• 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.

  • Nine Tools To Help You Stay Calm & Reduce Anxiety

    The feeling of anxiety is palpable right now. It’s present for me too. I’m not immune to the waves that get triggered by the latest news headlines. But I do have some tools to help me stay calm. If you’re panicking, you’re more likely to make bad decisions. If you let anxiety drive your choices, you’ll most likely regret your course of action. Here’s what I do when the nervousness reaches a fever pitch.

    1. Sit

    As little as five minutes of mindfulness makes a qualitative impact on your mental health.

    2. Tune out

    Switch your phone to airplane mode and disable WiFi. Taking a breather from the endless stream of push notifications does wonders for peace of mind. Give yourself at least an hour a day without the deluge of information and disaster scenarios.

    3. Go outside

    Being cooped up all day inside that can make you stir crazy. Sit outside even if only for five minted without your phone. Breathe the fresh air. Listen to sounds of nature, like a bird chirping or the wind rustling through the leaves.

    4. Curb your enthusiasm

    Do less. Instead of stock piling things like toilet paper, or forcing through hasty decisions, press pause for a moment and calmly evaluate your course of action.

    5. Be honest

    Don’t deny it if you’re feeling anxious. Instead journal about it, talk to your therapist and do your own process work to get to the bottom of the pattern. Find out if your fear is rational and you need to take corrective action or if you’re overreacting and acting irrationally. But, either way, you can only work through what you’re willing to admit. A spiritual bypass won’t make anxiety vanish.

    6. Yoga

    Just practice. Life is always better after practice. I’ll be doing a free live class on Tuesday at 1 pm. If you‘d rather stay home and practice you can always find me on Omstars!

    7. Nourish

    Eat good food, drink lots of water and be kind to your body.

    8. Self-care

    Whether it’s a massage, cleaning out your closet, or sitting by the pool, do something you truly enjoy, even if only for a few minutes.

    9. CBD (Cannabidiol)

    It helps me and might help you too.

    What do you do when you feel anxious?

    By Kino MacGregor

    International yoga teacher, Kino MacGregor has over 20 years of experience in Ashtanga yoga & 18 years of experience in Vipassana Meditation. She is one of a select group of people to receive the certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga & practice into the Fifth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. With over 1 million followers on Instagram & over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube & Facebook, she spreads the message of yoga around the world. To Kino, yoga is more than making shapes. It is a daily ritual where people tune deeply into their spiritual center & experience the peace of the Eternal Divine. Her goal is to make the tools of traditional yoga accessible for all different sizes, shapes, ethnicities, & ages. She believes yoga is truly for everyone. Learn more from and connect with Kino on Instagram!

  • 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: Rishi Dadhyanga, Life’s Purpose

    Dadhyanga was a born to Santi and sage Atharva. The boy was innately calm and beneficent. As he grew older he became known for his unswerving devotion for Lord Shiva the omniscient yogi the supreme being worshiped as a great God; one who can transform the universe.

    Dadhyanga immersed himself in devotion to Lord Shiva. He spent most of his time meditation upon Shiva and used the remaining time of the day helping and serving people around him to his truest ability. His conscious efforts to live a selfless life devoted to welfare of others and devotion to supreme being made him a revered rishi (sage) amongst all gods and devas; the celestial beings.

    After many years of seclusion in the Himalayas, rishi Dadhyanga came back and started living on the bank of Sabarmati river. Anyone who came to his hermitage seeking help never returned disappointed. Sage Dadhyanga did everything in capacity to help the needy. With extreme devotion towards leading a selfless life made his body and soul purge all impurities that came as a part of human existence.

    During those ages there were several wars waged by the asuras (demons) on the devas (celestial beings) and celestial gods to take control of the three worlds. Once during such wars between the asuras and the devas, Vrtraasura, a very powerful demon king captured swarg loka (the heavens) with his might, defeating the gods. The gods tried everything possible to regain their control over swarg loka but failed in all their attempts as Vrtraasura defeated them each time.

