• Yin Yoga: Who Needs It?

    A flow class will get your juices flowing, a restorative class will bring you to a state of deep relaxation, and a yin class will make you ache. Fun, right?  Yin and Yang are two parts of a beautiful whole but most of us are robbing ourselves of half of the gifts that yoga has to offer. I am a huge fan of Yin yoga and want to share it with as many students as I can, and even better, train more teachers to teach it. But I didn’t always love it. In fact, for a time, I really hated it.

    Perhaps you’re indifferent, skeptical, or have convinced yourself that you don’t need or like Yin yoga. I hope that the seeds I plant here might get you to consider working Yin yoga into your regular practice for a month or two to see if you start to feel like you’ve tapped into something really big and incredibly healing. Maybe you’ll even decide to train to teach Yin yoga to others.

    My Yin Yoga Journey

    My first introduction to Yin was in what was supposed to be a restorative class with a beloved teacher in my early yoga days. We always ended with a long restorative pose or supported savasana, but the rest of the class was a pretty intense Yin practice, and that’s exactly the way I liked it.  This practice, and this teacher, saw me through an auto-immune disease diagnosis, a cancer diagnosis, and treatment. After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy for breast cancer, my body was wrecked. That’s the point, right? Chemotherapy lays to waste everything from the inside out. It’s a rough journey. An incredibly painful one. But it was worth it, because here I am, nine years later. I practiced yoga as I could during treatment, but the cumulative effect was harsh, and my physical recuperation took more than a year after treatment ended. During that time, I leaned into Yin yoga a lot. Naturally flexible, it had always been a go-to for me, and some days I just couldn’t muster the strength it took to take even a heavily modified flow class. I understood that my muscles weakened during treatment, so the many months it took to even attempt a modified chaturanga were not in the least bit frustrating.

    I knew I had to rebuild strength, so I just kept at it as energy allowed.  But I didn’t understand the effect of chemotherapy on my joints and connective tissue. No one talked about that. Not my doctors, not my yoga teacher, not my acupuncturist. It seems obvious now, but really, how much do we pay attention to the strength and vitality of our joint tissue? Injured athletes pay attention. Pregnant women pay attention, for a time. Those with RA and other joint-related chronic illness pay attention. The newer trends of functional mobility exercise pay attention now. But nine years ago? Not so much. So what happened to turn me from love to hate to love again in my yin yoga practice? During my cancer treatment recovery, I went way beyond the limits of my joints in deep, long-held pigeon poses, twists, folds, backbends, and hamstring stretches that were even more accessible to me with weakened, thinned joint tissue throughout my whole body. Most painfully, I damaged my SI joint and herniated a disc which sent ripples through my torso and legs and debilitated me just as I was starting to notice more strength overall. It was a physically painful and emotional setback that took months to recover from. Fast forward through three years of an increasingly strong vinyasa flow practice and I found myself in yoga teacher training. I couldn’t get enough yoga. The anatomy, the philosophy, the practice. It was a magical time. Until we got to Yin yoga week.

    One of my teachers seemed surprised and shocked to see me raise my hand in the “hate Yin yoga” camp. I assume it was because I was naturally flexible and seemed to find the poses relatively easy, but I’m not sure. I never asked him why. I did give him my reasons, though: debilitating injury not completely healed and fear of making it worse. His answer to this shocked me. Yes, he said, these are injuries that you will have the rest of your life. What?! I have a defiantly independent feminist streak in me and although I didn’t say it out loud at the time all I could think was NO, I don’t accept that. This person is not going to tell me that I’m broken. Of course, we’re all broken in some ways, but that wasn’t the point. The point, at the time, was that I knew that there must be more resources out there and it was time for me to do some deeper healing. So I asked around to other yoga teachers and physical therapists and found ways to strengthen around the damaged, weakened connective tissue to find a better balance of strength. Those spots are still vulnerable, of course. But nothing like what they were, even at the height of my strength in athletic style yoga practice. With years of both Yin and Yang practice since that time, I have found ways to work with chronic illness and injury along with a desire and need for strength and athletic conditioning.

