• Truth Beyond Assumptions: Check Your Gendered Language, Reduce Harm

    If you’re cisgender, meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, you may not yet have considered the way your gender impacts your body image.

    Maybe you have–as a society, we’ve certainly begun to reckon with the impact that popular representations of men and women have on our ideas about our own bodies. Perhaps you’ve recognized that the lack of body diversity represented in media has made you self-conscious or critical of your weight or that it’s formed the basis of how you present yourself, from the way you dress to the haircut you choose. When it’s constantly reinforced that the ideal female form is slim, waifish, and demure, and that the ideal male form is muscled, tall, and hyper-masculine, it’s not unlikely that you’ve set goals for your appearance that align with the stereotypes that shroud your gender–acceptance is a basic human need. It’s possible you’ve found yourself falling short of the normalized ideal and that it has been a source of strife in your life.

    When you’re transgender or non-binary, meaning you identify with a gender other than that which you were assigned at birth, expressing your gender comfortably can be extra challenging. External pressure to conform with the stereotypes and norms associated with your gender assigned at birth can feel extra heavy when they’re not only unrealistic for many cisgender folks, but also completely out of alignment with your self-understanding. And indeed, research shows that trans folks are particularly vulnerable to struggles with body image–”gender dysphoria,” the psychological distress of feeling like your body doesn’t match your gender, is a common (though not universal) experience for trans folks and is still used as a diagnostic reference and criteria in the DSM, and studies indicate that rates of disordered eating are likely higher among trans individuals.

    I was assigned female at birth and raised as a girl, though I’ve come to understand myself as agender, a non-binary identity that denotes a lack of identification with any particular gender. I now understand that gender is not a binary, nor even one consistent spectrum, but rather a number of intersecting spectrums with infinite possible combinations. There is no universal experience of gender. After years of work to dismantle my learned self-hate around my fatness, I generally feel pretty neutral about my body. I appreciate it for what it is: the vehicle through which I get to experience this life. In this neutrality, there’s nothing about myself that I desire to change.

    But frequently when I meet new people, they look at my body and make the assumption that I’m a woman. It hurts every time. Whenever a teacher walks into our yoga class and addresses the group as “ladies,” or a classmate refers to me as “she,” I feel an immediate physical tightness and emotional distress. I experience second-hand harm even as a bystander to another person’s misgendering.  This happens everywhere, but it hits me particularly hard in yoga spaces. I see yoga as a spiritual practice that’s oriented towards non-harm and a search for truth beyond our assumptions, but this is not what I experience when I’m misgendered in yoga spaces. That sharp dichotomy between the perception of yoga spaces as welcoming and sheltered from harm and my lived experience trying to exist within them makes the sting of misgendering feel like a particularly potent betrayal of the supposedly shared ethic.

    And here’s the thing–not only does misgendering make me feel deeply unseen, something I’m hoping to escape when I come into a yoga space, it actually triggers harmful thoughts about my body. When someone looks at me and then addresses me as “ma’am” or “she,” when I feel so deeply unseen, I start to hate those parts of my body–my breasts, my wide hips, my short stature–that I know the other person is drawing on as the basis of their assumptions. This particular form of negative self-talk is particularly hard for me to combat, because I feel like my only two options are to accept the body I have and live with perpetual misgendering or to express myself inauthentically, making changes to my body that I don’t want and shouldn’t have to make. Neither option feels good or just.

    You can never tell someone’s gender by looking at them. There are plenty of trans and non-binary people who, like me, are still searching for a presentation of gender that is both authentic and publicly legible, or who are still “in the closet” for reasons all their own. There are people who don’t feel a need to change their gender expression to match external, constructed expectations of gender readability, but still deserve to have their gender and pronouns respected as much as anyone else.

    Respecting trans people and making sure you’re gendering people correctly is part of a larger practice of non-harm. I recognize that deconstructing our gendered assumptions is an uphill battle and have empathy for everyone who has been conditioned to make these assumptions–fighting our conditioning, regardless of context, is a tough task. It’s set up to be–that’s exactly how systemic oppression perpetuates, by making it difficult to change the status quo and move towards equity.

    If this is a concept you’re just starting to explore, maybe take this moment to ask yourself how many times a day you look at someone and assume their gender. Or, you could think about all the times your gender is assumed by someone else–how often does your yoga teacher greet the class with gendered language, a restaurant worker call you “ma’am” or “sir,” a public speaker address the crowd as “ladies and gentlemen,” an author write the phrase “he or she?” You may just be noticing how frequently you encounter this, but for me and many other trans and non-binary folks, it feels omnipresent.

    I’m calling on my fellow yoga practitioners to be our allies in reducing this ongoing harm. Both inside and outside of yoga spaces, practice avoiding assumptions and use gender-neutral language with people you don’t know, help normalize the practice of asking every new person you meet what their pronouns are by doing it consistently, add your own pronouns to your email signature, your Twitter bio, and your next conference nametag. Extend your ahimsa practice to trans folks. Just as you can never know who you might be hurting when you assume gender, you never know who you’re helping to exist in their body when you don’t.

    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.

  • Yoga Mythology Series: A Defeated King’s Last Words

    The car suddenly stopped with a jerk. Liam got out of the car and opened the hood and started doing a meticulous inspection, it seemed that sun was getting hotter by the second. After few minutes being inside the car his grandfather, who was travelling with Liam, got out too. “What seems to be the problem Liam”, he inquired. “Looking into it Grandpa”, Liam replied with his head under the hood. Almost an hour passed and Liam tried everything to fix the car but it did not start.

