culture’s harmful messaging about my body into my sense of self. Feminism gave me the theories and the language to understand my experiences through the lens of patriarchy… as well as protest against it.

    Feminism also introduced the concepts of self-acceptance and self-love to me. In fact, it encouraged me to accept, embrace and learn to love myself as a revolutionary act. Feminism opened new mental doorways to freedom, but yoga freed my body.

    Yoga as a consistent practice complimented my feminist teachings and revelations. Yoga and meditation offered an embodied path to learn and practice how to be at peace with myself because it was something entirely new to me. Each time I united and moved mindfully with my breath, I was presented a new opportunity to be present. Each time I sat in silence and became still, I learned more about myself and how my body felt (and what it needed). This was revelatory!

    Each moment offered a fresh opportunity to practice forgiveness, kindness, acceptance and kindness. These moments weren’t offering more theories or heady ideas but new experiences that began to carve new habit patterns for myself, ones that allowed me to show up for myself more fully and compassionately.

    When I ended the war on my body, I was finally able to feel peace within myself. That peace radiated from the inside out and felt like a long and much-needed exhale. When I stopped fighting myself, I could exist without constraint or pressure. That stillness not only allowed me to listen to the needs of my body, it allowed me to excavate my authentic inner voice, give it the space to expand and unapologetically proclaim my truth.

    Personal empowerment is represented by inner strength, self – confidence, bodily autonomy, as well as having ownership and control over one’s self. Personal empowerment flows from the inside out, it can’t be defined and controlled externally. Ultimately, personal empowerment is marked by internal freedom and peace.

    It’s an oxymoron to be at peace with one’s self or fully empowered while simultaneously warring with one’s body. You can’t be fully empowered when there is an ongoing battle to control or “fix” the body, to punish the body and force it to submit to our will. You can’t be empowered when there is lingering shame, guilt or blame.

    When I made peace with my body, I opened the possibility of more…. being more, asking for more and expecting more. When I made peace with my body, I was presented with the opportunity to be fully empowered. I claimed myself for myself on my own terms.

    That’s the magic and the medicine. As we claim ourselves for ourselves, we re-imagine, re-think and re-create what’s possible, not just for us but for everyone. This is the (re)evolution, one that integrates and acknowledges our whole self and recognizes the connection between our individual and collective liberation.

    With each day, each moment, and each breath I continue to choose me. I choose peace. I choose to be fully empowered for myself and all those I support and serve.

    In the same way self-acceptance and peace didn’t happen overnight, the practice never ends.

    By Melanie C. Klein

    Melanie C. Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment, and visibility. She is also a successful writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016), co-editor of Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body (Llewellyn, 2018) and the co-editor of the new forthcoming anthology, Embodied Resilience through Yoga (Llwelleyn, 2020). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and lives in Santa Monica, CA. www.melaniecklein.com @melmelklein @ybicoalition

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image

     

  • Mind Your Own Body, and I’ll Do the Same

    Why Commenting on People’s Bodies Needs to Stop. How often do you find yourself commenting on your friend’s appearance? Why is it that our go-to compliment is, “Wow – you look great” even before we connect over the changes or news in our lives? Why is it that we praise one another for losing weight, even if that weight loss was due to a traumatic event or a health crisis?

    Why do we feel the need to comment on each other’s bodies at all? As if it’s not enough to be bombarded by messages from the media reminding us of how we are supposed to look. Society has done a great job of conditioning us to size each other up.

    Former fitness guru and celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels was recently asked to comment on the body-positive movement, and how it relates to stars like Lizzo, who openly celebrate a body that has traditionally been deemed unhealthy. Unsurprisingly, Ms Michaels reached for the “health” argument in relation to Lizzo’s physical appearance. Without being a medical professional, or having any idea of what Lizzo’s health records have to say about her physical wellbeing, Ms Michaels told the public that Lizzo was a candidate for diabetes, and disease wasn’t to be celebrated.

    So why do we immediately comment on the size and shape of other people’s bodies – as if we can determine their experience of life-based on their jean size?

    Being in the public sphere has been challenging for me. I am an activist and I represent a movement that I am so deeply passionate about. The people that follow me, and those that I care most deeply about, rely on me to live out my values regarding health at every size. This is the message that I advocate for day in, and day out.

    As a result, my body is often the topic of conversation, and it makes me uncomfortable. I am a survivor of both sexual abuse and an eating disorder, and as a result, having my value accessed based on my looks is triggering. When my body is evaluated, dissected, and discussed, it feels like a fundamental invasion of my personal boundaries – and it’s scary.

    This has been especially confronting as I’ve undergone a dramatic weight loss due to illness. I’ve been public about my struggle with Graves disease, and what it’s meant for my relationship to my health and wellness practices. But, nothing really prepared me for the cognitive dissonance I experienced when the world kept telling me I looked great, even when I felt like I was dying.

    Since my formal diagnosis, recovery has been a slow process. As I navigate my health challenges, new and old triggers often combine. It is hard to own lifestyle changes as empowered choices when the world is so intensely focused on the physical changes.

    The gym used to be a place that fueled my eating disorder. In my youth, working out was a punishment. It was something I did to make up for the things I ate (or didn’t eat) and a socially acceptable way to execute self-hatred. My attachment to seeking outside approval was reinforced in this space, and I was scared that returning would re-open those past traumas.

    But in truth, I love to workout, and I’ve worked hard at making peace with my body. I sometimes lose sight of how far I’ve come, and how much more appreciation I have for the body I’ve been given – especially after fighting for my life in many ways. These days, the gym is no longer a place where I punish my body for what I ate or a place to look for external validation. It has become a place to celebrate feeling good in my body and a space where I can safely disrupt any narratives that say otherwise. I practice my activism by shutting down any fat or food shaming. Getting well has been a real struggle and a confronting space to be in, and I never want to take my health for granted again.