    The gods realized that there was no way to defeat the demon king thus they went to Lord Narayana (the supreme creator of the universe) and took his shelter. Learning about their plight Lord Narayana informed the vanquished gods that there was no weapon strong enough in heaven or earth that could slay Vrtaasura and that it was only Lord Indra the god of thunder and storms who could kill him by a thunderbolt made from the bones of sage Dadhyanga. Lord Narayana told them that Dadhyanga had performed such severe penance that his bones had acquired strength beyond bounds and that he was such a great beneficent that he would offer his bones for the purpose, if requested for. Learning this from Lord Narayana, all the celestial gods and devas went to see rishi Dadhyanga at it his hermitage.

    Dadhyanga welcomed all the gods in obeisance at his hermitage. “What brings all of you here?” he asked looking at Lord Indra, the god of thunder. “Vrtraasura the demon king has captured the swarg loka and banished all of us, we have no place to go to and it is in great agony that we have come to you to seek your help”, Lord Indra replied with much sorrow. Hearing their plight Dadhyanga explained the devas that he was Brahmana and a teacher and it was against his nature to wage a war or assail a demon.  “We have come here to request you to give us your bones to create a thunderbolt so strong that it can slay the demon king because there is no other weapon strong enough in the entire universe to kill him” pleaded Lord Indra.

    Hearing this Dadhyanga assured them with a pleasing smile and said.. “We humans are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like the eye lids. To act against one another then is contrary to our inherent nature. We humans do not realize it but our greatest need is to be useful to a fellow human in the purest way possible, that is the only way we can find true contentment and use our time here on this earth in the most fulfilling way possible”.

    Rishi Dadhyanga with folded hands told them that death was inevitable, and the best way to end this journey of life would be to die for the well being of another one.
    “I am going to give up my life leaving my bones for your sake, please use them for welfare of everyone” Rishi Dadhyanga said looking at Lord Indra as other gods looked at him with tears of joy and hope. The sage then sat on the grass closed his eyes and left his body by yogic powers, soon the cows of the forest gathered around the body and licked the sage’s body away until only the bones were left on the grass.

    Lord Indra killed Vrtaasura with the thunderbolt made from Dadhyanga’s bones and order was restored in the universe.

    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

  • Forrest Yoga: On the Value of Lineage

    Here at Omstars, Kino has made a point of showcasing teachers from many different lineages, in addition to her home lineage of Ashtanga. In New York City at PURE Yoga, where I teach, we also have a similar approach with teachers from many lineages educating members. The PURE slogan is Many Practices, One Intention. In both instances, the intention, I believe is similar: to guide you home to your Self.

    In other words, many roads can lead you home. Which one is right for you? What if you are a practitioner? Or a teacher? Part of what’s wonderful about the time we live in, is that it allows us many options. We can sample so many yoga practices and find what we like, and what we don’t like and figure out what will work for us.

    The downside of this modern phenomenon is that it diminishes the need to commit. And, for personal development of any kind, commitment is key. I recall reading a book by Pema Chodron, in which she suggested that we “stick to one boat.” This means, get in a boat (lineage), and stick with it. If we have the option to simply bail out when the waters get choppy, or we decide we don’t like rowing, or the person sitting next to us smells bad, we will miss real opportunities for growth, change, development, evolution, and transformation.

    We often think that our spiritual life, or our yoga life, ought to be a place of sanctity, and relief from “daily life.” But, if anything, our yoga practice IS part of our daily lives, and eventually will be fraught. Other practitioners trigger us, our teacher doesn’t respond in the way that we think he or she ought to, we feel critical of the teachings. This is where the real teaching, and the real learning occur. The very purpose of our discomfort and suffering is to help us to grow. (Note: discomfort and suffering are not to be created through malicious intent or abuse.)

    So what lineage is right for you? What one will provide you with just enough comfort, and just enough abrasion to create the right circumstances for you to grow? It’s hard to say. This is a personal matter. My lineage is Forrest Yoga, and my teacher is Ana Forrest. How did I decide to stick to this boat? I sampled some other practices, and they simply did not speak to me as loudly as Forrest Yoga. It was less an intellectual decision than a soul decision. It’s not all been smooth sailing!