    The Physical Practice

    Yin yoga is a complementary practice to the more active and athletic Yang style yoga (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Power yoga, Vinyasa, Hatha). In Yang styles, we focus on contraction of muscles to stimulate, strengthen, and stretch. In Yin yoga, we focus on the dense connective tissues around and within muscles and joints to stretch and strengthen. Our objective in a Yin practice is to stimulate, strengthen and revive tissues that are less emphasized in the active styles of yoga. We move the body into a Yin yoga pose where we stay, passively, while feeling a moderate sensation. We relax and find relative stillness, holding the position for 3 to 10 minutes.  We stimulate dense connective tissue (bones, cartilage, fascia, tendons, ligaments, blood, fat, lymph) to promote its strength and vitality and to hydrate and revive it.

    Those knots in your neck and shoulders aren’t just muscle, but contracted fascia. Likewise with those “tight” and shortened hamstrings: you can try to lengthen the muscle all you want, but if the fascia is contracted and dehydrated, you will return to the same, shortened resting length over and over again.  You get to choose how deeply you go into a yin yoga pose, just as you choose to use 50%, 80%, 100% of your strength and concentration in a power flow class. But in Yin yoga, we slow it way down and keep reminding ourselves to go for the moderate sensation, not beyond. Holding a 10 minute pigeon is no joke, and if you start way beyond your edge, you’ll injure yourself quickly. If you stick with the moderate ache, you will see over time that the range of mobility changes. And even after one class of moderate aching, you will feel freer, lighter, clearer energetically almost immediately.

    Subtle Body Effects

    If connective tissue is, as many energy workers suggest, the biological substratum through which energy flows and communicates within the body, a Yin yoga practice that focuses on the connective tissue promotes energetic circulation and flow. As yogis, we often experience emotional release in our practice. We understand through experience that with or without scientific research, our tissues hold unprocessed emotion. Movement in and out of poses in an active practice as well as long holds using compression, tension, and stretching in a still,

    Yin yoga practice unlock pathways for our emotions to emerge and release. Consider also the mental aspect of your yoga practice. In an active practice, we are asked to concentrate and focus on our breath while tuning into physical sensation. We’re often reminded that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, and too often, that translates in practice to controlling the mind. In a Yin practice, we are asked to be receptive, to increase our capacity for receptivity, to allow for what is, and to cultivate inaction.

    Isn’t Yin Yoga Worth A Try?

    Fluidity in movement, better coordination, stronger joints, body awareness, less injury, emotional release, mental receptivity and clarity. Aren’t each of these benefits of Yin yoga worth an investment of your time? As my personal practice and teaching continues through the years, awareness of Yin and Yang imbalance has become my focus when deciding how to practice each day. Some days I need a strong sweat and strengthening, some days I need release and stillness, and some days I need both. I’m guessing you are the same, so I invite you to build Yin yoga practice into your regular weekly schedule and tap into this powerful other half of yoga.

    By Jennifer Winther

    Jennifer Winther. LA based Yoga Teacher Trainer. Retreat leader. PhD. Writer. Traveler. Camper. Hiker. Walker. Cyclist. Meditator. Breast cancer survivor. Motherless mother. Karateka. Libra. Art Lover. Creative dabbler. Bi-racial hapa. Scout leader. Community builder. Novice chef. Advocate. Ally. Community member YBIC. Badass ninja mom.  @JenniferWintherYoga

    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.

  • For Yogis with Chronic Illness or Cancer

    In the spring of 2011 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I was really lucky. Not only did I catch an aggressive form of cancer just before it started to spread, I also had a supportive yoga teacher and community already in place.

    My world came to a standstill when I learned the diagnosis. Actually, a tailspin is more like it. Whatever my everyday life was, that disappeared. What I experienced was constant and intense fear and anxiety at the deepest levels, fueled in part by the trauma of losing my own mother to cancer when she was my age and I was only 11 years old. I remember telling a friend that I should never have had children because now they will lose their mother just like I did. I had spent the last 30 years with “40 = cancer = death” etched in my heart and soul, and then there I was.

    Over the year and a half preceding my diagnosis, I had been practicing regularly with a very special teacher. When we met, I had recently been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disease that was knocking out my thyroid) and this teacher seemed to know exactly what I needed to hear. Sprinkled into her delightfully sweaty and athletic yoga sequences were words that sparked my curiosity and touched my heart. Her yin and restorative classes reset every part of me like nothing I had ever experienced. After classes, she would often sit with me and go a little deeper into chakras, koshas, and ayurvedic elements. With her guidance, I became much more in tune with my own, inner resources and healing power, and more importantly, I became willing to face what needed to be healed inside me.

