• Embracing the Body Experiencing Invisible Disability Through Yoga

    Yoga helped the light in me never go out. And without the path of yoga letting my soul speak to me, guiding my way forward, I would not be here, writing to you.

    Two years ago, my brain was dying. Misdiagnosed and undiagnosed seven years after a fall, I was living in a pre-dementia state at forty, heading towards being placed in a long-term care facility for severely disabled adults within one-two years. But I didn’t know any of this.

    I still looked normal on the outside. It was impossible for people to understand what I was going through and it was impossible for me to understand what I was going through.

    Living in such a state of ill-health and not knowing why drastically changed my relationship to my body. Only aware it was letting me down, I developed a punishing and harsh way of relating to my body, often wishing I could magically step into another, stronger body while on this earth.

    But even as I wanted to disown my body, I never stopped trying to heal. I always knew something was wrong.

    And I was right. As a Canadian, I followed my truth to America, spent every last cent I had, and finally got a proper diagnosis.

    My brain was in very ill health, as a result of an incomplete cervical spinal cord injury. My cervical vertebrae were out of place causing a whole host of issues, including decreased blood flow to my brain, the blockage of flow of cerebrospinal fluid causing brain toxicity, and systemic issues from pressure on my brain stem.

    Seven years to get to an answer.

    Most of the time now, I am astounded at the strength and resilience I had to keep going, following my truth, seeking my answer.

    What helped me not give up? What helped me listen to my truth, even when I was very sick and had no reason to believe it was true and even when doctors disagreed and wanted to walk me down the path of long-term, very heavy duty pharmaceutical treatment plans because the only thing they knew to say about my invisible illness was…it must be a mental health condition?


    Processing my experience one breath, one small movement, one mindful moment at a time.

    Yoga helped the light in me never go out. And without the path of yoga letting my soul speak to me, guiding my way forward, I would not be here, writing to you.

    But here I am! I am two years into my healing journey. I still have to use my time on the mat to draw on those resources of strength and resilience. I was living with a spinal cord injury for many years and it is taking considerable time and effort to heal. I have much cognitive function restored but there are still setbacks and there is no end date to my healing.

    Yoga continues to show me the way of patience and compassion. Over the years, it helped me peel away layers, drop false identities, and develop a fervent search for truth in all situations.

    I have also found yoga to be a form of titration through this experience of invisible illness, a way of bringing the disowned parts of my body back on board, softly and slowly over time, little bit by little bit.

    For me, the physical movements of gentle yoga were the doorway in while the body sensing component of yoga nidra supported me to feel my body again. And beyond just feeling it, to embrace it, to love it, to enjoy it even.

    What I have learned, fully and completely, is that this body is spectacular. It never stops working for me, it’s always sending me messages about how to take care of it.

    And it is crying out to be loved, so today I offer it this love letter:

    Dear Body,

    We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we?

    You’re still here, and I’m so thankful. Thank you for holding on through the darkness. Thank you for fighting, fighting, fighting. Thank you for breathing and allowing me to be in the world. Thank you for working with my soul to help me find the answer. Thank you for not giving up on me, even when I didn’t want you.

    I’m sorry for the times I wanted you to go away. I’m sorry for punishing you, hating you, disrespecting you, degrading you. I’m sorry I ever had one bad thought about you.

    I’m sorry I didn’t see the truth for so long. I know now – you’re amazing and strong and you’re there for me. You’re with

    We’re in this together and we’ll do this together. I’m so grateful to have the best partner on this journey with so much more goodness ahead of us.

    I bow to the power of your wisdom that is beyond comprehension and I will listen to your messages, I promise.