    There have been plenty of rough waters. It can be seductive to believe that when you find “the right lineage” everything will feel good and everyone will be nice. But, wherever people are involved, this is simply not how events and interactions ever unfold. Even among those who quest for peace. As a practitioner I still explore other lineages; as a teacher I also teach Vinyasa and what I call Forrest-Inspired Vinyasa. But, even as I roam I know that I always have a home, and that is Forrest Yoga.

    Once I took a weekend workshop with a wonderful teacher from the Iyengar lineage, Tias Little. It was the first time I ever did a weekend immersion with someone other than Ana Forrest. I texted her, and told her “I feel like I’m cheating on Forrest Yoga!” She wrote back, “Education is never cheating.”

    This too, I believe is the hallmark of a healthy and safe lineage. One in which the founder herself, and the teachers he or she has trained encourage curiosity, questioning, and “cross-training.” At the same time, I think that it’s important that, when you teach “the lineage” you keep it pure, to the best of your knowledge and ability. What does this mean? Here’s what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be yourself. In fact, this is impossible and any healthy lineage will encourage you to be the most authentic version of yourself, in your life, and in your teachings.

    For me, what this means is that I have Forrest Inspired Vinyasa where I can teach and explore things that aren’t specifically part of my lineage, and create and invent, if I feel called. And then when I go to teach Forrest Yoga, I do my best to teach it as Ana intended, and when I want to “throw something in” I explain that it’s NOT Forrest Yoga, and the reason why I chose to include it in the sequence. I can hear protests already: but I feel so confined when I go to teach someone else’s way! It doesn’t feel authentic. Yes, I feel you. But, I want you to consider a few things.

    First, can you access your authentic self, at any time, no matter what you are doing? This is, in fact true freedom. This is a family get-together, where no-one really knows you anymore, or accepts you, and nevertheless you find a way to show up as yourself in a graceful, inspiring, and inviting manner. This is a difficult conversation where you feel boxed in, and you find your voice anyway. This is feeling judged, shamed, or objectified and still being able to access your highest self. Sticking to one boat trains you to find yourself, no matter what.

    Second, there is a difference between freedom and chaos. When there are no edges, no rules, no containers—this is chaos. In chaos, there is no freedom. Do you know the music of Igor Stravinsky? He was basically the Picasso of European classical music. Often when I’m thinking about lineage, and teaching, and rules, I think of Stravinsky, because to create the remarkable, vanguard, intensely creative music that he did, he gave himself rules. For each composition, he set up a series of parameters to function within. And these boundaries are what set him free. He even said so himself:

    My freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.

    So, what if you stick to one boat, and still feel called outside? O.K. then, maybe this is a great evolution. But it doesn’t mean abandon your boat. For instance, you might know of the powerful teacher Les Leventhal. Les and I share a common heritage in Forrest Yoga. We were both teaching at the Bali Spirit Festival a number of years ago, and connected there. He recounted to me a conversation he had with Ana where she asked him why he was no longer teaching Forrest Yoga. He told me, he said, “You taught me to find my authentic voice. And when I did, I discovered it wasn’t to teach Forrest Yoga.” Les is what I’d call “Forrest-Adjacent:” we love him, he loves Ana, and we support one another. Les didn’t abandon the boat. That boat and its occupants are allies.

    The hazard of a lineage that does its job well is that people discover themselves and some leave the system. Others find themselves and also ways to bring their true and authentic voice to enrich the teachings of that home lineage. And this is also why within a lineage you will find so many rich and wonderful voices, all teaching the same things, in their own way. This is, I think, the most wonderful effect of having constraints. Within “the rules” or whatever you feel is confining you, you are forced to discover yourself.

    Chafe a little. It’s O.K. to be uncomfortable. Instead of seeking to remove the discomfort, stay. Sit. Find out who and what you are when you bump up against an edge. This is the way home. To get home, you must have a vehicle. Stick to one boat.

    By Erica Mather

    Top 3 things you need to practice yoga

    Practice with Erica 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

  • What is Bhakti Yoga?

    With regards to a formal definition of bhakti, there were, naturally, a variety of overlapping definitions of bhakti in circulation in textual sources of ancient India, highlighting its various ingredients and different emphasis given by different sages.