    When the cancer diagnosis came crashing down, my teacher was determined to get me as strong as possible before the long months of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy started. During treatment and after, this teacher cared for me in the best ways she knew. Some things were just right, but we made a few mistakes, too. Now a full-time yoga teacher and teacher trainer myself, I’m honored to guide others living with chronic illness or going through cancer treatment drawing on both advanced training and years of personal experience. While chronic illness and cancer treatment are different conditions, many of the same guidelines of practice apply.

    In my own journey through chronic illness and cancer, my yoga community has been an important anchor in my life. Not only has my yoga practice connected me to generous and supportive people, it has taught me more about illness and healing from the inside out.

    My yoga practice continues to change year to year, month to month, and day to day and I encourage you to let yours evolve and change, too. We all age differently, and with chronic illness or a cancer diagnosis, our bodies may seem a lot older than they are. That can be frustrating, but yoga teaches us to respect our bodies, love them, and do no harm. Even at your fittest, there is never a need to compete for the fanciest pose or the deepest stretch. We work with what we have and start where we are, each time we practice. Chronic illness and cancer survivorship continue to teach me to turn away from self-criticism for what I can’t do and in favor of the powerful healing that my body is guiding me toward.

    Honor your energy level each time you choose to practice

    Practicing with an experienced and knowledgeable teacher is always recommended, and if you find the right one, s/he/they will be guiding you always to learn to hear your own inner teacher. Remember that if you are going through chemotherapy, your joint tissue as well as your muscles are affected, and you may be hypermobile in your joints similar to women who are pregnant. Going too far in stretches when the joint tissue is very weak is strongly discouraged.

    With a teacher or on your own, use these energetic, moderate, and gentle movements as an opportunity to notice the before and after, the shift in your energy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Choose just one at a time or string them together to suit your needs.

    Yoga for Fatigue:

    Studies show that even just a little bit of mindful movement can help energize us. Less minutes more times per week have a greater effect in blasting fatigue, so it’s important to change it up during the week if you get easily bored with repetition. And remember, a little inversion goes a long way!

    • Energetic: Sun Salutations (modify as you like; as few as five can do the trick! And a mala of 108 is almost sure to get you out of any funk you can create)
    • Moderate: Seated or standing forward fold to open the energy channels on the back of the body followed by a seated twist (if you like, go for double pigeon with a folding prayer twist to rest your elbow in the arch of your top foot).
    • Gentle: Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, props or no props) for 15 minutes

    Yoga to Reduce Inflammation:

    Stretching helps stimulate the healing process to combat inflammation, so get into those joints as much as you can tolerate. Chair stretches work just as well as more athletic versions of poses if what you’re going for is stimulating joint tissue and stretching, so use all the props that you need.

    • Energetic: Sanding forward fold followed by downward facing dog. Take your time in these poses to lengthen, strengthen, and release where you can. Next: camel pose, flow into it if you need to then hold or do a few rounds, always keeping your lower spine long, your breath expansive, and your shoulders drawn away from your ears. Take a childs pose to reset.
    • Moderate: Lizard pose variations to target the stretched hip flexor (stretch the back toes back and keep the spine upright and lifting with props under hands), the compressed hip flexor (get low and sink into it a bit), the inner thigh (open it up) and the spine (one hand down, open it up into a twist)
    • Gentle: Supported reclined bound angle pose for 15 minutes

    Yoga to Stimulate the Lymphatic System:

    Lymph does not flow automatically like blood does but we need it to move those white blood cells around to help the body get rid of toxins and waste. Yoga poses and sequences that stretch and compress major clusters of lymph nodes (leg-hip joint; armpits; cervical spine) do just that.

    • Energetic: shift between low lunges with one knee down to half splits; move with each breath or hold each for a few breaths, alternating between the two poses for up to 5 sets of 5 on each side. Let the arms rise with each lunge and the spine lengthen in each half splits. On the last lunge of each set, interlace your hands behind your lower back and pause, breathing deeply with a long spine and strong core for 5 breaths before resting between sets. Follow this sequence with neck stretches, neck rolls, or a neck massage.
    • Moderate: self-healing Qigong tapping is a fantastic complement to a regular yoga practice.
    • Gentle: Supported child’s pose for 15 minutes (use all the bolsters, blocks, and blankets that you like)

    Nervous system:

    For cancer survivors, regular monitoring appointments can bring on mild to severe anxiety. We’ve lived through watershed moments when our mortality is brought right in front of our eyes and when our lives change in an instant. Healing from trauma over time includes regular testing that can trigger fears of death and anxiety. Many who suffer from chronic illness or past trauma experience anxiety and other conditions that compound any physical symptoms. When repeated stress becomes chronic, our sympathetic nervous system stays on and floods the body with hormones that overtax just about every other system. Shifting into the restful parasympathetic nervous system is an essential part of our healing and rejuvenation.