    Our fixation on accessing each other’s bodies is strange and it keeps us from focusing on what is really important. Happiness cannot be attained through the constant seeking of outside approval. Happiness cannot be achieved by people-pleasing, and no one’s body is anyone else’s business.

    Commenting on other people’s bodies is unnecessary, intrusive, and harmful. It reinforces gender stereotypes and it perpetuates unattainable standards of beauty. We need to find new ways to interact positively with one another, and we can start by giving each other compliments that celebrate our positive energy. We can connect to one another by sharing our thoughts and emotions, and how we make each other feel. We can talk about pop culture or god forbid even politics. Either way, it’s time to stop this hyper-focus on what we look like. Our external appearance is seldom an accurate mirror for our internal world. Mind your own body and health and I will do the same.

    By Dianne Bondy

    Dianne Bondy is a celebrated yoga teacher, social justice activist and leading voice of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive view of yoga asana and philosophy inspires and empowers thousands of followers around the world – regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne contributes to Yoga International, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal. She is featured and profiled in International media outlets: The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, People and more. She is a spokesperson for diversity in yoga and yoga for larger bodies, as seen in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition. Her work is published in the books: Yoga and Body Image and Yes Yoga Has Curves. https://diannebondyyoga.com/

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • New Year, Same Me: Cheers to Radical Authenticity

    I am excited about the idea of existing in 2020. Mostly because as a kid, I used to imagine that cars would fly, that civilians would planet hop on a regular basis, and that telepathy would be our primary mode of communication.

    Those dreams are still in the pending folder for now, but there were lots of unexpected success that I never anticipated enriching my life in so many ways. I never imagined books that read themselves aloud to circumvent my dyslexia, a device in my pocket that allows me to video call my loved ones when we’re far apart and gives me access to the most recent information on any given topic. And this progress isn’t limited to technology; we’re making progress in destigmatizing mental health, our language is moving towards inclusivity, meditation is now commonplace and we work to share ideas. Our collective ideas for progress drive technology and solutions; not everything is perfect, but society as a whole is improving in ways that keep me hopeful.

    Early in my life, back when I could only daydream about what 2020 would bring, I was introduced to yoga and meditation, which helped me navigate my way into community, hope and, in so many ways, into myself. I spent many, many hours practicing on towels, in church basements, and to cassette tapes before I was lucky enough to win a partial scholarship for a yoga teacher training. Though I had done plenty of research on my own, it was in my teacher training in 2013 that I began working to fully embody the eight limbs of Yoga. Some of the practices came to me without much effort. Others remain a daily, effortful practice, full of reminders and lessons. For me, New Year’s is a season where my focus returns to my greatest efforts: Aprigaha (non-attachment), Santosha (contentment) and Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to divinity). I find so much depth and beauty in these simple concepts that unfolds on a regular basis.

    And I’ll be honest; I keep myself rather insulated in a lot of ways. I’m not very present on social media, I don’t watch much television, and I don’t even listen to the radio often. My life is quite curated; from the music and news I find to the community I interact with, I do my best to respect and protect my time and energy. And I know that I’m lucky to be a bit insulated. My social circle is full of people well versed on body acceptance, on gratitude practices and on the beauty of humor. I have the great honor of supporting one another with love and sincerity when body frustrations arise, when devastating heartbreak strikes, and when life feels generally unsettling.

    But in the quiet, unscheduled time of the holidays, visiting friends and family, I found myself inundated with discussions and commercials asking about New Year’s resolutions or suggesting what 2020 should include. So my focus on the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) of Yoga feels highlighted for me at this time of year, when discussion of resolutions is abound.

    Certainly, the idea of resolutions is not foreign to me. I was raised in peak diet culture, had required assignments in elementary school of identifying resolutions and worked plenty of places that supported annual “weight loss challenges”. Personal growth and development is one of my core values and learning is one of my favorite spaces to invest time. But. I don’t set resolutions. I am proud of all that I have accomplished, and yet, I know that none of it defines me. My aims of personal growth and development are not to create a new version of myself. Instead, I would rather inspire the best version of my authentic self by dissolving all they ways I’ve come to believe it wasn’t exactly right, while simultaneously working to surrender to the perfection of now.

    My yoga and mindfulness practices have brought me stillness, love and appreciation where there was hurt and resentment, grief and sadness, joy and chaos. Not always readily either. I have meditated through tears plenty of days and only felt able to muster gratitude for showing up to my practice. And still, over time, I release, I grow, I accept. It’s a practice. I love and am captivated by technologies that support meditation and personal growth. But I realize there are no shortcuts. So I show up in my practices daily in my work to uncover the most authentic version of myself, working towards my highest purpose, for the good of all.

    Progress is not lost on me. I am proud because I know that behind every success, there were quite sacrifices, heavy lessons, healing and blossoming that had to transpire every step of the way. I am proud that I have built a community, a network of support established upon authenticity, care and concern. I am proud to be called upon to hold space for others in their most vulnerable times because I have built shared trust and respect within my circle. And in my best effort to practice non-attachment, I try not to cling to the outcome, I hold on to contentment for the way things are without them needing to remain any particular way.

    We don’t need permission, but sometimes we need a reminder. You are ok just as you are today. The version of yourself right now deserves the highest reverence and love. You are not defined by what you have accomplished and there are no goals that are a requirement for appreciating yourself today.