    “I saw a garage about a half mile back near the gas station, let’s get a mechanic here and get him to inspect the car”, grandfather suggested. “Grandpa, I am a qualified automobile engineer, what could the mechanic do that I can’t”, Liam retorted to the suggestion. After a while Liam gave up and got the mechanic to the car. After inspection, the mechanic asked Liam when they refueled the car and Liam told him that it was from the gas station near his garage on the highway. “You have misfuelled the car, this a petrol engine and you have put diesel in it”. Both Liam and the grandfather looked at each other in silence. “Sorry Liam I thought your car had a diesel engine and put the same in it”, the grandfather said apologetically. The diesel was pumped out and petrol was put into the tank. It was almost evening and both of them were driving on the highway again.

    Both sat in silence with their eyes on the highway as Liam drove.

    “Liam have you heard of the story of Ravana and Prince Laxmana?” Grandpa broke the silence with his question. But Liam kept driving without replying.

    “Ravana the mighty scholar King and a great yogi was lying on the battle ground injured by the arrows of prince Rama and the younger brother prince Laxmana, awaiting his death”, grandfather continued.

    “Rama the elder brother asked Laxmana to go and pay his last respects to the dying defeated King of great wisdom, and seek true knowledge from him. Laxama resented the idea and said that he did not want to go near his enemy who they had defeated. Rama requested his younger brother again telling him that there was lot to learn from the Ravana and that he should go to him. Laxmana gave in to his elder brother’s request but came back furious and told his brother that Ravana did say a word to him inspite of him asking. Rama asked Laxmana where he was standing when he went close to Ravana, and Laxmana told him that he went and stood next to Ravana’s head while he lay on the ground.

    Hearing this Rama said “dear Laxmana please go again and this time sit close to his feet and request for wisdom again”. Laxmana was annoyed at his brother’s suggestion and asked why should he sit at Ravana’s feet? Prince Rama explained it to him that he had to approach Ravana as teacher to seek wisdom and since a person’s feet represent mother earth which gives birth to everything and that all which is created goes back to earth eventually, thus it’s a sign of humbleness and acknowledging mother nature, which is existence in its vastness, so when you bow down or sit close to a teacher’s feet, you lighten yourself of your ego and become like an empty vessel to absorb, a teacher will realize it and help you in your quest, it’s not respect the teacher is seeking but looking for sign if you are ready to learn, and you can learn something from everyone if you are willing to empty for vessel from all memories and impressions that fog your perspective.

    Both Prince Rama and Prince Laxmana approached the wise king Ravana again and sat by his feet.

    “Oh wise king please show us a path to righteousness” Laxmana requested Ravana.

    Ravana looked at Laxmana and spoke “Young prince, with my last few remaining breaths I can only tell you that I lay here because of my pride, the pride I took in being the most learned and most powerful. And in those moments of self-obsession I lost my ability to distinguish between righteousness and irreverence.”

    “Laxmana always remember any action that we do with a feeling of compassion, kindheartedness and thoughtfulness is a right act and such act demands our immediate attention and we should complete it without delay or procrastination.”

    “Lastly, always be aware of your enemy. This enemy resides within oneself; the one who makes us put ourselves over and above everyone else around us”. Prince Laxmana stood in silence as Ravana the teacher spoke his last words.

    It was 7:30 p.m. when the car halted at the driveway. Liam and his grandfather got out of the car. Liam came around from the other side and gave his grandfather a hug and then led him to the house holding his hand.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India.

    Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

  • Yogi-Bitionism: How Patriarchy Steals our Female Elders

    Youth, for women, is a tremendous form of currency. And, this is the crux of my problem with yogi-bitionism. Yoga is, presumably, a space where we can find our intrinsic worth. Ideally, it can counteract the poisonous tendency of evaluating women on the basis of their appearance.

    A Christmas Eve yoga practice! Just what I need to relax and stay calm before the Christmas holiday. So many gifts to still wrap. Gotta drive a long, long distance to get to my aunt house tomorrow (although I do greatly love this aunt and uncle and find them well worth the drive). Looking forward to seeing my siblings, too! So right, better get my butt in gear so I can get to class on-time. Only, I’m on this aspartame cleanse using bentonite clay? And the shits be like…anyway. I just gotta hurry this up so I can get to class. OK so what time is it? (pun! zing!) I only have 15 minutes to get to class and it will take me at least 18. $#@! Late again. I pull up only two minutes late (no traffic!) and race to check in. I imagine that I enter class a mere 5 minutes late, which feels utterly respectable. I park my mat on the far side of the room, near the window, and join the class in a little cat-cow. I look up during cow position to see that another lady has come in after me, parked her mat diagonal to my left. Ha! I thought, I wasn’t even the latest $#@! in here.

    We press up into downward-facing dog. I keep my knees bent, articulating my spine, which always feels stiff around the thoracic. I’m undulating, loosening the muscles and tissues surrounding the vertebrae. The instructor calls out “Uttanasana.” I’m feeling pretty open across the shoulders, since I did a practice the day before. I decide to jump forward. Now, before my first jump, I sometimes lift my tailbone and kind of bounce my booty a little bit. It gives me momentum going into the jump. I rock my booty a taste and jump forward, landing softly. Then I hear a cackle, “HA! Ahahaaha!” It’s coming from the late white lady (LWL). She was really getting a hearty laugh out of something. Now, save the music playing in the background and the teacher’s instructions, the room is entirely quiet. No one is cracking a joke. The only things in her line of vision were my swaying bottom, and the wall. True, I wasn’t sure why LWL was laughing. Was she laughing at a thought that just arose in her mind? Was it something the lady next to her—who she clearly didn’t know—said or did? Or could it be, since she was in clear view of my ass, that she found my butt rocking utterly hysterical?