    The Bhakti Sütras of Nårada (16-19), for example, expresses a few: “bhakti includes attachment to püjå (ritual worship of ˆΩvara) according to sage Vyåsa; love of kathå (stories about ˆΩvara’s incarnations) and such things, according to sage Garga; and the offering of all acts to ˆΩvara and the experiencing of extreme distress upon forgetting this, according to sage Nårada.” The Sauñ∂ilya Sütra states that “bhakti is supreme devotion (anurakti) for ˆΩvara” (I.2). In his Bhaktirasåmrtasindhu [BRS] the 16th century Krsna theologian Rüpa offers the following definition: “bhakti is said to be service to Krsna, by means of the senses.

    This service is free of all limitations, dedicated to Him and pure [of self-motive].” His nephew Jîva opts for a similar definition: “The root bhaj means to offer service, Therefore the wise have described bhakti, which is the preeminent path of attaining perfection, as service.” Thus, putting all these together, bhakti is theistic and encompasses such activities as worship; the offering of one’s acts to ˆΩvara, or ˆΩvarî, the forms of the Goddess; reading the stories of their divine incarnations; constant remembrance of these; and, for Rüpa and Jîva most especially, bhakti is using oneself in the service of Krsna, who for them is the ultimate expression of ˆΩvara.

    We might briefly note, here, that service is synonymous with love. True love, is nothing other than the experience of complete satisfaction attained from fully dedicating oneself to pleasing one’s beloved through acts of devotion and service. And, of course, for love to be true, this devotion and service must be fully reciprocal, as we find in the beautiful lîlås of Krsna, where, despite being supremely independent as the ultimate Supreme Being, Krsna returns the love of his devotees by submitting to them according to their desire.  Bhakti, then, is love of God free of all self-interest, including the desire for liberation itself.

    Indeed, Rüpa nuances loving service by defining the ‘highest type’ of devotion (uttama-bhakti), as: “continued service to Krsna, which is [performed] pleasingly, is unobstructed by the desire for liberation or enjoying the fruits of one’s work in the world, and is free of any other desire.” In the words of the paramount bhakti text, the Bhågavata Puråña: The characteristics of bhakti yoga, which is free of the guñas, has been described as that bhakti to the Supreme Person which is free of motive, and uninterrupted. Those [who engage in this] do not accept the five types of liberation…. even if these are offered, if they are devoid of service to God (III.29.12-14).

    By Edwin Bryant

    The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with Edwin Bryant

    Edwin Bryant received his Ph.D in Indic languages and Cultures from Columbia University. He taught Hinduism at Harvard University for three years, and is presently the professor of Hinduism at Rutgers University where he teaches courses on Hindu philosophy and religion. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, published eight books and authored a number of articles on Vedic history, yoga, and the Krishna tradition. In addition to his academic work for the scholarly community, Edwin’s Penguin World Classics translation of the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, the traditional source for the story of Krishna’s incarnation, is both for Indology specialists as well as students and those interested in Hinduism from the general reading public and the yoga community. As a personal practitioner of yoga for 40 years, a number of them spent in India studying with traditional teachers, where he returns yearly, Edwin strives to combine academic scholarship and rigor with sensitivity towards traditional knowledge systems. In addition to his academic course load, Edwin currently teaches workshops on the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and Hindu Philosophy at yoga studios and teacher training courses throughout the country. His translation of and commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) is specifically dedicated to contributing to the growing body of literature on yoga by providing insights from the major pre-modern commentaries on the text with a view to grounding the teachings in their traditional context. His most recent work is a sequel to this by the same publisher entitled Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings from the Bhagavata Purana. This work, too, seeks to ground the practices of Bhakti in a traditional framework.

    Photo Credit: Women’s White Top and Orange Floral Skirt by Samuel Silitonga

  • Discovering Energy

    From pranayama, extending our life force energy, through our senses and then where? We have to ask where did sensation, or feeling, start? Did it start now or when we were a happy single cell without a head, heart, hands? The history of us goes beyond our ability to perceive with the senses and the mind.