    By Celisa Flores

    Celisa Flores: Since obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling in 2007 at CSU Fresno and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2013, Dr. Flores worked as a therapist and program director in a wide variety of mental health treatment setting. This diversity of experience allowed research and training to expand her skills as a Feminist therapist with emphasis on Eating Disorders, Mindfulness and women’s issues. With a history of providing individual, group, family, and couples counseling services, as well as therapeutic yoga services, Dr. Flores has focused on evidence-based practices, providing guidance and support in Mindfulness in Recovery, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other self-empowerment strategies. In addition to training as a therapist, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher, also trained in Mindful Stress Reduction, Reiki and as a doula. By integrating a variety of holistic tools into recovery and wellness, she works to create a long-lasting, sustainable wellness plan. Now proudly with Center for Discovery, providing clinical outreach for Orange County and the Central California region. This role has included national and international training and speaking engagements on eating disorders, mindfulness, yoga, body acceptance, and professional wellness, as well as facilitating accessible, body-affirming yoga annually at the Los Angeles NEDA walk. With a passion to support other therapists and community members with understanding eating disorders and treatment as well as self-care and overall wellness, she is always working to share information, research and training.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • Demystifying Eating Disorders

    “Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses;
    they are not a lifestyle choice, or a diet gone ‘too far’.”
    -National Eating Disorders Collaboration

    When I was diagnosed with an eating disorder in the 90’s, there was not as much awareness of these mental illnesses as there are now. After I went to treatment in college and learned about how eating disorder symptoms are a way to cope with painful feelings, I remember feeling so relieved, because I was worried that my preoccupation with losing weight made me shallow.

    I too had fallen into the trap of believing common stereotypes about eating disorders: that they are related to vanity, that they are just about controlling my food and body, and that I just had to eat and get over it. Over 20 years now on my healing journey, I still hear these rumblings about eating disorders from those who may have not had a reason to understand or learn about them. In the spirit of debunking these and other stereotypes about eating disorders, I offer some helpful education and resources.

    WHAT ARE EATING DISORDERS?

    Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses caused by a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, and suicide is also common. In order to recover, individuals who are affected usually require professional help and support.

    According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with weight, food, and body shape, eating disorders are associated with persistent eating behaviors that negatively affects one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies five types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), binge eating disorder (BED), and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED). Not yet in the DSM but on the rise is orthorexia, which is characterized by an obsession with eating only healthy foods.

    Other types of eating disorders include pica, and rumination disorder. Symptoms associated with these disorders, such as restricting food and/or food groups, bingeing, purging, abusing laxatives, and over exercising, are ways of coping with trauma and other painful feelings and life events.

    Individuals affected by eating disorders are also prone to severely negative body image and body dysmorphia, a mental health disorder in which characterized by obsessively thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in one’s appearance. Co-morbid conditions include depression, anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and addiction.

    Common medical complications include but are not limited to blood pressure issues, electrolyte imbalances, reduction of bone density, muscles loss and weakness, severe dehydration, fainting, fatigue, hair loss, dental issues, hair loss, dry skin, digestive problems, circulation problems, and hormonal imbalances.

    WHO IS AFFECTED?

    Only until recently, has the popularly held image as to who is affected and what an eating disorder looks like—emaciated, white, privileged adolescent girls—this mental illness affects every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group.

    Knowing that eating disorders are characterized with a preoccupation with food and weight, it may seem counter-intuitive, but what is so important to understand is that weight is not a clear sign of an eating disorder. We typically think of eating disorders in terms of extreme thinness, but that is not the case for many who are affected. In fact, one can have anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by food restriction, without being underweight. Other eating disorders can present with various weights, too.

    The mental processes associated with eating disorder behaviors and physical ramifications (which include much more than weight), all contribute to the diagnosis of an eating disorder. One size does not fit all and includes every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group—a fact the eating disorder community is working hard to raise social awareness of.

    HOPE IS REAL

    As the awareness of eating disorders continues to increase in our schools, among parents, and in the medical field, we are in a much better position to prevent eating disorders compared to when I was first diagnosed in the 90s. Treatment options are many, and include residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient. Many treatment centers focus specifically on eating disorders, and some addiction treatment centers also specialize in eating disorders, as these two mental health conditions often co-occur.

    Online resources, such as the National Eating Disorder Association, Mirror-Mirror Eating Disorder Help, and Eating Disorder Hope are filled with helpful information for those experiencing an eating disorder as well as for their loved ones and supports. In addition to discussing the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders, these websites also provide invaluable information about eating disorder programs and treatment, screening tools, free and low cost support, help hotlines, and advice on how to talk with loved ones who you are concerned about.

    Whether you are experiencing an eating disorder or worried about someone in your life, hope is real. I urge you to consult online resources like the ones mentioned here and reach out to eating disorder support groups—you don’t have to go it alone. Connecting with others going through something similar just might be the key to taking the next step in your journey.

    By Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, C-IAYT

    Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is the founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders, creator and host of Real Body Talk, author of Body Mindful Yoga, an international speaker, and mental health advocate. Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She also teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized yoga and eating disorder recovery trainings for professionals. Her writing about her personal journey of eating disorder recovery and professional experience as a passionate yoga therapist has appeared in Yoga International, Yoga Journal, Recovery Warriors, and other influential blogs. Jennifer has appeared on Fox29 news and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, SJ Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, YOGA Magazine, and on several podcasts. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com and www.JenniferKreatsoulas.com.

    Photo Credit: White Flower Bloom by Aaron Burden 

  • How to Practice Compassion for Someone with an Eating Disorder

    Facing an eating disorder is hard. Really hard. That goes for if you are a person who has an eating disorder yourself, or if you have someone in your life with one: a friend, loved one, co-worker, or student. Facing an eating disorder can be confusing, scary, frustrating, and sad. An eating disorder is a beast of an illness.