    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

    By Angie Davis

    Angie Davis has emerged from a nine-year journey through invisible injury and illness with an unshakeable
    belief that yoga can help relieve suffering in the world and is powerful for helping those who’ve experienced grief, loss, trauma, injury, and illness find their way back home to self-love. Angie is the founder of Gentle Yoga International and is transforming pain to power by turning the story of being a P.T.S.D., moderate-severe brain injury, and cervical spinal cord injury survivor into purpose as an inclusive and accessible yoga and meditation teacher, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and brain injury and mental health advocate. Angie is a contributing author to Anxiety Warrior Volume II and a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher, having trained through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute. She is also a Level 2 iRest® Yoga Nidra Teacher, accredited by the iRest Institute in California. Angie passionately teaches this research-based, complementary therapy that has been proven helpful for P.T.S.D., anxiety, sleep difficulties, and other issues. She is also trained in Mental Health Sensitivity, Mental Health First Aid, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Visit her online at gentleyogainternational.com

  • Opening Our Heart

    Each time we look to another to make us feel better or valued we give our power away to them. Feeling better about ourselves, our life, and feeling valued are all inside jobs. Nothing outside of us will give us what we need because we already know deep within what we need. We just need to show up ready to pay attention to ourselves.

    I’m often asked, “How can I open my heart more?” This topic can be really challenging since the key to opening our heart lies in loving ourselves, which is difficult for a majority of us to do. When it comes to putting ourselves on the back burner to serve another, we excel, but when we try to focus some of that attention on ourselves, we often fall short. One of the reasons for that has to do with the way we’ve been programmed which started in our early years, so we honestly don’t know any better. Now that I’m older I can see very clearly how self-love was not part of my upbringing through my parents as my role models, nor any of my extended adult family members. I wasn’t even aware of what self-love was, so I evolved without it often putting my needs last.

    My first awareness that I lacked self-love came at the age of 43 in 2005 at a Debbie Ford workshop at the Omega Center in NYC. I remember her suddenly asking the question, “What do you fear other people finding out about you?” In that moment my life came front, and center and I burst into tears unexpectedly. I wasn’t even aware of what I had been suppressing until that moment. I had just started my journey as a healer, a Reiki Master, and was also in the final months of my Holistic Coaching studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition but the truth was I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t a size 4 talking about healthy eating. I was a size 12. My perception of self was completely distorted, and I broke down in front of the hundred or so people attending the workshop. I could not see my own beauty because I never learned how. My mom was 5’10’’ and a size 14. She was always on a diet and never saw her own worth or beauty so she could not help me see mine. Instead, she always encouraged me to go to Weight Watchers with her. I didn’t get the magnitude of my lack of self-love until this workshop, which was only the tip of the iceberg. My eyes were open to my own pain and suffering; my heart was closed to loving me.

    In this workshop, I saw examples of my life flashing in front of my eyes over and over. I remember being young going to visit my grandparents. They were German and always cooked something odd that I didn’t want to eat like pig’s knuckles and sauerkraut. I didn’t like the smell and was sure I wouldn’t like the taste. My mom told me to “Be nice” and “Don’t say that to grandma”. I didn’t realize at five years old that I was already being groomed to ignore my opinions and feelings because they had little value. My job was to make another feel good even if I was not telling the truth. My parents were doing their best, I don’t blame them. They were most likely keeping the peace for themselves through me. Parents teach their children what they have learned. Their beliefs become our beliefs and our authenticity can be stifled. We forget our needs because we are unsure of how to respond out of fear of getting it wrong.

    Where does self-love enter our life? If we’re not taught to love ourselves at home or in school, and there’s no class on self-nurturing, how do we know it’s important to feed ourselves our own love? We really won’t know so we could end up looking for love on the outside, trying to find people who can make us feel the way we would like to feel. This creates more difficulty because we are still giving our power away to another, expecting them to be the one to show us how amazing, beautiful, and special we are. What if they only do that in the beginning and then if things change, they no longer tell us those things we need to hear? We could then be in search of the next person who will tell us how wonderful we are and rely on them to make us feel special. That is called Co-dependence which outsources our power. This is a looping cycle we become locked into like a hamster on a wheel until the one day we walk into the right workshop, with the right mentor, who helps us realize we’ve had the power all along! We didn’t come with a user’s manual so we go through life and experience the ups and downs which will finally make us stop searching outside and go within. We begin to ask questions like, “Why is love so hard?” and “What’s wrong with me?” “Am I unlovable?” The answer of course is that it’s not hard, there’s nothing wrong with us, we are very loveable. We just need to see our own beauty and value.