    Stop Controlling Your Breath: Controlling the breath was how I first discovered energy. 

    When it comes to the practice of yoga, most of us have heard the word “pranayama.” Breathing is how we often describe pranayama. When we extract the word, it appears as ‘prana’ (energy) and ‘ayama’ (to lengthen or extend). The word “prana” is also made up of two words: ‘pra’ and ‘na’ meaning ‘first or most basic unit’ and ‘measured energy.’ The etymology of pranayama has little to do with breathing and urges us toward sensation. If we alter the most basic unit from breath to sensation, pranayama would be the practices to lengthen self awareness through sensation.

    When we change simple elemental factors (e.g. diet, exercise, sleep and creating a regular schedule around these parts of living) our energy is in repair. Longevity exists in the body energy level throughout the day. We see positive mental and emotional changes in our perception and outlook. The nervous systems changes to accommodate these transitions into this less reactive state. We feel better! Feeling is the sensation. That shift is un-measurable, though we attribute it to positive qualities. People who practice yogasana (postures) report experiencing these shifts within a short period of time.

    Divine Sight: As a child, I would lie in my bed and follow my breath. I would watch spirit float out of my body.

    The methods in which we use to create change can also be the same techniques that confine us. If the diet is too controlled, sleep, etc., we lose the sense of wonder and letting go. My generation grew up on the cutting edge of many underground movements. The common theme in these collectives had little to do with what it looked like but what it felt like. The creative drive in full expression was observing each other letting it go! There was a super vision in letting go–a divine sight! No matter how we slice it, yoga is about the mind. Even if we lead with the heart or heart-centered practices, the mind is what can cut that connection. My first guru, Dharma Mittra, used to give satsang on how we all have clean diets but still think negative thoughts. These thoughts contaminate the system, no matter how clean the diet. I’ve once heard a yogi described as one who is even-minded. This idea does not push the fantasy of a visionary or force one to be super human or holy but to work with the mind (and heart) and create evenness.

    If we turn to scriptures, the path of understanding is through the body (hatha) to get to the mind (raja). Regardless, when we allow practice to take a hold of us, the super power doesn’t come from the advancement of the yoga or meditative tool. Our progress is from the instrument into something new. Work on this with new eyes, into the world and self-discovery! From pranayama, extending our life force energy, through our senses and then where? We have to ask where sensation, or feeling, start? Did it start now or when we were a happy single cell without a head, heart, hands? The history of us goes beyond our ability to perceive with the senses and the mind. The practices we use, the practice we take, the yoga journey we have, takes us beyond the things in which we do. From spirit, I could see myself lying.  I could feel my body and the part of me floating above, in a shared awareness.

    Reality?

    Pantanjali’s most quoted sutra is: “yoga schitta vritti nirodaha.” Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra to: “Yoga is the restraining the mind-stuff (chitta) from taking various form (vrttis).” In yoga circles, training programs, and classrooms, this passage is thrown around. While, rarely a conversation occurs on what happens in this reality. By using a method of control it leads to an absorbed state. Patanjali does explain this level of concentration. The application without modification, will allow the seer (the energy of the one who uses the technique) to peer into the self (nature or natural existence) without the two being crossed.

    In short, through concentration we can inhabit both spirit and form! Yes, we go beyond sense reality into the internal witness. This fold is the stepping-stone toward meditation. It may be separated by a hair (in our casual conversation about the states of awareness) but is colossal in attainment. Although we may not be in a state of deep meditation, deep concentration creates a reality. One where we can see infinite and finite, hand-in-hand, ushering us to explore.

    By Will Duprey

    Read More From Will Duprey

    Will Duprey is an international yoga educator and is known for effortlessly combining classical theory and storytelling with contemporary yoga methods. With over 17 years of teaching and consulting on yoga teacher trainings globally, his unique mentorship program provides deep knowledge and balance among different styles of yoga. Hathavidya is his personal approach to teaching — starting with the individual practice (sadhana), energy (pranayama) and intuitive framework — classical hatha yoga. Will is a contributing writer to publications such as: Elena Brower’s teach.yoga, Kino MacGregor’s OmStars and is a guest columnist for YogaLife Magazine Malaysia. He lives between Vermont and Malaysia. This article was updated from Routine Practice published in October 2018 by Will Duprey.