    You may wonder what you can do to help. It is so natural and caring to want to help relieve suffering, your own or someone else’s. But attempts to help and fix an eating problem can often be met with anger, resistance, or withdrawal. Helping is often the wrong place to start when facing an eating disorder. Compassion, instead, needs to come first.

    What is compassion? Kristin Neff, a well-known mindfulness teacher, teaches that the word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” To have compassion, we start by making a lot of room to be present with the lived experience of someone who is suffering. This takes time, true listening, and open-mindedness. And then, with this deep presence, we offer kindness, understanding, and patience. Compassion can be profoundly healing—truly, the most important ingredient in relieving suffering.

    How can we develop compassion for the people in our lives with eating disorders? Real compassion takes real work to develop. Start with yourself, acknowledging how hard this might be, and move forward without expecting it to be easy, perfect, or permanent. Just like yoga offers different practices to move towards liberation—study, meditation, asana, pranayama—so we can draw tools from yoga to help you cultivate compassion (karuna in Sanskrit):

    Self-study: mindfulness of your own stories

    Before you listen, take time to acknowledge and understand stories or judgments you may carry about people with eating disorders. We all have stories and stereotypes about who gets eating disorders and why—whether from life experiences, media, or a class in school. Some common stories are that eating disorders only happen to thin, white, young, wealthy girls. Or that they are about control, vanity, or attention. That they are caused by bad parenting, societal messages, or incorrect nutritional information. That if a sufferer could just love their body, they would get better. That having an eating disorder is a choice. That because you learned to love your body or because you fully recovered from an eating disorder, you know everyone else can recover like you did. Some of these stories are true for some people with eating disorders. They are not true for every person—we are truly all so different as human beings.

    Ask yourself—how do your stories affect how you respond to a person with an eating disorder? How do they affect your listening, your expectations, and your patience?

    Beginner’s mind: cultivate curiosity

    Take time to learn about the complexity of eating disorders, and the diverse ways they present. Start by educating yourself without putting the burden of teaching you on your loved one. Read stories about people who have eating disorders that don’t fit the conventional narrative. Read about people of color, transgender people, men, fat people, older people. Learn about genetic research, which can help you let go of blame.  Learn about how how malnutrition affects behavior, about the link between restrictive eating and binge eating, about how systematic oppression affects both illness and recovery, about health at every size. Hold each new fact or idea with tentative, flexible understanding.

    Then be open to learning directly from the person in your life with an eating disorder. Ask with gentle, non-demanding curiosity if the person would like to share, and let them know it’s okay if they don’t. If they do share with you, express gratitude. Let go of your own shame or blame, as these emotions make it very difficult to learn.

    Seeking truth: awareness of suffering

    People with eating disorders can experience a great deal of emotional suffering, even well into the recovery process. They usually experience intense physical suffering as well—digestive difficulties, headaches, fatigue. Unfortunately, neither of these types of suffering are visible to onlookers. It is a great myth that you can tell who has an eating disorder or “how sick” someone with an eating disorder is by looking at them. People can have anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or other food struggles and look any kind of way—thin, fat, and everything in between. Yet people with eating disorders almost always believe that they are not sick enough—not sick enough to really have an eating disorder, not sick enough to deserve care, not sick enough to heal.

    Unfortunately, our culture reinforces this idea of “not sick enough” with a medical system that only offers care to sick patients that show up in certain bodies, and with media that highlights only super skinny people. This is a double suffering—to suffer and then to have that suffering invalidated, ignored, and invisible.

    You can practice compassion by reminding yourself that eating disorders are also illnesses of the mind and heart, even when someone appears physically well. Stay curious about the person’s emotional state, instead of focusing on their physical behaviors or appearance. Welcome expressions of suffering by calmly asking questions to elicit more, or saying, “thanks for sharing with me.” Avoid criticizing emotions as irrational or turning away from suffering by offering positive thoughts or minimizing discomfort with comments like, “focus on the good things in your life” or “this too shall pass.”

    Practice equanimity: acknowledge and tend to your own emotions

    How do you feel when you approach someone who has an eating disorder? Do you feel anxious? Scared? Annoyed? Angry? Triggered? Ashamed? Where do you feel those emotions in your body? What thoughts or memories come up?

    Do not make it the responsibility of the suffering person to make your discomfort go away. Tend to your own body, mind, and heart. Get support for yourself. Care for yourself is crucial to have the endurance to be present for the long and winding path of the healing process.

    Lovingkindness: offer patience and hope

    We each express and experience kindness in our own unique way. Act from your heart. Know that being kind doesn’t mean that you can’t set limits or boundaries with your loved one—it just means that you set those boundaries with love and understanding of the emotions they bring up. Keep the light of hope for the other person’s healing alive within you.

    There are many ways to offer help—lots to do for someone with an eating disorder. But start with compassion, and you will not only have offered a gift to the person who is suffering. You will also have opened up your own heart and your own capacity for healing, presence, and love.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image

    By Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, C-IAYT

    Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, CEDS-S, C-IAYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, certified eating disorder specialist, and certified yoga therapist. Suzannah’s dedication to compassion for people with eating disorders comes from her work supporting individuals and families in their healing since 2003, as well as from her own lived experience with an eating disorder–she has seen again and again the profound power of compassionate relationships in the recovery process. She is a co-founder of Rockridge Wellness Center, a counseling and health collective in Oakland, CA, where she has a private practice. Suzannah is the author of the book Awake at 3 a.m.: Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy and Early Motherhood (Parallax Press, 2018). She is also a contributing author in the anthology Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. Learn more at www.suzannahneufeld.com.

  • Working with Pleasure, Power, and Agency in Yoga Spaces

    Earlier this year, I had the unexpected opportunity to present at a yoga conference. With less than 24 hours to prepare, I sequestered myself and started researching and grinding out a PowerPoint on the foremost topic on my mind: power, consent, and agency in the yoga classroom, and the relationship between these concepts and issues of access.

