• Mindful Practices for Whole-Body Self-Acceptance

    We can push and strive against our challenges but my key to moving forward began with deep self-reflection and learning to make friends with life. Though challenging and unsettling, my car accident brought so much growth. What once felt like torture now feels like a gift.


    Accepting and embracing my body has been a lifelong journey… the process has continued to be worth every challenge, it’s allowed me to truly make friends with life.

    In times of struggle, inspirational quotes replenish my soul. Stephen Hawking penned one of my favorites: “Look up at stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” Hawking’s words mirror my journey to body acceptance because it took a great deal of curiosity and soul searching to embrace my body after a car accident when I was 19 years old.

    I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury following the accident and was told I wouldn’t ever walk again. The experience was utterly devastating and I was traumatized by the reality that my life was forever changed. Before the accident, I was a skateboarder, lifeguard, athlete, and dancer/choreographer with dreams of being a choreographer on Broadway. After the accident, fear crept in. My inner and outer worlds were out of balance. I didn’t know how to heal. I put up emotional walls for protection, disconnected from my body and ignored my physical challenges. Instead, I focused on external goals like going to college, earning advanced degrees and becoming an editor/journalist. Pushing and striving toward external goals helped me survive, but deep down, my soul knew there was a better way.

    I longed to reconnect with my body but didn’t know how to begin. By some miracle–and a year and half of physical therapy–I eventually relearned to walk with foot orthotics but embracing my body and living in wholeness didn’t happen immediately or overnight. Gradually I found the courage to lean into the experience and in the process embrace where my body was at, what it needed and how this shaped my identity.

    It took years to learn that I couldn’t simply force or will my body to heal. That’s where my journey to authentically feel my experience radically changed my life and my relationship to self and all there is. What I didn’t know–or wasn’t able to see at the time–was that with every circumstance, health challenge, adversity, or hardship, the Universe was leading me to a higher purpose… leading me to more and more fully embrace my body and embrace my life.

    We all experience trauma in our lives but our challenges don’t have to define us. The truth is: we aren’t put here to suffer. We can push and strive against our challenges but my key to moving forward began with deep self-reflection and learning to make friends with life. Though challenging and unsettling, my car accident brought so much growth. What once felt like torture now feels like a gift.

    Along the way, I discovered mindful practices that helped me tap into a deeper connection with my body: meditation, journal writing, and inclusive, mindful movement and adaptive/accessible yoga. These practices unearthed whole-body self-acceptance, which led to a desire to share and teach others how to connect internally and find deeper meaning and purpose in their own lives. These mindfulness practices are the core of my transformation and they continue to support me as I continue to navigate this body and this experience of being.

    Every day, I set aside time for mindful movement, meditation and mantras, and explorative self-reflective journal writing. Mindful tools help me ground and maintain a sense of balance. Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong way to begin this practice. The first steps involve listening to our bodies and trusting ourselves. It’s a practice. It’s always worth the time, energy and attention.

    Our journeys may not lead to the same place but our unique higher purpose may be on the other side if we remain open and curious.

    In the end, reconnecting with mind, body and spirit taught me that my body is my home.

    Learning to tap into this truth changed my life.

    This is my mission, to offer this same life-changing possibility to you.

    To get started, here are a couple starter practices in mindful movement and mindful self-reflection.

    Mindful Movement

    Legs Up the Wall is an excellent way to begin or end the day. This practice can reduce edema, increase circulation and relieve tension in the legs.

    Legs Up the Wall

    * Lie on a bed or floor with feet against the wall.
    * Move as close as you can to the wall as you take your legs up the wall.
    * Your body should make an “L” shape.
    * Relax legs and feet.
    * Release arms out to the sides to form a T shape.
    * Lengthen the sides of the neck.
    * Relax muscles in the face, throat, and tongue.
    * Allow the weight of legs to release into the hips.
    * Feel your body let go of the tension.
    * Feel all stress release as you passively allow the reverse effect of gravity.
    * Do several rounds of deep nostril breathing (breathe in and out of your nose) as you relax and release mind, body and spirit.