    Thing is, I am usually the lone black person in a yoga room. Sometimes, I am the only person of color amid a sea of white. I can tell you that there have been many times white people have looked at me sideways. Frowning, anxious, fearful, and of course amused. (I can tell you endless stories of white folks getting a kick out of seeing me in a yoga room.) It’s like a bear sighting. I wasn’t entirely sure she found me funny. But, I had a pretty strong feeling that was what got her going. I knew it was going to be a long yoga class. It’s no mean feat to block out a smug, self-satisfied, yoga practitioner when they are in your midst. This is especially true when the yogi is really flexing. Giving the fullest, most challenging expression of every pose, for no particular reason. These “yogi-bitionists” as I’ve taken to calling them want you looking. They’re expecting your eyes, praying/preying on your gaze. You watching them is one of the things that brings them to class. And yes, they’re trolling the $#@! out of you.

    This woman was the most obvious type of yogi-bitionist. We were in a Vinyasa 1 class, the purportedly lowest level of asana instruction. The type of class that gives the practitioners, new and returning, the chance to focus more on alignment and breath work than contortionism. Yet, she was attempting handstands and arm balances at just about every transition. Don’t get me wrong: when you know your body, you will do the expression that you are most comfortable with. I was in one “advanced” class wherein before the class even started the woman to the left of me jumped into a handstand, while the woman on the right dropped back into wheel. I was like, “Oh, it’s this kind of class? I’m here for it.” In terms of mastering the asanas, these two women (who also appeared to be in their 50s) were impressive. Confident and self-possessed. Not there to make friends, but nevertheless kind to the other folks in the class.

    In this particular class though, because we hadn’t warmed up for some of the more advanced postures LWL was attempting, she kept falling out of them. This was seemingly her body’s way of telling her it was not ready for them. In the rare cases when she managed to effectively land an inversion, she’d only be in the pose for a millisecond before the entire rest of the class transitioned to something else, because it was a Vinyasa 1 class. With short holds. At the end of the class, our instructor turned and walked over to this woman. Introduced the lady as her own teacher. It was the first time LWL turned around so we could see her face. She was in her mid-50s. Wearing a crop top and several cute little ponytails. Then, I knew what the whole show was about: wanting to intimidate, instead of being intimidated, in a space full of younger women. It was sad, not mostly because of how she was put together.

    Tomorrow, when I’m in my 50s, I might rock my styles just like that. (Er’ryday it’s a battle not to wear a catsuit because $#@! everybody.) It was discouraging because of what the combination of her hairstyle, attire, and posturing signaled as a unit. It was like she was overcompensating for being older. She seemed to keep her gaze down a lot, and it clearly wasn’t from modesty. Seemingly she was doing it because the face reveals the age. She didn’t want any of us noticing her wizened visage. Instead, she seemed to be goaling toward drawing attention to her performative “mastery” of the asanas, in an effort to appear superior to women two-three decades her junior. The reason is clear. Youth, for women, is a tremendous form of currency. And, this is the crux of my problem with yogi-bitionism. Yoga is, presumably, a space where we can find our intrinsic worth. Ideally, it can counteract the poisonous tendency of evaluating women on the basis of their appearance. Of pitting women against one another to determine who’s got the cutest face and the perkiest tits. Who’s most flexible. This latter point is an underestimated expectation of patriarchy. Not a new one by any means. But one of the reasons why the idea of yoga being performed by young (white) women, has been taken up with such relish in our capitalist, hetero-patriarchal culture.

    The experience was a reminder of what patriarchy has taken from us. It has taken our women elders. How many women over the age of 50 do you know who are competitive with much younger women? (And again, I’m not talking about sexy women of any age living their best lives. Each day I know that because of women like Adrienne Banfield-Jones, anything is possible.) Women’s sexual objectification is the root of the problem. And yet, white capitalist hetero-patriarchy doesn’t have to be the final word. Instead of using yoga for yogi-bitionist aims, yoga can help us move past our objectification. It can help us value ourselves, and genuinely appreciate the humanity of other (cis and trans) women. You can think of it as a form of Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) or alternatively not clinging. Aparigraha tells us that rather than clinging to youth, beauty, age and ability, we can let all that go. In so doing, we can become more generous, and less competitive with others. It suggests that for women who are long-time yoga practitioners, as we age we can view ourselves as worthy of teaching, guiding, leading, or at the bare minimum respecting, the next generation of women. Not remaining in the competition with them for the implied male gaze. Because even without the presence of cis-het men, the visual economy of preferences which they have conjured is still working on us.

    I was reminded of Chris Rock’s indictment of the old man in the club. 37, too old to be in the club. I was 37 when this incident took place, and I’m 40 now. The more I go to yoga studios in southern California, the younger the women seem to get. Perhaps the LWL, in a rebuke of father time, wanted to prove to these young women (in which group I personally did not include myself) that she still had it. It is the opposite of what yoga has been about, historically. But, it is a reflection of what happens when yoga is taken up commercially. I’d like to think of yoga as a space where I can bring my whole self. Where I have a right to practice even when I haven’t got on a new outfit (I’mma tell y’all about that time I was outfit-shamed later.) I’m not going to compensate for aging as a woman by becoming a yogi-bitionist. We all deserve better.

    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.

  • In Support of POC and Marginalized Folks in the Yoga Community

    To understand why I feel strongly about providing resources to POC and marginalized populations who want to practice Yoga, I need to tell a little bit of my story.