  • The Postures of Prayer

    Never stop praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)  Pray without ceasing. This is our commandment, to never stop praying. There is no right or wrong way to pray, or one position of a prayer that is superior to another. The only thing that we, as believers must do is humble ourselves before the Lord, acknowledge His Lordship of our lives, and pray without ceasing.

    The following is simply observations on prayer postures found in the Bible that may elevate your spoken prayers. Sometime the postures of our prayer can let God know that we are serious about specific issues. Again, we are observing the powerful and miraculous prayers of great men and women of the Bible. If Jesus needed to get alone on His knees to pray, why would we ever think that it isn’t important for us to do the same?

    As we combine our faith with our movement, or put our “prayers in motion” with YogaFaith, we can recall ancient times and miracles as we move, breathe, and have our being. (Acts 17:28) If there is an urgent request, we can find ourselves in a prone position, flat on our face before the Lord as many were in scripture. Perhaps we find ourselves in a simple seated position to simply quiet our anxious thoughts and meditate on Him. You will read about all of these postures and what they mean. Keep in mind, there are no rules.

    Sometimes it is not just about what we are praying, but how we are praying. The posture of our prayers can take our prayer life to a whole other level of intimacy with Christ. There is no mistaking that God hears all of our prayers, even if we don’t speak them at all. When we are born again and receive salvation, we become one with Christ. He dwells in us. His spirit is all consuming and envelops our every fiber. This is the time when grace piled upon grace enters into our lives and it becomes our [true] desire to live for God and cause Him to smile each day by our actions, words, deeds, gifts, and talents. Even if our prayers go unspoken, God can perceive our words before they are [actually] even thoughts, He knows our thoughts well before they are [actual] thoughts. (Psalms 139:2) I am sure you have experienced times when you do not know what to pray. God knows what you need before you even utter a word!

    The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath. (Psalms 94:11) Sometimes when we cry, that is the only prayer needed. Often I have found the only prayer I can pray is one word, “Jesus”. He knows the rest. Other times I simply hold the Bible up to my heart in silence and download all of His great and precious promises. Prayer is our lifeline. Without prayer, whether spoken or unspoken, there is no communication to the Life Giver. Throughout scripture we see how prayer postures elevated the meaning of the spoken prayer. Regardless of any posture that you pray in, the most important posture is truly the posture of your heart. Keep this in mind as you read the following posture descriptions. To say that any one prayer posture is superior to another would be biblically incorrect. The bible teaches us that God loves variety and He speaks to each of us differently. There are no rules, no right or wrong way, just as long as we pray! Always be spirit led and never led by anything or anyone else. Because whether we are standing, sitting, kneeling, or flat out on our faces, our heart must always be humbled in acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ, this is more important than any external physical position.

    STANDING

    Prayers that were prayed while standing were for adoration, thanksgiving, worship, and praise. While standing in awe of God, the hands were typically open with the palms facing upward toward Heaven and generally speaking the eyes were open and lifted toward the heavens. Orans is the Latin word for praying. It is the oldest prayer posture found in scripture and most commonly used in today’s western churches, Jewish synagogues, practiced during mass and the standard position for taking communion together. Some pastors today require standing for the reading of God’s word. During this time many lift their hands or face their palms upward to receive and absorb the words or prayers that are being spoken. Seeing a church gather and stand at the reading of God’s word proves that there are Christians who honor, revere, and respect the written Word of God. Some of the most memorable stories and miracles from the Bible have come from standing postures that look up to Jesus or Heaven.