    Explorative Self-Reflecting Journal Prompt

    Write about a challenging experience that turned into a blessing. If you’re unable to think of one, write about a time when you faced adversity and how that experience changed you. What was that experience? What were the lessons or blessings? How do they support you now? How can you continue to use those blessings as you move forward in your body and your life?

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

    By Mary Higgs

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

    Photo by furkanfdemir from Pexels

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  • Customizing Poses Opens Yoga to Everyone

    Having physical challenges doesn’t mean traditional yoga poses are out of reach. Accessible/Adaptive Yoga Teachers like myself strive to make any pose possible. We see poses with new eyes and try to give students tools for a whole-body experience in their practice.

    Adapting and customizing yoga poses are so important when it comes to body acceptance and diversity. It breaks down barriers to yoga and helps students feel supported and included.

    I’ll never forget the first time I experienced an adaptive/accessible handstand in my practice. I was training to become an Opening Yoga Instructor (OYI) at Mind Body Solutions (MBS) in Minnesota. Since becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200), Yoga For All Teacher, and certified Accessible Yoga Teacher, I’ve attended many trainings that discuss traditional handstand. Yet, I never fully experienced the benefits of this pose firsthand because I have a spinal cord injury; therefore, practicing traditional handstand is ill-advised. Thankfully, Mind Body Solutions offers an adaptive approach that opens yoga to everyone.

    To get into MBS’s adaptive handstand, place the short end of the mat facing the wall and lie down on the mat. You’ll want to make sure to leave enough room for arms to extend and touch the wall behind you. Use bolsters and towels for head, neck, and back support. Once props are in place, lift your gaze and arms above and behind the head while placing hands flat on the wall behind you- this mimics the position of hands on the floor in traditional handstand.

    When I attempted the pose, I was exhilarated. Even though I was lying on my back on a mat, it felt like I was standing upright in traditional handstand. A zip of energy traveled up my legs, arms, and head. I felt alive and connected to my body in a new way. When I released my arms, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt the transformative power of yoga and a deep sense of calm in that moment. I’ll never forget it. It was life-changing.

    Having physical challenges doesn’t mean traditional yoga poses are out of reach. Accessible/Adaptive Yoga Teachers like myself strive to make any pose possible. We see poses with new eyes and try to give students tools for a whole-body experience in their practice. We do this by slowing down movement and guiding students to explore and listen to their bodies. For me, the end goal is not how the pose looks, it’s more about the sensation that occurs in mind, body, and spirit.

    So, the next time you approach a yoga pose, consider slowing down movement and feeling deeply into sensation. You might be surprised how one small adjustment can open yoga in new ways.

    If we agree that yoga can be a vehicle for body acceptance and diversity, opening yoga by adapting and customizing poses empowers students on and off the mat.

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

    By Mary Higgs

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

    Sign up for an Omstars membership to take your yoga practice to the next level.

    Click here to start your 14-day free trial today!

  • Embracing Growth and Continuing to Commit to Body Acceptance

    Viktor Frankl once said what counts is not what lurks in the depths of challenge but how we face the future. Frankl’s words remind me that I don’t have to fix everything to embrace growth. My body doesn’t have to be perfected. In fact, in my experience, long-lasting personal growth flows from imperfection.

    I’ve spent decades working on my relationship with my body and cultivating body acceptance. For the last 5 months, I’ve been relearning important lessons about body acceptance. The call to continued growth, to re-engage with this work in progress, hit without warning yet profoundly revealed how resourcing myself and renegotiating the relationship with my body are crucial to my sense of well being. Up until now, I thought I lived these practices and beliefs from the core of my being. Yet nothing is ever fixed and a recent health issue jarred my reality, invited me to look a little deeper and make adjustments.