    From a very young age, I learned that being Black was not desirable or of importance to the larger world. My mother would go to multiple stores in search of Black dolls. They were often sold out because it wasn’t as important to manufacturers and stores to carry as wide of a selection of Black dolls as it was White ones. One Christmas, in order for me to have a Black doll, She had a woman hand-make one. When I opened my gift, I cried. Why couldn’t I have the popular dolls that the White girls received instead of a knock off?

    Yoga For Recovery Foundation Fundraiser

    White girls were the stars of the shows I watched and the Black girl was the sassy sidekick. One of my favorite Saturday morning shows was Saved By the Bell, a story of a group of high school kids in California. Even though the Black character, Lisa Turtle, was pretty and stylish, she rarely had a love interest. Though she definitely had episodes where she was featured, she was not centered. For a Black person to be featured, the show pretty much had to be about Black people. Shows like A Different World, the Cosby Show, and reruns of Good Times and Sanford and Son were a part of the hand full of shows that centered Black people living day to day life. Other then the sassy sidekick funny homeboy/girl who supported the White character or was killed first in horror movies, Black people on TV were largely entertainers, i.e.basketball players, singers, dancers etc, or criminals.

    When I started school, I noticed that the closer you were to White, the more attention you received from teachers. When your skin was lighter and your hair straighter, you were called beautiful. The girls with kinky hair and dark skin were told that they had “pretty faces” or the boys talked about their “nice bodies”. We were never called beautiful. By the time I saw Grace Jones, an avant-garde Black supermodel on TV, I was so confused and I didn’t understand why she was in the James Bond Series which was known for its half-naked “beautiful” White “Bond” girls. Were they making fun of her? Did James Bond really like her or was she a joke?

    One year, I was having trouble with math. The immediate assumption was that it was because I must have come from a bad home and not that I had a horrible teacher who tripped over herself to help White students but berated and yelled at the Black ones. And don’t let me get started on education. Except for Black History month or brief mentions of slavery, Black people didn’t exist. We definitely were not kings and queens from advanced societies that predate White culture. The mini-series, Roots, was the first movie I ever watched that hinted at Black people having an existence before slavery. These are just a few stories and hopefully enough to see where I am going.

    As a Black child, I was surrounded by beautiful Black people from my family, my church and my community. They were not all football players or singers and they were definitely not criminals. In my life, stunning and amazing Black people were everywhere, yet, we were erased from every other aspect of culture that extended outside of my own neighborhood. The message I received as a child was that Blackness was not important to the rest of the world. It was only important to our own community. Outside of my community, no one wanted to see color or talk about it.

    To keep everyone else comfortable, I had to become complicit in my own erasure. Because when White people were uncomfortable, bad things happened. Sassiness is cool when you play the sidekick in a cop show but might get you killed when stopped by a cop in real life. They needed to be comfortable with my hair, my dress, my walk and the way I talked or teachers would not like me, I would not get a job, or people may feel that I am a threat. If I wanted to be considered attractive, I had to downplay my African features and alter anything that could be molded into something that resembled White standards of beauty. I needed to smile all the time to get the position of sassy sidekick, which from what the media taught me, was the quickest way to a good life. A supporting roll in a White centered world was a blessing and something to strive for.

    Can you even begin to understand how hard it is to thrive in a world that is hell-bent on erasing your culture from existence? The pain of it? The daily struggle to keep living and breathing in a culture that only seems to mention your people when you can entertain them in some sort of way or a crime has been committed?

    You would think that this narrative would stop when I started practicing Yoga. Yoga is about love, liberation and oneness, right? Well, it didn’t. The same dynamic is in play. People in the Yoga world are constantly talking about how to make “people” comfortable enough to try Yoga. Have you ever stopped to think about what “people” they are referring too? I will give you a hint, it is not POC. Making a Yoga class more “comfortable”, “accessible” and less “intimidating” are often just code words for erasure. Think about it. What often gets taken out? Chanting, Sanskirt, mentions of South Asian deities and concepts. What gets added in? “Popular” music or music that is popular among mainstream Whites. If a studio does play chants, they are usually performed by White people like Krishna Das or Dave Stringer. Information is conveyed in ways that White people vibe with. Stories from the Gita are replaced with Brene Brown quotes. Om symbols are replaced with pictures of skinny White people in Lululemon.

    Even though I have done a lot of work unpacking the trauma of being raised a Black child in a society that doesn’t really value her existence, when I teach in a predominately White studio, I have to use the same survival mechanisms I use anywhere else. I thought I didn’t because this is Yoga and we are all “woke” and love each other right? Wrong. A White Yoga studio owner told me to smile. They wagged their head and used their “sassy black woman voice’ when they quoted me. I got feedback from students that they thought I didn’t like them because I wasn’t smiling at them. People didn’t understand why I didn’t like the popular Yoga clothing brands that did not fit my curvy body and insisted that I was just wearing them wrong. I made playlists I hated because they did not reflect me or my culture but that my White students loved. I would greet people on their way to class who looked at me like “why was I talking to them” who would be shocked when I walked into class and said I was teaching it. I have been in countless meetings and wrote countless blogs where I have said things that were ignored but were listened to when a White person said it. Like my childhood examples, for the sake of brevity, I am going to stop here but do know that I can keep going. If you are thinking about commenting on this article and gaslighting me, it won’t work. I know what I experienced and am still experiencing.

    When I speak on these things, people often ask, “what are you doing about it?” I think to myself, “You mean besides continuing to live on this earth, teach and practice Yoga while experiencing microaggressions and race-based trauma on a daily basis from the community I love and wish would just love me back?” Sometimes I have to laugh to keep from crying. After one of these conversations, I was like, “you know what, I will start an organization to help.” I didn’t start it to let those who perpetrate the erasure of POC off the hook. I started it as a way to be of service to those who experience what I experience. To make it a little bit easier for them to move in the Yoga world if they so desire. I started the organization to help end the idea that comfortable Yoga is White, binary, and heteronormative.