    • 1 Timothy 2:8, In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.
    • John 17:1, Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come.”
    • John 11:41, Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”
    • Luke 9:27-32, The Mountain of Transfiguration, “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
    • Psalm 121:1, I look up to the hills from where my help comes from.
    • 1 Sam 1:26, Hannah presented to the Lord her petition while standing, and the Lord answered her.
    • Psalm 4:4, Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
    • In Luke 18:10-14, God answered the prayers of sinners as they stood, prayed, and humbled themselves. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    One of my most beloved stories in the Bible is found in 2 Chronicle 20. A story of how God answered Jehoshaphat as he and his small army gathered corporately and stood in prayer believing God would fight their overwhelming battle for them as they obeyed His commandment of standing still. God performed a miracle. Jehoshaphat and his people stood victorious in the face of their defeated enemy! When you have done all that you can do, stand!

    • 2 Chronicle 20:5, Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard. Verse 13 continues, All Judah was standing before the Lord, with their infants, their wives and their children.
    • Ephesians 6:13, So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up.
      The Message Version “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

    SEATED

    Seated prayer postures typically demonstrate one who is seeking guidance, counsel, or instruction from The Lord. Sometimes we read how one would use a seated positions to simply be alone, find calm, peace, quiet, and just bask in the presence of God. Jesus often went to be alone with His Father and pray. Other times we read how one would sit to pray and let God know they were ready and willing to serve Him and walk in obedience. We may need to remind ourselves to sit quietly and bask in His presence more often, or perhaps sit down with the Lord and let Him know we are ready to walk in obedience. Have you ever said to The Lord, “Here I am, send me”. Perhaps it is time. Are you ready? Are you willing? Let us sit and surrender our will. Let us sit and ask for guidance. Let us sit before the Lord and tell Him we will serve Him for the rest of our days, then let us sit and ask, “Where do you want me to go and what do you want me to do oh Lord?” He will answer you. Simply sit in His presence in stillness, and listen.

    Prayer is a dialogue, it is not a monologue. He speaks, we listen. We speak and He hears us. As with any conversation, we must be quiet and listen to Him. Seated postures are used most often for meditation. While combining our faith with yoga, these are great postures to sit quietly in His presence and converse with the Creator of the Universe….your Dad! Imagine climbing on your dad’s lap and talking to Him. Maybe you just wrap your arms around Him and say nothing at all?

    • King David sat down before the Lord to inquire, “Why me Lord?” 2 Samuel 7:18, Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?
    • Ezekiel 8:1, As I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell on me there, and who is ready to serve Him.
    • Judges 20:26 (AMP), Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up and came to the house of God [Bethel] and wept; and they sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.

    Fasting is an expression of emptying oneself out to seek the Lord so that His word, will, and presence would be the one and only thing that would fill us up. Here, and many other passages, we see the manifestation of miracles that occur when we couple our prayers with fasting. Combining a specific prayer posture with fasting can elevate the intensity of our request and petitions. It will demonstrate to God that we are serious about His call on our lives.
    Psalms 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God!

    KNEELING

    Kneeling is a traditional posture that demonstrates humility, repentance, submission, and supplication. It is the position that we see most often where one is seeking favor or making their supplications known to God. When you practice a kneeling pose, we can acknowledge our weakness and grant His strength and power access to our every fiber. Lets use Camel Pose as an example. This is a great kneeling backbend, but it also allows us to open our heart upward to God. During this pose we can surrender all and worship wholly!

    • Ezra 9:5, And at the evening sacrifice I arose from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and
      my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God
    • Psalms 95:6, Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker
    • Daniel 6:10, He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.
    • Acts 9:40, Records the miracle of Peter praying on his knees asking God to raise the dead to life. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said,“Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.
    • Acts 20:36, When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
    • Ephesians 3:14, For this reason I kneel before the Father.
    • Philippians 2:10, That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
    • Exodus 34:8, Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.
    • 1 Kings 18:42, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
    • Luke 22:41-42, He [Jesus] knelt down and began to pray saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

    Jesus, Paul, Peter, Elijah, Moses and many other great men prayed as they bowed their knees and completely surrendered. If Jesus got on His knees, surely we should too!

     

    PRONE

    Prone (on the belly) postures typically symbolizes a desperate plea, an urgent request, or to express to God complete and utter dependence on Him. There have been many times in my life when I had to eat dust bunnies! Have you ever been out of options? This is the time we find ourselves flat on our face, eating dust bunnies from our floor, and crying out to the Lord, “Save me!”