    The resulting presentation drew from a number of sources of knowledge and inspiration, notably my trauma-sensitive yoga training with David Emerson , the written work of Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis , the gathered works encompassed in Adrienne Maree Brown ’s latest release Pleasure Activism : The Politics of Feeling Good , and, of course, the inspiring work around access and inclusion that a number of organizations are doing in the yoga world.

    We often associate power and agency with sexual assault and abuse. This conversation is vital, and we need conversations around power and agency in a broader context. In continuing to learn from resources like Pleasure Activism and its authors, and from my own experiences, it also occurs to me that we could tap into the erotic as a source of teaching within our own self-study practices–perhaps, as suggested in Audre Lorde’s essay “ Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power ,” a seminal work of black feminist thought originally published in 1978 (and not without some problematic passages indicative of societally-held attitudes of its time), we could use our erotic experiences and resulting understanding of sexual agency to better conceptualize what it looks like to be agents in other realms–a template for how disempowered people might take some power back.

    I am in absolutely no way suggesting that we sexualize the yoga space–in fact, I believe to do so would both disrespect the traditions we’re teaching from and create immense harm. However, in our private lives, we could work to recognize that our attitudes and behaviors towards sex and the broadly erotic largely mirror our beliefs and behavior elsewhere. We could use what we gather from the exploration of our sexual selves and the larger sexual politic to help us understand our relationships to power, pleasure, and agency in a larger context.

    Personally, this recognition has created a dynamic shift in all of my relationships. It has influenced my understanding of what it means to sit in the teacher’s seat as well as my perception of my rights as a student. It’s also led me to this gem of what feels like understanding: as a fat, queer, non-binary femme, the dominant culture is opposed to my pleasure. If I understand what I desire, what makes me feel good, full, and fulfilled, and I am able to actively seek it, then I might reject the systems that keep that dominant culture imbued with the power to dominate. I might start demanding equitable treatment for myself and other marginalized people. My pleasure is both indicative and a source of my power.

    Examine who the dominant culture desexualizes and/or fetishizes and I bet you’ll find that many of the same people viewed through these disempowering lenses are underrepresented in Western yoga spaces. These issues of constructed desirability and access are not extricable–sexuality is co-opted and intentionally weaponized against marginalized groups, and dominant culture continues to feed the narrative that only certain bodies (white, cis, thin, etc.) are appropriately sexual and, therefore, that only these bodies deserve pleasure. Don’t even get me started on the ways that the so-called wellness industry subtly correlates sex and food (sources of pleasure and survival) and implies that fat people, especially fat women and femmes, are deserving of neither.

    When the wellness and yoga industries place the baggage of their systematized fat phobia on me and I internalize it, my body image suffers and I feel less desirable, less worthy of pleasure and joy. Instead of moving towards my pleasure, I move towards assimilation–I diet and buy products I don’t even like, all in the name of becoming someone deserving of happiness. However, when I am resourced with real agency and knowledge of my desires, when I recognize that I am deserving just by nature of my existence, I am able to instead move towards those experiences which I find genuinely pleasurable in the body I have.

    In the yoga classroom, we have the opportunity to work towards an agency-based culture that allows each individual practitioner means to access the teachings of yoga in genuine-to-themselves, agentful ways. Teachers can create opt-in scenarios and provide variations to give students a more active decision-making role in their own practices. We can practice asking for and giving consent to touch. We can create more transparency around power dynamics and start to resource one another with the tools we need to assert our rights and desires in other realms.

    But by and large, we don’t. Instead, we reinforce oppressive power structures by allowing them to dictate who has access to yoga spaces (often those with the most privilege already), by centering dominant culture (through emphasis and exaltation of only highly-athletic asana and whitewashing our spaces and teachings), and by upholding authoritarian classroom management styles (insinuating there’s only one real option or insisting there’s zero space to question the teacher). When we talk about agency in the context of sexuality, we value autonomy, choice, freedom, equitable partnership, and pleasure in alignment with our ethics–why don’t we emphasize the same values in our yoga spaces? Why don’t we extend them to everybody?

    I’m not sure how we practice yoga with the intentionality and discernment it asks of us without agency. There must be the possibility of “no” for “yes” to exist. If we cannot give consent (to sex, adjustments in a yoga class, or anything else) without agency, could we practice surrender, ishvara pranidhana, without it? Could we engage in deep and honest self-inquiry? I don’t believe we’re living our yoga if we’re not working to create a just and equitable world. Part of this work is giving stolen resources and opportunities for agency back to those who are marginalized through systems of oppression, those systems that hijack and manipulate essential parts of our humanity to diminish our pleasure and our joy in order to keep us disempowered.

    We cannot keep recreating and upholding those systems in our yoga spaces. Instead, we might consider collectively creating an agency-based culture on the mat, the mattress, and everywhere else

    By Melanie Williams

    Melanie Williams is an East-Coast-based, fat, queer, non-binary yoga teacher and self-love advocate, called to create profoundly accessible spaces for self-inquiry and the inward journey by integrating mindfulness and adaptive movement practices with the spirit of social justice. They believe that the goal of yoga, as of life, is collective liberation and in turn challenge contemporary yogis to dismantle the systems and beliefs that hold us all back. In addition to teaching group and private yoga classes, Melanie offers workshops that explore queer identity and body image, leads adaptive yoga teacher trainings, helps coordinate trainings internationally for Accessible Yoga, champions diversity and inclusion in the yoga industry as a member of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition leadership team, and serves leading industry groups as an expert advisor on diversity and accessibility.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • What does it mean to be at peace with your body

    What does body positivity really mean?