    When I started talking about wanting to start an organization that gave scholarships to marginalized groups who wanted to practice Yoga and educated people on inclusion and honoring the roots of Yoga, a White colleague in the Yoga world immediately wanted to be an ally. In the end, four women who have a passion for offering Yoga to folks and their families struggling from various traumas such as addiction and abuse, came together to form Yoga For Recovery Foundation Inc. The trauma that POC and other marginalized populations endure by systemic erasure from practices and societies that they helped create, is where I chose to put my focus.

    Yoga For Recovery Foundation Fundraiser

    By Shanna Small

    Read More Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, OmStars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography

  • Cruelty-Free Winter Coat Guide

    “To live the yogi life means that you take responsibility for all of your actions, and the repercussions, really, of all of your choices.  Whether that’s food, diet, or lifestyle.  Remember that as you’re going through your day.  Don’t be too hard on yourself. . .bring that little bit more consciousness into every decision of your life, and you’ll be living the yogi life.”
    –Kino MacGregor

    We can help conserve the Earth’s beauty through the choices made in our closet. There are many conscious, eco-friendly options being released by both new and familiar brands, every day. It is easy to become overwhelmed when searching for the perfect coat that matches with your desired comfort and environmental awareness. In this blog, brands are broken down into all-vegan companies, and companies that offer vegan options. At the bottom, you will find a few tips on garment labeling to help guide your search.

    100% Vegan and Cruelty-Free Brands

    These all-vegan, cruelty-free companies are passionate about protecting nature and actively research sustainable resources.

    Save the Duck

    Save the Duck’s simplistic, clean designs give the wearer the chance to accessorize up. Pair with many other items in your closet for a constantly changing look. Save the Duck offers both waterproof and water resistant coats with their signature down alternative, PLUMTECH to keep you cozy.

    Watch Kino’s Closet featuring Save the Duck

    Didriksons
    Swedish company, Didriksons, offers a wide range of fully waterproof coats with loose fiber padding polyester insulation. These designs work for everyday practical comfort, outdoor activities, hiking, and pretty much any occasion where you want to keep perfectly warm and dry.

    Noize
    Noize creates unique designs with bold colors that add a blast of flare to any collection. Their water-resistant coats keep you warm with fillers made from recycled plastic bottles.

    Vaute
    With their sleek lines and designer styles, Vaute Couture coats are both warm and stylish. They offer waterproof and water-resistant models lined with Primaloft ECO, which is made with 100% recycled fibers.

    Brands with Vegan Options

    Just like many of us, brands are starting to become more aware of the needs of our environment. By purchasing a company’s cruelty-free options, it heightens their awareness, and encourages them to create more.

    Fjallraven 

    Fjallraven offers a few vegan coats that are durable, and come with high-quality waterproofing and warmth, in timeless Swedish styles. Their lifetime guarantees are a true step in the right direction toward sustainability.

    Watch Kino’s Closet featuring Fjallraven

    66°North

    Once an Icelandic Fisherman apparel company, 66°North offers a waterproof vegan parka designed to keep you warm and dry with taped seams, and polyester insulation.

    Watch Kino’s Closet featuring 66 North

    Columbia

    While it might be a little more difficult to sort out the synthetics from the non-synthetics, Columbia does have quite a few options using all man-made materials. Using 100% polyester, Columbia provides several well-made synthetic options, such as their Suttle Mountain™ Long Insulated Jacket that will certainly keep you warm and is available in many local shops.

    Marmot

    The clever title, Featherless, helps individuals find vegan options more easily with this brand. Check out Marmot’s Featherless synthetic insulation line. These coats are lined with cruelty-free, 3M Thinsulate and recycled synthetic materials which promotes sustainability while protecting you from the cold.

    when in doubt, Check the materials

    While out shopping with friends, one may come across an unfamiliar brand. There are a few simple ways to find out what materials were used to make it.

    Read the labels.

    Material labels are typically located on the inside of the jacket, or even hidden in a pocket. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires garments to be labeled with fiber contents that make up the garment if the material used is above 5 percent. That 5 percent portion typically includes trims and decorations. Synthetic, Faux Fur, Nylon, and Polyester are keywords to look for. The phrase, “exclusive of trims” can mean that decorative pieces such as logo patches or zipper pulls could potentially be made out of non-synthetic materials that are not listed on the label.

    Ask the Shopkeeper.

    Your detective work could be easily cut short by asking for advice from the employees who know their inventory well. They might even have local recommendations to offer.

    Do a Quick Online Search.

    If you’re equipped with a smart device, and in a place with a good signal or connectivity, you can always do a quick internet search to get more information about the brand.

    A Sense of Peace and Well-Being

    Regardless of which style you choose–whether it is vegan, almost vegan, or second-hand–the conscious effort to preserve the Earth and its animals will bring a sense of peace and well-being. Please remember not to stress out too much about finding all-vegan options.  It will be challenging at times, though eventually this whole process will become second-nature. Simply feel confident that you are doing what you can.

    To stay inspired, check out Kino MacGregor’s vegan fashion talk show, Kino’s Closet, on Omstars.com! We would love to hear about all of your favorite cruelty-free brands, too!

    By Jodi Lane

    Omstars marketing manager, Jodi Lane, discovered Ashtanga yoga in 2017 from Kino MacGregor. You may see her on Instagram as @kittytreets chatting with fellow yogis, trading vegan recipes, and sharing art techniques with other artists. She loves cats, creating meaningful stories, and illustrating sincere pieces of art that reflect her passions.