    The moment we stop chasing what is outside of us and come back within we can shift everything and the need for another outside of us to make us feel whole is no longer necessary. Each time we look to another to make us feel better or valued we give our power away to them. Feeling better about ourselves, our life, and feeling valued are all inside jobs. Nothing outside of us will give us what we need because we already know deep within what we need. We just need to show up ready to pay attention to ourselves. When someone presents a challenge and makes us feel diminished in some way it’s because through soul contracts, we’ve asked them to step up as our mirror so the lack of love we have for ourselves can be reflected back at us. Eventually, enough becomes enough and that’s when change happens. We must take our power back by loving ourselves enough to not want to suffer anymore. This act of Self-love is the first step to expanding our heart center.

    Going within and loving ourselves takes courage. It’s the most important part of opening our heart and establishing a direct connection with our inner being. When we start to work with self-love, we must be in tune to our own heart, which requires we do a self-assessment in order to begin to establish a relationship with ourselves. We must begin to put our needs first in all situations and say no to things we do not feel aligned with. This may be looked at as selfish but it’s an important part of our journey. It helps us connect to what love feels like when we support ourselves doing things that feel right within as opposed to saying yes and suffering through something we don’t want to do.

    What is our inner being? That’s our soul self — the part of us that our intuition originates from. It’s the part of us that will help steer us down the proper path, if we allow it to. This is another key aspect of ourselves we were not taught about at an early age, unless you had parents who were practicing spirituality. Our inner being always has our best interest at heart because it’s the seat of our soul and the very essence of who we are. Its purpose is to love us even when we are not loving ourselves. It leads us to the well within ourselves where love is in abundance. Our job is to recognize its soft voice from the loud voice of the ego which was meant to keep us playing small.

    What is love? Love can feel elusive especially if we haven’t had much experience with it, but in order to know ourselves deeply, we must form a love relationship with ourselves. When we can understand how love feels, we are able to give love to another as well as receive it in return. I’ve had many experiences where I thought I had received the love of another and later realized after a painful experience, it was not actually love. When I looked at this with clarity, I saw with sadness what I had not seen previously — they were incapable of offering me their love because they didn’t value themselves, and therefore, couldn’t value me. If we are depleted from our own love and attention, then we are giving from an empty glass. How could an empty glass fill up another or quench their thirst? It can’t. Love must be given from a loving heart not a heart in lack.

    Many of us have trained ourselves to operate from a place of lack so we are always operating from a glass less than full believing that we are giving the best of ourselves… but are we? If we are operating at half a glass capacity, we don’t have much to offer another. They are not getting our complete best or the fullness of our love because we have not filled our glass. You can equate this to your bank account. You can’t keep giving money out without taking money in. After a while, you will have nothing to give or pay your bills with. Our love works the same. Energy is energy; money and love are both energies. If we don’t have it, we can’t offer it. Now that we see the truth in how important it is to fill our own cup, why aren’t we doing this as part of our everyday routine?

    It’s time to recognize our own importance and focus on ourselves first. When we do things for ourselves that feels good, and it shows. When we tune inwards and offer ourselves love first our cup is full and even overflowing at times, making it possible to share our cup of goodness with others. Doing things that support and make ourselves happy opens and expands our heart center. The more we open our heart the more we feel love, joy, bliss, and believe it or not, freedom! Yes, freedom is part of the heart center package. When we are happy life flows, we flow, and everything just falls in place. When we are not happy and feel unloved or unfulfilled, we are not operating from our fullness. The lack of self-love stops the flow of universal energy, and as a result, our vibration is low. We cannot create or expand our heart when our vibration is low. When our heart is open and full of love, we are in a higher vibrational state of being and universal energy is in great abundance. When we are operating from our heart, we do not notice the lower-level struggle or challenges life throws our way because we step over them with ease and grace. Everything becomes easier. Challenges become diminished in our life experience because they are not a match for our high vibration, which is based in self-love. Did you know that self-love raises our vibration? It does!