    • Energetic: Goddess pose squats with big arm movements to breathe and move the spine in all directions (lateral side stretches with one arm up and over the head followed by arms opening to the side on the inhale and forward on the exhale with flexion and extension of the spine). Follow a few sets of these big breaths with a standing straddle fold hold (but this whole sequence can be done in a seated straddle, too). If you enjoy the pose, try a reclined virasana before spending 10 minutes in savasana.
    • Moderate: flowing bridge pose up and down a few times before holding (supported on a block is OK, too), followed by supine twists and savasana
    • Gentle: Supported savasana with a bolster along the spine and two bolsters under the knees for at least 15 minutes

    However you decide to practice on any given day, let the principle of ahimsa, doing no harm, guide you. Listen to the cues in your body that ask for a little more or a little less. Whether you’re living with chronic illness, cancer treatment, or survivorship, your body, heart, and spirit are asking for you to care.

    Reach out for help when you need it. Advocate for yourself. Stay open to new knowledge from the outside and from within. Learn to respect the way that your body is trying to guide you and give yourself a yoga break to rejuvenate and reset whenever you can.

    By Jennifer Winther

    Jennifer Winther. LA based Yoga Teacher Trainer. Retreat leader. PhD. Writer. Traveler. Camper. Hiker. Walker. Cyclist. Meditator. Breast cancer survivor. Motherless mother. Karateka. Libra. Art Lover. Creative dabbler. Bi-racial hapa. Scout leader. Community builder. Novice chef. Advocate. Ally. Community member YBIC. Badass ninja mom.  @JenniferWintherYoga

    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.

  • It’s Time to Make Peace with Your Hormones

    PMS making you crazy? Hot flashes? Anxiety? As women, our amazing and beautiful bodies take us on rides that sometimes feel empowering and strong, and sometimes like an out-of-control circus ride.

    Since our pre-teen years, we’ve heard, read, and used “Hormones” with a capital H as an excuse for erratic behavior, poor decision-making, physical “imperfections” and generally anything that we’ve done that we don’t want to take responsibility for.  OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but let’s be honest: do you love and respect, or loathe and despair over your hormones and the waves they bring?

    Straight up: Hormones are our internal chemical messengers that keep our bodies moving. More than 200 hormones have been identified in the human body that include testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, adrenaline, insulin, and cortisol. We need to start recognizing all of the ways that they work FOR us in addition to the not-so-fun ways.

    Feeling hungry? Your hormones are working.

    Feeling sleepy? Hormones.

    Feeling scared? Hormones.

    Growth spurt in your youth? Hormones.

    Runner’s high? Hormones.

    Pregnancy glow? Hormones.

    Why do guys put on muscle more easily or lose weight more quickly? Hormones.

    Your Hormones are working for you. We all know the prescriptions for increasing those lovely, happy hormones: intense exercise, hugging, laughing, aromatherapy, sunshine, sex, eating spicy foods. Yes. They all work. We know what they feel like when they kick in, and we pretty easily surrender to the wave of positive hormones to ride it as long as we can. We like feeling good, right?

    How does that differ from the way we meet the less-delightful waves of hormones? The spikes and dives? What if we could find a way to meet “negative” hormonal imbalance with just enough surrender to stop fighting and allow ourselves to feel our way to the shortest path back to balance?

    The beautiful martial art of Aikido illustrates how I’m trying to approach my own hormonal waves, whether they’re going up or down. See what you think: Aikido is a practice that always involves two people. Any strike from one person aims to put the opponent off balance without harming too much. A controlled attack is met with calmness and flexibility as the receiver seeks to regain balance and cover vulnerabilities. The attacks keep coming, and in advanced training, they are met with reversal techniques.

    There is a true engagement between opponents to understand the energy and movement of what is coming and going, what is off-balance, what is vulnerable, where there is strength, movement, or potential, and how to feel and respond to an energetic path to find balance.

    What do you think? Could you imagine yourself meeting the lows or spikes of hormone waves calmly? With curiosity and flexibility? Even compassion? Could you approach a spike of anxiety, hot flashes, or a week of PMS with an intention to see your vulnerabilities, strengths, and potential to find balance?