  • Omstars Yoga Challenges of 2019

    When you practice yoga, you can literally help change the world. Part of being a yogi means giving back to the community, and here at Omstars, our favorite way to give back is through hosting challenges that allow us to collect and donate money to carefully selected causes that we believe are helping to make the world a better place.

    The 30-Day Yoga Journey with Kino MacGregor

    “Change only happens in the present moment. The past is already done. The future is just energy and intention.”  –Kino MacGregor

    The path to yoga begins one day, one pose, and one breath at a time. The beginning of 2019 brought yogis all over the world together to experience different styles of yoga such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin, and more. Omstars and Liforme donated $1 to Yoga Gives Back for every person who joined the challenge in the New Year. This important charity is dedicated to raising awareness and funds to help impoverished children and mothers in India–the birthplace of yoga.

    Ashtanga Basics Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    Experiences in yoga can change your life. In March of 2019, Omstars members joined Kino MacGregor for a 10-day yoga challenge. This 22-Class, Ashtanga adventure included live practices and on-demand classes that focused on foundational postures and movements found in the Ashtanga Primary Series. A few lucky winners of the challenge were treated to prizes such as an Ashtanga Yoga Card deck by Kino MacGregor and Shambhala Productions or a delicious tea set from Fifth Limb Wellness.

    Everyday Joy of Yoga Challenge with Kaitlyn Kreitzman

    May of 2019 gave Omstars members The Everyday Joy of Yoga Challenge. Challenge host, Kaitlyn Kreiztman, included invigorating flows and restorative yoga into this 9-day yoga journey. To kick off this challenge, Kaitlyn provided a gentle yoga blog sequence to supplement this course.  This challenge supported the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a foundation that supports families and individuals affected by mental health trauma. Omstars donated $1 for every signup to AFSP. A few prize winners were treated to subscriptions to In The Moment Magazine. The Omstars community came together to raise awareness for this outstanding foundation through the healing practice of yoga. Kaitlyn led members through a variety of yoga methods that focused on alignment, breath work, meditation, and yoga philosophy.

    Practice of Peace Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    “This challenge will guide you through contemplative and movement practices to calm the mind, open the heart and begin your journey into the inner world.” – Kino MacGregor

    International yoga teacher, Kino MacGregor, brought the Practice of Peace to everyone in this 20-day yoga challenge. Featuring one yoga practice and one meditation each day, challenge participants were given the tools to cultivate a peaceful mentality in June of 2019. This challenge supported Yoga Gives Back. For every participant, Omstars and Liforme donated $1 to this charity which helps give young women and children in India the power to build sustainable livelihoods. Together the community helped to share peace throughout the globe.

    Ashtanga Home Practice Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    Kino MacGregor reinspired the home practice with the Ashtanga Home Practice Challenge in September of 2019. For 16 days, challenge participants were guided through courses that help develop and structure a safe home practice in the Ashtanga Yoga method. Challenge participants learned to honor their personal limitations by exploring physical, mental, and emotional capacities. As an insightful bonus, Shanna Small joined the challenge to teach five live classes that examined a variety of poses and movements, sharing variations to suit all shapes and sizes. Challenge prize winners were treated to prizes such as titles from Kino MacGregor’s book and DVD collection, Omstars by Liquido clothing, and vegan, hand-crafted soaps by Smithmade Essentials. Yogis all over the world shared the inspiration to keep coming back to the mat, everyday.

    Be Strong Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    “Learning how to be happy with failure is one of the lessons of strength.” –Kino MacGregor

    Kino MacGregor gave participants the tools to safely progress in developing strength. Sharing personal experience from years of practice and exploration, Kino designed this 13-Day challenge in November of 2019 to integrate the mind, body, and soul. These 13 classes build you up from the basics and take you all the way to the peaks of the strength. Yogis all over the world were guided through strength-building drills that develop foundational strength while reinforcing the connection to one’s inner being.

    Yoga IS Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    Start the new year with a journey into the heart of yoga. Every day for 30 days, receive a new accessible practice designed to guide you on a process of inner awakening. Each class will be centered around a pose with modifications to make it truly accessible and offer key lessons about the meaning yoga can have in your life. This challenge is appropriate for all levels from beginner to the most advanced. Commit to the Yoga Is Challenge to experience more peace, happiness, and love in your life.

    Sign Up Today!

  • Yogis at Ramadan

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    This month, Ramadan, is one of deep inward reflection for Muslims. For many non-Muslims, the month of Ramadan immediately suggests a time of fasting, hardship, and deprivation. Perhaps for those very reasons, many of my non-Muslim friends are shocked to hear that I maintain my same yoga teaching and practice schedule throughout my observance of Ramadan. They are indeed correct that Ramadan involves fasting — from dawn to sunset, Muslims, myself included, refrain from the intake of food and drink and even abstain from bodily pleasures of intimacy. And they are certainly correct that this is a deprivation and can be a hardship, but the result is a time of deep cleansing and renewal and the effect supports and enhances my yoga practice. My yoga practice is deeper and more spiritual than it is at any other time of the year. Yoga and Ramadan bring out the best in each other and the combination brings out the best in me.

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    “As you are” takes on an even deeper meaning to me during the month of Ramadan, because it is a month stripped bare of distractions. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from who we are. For many of us, we are not comfortable facing who we truly are, so we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex, curated, online personas of ourselves, memories of what we once did, anxieties about what we might one day do. In fact, we have any number of tools at our disposal to keep us from facing the stripped down truth of who we are, as we are, at any particular moment. Yoga provides one framework for accessing our true selves, as we are, by penetrating and examining the five koshas, or sheaths, that overlay our true selves. The observance of Ramadan helps us strip away the distractions and focus on each kosha.