    I’m struggling with the term, “body positivity” these days. It seems as though the term has been watered down from its original roots in the fat acceptance movement, which began in the 1970’s. Nowadays, the term “body positivity” has become a hollow shadow of its former self. The focus has been redirected from genuine acceptance, back to heteronormative standards of beauty. Body positivity is now being used as trope. It is a buzzword that minimizes what it means to be at peace with who you really are. More often than not, we see the term being utilized by major clothing brands in an attempt to sell us the “one sizes fits all” guarantee. This is not acceptable – body positivity has to mean more than that.

    Body positive should mean justice and visibility for all bodies – regardless of their size, color, ability or sexual orientation. We’ve brought the term body positivity into our mainstream culture, but now the message has been co-opted. As a result, I’ve decided to move away from the term body positivity, and instead, am embracing a more introspective connection to my body. My new, more peaceful approach to connecting with my body allows me to experience the full range of my human emotions. This means that some days I feel great about my body, and other days I don’t. Some days diet culture gets a hold of me, but I remember that I have the knowledge and power to break free from those destructive thought patterns. In my new definition of body positivity, I aim to remind myself and others that, above all else: you are enough.

    The Quest for Making Peace with Your Body

    Making peace with your body may seem like an impossible task. It’s hard find peace in a world that has a vested in keeping us entrenched in feelings of dissatisfaction. Our western culture is imbued with a drive towards perfectionism. We are told that the goal is always to be better: to work harder, to be thinner. Fighting for peace in my body often leaves me feeling as though I am toeing the thin line between seeking outward validation and finding inward acceptance. How can I make peace with my body in a world that doesn’t fully appreciate the diversity of humanity? We live in a culture that is continually seeking to reinforce the status quo, making it harder for us to break free from the social constructs that hold us captive to the drive for perfectionism. The desire to lower my blood pressure has recently lead me on the quest for better cardiovascular health. As a result. I’ve found myself back in the world of fitness, with all the negative trapping of diet and fitness culture. Our body image is influenced by the people around us, and it is hard to be around people who are constantly preoccupied with how they look over their level of physical fitness.

    These are the people who are exercising as a form of punishment, in order to burn off what they ate. Or, the ones who are perpetually trying to lose those “last 10 pounds”. The scale in the locker room is a trigger that reminds me that being fat is not the desired outcome – regardless of my cardiovascular health. I’ve reached an interesting point in my journey towards making peace with my body. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid. Hyperthyroidism, or Graves Disease, really messed with my head. As a person dissatisfied with the shape of my body, this disease gave me everything I ever wanted: I could eat anything I wanted and still lose copious amounts of weight. Graves disease had an internal dialogue with my history of disordered eating, which always lingers beneath the surface, regardless of where I’m at in my journey towards self-love. To make matters more challenging, I’ve found that triggering an eating disorder is comfortable, if not celebrated, in a culture that uses eating disorders to push the “wellness” culture. We see things like specialized diets that exclude entire food groups, fasting and excessive exercising as normalized behaviors.

    So, how do we make peace with our bodies in a world of conflicting messages?

    I believe the limiting outside influences and creating a personal dialogue about our bodies, is the first step in making peace with our bodies and improving our body image. We need to reinforce our internal dialogue with practices that make us feel worthy. It’s a tall order. The first step is awareness. Who are your peers and how do they talk about their bodies? Studies have shown that who you hang out with impacts your life and your self-worth. What if you could create a circle of friends and peers that aren’t excessively focused their bodies? What if you created a circle of friends who just enjoyed life as it comes? “Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Waterloo. “Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image.” For me, this means that it’s time to break away from social norms and create my own custom path to body acceptance.

    Finding My Way

    To improve my relationship with my body, I needed to surround myself with people who weren’t hyper focused on the way their body looks. I changed my relationship with exercise from a place of counting steps to a place of enjoying nature, hanging out with friends and exploring my strength and endurance outside the gym. I began to marvel at my connection to my body, and my understand of my body’s purpose evolved. My body wasn’t something I needed to fight with, she was my co-pilot in experiencing the intricacies of my life. Above all else, my body had been my friend all along – I had just chosen to listen to all the wrong things. It is freeing not to care about what others think. My body shows up the best she can in all circumstances. Once I figured out that my body was my friend, not my foe, I could begin to deconstruct the forces that kept me feeling small and insecure.

    Cultivating a positive body image is a practice. In fact, it is a very challenging practice given the hundreds of years of social conditioning that we must first unlearn before we can begin to befriend our bodies. Being media savvy, changing your perspective on your body, and focusing on the entirety of your life experience – are essential in overcoming the idea that there is a perfect way to be in this world. Rather than framing your experience of life based on the number on the scale, start by challenging yourself to experience life by living, tasting, feeling, exploring existing mindfully in each moment. Stay strong and be brave enough to end toxic relationships that diminish your sense of self-worth. To begin repairing our relationship with our bodies, we must stop looking outwards, and venture deeper inwards.

    By Dianne Bondy

    Seek Up interview with Dianne Bondy

    Dianne Bondy is a social justice activist, author, accessible yoga teacher, and the leader of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive approach to yoga empowers anyone to practice—regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne is revolutionizing yoga by educating yoga instructors around the world on how to make their classes welcoming and safe for all kinds of practitioners. Dianne is the author of Yoga for Everyone (DK Publishing, Penguin Random House) and a frequent contributor to Yoga International, DoYouYoga, Yoga Girl, and Omstars. She has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and People. Dianne’s commitment to increasing diversity in yoga has been recognized in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, as well as in speaking engagements at Princeton and UC Berkeley on Yoga, Race, and Diversity. Her writing is published in Yoga and Body Image Volume 1, Yoga Rising, and Yes Yoga Has Curves. Find Dianne online on IG, Facebook and Twitter or at diannebondyyoga.com and  yogaforalltraining.com.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • The Fear of Fatness was Originally a Fear of Racial Integration

    When I was a teenager, my grandmother would always ask me, “Why are these white women dying to be thin?” I guess she thought that since I’d grown up in an integrated community, I had the info on what white people were up to.
    I did not.