    What Aikido suggests to us is that we can work with the movement and energy of hormonal waves just as we would an opponent that we respect and are willing to engage. If we are willing to give ourselves a pause before the fight begins, we could tune into the energy and movement of our hormonal waves and meet them with calmness and flexibility to regain (an always changing) balance.

    If you’re like me, your relationship to hormonal waves on the inside has produced the outward expressions of fight, flee, freeze, ignore, make excuses or blame, accuse, or lash out. Wouldn’t it feel terrific to make friends with our hormones instead?

    At Home and In Public

    Hormonal shifts don’t just happen when we’re off the job, relaxing at home, or in any of those “free time” moments. Take a moment to think about how you have approached these hormonal imbalances when they rear their ugly heads:

    • PMS
    • Irregular periods
    • Low libido
    • Unexplained weight loss or gain
    • Hair loss
    • Digestive issues
    • Chronic acne
    • Insomnia
    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Mood swings

    Do you handle them differently when you’re at work, at school, getting ready for a public talk, going out to meet friends, or waking up on a weekend? Thinking about how we respond to inevitable waves of hormones in different situations gives us clues to start to realign our relationship with them.

    Six easy strategies to get to know your hormones

    Self-monitor

    For a week at a time, keep a journal or scribble on post-its, it doesn’t matter, just write it down. How do you feel physically when you wake? Emotionally? Are you motivated? Bloated? Anxious? Energetic? How about mid-morning? Before/after lunch? However many times during the day it’s helpful for you, jot down how you feel physically, emotionally, mentally. Tune in. Use a 1-10 scale or just jot down words. Whatever works for you is right. Commit to a week and go longer if you can. Look for patterns.

    Keep a monthly cycle journal

    PMS symptoms, moods, physical changes, all of it. Start to notice patterns. Make sure to give yourself some mood-boosting music, movement, creativity, stimulation when you know you’re going to need it.

    Elimination approach to healing your gut

    Your gut health is tied to your mental and emotional health. To better manage the ups and downs, cut out or reduce caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and salt. Yeah, this is tough, but even a small change can have a big effect. Do this with loads of self-compassion to see if a little less sugar at different times in your monthly cycle or before/after deadlines really can make a difference. No need to go overboard here, you’re trying to understand an intricately interwoven puzzle, so don’t forget to love yourself while you learn. Probiotics are a great first step, too, but remember that one size does not fit all and you may need to try a few before you find one that is right for you.

    Start an exercise habit

    Do what you like, not what you hate. Do something that doesn’t cost money. Schedule it three times a week or more in times that will actually work for you. Prioritize enjoyment and starting a habit over weight loss or gain. Your lymphatic system (immune system) needs movement to function (yoga is awesome for this, as are many forms of martial arts).

    Words to live by

    A daily mantra can work wonders. Or a habit-busting mantra. Or a PMS/hot-flash mantra. Or a theme for your week/end. Remember that your body, heart, and mind hear everything you say to yourself, so give yourself some verbal cues (silent if you want to) that make you THRIVE.

    Opt outside

    Nature heals and brings us back into balance. Get some sunshine. Move a bit. On your own or with a friend. Walking meditation, triathlon training, cliff hiking, or park bench meditation. Go get your dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. It may not erase every problem or ailment, but it helps. It really does. And it’s free.

    Feather your nest

    Make your bed the most soothing, relaxing, delightfully restful place in your world. Look forward to rejuvenating yourself for at least 8 hours (or more) every night. Your time resting is your body’s time to restore by aligning hormones. Make this your top priority.

    Stronger together

    Painful menstrual cramps, anxiety, fatigue, and any other hormonal imbalances draw us into ourselves because we experience them physically, emotionally, and mentally in our own bodies. But they needn’t trigger a response that isolates us from the support that we need and deserve.

    ALL women experience natural waves of hormonal shifts that whack our systems out of balance even if we don’t suffer from depression, chronic acne, or live through pregnancy and postpartum hormonal swings.

    Periods, perimenopause, and menopause. These are the big three hormone-driven changes that we all experience as women. And they are no joke. And for more than most realize, thyroid imbalance and autoimmune disease often get confused with perimenopause in women over 50.

    Whether you’ve lived through pregnancy or periods, you’ve felt the very real power of hormones affecting your mood, your digestive system, your breasts, and your weight. And more likely than not, you’ve suffered alone more than you’ve been supported. Asking for support can be hard, but like most things, it just takes practice.