    Prone positioned prayers are also used for intercessory prayers, these are typically urgent prayers in themselves. When we find ourselves grieving over a loved one or need to stand in the gap for another brother or sister, these are usually prayers of urgency and desperation. Prostrated prayers are often used for repentance and confessing sins, sometimes this is an urgent task as well. In Samuel we see how a prone position pays honor and respect to a superior. This is also a position of true worship as we see in 2 Chronicles when Jehoshaphat bowed down face first.

    • 2 Chronicle 20:18, Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.
    • Joshua 7:6, Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads.
    • 1 Samuel 28:14, “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
    • Matthew 26:38, Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
    • Deuteronomy 9:25, I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights…
    • Revelation 7:11, And all the angels stood round about the throne, and [about] the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God

    LYING DOWN

    Lying down and meditating on the Lord is a sweet and precious time with our Maker. Lying down, especially in bed, is one of our most surrendered and vulnerable positions anyway. Corpse pose, I like to call it “Resting Angel”, it sounds slightly better than Corpse pose, is one of the most important postures in one’s yoga practice. As we are on our backs, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way in our body, heart, mind, spirit, and soul. We simply meditate on the fact that we are breathing and alive because of Him. All things are from Him, and because we were created to hear from our Creator, this is the perfect posture to do so. Allow His spirit to speak to yours. Our focus turns towards gratitude as we thank Him, spirit to Spirit, for the temples He has loaned us. This is the time to allow yourself stillness and a peace that passes all understanding.

    • Psalms 4:4, Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your bed, search your hearts and be silent.
    • Psalms 63:5-6, My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
    • I Kings 1:47, Moreover the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, ‘May your God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and make his throne greater than your throne;’ and the king bowed himself on the bed.

    QUICK GUIDE

    • STANDING; Praise, honor, thanksgiving, worship, adoration, reverence, and awe: a deep respect. A place of strength and glorifying God.
    • SEATED; To inquire, seek counsel or guidance. Sit alone with God and enjoy His presence. Converse and dialogue or simply meditate on your Heavenly Father. Submit, surrender, and let Him know we want to walk in obedience and serve Him.
    • KNEELING; Humility, submission, honor, and complete surrender. Supplications and petitions made known. Acknowledge Christ’s Lordship over one’s life.
    • PRONE; Urgency, emergency, humility (releasing all ego), surrender, confession, repentance, desperate pleas or cries, intercessory prayer for others or standing in the gap.
    • LYING DOWN; Resting and enjoying the presence and goodness of the Lord. Be still, quiet a busy mind and an anxious heart. Used to meditate on Him and His precepts. May also be a posture of exhaustion, vulnerability and posture of complete trust in the Lord.

    Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for breathing your Spirit into mine and giving me life! My praises for You shall continually be in my mouth! Today I come before you with praise and thanksgiving. I know there is no right or wrong way to pray, just that I never stop praying. There is no good, bad, correct, or wrong posture of prayer, just that we communicate with each other throughout the day. Thank you for blessing me with a healthy body, one that can practice may postures of prayer. And as I set my prayer in motion and worship you with all my heart, mind, spirit, and soul I give thanks to you for all of your creation and what you would have me do for you while I’m down here on planet earth. Thank you Lord for every breath, may my every breath and my healthy temple glorify you, the Living God! In Jesus’ mighty name, amen and amen!

    Practicing Postures as Prayer with Michelle on Omstars

    By Michelle A. Thielen, from Stretching Your Faith. A Publication of YogaFaith

    Michelle Thielen, E-RYT 500 and Founder of YogaFaith. Michelle Thielen is an international speaker, humanitarian, and published author. As a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Trainer, Michelle regularly travels worldwide to aid in rescue efforts of human trafficked victims, raising awareness of this global crisis, and guiding those who have suffered from complex trauma into a life of restoration, freedom and purpose. Michelle found yoga through her professional dance career and has been teaching and choreographing dance, yoga and somatic movement for over 25 years. She holds certifications with the American Council of Exercise, Yoga Alliance and International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is also the founder of YogaFaith and the Christian Yoga Association.