    As I’ve written about previously, I survived a devastating and near-fatal car accident when I was 19 years old. I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, and the experience completely altered my life path. Before the accident, I was a dancer/choreographer with dreams of dancing on Broadway. After the accident, it took a year and a half of intense physical therapy and deep soul searching to come back into my body and restart my life. By some miracle, I relearned to walk with the aid of below-the-knee plastic braces, but my journey back to self changed my life in incredible and surprising ways.

    For example, after years of disconnecting from my body after the accident, I discovered adaptive and accessible yoga and eventually became a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), certified Accessible Yoga Teacher, Yoga For All Teacher and Opening Yoga Instructor from Mind Body Solutions. These experiences taught me how to listen to and live in my body in the present moment. They also led to my mission of teaching people to trust their body by tapping into and exploring their inner wisdom. But along this path, I mistakenly thought I made peace with my body and assumed there was little room for growth. I falsely assumed that relearning to walk would be the biggest challenge of my life. I was wrong.

    My lesson occurred when I awoke one day and couldn’t make a fist or bend my hands without intense pain. As a freelance writer and online English instructor, I was shocked when my hands became immobile. My arms, legs, and back were affected too. I couldn’t lift my arms past my shoulders without sharp shooting pains throughout my body. My legs felt like cement. I could barely walk without hunching over and holding onto walls for stability. My symptoms took a toll, mentally and physically. For months, I couldn’t sleep due to throbbing pain. When I finally went to several doctors, it was a puzzling, marginalizing process that took over 5 months of doctor visits, tests, X-rays, and uncertainty. I started to feel stuck because the senses and body parts I once relied on after my spine injury shifted. Old triggers and disempowered storylines from the past surfaced. I fell back into the assumption trap that I didn’t know how to adapt or adjust. There were moments when I felt traumatized for not knowing how to use my mindful practice to calm mind, body, and spirit. Then, my ego kicked in, and I started to stuff my feelings and suffer in silence.

    Normally, when physical challenges appear, I feel empowered and lean into the unknown. My car accident taught me to adapt no matter the circumstance. But this challenge felt different. I felt powerless and unsure of how to trust my body. It was as if I forgot all my mindfulness training and was back at square one. The body parts I once relied on wouldn’t function as they did before. I felt trapped. At first, I was afraid to say anything outside of close family and friends. I thought my challenges would disappear on their own. Of course, they didn’t.

    Usually, I’m very connected to my internal guide. As a mindfulness teacher and practitioner, my inner guide knows what I need mentally and physically. I’ve learned to trust that sense of inner knowing; it always leads me to the truth. But recently, it took many hours of renewed self-care, mantra and breathwork, and the conscious reprogramming of negative self-talk to get back there. And in truth, “getting there” is both familiar and brand new on my body acceptance journey.

    So far, doctors say I have severe carpal tunnel and arthritis, but they still don’t have the answers. Even though I’m still going through tests to uncover the root of this challenge, I’m feeling more at home in my body. Thankfully, I’m able to walk and move more easily. I know whatever lies ahead is doable if I continue to trust and accept my body no matter the challenge. My mindful practice looks different these days. I’m learning new ways to slow down and connect internally, and this gives me hope.

    In the meantime, what I’ve come to know for sure is that the rhythm of our bodies is unpredictable. No matter how alive we feel in our bodies, life can change, and we must learn to adapt. I’m also relearning that the beauty of mindful practice is that there is no end to this work. The time when we feel good in our bodies is not the time to look away. Our practice is ongoing. We need to stay consistent. Even in regards to politics, social justice, and mindful practices, growth stems from consistency. When we remain open, curious, and committed to learning, wholeness is achievable. Once again, acceptance is the most powerful step. I’m grateful for this lesson.

    Viktor Frankl once said what counts is not what lurks in the depths of challenge but how we face the future. Frankl’s words remind me that I don’t have to fix everything to embrace growth. My body doesn’t have to be perfected. In fact, in my experience, long-lasting personal growth flows from imperfection. Once we embody and embrace this truth on our own terms, nothing can stop us.

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

    By Mary Higgs

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

    Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

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  • The Transformative Power of Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Mary Higgs

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

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

    Photo by Pixabay from Pexels