    Here are ways that you can start to get support by giving it:

    Get a period friend

    That monthly cycle journal you’re starting? Get a friend to start one too. Compare notes, share stories and strategies. Promise each other to give up sugar/caffeine/salt/alcohol together for however many days will get BOTH of you through your PMS/bleeding cycles. Finding individual hormonal balancing strategies will take some trial and error for each of you but you don’t have to do it alone!

    Reject the comparison game. Together.

    This is a big one. And so powerful. Make a pact with a friend to stop the comparison madness. This means ditching the commentary about other’s bodies. It means encouraging each other to go gray and age naturally. It means taking the competition out of physical activity and the idea that one diet fits all. It means rejecting any “going back to my pre-pregnancy body” or “anti-aging” anything. Why? Because the work we have to do is on the inside of our own bodies at whatever stage of life we are in, whatever the hour of the day, time of month, or hormonal wave we are riding in the moment. Hold each other to higher standards that reflect the awe and respect that you have for your amazing bodies exactly as they are each day without looking forward, back, or to the sides.

    Normalize Women’s hormonal health and life stages

    Educate yourself and talk with your friends about women’s hormonal health. Learn together about how powerful older women are, and what their hormonal challenges are. Contribute, if you can, to campaigns that work to bring menstrual hygiene supplies to those who can’t afford them.

    Be the auntie that splurges on expensive period panties for her nieces. Fight alongside women in your workplace for breast-feeding rooms, maternity leave, paid mental health leave, and flexible schedules.

    It’s time to make peace with our hormones. They’re not going anywhere. Our relationships, workplaces, and personal health depend on how well we can manage the waves that will keep coming. Give yourself time, set your priorities, and team up for better hormonal health.

    By Jennifer Winther

    Jennifer Winther. LA based Yoga Teacher Trainer. Retreat leader. PhD. Writer. Traveler. Camper. Hiker. Walker. Cyclist. Meditator. Breast cancer survivor. Motherless mother. Karateka. Libra. Art Lover. Creative dabbler. Bi-racial hapa. Scout leader. Community builder. Novice chef. Advocate. Ally. Community member YBIC. Badass ninja mom.  @JenniferWintherYoga

    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.

  • Your Quarantine Yoga Practice (and Progress) Looks Different, and That’s Okay

    This heightened awareness that we are experiencing in every other aspect of our lives can also be found within ourselves and what our personal mind, body, and souls need, right now. So, if you’re feeling like you’re “losing” your practice, this is impossible. Your practice is you.

    Redefining Progress

    “Progress not perfection” is a great mantra. It brings into focus the practice of yoga rather than the visual achievements we see such as handstands or that new #yogiseeyogido trend. Sometimes, though, I wonder if the definition we’ve attributed to “progress” is focusing on the “gains” that we are striving towards in yoga. Now don’t get me wrong, I have been working towards my handstand for years and will continue to because it makes it feel strong and challenged and brave. But what if we saw the act of showing up as progress? Even if I never hit a minute handstand (which is quite possible) I am still progressing in my practice by showing up, doing the work, and incorporating the asanas and other limbs into my life. The conscious choice of practicing in order to feel strong and brave is where the magic is.

    Fear-Based Progress

    A little fear that’s popped up a few times during quarantine is that I am going to “lose” all of my progress I’ve made in my yoga journey. ⁣As fears do, this one highlights where I feel unsure or misaligned with where I am and where I want to be. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, and lots of self-criticisms show up to remind me that the only constant is change. Progress isn’t linear. It evolves and shifts and flexes and expands. Just like a good ol’ flow.⁣ I have been experiencing shame around “losing” my yoga practice. But maybe I’m more worried about the identity that yoga gives me. What I’m really experiencing is my ego not wanting to lose “gains” in my flexibility, inversions, arm balances, etc. I recognize ego is fueling this feeling, but it still comes up.

    Your Body’s Wisdom

    I’ve also been grieving the classroom space. Experiencing the duality of being completely alone in my own flow while being surrounded by others who are experiencing the same is incredibly powerful—an illustration of the connectedness of all of us. In my practice, it is the one place where I never feel I’m supposed to be somewhere or doing something, else. I show up 100% on my mat and just be in my practice. For the most part, no one else exists outside of the four corners of my mat during that 70-minute flow. I am practicing letting the ego go to know that I am having the asana practice that is needed right now. The brilliance of your body is that she knows, inherently, what you need at every moment of every day.