    Usually when she started in on this question, I’d shrug my shoulders or roll my eyes. Sometimes I’d take on the deadened expression characteristic of a 16 year old. She’d eventually drop it and let me go back to watching Yo! MTV Raps. In hindsight, her confusion was understandable. My grandmother grew up in the Jim Crow south. In 1940s Atlanta, poor black folk weren’t doing their utmost to lose weight. Eating regular meals was a triumph. She’d once told me that one year her parents had given her oranges for Christmas, and it was one of her happiest memories. You can imagine her befuddlement upon arriving in Pasadena, CA in 1960. For the first time, she was living near and working with tons of white women. A lot of them were trying to “reduce,” the fashionable way to describe dieting in the 1960s. What was this all about, really? I used to think she’d never found a satisfactory answer to the question in her lifetime. For my part, I was too busy in the mid-90s trying to master the choreography to Brandy’s I Wanna Be Down to engage her decades-long query.

    My change of heart came in 2003.  I was working at an HIV medication adherence clinic in the Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco. It was my job to interview the patients about their drug use, their housing situation, and whether or not they were taking their meds. One day, I’d interviewed two different women, a light-skinned black woman and a white Latina. Both had refused to take their HIV meds because it might cause them to gain weight. My mind was blown. These women, whose HIV had advanced to AIDS, were willing to risk death, rather than gain weight.  I thought back to my grandmother’s question and noticed that she seemed to be on to something. Today, no community in the U.S. is unfamiliar with the thin ideal. But, scholars like Naomi Wolf and Kim Chernin had long shown it was white women who had, historically, been most invested in slimness. But why?

    This became the topic of my book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019). In the book, I show that in the Western world, the widespread fear of fatness—and particularly fat women—developed in tandem with the growth of the transatlantic slave trade. At the height of slavery, race scientists claimed that Africans were commonly what we might today call “thicc” but they called “robust.” Black people’s purported sturdy frames made them ideal laborers, and also proved their wanton and “low” natures, as they would supposedly readily succumb to their animal appetites.This discourse proved particularly salient for women in the U.S. Self-described Anglo-Saxons wanting to prove their racial superiority elevated fat phobia and its mirror image, the thin ideal, to new heights. They openly proclaimed fatness evidence of blackness and racial inferiority. Anglo-Saxon women hoping to justify their place in a racial hierarchy were told routinely that they’d better keep their figures trim. Fatness was evidence of racial “un-assimilability.”  To put it plainly, there is clear evidence that the original drive to slenderness among white persons was motivated, partially, by anti-blackness, and fears of racial integration.  Practical Amalgamation by Edward Williams Clay, 1839. This image was one of many suggesting the absurdity of desegregation. Integration would make white men stoop to wooing black women, whose presumed “savagery” was evinced by their weight.

    Practical Amalgamation by Edward Williams Clay, 1839. This image was one of many suggesting the absurdity of desegregation. Integration would make white men stoop to wooing black women, whose presumed “savagery” was evinced by their weight.

    It seems my grandmother had been on to an important development in American history that had been under-theorized. She had seen it in 1960 as a black woman in her late 20s, traveling from Georgia to California as part of the Great Migration. With my grandfather and their two kids in tow, they were among the black families integrating their little slice of Los Angeles county. Meanwhile, she was meeting scores of white women who were (undoubtedly unconsciously) invested in a 200 year-old practice intended among other things, to reveal the farcical nature of black-white integration. My grandmother died in 2000. I never got to tell her that I’d took the time to research her question. That I’d gotten a few answers for her. I used to feel a way about that. But then I realized, she already knew.  My grandmother didn’t have more than an 8th grade education. She’d left school young, took up work picking cotton. But Alma Jean was nobody’s fool. I came to realize the question itself was the answer. The way she’d shake her head and suck her teeth. She’d grunt, “uhnt, uhnt, uhnt” every time she saw a character on one of her favorite soaps squeeze themselves down to unholy dimensions. She’d called on me not as a scientist, but as a witness. This right here was racial.

    How does this relate to yoga, you ask? The answer is simple. Yoga spaces are also frequently segregated. Several articles in the mass media have interrogated the whiteness of yoga studios. Larger bodied persons, too, often feel unwelcome or ostracized in yoga spaces. When practitioners happen to be people of color and larger bodied, their alienation is magnified, as I describe in my article “Black Women are Undeniable.”If we expect yoga to be a practice that can benefit everyone, we first have to face our culture’s inherent anti-black and fat phobic biases. But, isn’t fat stigma somehow normal or justified in the context of the “obesity epidemic” in the U.S.? As I explore in my book, the anti-blackness of fat phobia has existed long before the “obesity epidemic,” and fear of racial others was present even the medical disdain for “excess” weight.

    By Sabrina Strings

    Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is Asst. Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to coming to UCI, she was a UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow with a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and Department of Sociology. She has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Yoga International, and LA Yoga. Her writing can be found in diverse venues, including Ethnic and Racial Studies; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and Feminist Media Studies. She was the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Article Award for the Race, Gender and Class section of the American Sociological Association. Her new book is titled Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019). It has been featured on NPR, KPFA and WNYC, as well as three “must read” lists.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • Body Acceptance: Tools for Cultural Upheaval

    Gordi. Flaca. Chula. Fea. Vieja. Linda. Fatty. Skinny. Sexy. Ugly. Old lady. Cute. Whether positive or negative association, I grew up hearing terms that were quick to remind us that we were defined by our appearance.