    Annamaya is the physical layer, our flesh and bones. During Ramadan, we fast during daylight hours and make careful choices to hydrate and nourish ourselves during the precious few hours between sundown and dawn, mindful of the delicate balance with our bodies’ countervailing need for sleep. Making the right choices involves a keen understanding of our physical selves, where our body is on that day and in that moment.

    Pranayama is our energetic layer, manifesting through the breath as a symbol of the energy of life. Islam encourages us to find balance in our lives and, during the month of Ramadan, we are asked to fast from the worldly desires that may, at other times, overtake us and throw us out of balance. During this month, we fast from temptations, anger, and aggression. Instead, we prioritize compassion, kindness, giving, and community involvement. This renewed focus cleanses our energetic selves.

    Manomaya is the mind, our means to self-identify, and Vijnanamaya is our intellect and wisdom. During the month of Ramadan, we increase our practices of reflection, contemplation, meditation, devotion, and prayers. Our increased prayer practice forces us out of the daily bustle and drops us into ourselves. This inward focus quiets the noise of our daily lives and connects us deeply with our own spiritual beliefs. Free from that noise, we understand who we are and we grow the intellect and wisdom that supports us on our path.

    Anandamaya is the absolute truth, our true self, as we are, at this moment. These daily practices purify our body, our mind, and our soul. Ultimately, they help us pull back the curtains we wrap around ourselves and face the reality of who we are. It might not be quite who we thought. It might not be an Instagram-perfect reality. It might be something we’ve been avoiding. But finding our true self is important because it links us to God. Believing in God requires you to find yourself and believe in yourself, after all, you are the only version of yourself that He made. To ignore or hide your true self is to ignore God. To change yourself or avoid your true self is to assume that God made a mistake in creating you. He didn’t. We tend to look for things in the wrong places, God included. In Arabic, we say Allah for God, pronounced al-Luh. When we say it over and over, it mimics the sound of our own beating heart. Our own heart is the best place to find our connection to God. 

    So, find your true self and celebrate what you find.  You may not be perfect, but you are as you should be, right now.

    Practice with Ahmed on Omstars

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

    Join live classes with Ahmed on Omstars

  • Ayurvedic Potion: Adaptogenic Golden Mylk

    This is my favorite tea to drink. I drink this multiple times a day, especially when I’m writing, and it’s adaptogenic golden mylk.

    So, what are adaptogens? Adaptogens are a type of herb that adapt to whatever your nervous system needs. So, let’s say you wake up, first thing in the morning, and you’re really tired, and you take an adaptogen.  That will actually bring up your energy, so, it’s a really good replacement for coffee, matcha, any other kind of stimulant, and there is no caffeine.

    Now, let’s say, you take that same adaptogen, at night. It will actually help cool you down, chill you out, and prepare you for sleep. So, they really adapt to whatever the nervous system needs at that time. Either, more energy, or bringing it down. So, it’s really good if you have a stressful job, adrenal fatigue, or anything like that. So, the adaptogen that I am using today is called, Ashwaghanda, and Ashwaghanda literally means, strength of a stallion. It’s a very commonly used adaptogen in Ayurveda, and formally was used more for men, to give them strength, but now a lot of women, we need that extra strength, too. So, Ashwaghanda is good for everyone, and the feminine version of it is called, Shatavari. And you can make this recipe with Shatavari, as well.

    So, golden mylk, a lot of people call this yogi tea, is a turmeric-based potion. The reason why turmeric is the base, is because turmeric is really anti-inflammatory. So, we spoke about how it’s really anti-inflammatory for the brain, and that helps it work as an anti-depressant. Clinical research has now found it as effective as Prozac, but it also works in the body. So, if you’re doing a lot of yoga, you’re doing a lot of exercise, physical activity, inflammation can be created over-time.  So, the turmeric is going to help just alleviate that so you feel much more agile, much more comfortable in your body.  So, it’s really good for everyone. Turmeric also helps burn belly fat, which is another really cool thing about it. It’s been found that it specifically works on fat in the mid-section, again, because it’s stress-related, cortisol-related.  So, turmeric really helps with that. So, I love turmeric for so many reasons, which is why it’s the base of golden mylk.

    Golden Mylk Powder Mixture

    • Turmeric
    • Ginger
    • Black Pepper
    • Ashwaghanda

    Golden Mylk Potion

    • Unsweetened non-dairy milk
    • Hot water
    • 1 teaspoon Golden Mylk Powder Mixture

    I like to make this ahead of time, I actually travel with it because I can just take a spoon and add it anywhere. It’s like a tea that requires really no steeping. So, again, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and the ashwaghanda. Just mix up the powders. You can put it in a little glass jar, travel with it, keep it with you at home. You can actually kind of customize it to what you want. So, let’s say you want it a little bit more spicy, a little bit more gingery, you can crank that up. You can add more black pepper, less black pepper, again, there’s really no rules, just make sure you have the ingredients in there somewhere.

    Learn more with Sahara’s Ayurveda course on Omstars

    By Sahara Rose Ketabi

    Sahara Rose is the best-selling author of the Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, which is the #1 best-selling Ayurveda book globally and Eat Feel Fresh: A Plant-Based Ayurvedic Cookbook. She has been called “a leading voice for the millennial generation into the new paradigm shift” by Deepak Chopra, who wrote the foreword of both her titles. Sahara hosts the Highest Self Podcast, ranked as the #1 top podcast in the spirituality category on iTunes. Sahara’s mission is to awaken people to their innate potential so they can share their gifts and fulfill their purpose on this planet. “This is Ayurveda’s next evolutionary step. Sahara Rose has successfully refreshed and revitalized the ancient knowledge without watering down its significance and depth. She blends reverence for the tradition with an awareness of present-day needs. Find more wisdom on Sahara’s website or Instagram.