    We’ve learned not to listen, thinking we need to seek external insight and advice for how to make our bodies work better, faster, stronger. But in your unique experience, only your body can tell you what you need. And right now, she’s probably asking you something different than when we’re not in quarantine. This heightened awareness that we are experiencing in every other aspect of our lives can also be found within ourselves and what our personal mind, body, and souls need, right now. So, if you’re feeling like you’re “losing” your practice, this is impossible. Your practice is you.

    By Jordan Page

     

    Jordan Page is a traveling nomad who takes her love of yoga with her everywhere she goes. She also believes you can learn a lot about someone from their Hogwarts House. After completing yoga teacher training in 2017, she and her husband converted a school bus into their tiny home in which they now live and travel in full-time. She has taught in multiple states around the U.S. and in 2019 she completed her professional coach training through iPEC and earned her CPC. Through yoga and coaching, she works to empower and inspire women to own the life of their choosing through conscious, purposeful intention. She is purposefully living, while not taking things too seriously.

    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 Transformative Power of Yoga

    Yoga transformed my life and my relationship with my body. Before yoga, I thought the only way to feel good in my body was through intense physical exercise. Finding yoga taught me that stillness offers a deeper connection. The mind-body connection of yoga transformed my life. But this wasn’t always the case.

    When I was a child, my body was my instrument. I was an athlete, lifeguard, cheerleader, drill team dancer/choreographer, and avid skateboard enthusiast. I thrived on being physically active. It fed my sense of self. In fact, my physical agility drove my dream of wanting to become a dancer/choreographer on Broadway.

    Everything changed when I was 19 years old. I survived a devastating car accident, where I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury and told I wouldn’t walk again. The news shattered my confidence and complicated my relationship with my body. It felt like I had two lives: life before and after the accident. After a year and half of intense physical therapy, and a miracle, I was able to walk again with the aid of below the knee plastic braces but my journey to self returned in bits and pieces.

    I felt broken after the accident. I disconnected from my body and developed a fear of visibility. I didn’t want to be seen as disabled because I didn’t want others to limit my options. I brushed away help and ignored my physical limitations. The result: I lived in a deep sense of shame for being injured and didn’t know how to reclaim my life.

    On the outside, it looked like I recovered. I returned to college and slowly began sharing parts of my journey with a select few. But the truth was, I was fragile and wounded. I felt insecure when people stared at my limp. Sometimes I body shamed myself and clung to old mindsets that kept my world small. I kept hearing doctor advice in my head that warned that too much activity could erase progress. I now know that doctors were trying to protect me but, in reality, it instilled fear.

    First seismic shift in changing this mindset occurred a few years after the accident. I enrolled in my college’s Study French Abroad Summer Program in Strasbourg, Germany. Many thought I wasn’t up the challenge.

    “How will you manage on your own?” friends and family cautioned. “Europe isn’t accessible – what if you need help?”

    I admit I was scared but I trusted my inner voice. Therefore, I ignored concerns, quieted naysayers, and after asking my Dad for a small loan, my plans proceeded.

    Everything was on track until I met my study abroad professor. Initially, our phone conversation brought hope but my enthusiasm waned after meeting face-to-face.

    I noticed her expression as I walked in. Her eyes fixated on my limp. When, she realized I had caught her gawking, she quickly looked away to avoid eye contact. Even though this interaction was only a few seconds, it trigged rage. Somewhere in my being I wanted to confront her – and stand in my power – I wanted to speak truth to the moment and share hurt feelings. Instead, I shrunk down and squelched my voice to avoid embarrassment.

    Before the trip, many warned that French people hated Americans – but that wasn’t my experience. I bumbled French conversations with waiters and strangers – but never felt judged. I loved walking the streets of Strasbourg alone. Everywhere I went, I received hugs and smiles. I felt accepted for the first time. It boosted my confidence.

    My bubble burst a few weeks later when my professor suggested I separate from the group and take a car ride instead of participating in a group walk through Strasbourg.

    “We’re on a strict schedule and we don’t have time to wait for you to walk the distance,” my professor said in front of everyone.

    “I know my stride is slow but I’m completely capable,” I protested, arguing for inclusion.

    As our conversation grew, I eventually gave in to keep peace. But the opportunity to be real passed. I felt shame for being different but didn’t share because I wanted to belong. Staying silent seemed easier. This encounter taught me a piece of what I needed to embrace. Even though my professor didn’t see me or understand how her actions affected me, it didn’t help that I kept my pain to myself. I’ve learned that I need to speak up to be heard. Stepping into vulnerability is now my super power.