    These were terms of endearment. I grew up believing that describing others based on their outer appearances was not only normal, but expected. And though I occasionally encountered someone who interpreted these descriptors as malicious, I usually dismissed those responses as excessive sensitivity, especially since my initial descriptions were most often welcomed. Not until much later did I realize that this was not the way I wanted to relate to others, nor how I wanted others to relate to me.

    Partially, I recognize that this experience as a woman, and woman of color, it is inescapable to be described and critiqued in a physical context. Mexican, native, fiery Latina, curvy, tribal, dark skinned, too sexy, too loud, too weird, too bossy, too opinionated, too intense; these were descriptions I came to know all too well. When I think about the future generations, I never want them to hear or feel that they’re too much of anything. We need all of their intensity and passion and skills. So how do we come to welcome all of their existence in a world that asks us to be small?

    When I think of growth, I am reminded of the old tenant, “the personal is political.”, and remember that we always start with ourselves. We start by exploring our relationship to ourselves; by living in our awareness intentionally. Yoga is filled with beautiful practices to explore mind, body and their intersections. Though in recent history, the term “yoga” has come to be known almost exclusively as the postures, there are other practices, such as meditation and breathwork, that can help us deepen our connection to ourselves.

    Prochaska and DiClemente developed the Stages of Change transtheoretical model in 1983, and it remains a core teaching of psychology and recovery programs. Following Precontemplation, comes Contemplation, which is such a powerful step in exploring our motivation for change. Yoga and other forms of meditation, journaling, dance are all examples of contemplative practices. Within the context of personal development, we can examine if our external judgements of others a representation of the narrative we carry about ourselves. Practicing mindful meditation can help train us to notice our thoughts enough to discover the themes of our internal narrative. Is it critical or encouraging? Is it filled with compassion or condemnation? As with all forms of yoga, remember, this is a practice to give you a sense of agency over your thoughts. Meditation is the work of change, and change is difficult.

    Within the context of exploring our relationship with our bodies, I love using Breathwork, or Pranayama practice. Breathwork and breath retraining has long been used to support mental wellness and has gained popularity for addressing stress, anxiety and depression (1, 2). Although breathing is an involuntary process, struggles with posture and stress can lead to improper breathing and lead to increased cortisol release, the hormone our body produces to cope with stress (4).

    Breathwork practice can be destabilizing, so it’s important to explore these techniques with a trained or experienced practitioner. My experience with breathwork has been one of bringing awareness to my felt experience I have frequently worked to avoid as someone who recovered from an eating disorder and someone living with chronic pain. Practicing breathwork allows me space to embody my experience and encourages me to let go of the idea to simply “tolerate” discomfort. In breathwork practice, it may be helpful to explore our relationships with physical and emotional pain. Where do our thoughts go when we experience discomfort? Is that a time our mind goes to judgement, criticism, or blame? How does our experience of discomfort change when we approach it with compassion?

    Contemplating our inner experience allows space for us to become better allies, better equipped to hold space for the experience of others. Recognizing that we are impacted by situations outside of our control may be easier to do within the context of ourselves than others, according to the Attribution Theory (2). Meditation and practicing awareness of our thoughts allows us the necessary interruption to see that we are all reacting and responding with the skills available to us today.

    Coming to a place of acceptance of our body, all of our body, all of our thoughts, all of our worries, and anxieties and joys and anger and pain, is a tool in taking back our power, our autonomy, our agency. This is not a small endeavor, but it is worth it. Next time your mind wanders down the path of judgement or criticism, take a few diaphragmatic breaths when you notice. This negative or critical voice developed over time, in effort to keep you safe, to help you fit in, to protect you from examining potentially painful or complex issues. Now, as an adult, allow yourself to consider that criticism isn’t typically an effective way to interact with ourselves or the world, even when the effort feels to be coming from a place of concern. Embrace compassion as an experiment and examine how your relationships with yourself and others change.

    By Celisa Flores

    Celisa Flores: Since obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling in 2007 at CSU Fresno and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2013, Dr. Flores worked as a therapist and program director in a wide variety of mental health treatment setting. This diversity of experience allowed research and training to expand her skills as a Feminist therapist with emphasis on Eating Disorders, Mindfulness and women’s issues. With a history of providing individual, group, family, and couples counseling services, as well as therapeutic yoga services, Dr. Flores has focused on evidence-based practices, providing guidance and support in Mindfulness in Recovery, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other self-empowerment strategies. In addition to training as a therapist, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher, also trained in Mindful Stress Reduction, Reiki and as a doula. By integrating a variety of holistic tools into recovery and wellness, she works to create a long-lasting, sustainable wellness plan.  Now proudly with Center for Discovery, providing clinical outreach for Orange County and the Central California region.  This role has included national and international training and speaking engagements on eating disorders, mindfulness, yoga, body acceptance, and professional wellness, as well as facilitating accessible, body-affirming yoga annually at the Los Angeles NEDA walk.  With a passion to support other therapists and community members with understanding eating disorders and treatment as well as self-care and overall wellness, she is always working to share information, research and training. 

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image
    (1) Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II – clinical applications and guidelines. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717
    (2) O’Donohue, W.T. and Fisher, J.E. (Eds.). (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Applying Empirically Supported Techniques in your Practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
    (3) Ross, L. (1977). The Intuitive Psychologist And His Shortcomings: Distortions in the Attribution Process. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 173-220). Academic Press.
    (4) Thibodeux, W. (Feb 8, 2018). Science Says You’ve Been Breathing Wrong. Here’s how to do it right. Inc.com.