  • I Felt the Power of Yoga

    Yika’al. It is possible. I decided to be more creative with my English activities.  One of the activities I came up with was teaching English through yoga.

    Sometime after graduating college, I decided I wanted to serve in the United States Peace Corps (pronounced “core” not “corpse”). Please note: Omstars is not affiliated with the United States Peace Corps or the United States Government. Serving in the Peace Corps means committing yourself to living two years in a community abroad, typically a developing country, building capacity and exchanging ideas and experiences. And of course, promoting peace.

    You integrate as best as you can by immersing yourself in the language and culture and make lifelong friends.  In May 2011, I stepped off the plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After studying the northern language, Tigrinya, for several months and living with a host family, I was sent to a rural town of about 16,000 people to teach English and pedagogy at a college of teacher education.

    Over the course of my first year there, I ran around in so many directions trying to make things happen. There were times I held workshops and no one came. There were times I asked for colleagues to support me and no one did. There were times I put things on the schedule, only to learn there was a holiday I didn’t know about. It was hard, but with every failure, I learned how to improve. I learned how best to communicate to the students. I learned which people to work with. I learned which customs were most respected. Finally, the most important thing I learned was that, not everyone wants your help, and that’s completely fine.

    As I started my second year, I decided to be more creative with my English activities.  One of the activities I came up with was teaching English through yoga. I had dabbled in some yoga classes before I joined the Peace Corps, and felt confident I could at least talk about the shapes. I was still nervous to do the presentation, but one phrase that kept me going. Yichalal, spoken by the famous marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie, means, “It is possible.” There’s a sense of optimism among Ethiopians that’s contagious. The day I gave the presentation, we didn’t have yoga mats and I didn’t know how to really instruct students to flow, but it was fun to make the poses and laugh together. The presentation was so successful that my colleague Yikuno and I agreed we should repeat the yoga classes. He suggested we take it outside to the soccer field.

    I will never forget the day I led our students through the poses with the backdrop of the mighty mountains behind us. I think this is the first moment I felt the power of yoga. I realized it was greater than all of us. Suddenly the female students felt like they had a place among the male students. All students could make poses, let their breath guide them, and be a part of the beautiful practice of yoga. Yoga transcends language, geography, culture, and identity.

    By Ally Born

    Ally is a yogi, runner, Ironman triathlete, and a former competitive swimmer and water polo player. She started running after earning her bachelor’s degree and has now completed five marathons. She served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ethiopia for two years and returned to the states to complete her master’s degree in international educational development. While job-hunting, she dabbled in yoga challenges on Instagram with Kino MacGregor and fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga yoga. During the following year, she earned her 200-hour level yoga teaching certification. Over the last couple years, she has been fortunate to have trained with several authorized Ashtanga instructors, including Kino and Harmony Slater. She truly believes that yoga is for everyone and loves teaching it. When she’s not on her mat, she can be found training for triathlons, traveling, and researching. Keep in touch with Ally on Instagram.

  • Create a Soul Inspired Intention

    The first thing that we need to know is, that desire to fulfill our desires is part of the soul’s nature.

    In Sanskrit the word for intention, or resolve, is Sankalpa. We are going to be talking about Sankalpa Shakti, how to give power to our intentions. The first thing that we need to know is, that desire to fulfill our desires is part of the soul’s nature. According to the Vedic scriptures, your soul is born with four desires.

    Dharma
    The desire for dharma, or purpose. A destiny, to have a fulfilled life.

    Artha
    The desire for artha, or the means to fulfill your desires. And that doesn’t only include material wealth, but it also covers health and security of housing and everything that you need in order to fulfill your desires.

    Kama
    We also are born with the desire for kama, or pleasure in all of its forms, earthly and spiritual. And it’s for pleasure and enjoyment of everything that life has to offer.

    Moksha
    And then Moksha, the desire for liberation, to be free. And that includes freedom in the world and freedom from the world. The ultimate spiritual freedom.

    Let your heart tell you, which of these four desires will help me fulfill my purpose. Which of these four desires, in the next 6 to 12, or 18 months, move me closer toward the goal of who and what I am meant to be in this world. And without letting your daily functioning mind get in the way, just simply trust your heart. You might see that one of the four desires is shimmering, or brighter, or more attractive to you, and just trust that, that is the desire that needs to be focused on for the next 6 to 12, or 18 months.

    Continue this lesson with Inge on Omstars

    By Inge Sengelmann

    Inge Sengelmann, LCSW, SEP, RYT-500 is an embodiment specialist and integrative psychotherapist licensed in Florida and Colorado (Florida Lic. # SW9606; Colorado Lic. # CSW09923364). She delights in helping people connect with their intrinsic self-regulation and inherent inner wisdom through meditation practices and somatic psychology. As a Somatic Experiencing® practitioner, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) specialist, and tantric hatha yoga teacher, she treats the effects of acute and chronic stress on psyche and body to restore the person’s innate capacity to heal. Weaving the latest developments in the field of neuroscience with the ancient wisdom of yoga, Inge develops skillful awareness practices that help people embody their lives in a more fulfilling way, renegotiating past trauma by reestablishing a strong relationship to safety in the present moment. http://www.embodyyourlife.org/