    It’s funny how life begs us to speak truth in moments of confusion. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to face who I was or stand in my own power. Keeping silent was self protection. I was in denial. When I found yoga, I found renewal. Reconnecting mind and body made me feel like a pioneer. For me, doing yoga feeds my entire vessel: mind, body, and spirit. It instills a deep sense of calm in place of fear. It allows me to embrace vulnerability and everything in between. Before yoga, I let doctors dictate how I lived and felt in my body. Discovering yoga led to embracing all parts of myself. Once I truly accepted my body in present and past forms, my world opened.

    As an adaptive chair yoga teacher and mindfulness coach, I now teach others how to embrace their whole body and accept themselves in any form. Even though we’re all on different paths, my journey to yoga revealed self-acceptance, hope, and purpose. I’m grateful for life experience that uncovered this truth. Yoga taught me that being vulnerable is worth the risk. And the truth is, yoga is not for a select group or the able bodied few. Yoga is for everyone, no matter size, shape, or physical challenge.

    By Mary Higgs

    Mary Higgs, MA, is a respected writer, online educator, speaker, mindfulness coach, and disability advocate. Developing a passion for mindfulness and becoming an Adaptive and Accessible Yoga Teacher transformed Mary’s life in unexpected ways. She loves sharing her message that transformation comes from within. She has published pieces in Yoga International, Devata Active, Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and Mind Body Solutions All-Humanity Newsletter. As a RYT, OYI, and certified Yoga for All and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Mary teaches people to explore and trust their inner wisdom, so they can live more authentically. Visit her online at YogiAble.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.

    Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

  • Your Own Experience

    As a teacher and practitioner of yoga, I try to model that each of us is always learning and teaching those around us.

    There are no experts.

    When we begin to accept that we are all learners on different parts of the same path, it opens us up to be more accepting of others, and ourselves.

    The only thing we can truly be experts in is our own experience. No one, not a single other person, can better understand, relate to, or speak to your experience.

    Personal Development Junkie.

    I like to call myself a personal development junkie. I read all the books, sign up for all the webinars, and constantly seek the knowledge and advice from other “experts” in the mindfulness sphere.

    And I find SO much value in this learning! If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

    Personal development, your yoga practice, or any other journey you take on to grow as a person is just that, a journey. There is no end. You don’t read enough books or watch enough webinars one day, and then realize, “Wow! I am now personally developed!”

    It’s a continual, mindful practice of trying, testing, changing, stretching, and challenging to become more and more of your true, highest self.

    But none of these teachers, speakers, or writers have been in your shoes (or, in yogi terms, on your mat).

    Challenge Your Assumptions.

    Seeking new ideas is only one part of the journey. Another part is making a conscious choice for what actually resonates with and serves you. Your body, mind, background, career, socio-economic status, race, religion, and so many other factors play into what will actually serve you in your experience.

    But again, you are making a CHOICE for what serves you. You might read something in this article that totally resonates. And you might read something else that you 100% disagree with.

    Great! Either way, you’ve learned something new about yourself.

    Allow me, though, to challenge your assumptions.

    Assumptions are what happens when you believe something will work out one way because it has before. What would happen in your life if you stopped assuming? What opportunities could present themselves instead, if you chose to try instead of assume?

    What is something you want, whether related to the yoga limbs or not, that you assume you can’t do, so you never even try? It could be literally anything.

    By challenging your own assumptions, learning new perspectives, and simply trying where you most believe you’re going to fail, you find what works for you.

    Whether you’re practicing with what foods work best for your body, or what yoga style resonates with you, or how to bring more self-love into your every day, this is my best advice:

    Take what works, leave the rest, and deviate as necessary. You are the expert in your own experience.

    By Jordan Page

    Jordan Page is a traveling nomad who takes her love of yoga with her everywhere she goes. She also believes you can learn a lot about someone from their Hogwarts House. After completing yoga teacher training in 2017, she and her husband converted a school bus into their tiny home in which they now live and travel in full-time. She has taught in multiple states around the U.S. and in 2019 she completed her professional coach training through iPEC and earned her CPC. Through yoga and coaching, she works to empower and inspire women to own the life of their choosing through conscious, purposeful intention. She is purposefully living, while not taking things too seriously.

    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.

  • 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.