    When we are in a high vibe state, full of love, we are naturally more present within ourselves. We gravitate towards doing things for ourselves that nourishes as opposed to depletes us. Things like eating clean and healthy foods may require us to invest time and energy in grocery shopping, as well as preparing our meal. Making time to be in nature is another thing we can do to open and expand our heart center. When we make time to be in nature, we are present with the Earth and everything within her realm. We just need to tune into the energy of the trees, birds etc. to feel joy and contentment, all of which feed self-love.

    Exercise is another thing we can do to help ensure our body stays strong and flexible. Yoga is great for this. One of the beautiful things about Yoga is it brings us within and back to center, requiring us to focus on our posture and form. We can use our practice to gage where we are in serving our-self. A daily practice of poses that would assist and support in opening our heart center would be extremely beneficial in bringing in the energy of self-love. Poses such as puppy pose, cobra, locust pose, and bow pose would be the most beneficial.

    Self-talk is also a very important part of opening and expanding our heart center. Words, thoughts and actions set intention in motion. We must pay attention to everything we are creating, as well as where we are placing our attention. Self judgement through negative thoughts, words and actions can keep us locked in a lower vibration. Positive self-talk is just as important as doing things for ourselves that make us feel good. I see so many people doing amazing things for themselves, but they negate all of it with negative self-talk. This seems to be one of the most difficult areas for people when it comes to loving themselves. Once our vibration falls it takes a lot of work to raise it back up and hold feelings of happiness and joy, which are based in love.

    Love is energy, based in its own frequency of 528 Hz. If we want to feel love and open our heart center, we must tune our vibration to the frequency of love. This means that we must do things for ourselves that are an energetic match to the frequency of love. This is why it’s so important to find out and know what the frequency of love “feels” like within and bring in more of that. We can’t use our mind; we must feel it to know it. If we expect our frequency to be raised by things and people outside of ourselves, we are in trouble. When we hold love we have the power to help shift someone into their own love. When everyone around us feels the power of our love, we all win!

    If you are unsure of what love feels like a simple exercise would be to lay in bed at night just before you’re ready to fall asleep. Place your hands on your heart and tell your heart you love it. As you are doing this think about how it’s always there for you, more than anyone else you know. Think about how your heart holds up its end of the bargain by performing its simple job of beating in each moment to sustain your life. Now take a step back and look at how many years it’s been doing that. See how you have not paid attention to your own heart? We should never offer our heart to another unless they are going to care for our heart the way our heart cares for us.

    Another exercise is to stand in front of the mirror and place your hands on your heart. Look deep into your own eyes and tell yourself how much you love yourself for all the magic you are. Start pointing out all the things that are unique about who you are. You are, after all, the only one like you. Next, look at all the ways you stop yourself from truly experiencing happiness in your life. Make decisions now to improve it instead of waiting until a future moment or event.

    We must be present to see all we are creating. We want to make choices that are highly aligned with our own joy and happiness in each moment. This means doing a personal inventory of what feels good and not just going with the flow because everyone else is doing it. When we go with the flow we are not in our own personal alignment and this will bring our energy down. Being present and showing up for ourselves must be our priority so we can be at our personal best for ourselves and everyone else around us. Self-love is the key to expanding our heart and opening us up to our greatest joy.

    By Maria Deesy

    Maria is an Energy Intuitive, Ascension Guide and Wayshower working within the energetic blueprint of both Gaia and her clients to access and assist in transmuting trauma at all levels. Maria’s also able to read to solar frequencies of the cosmos and can provide insight Into the energies presenting in order to better navigate our physical experience during our Ascension. Her work supports the awakening process of humanity. Connect with Maria on the following sites: website, blog, Instagram, or Twitter. Copyright©2020 MariaDeesy.com

    Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

  • 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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  • How I Called a Truce with My Body

    I learned to deeply listen to my body and honor and meet its needs. I experienced joy as I moved mindfully. I began to accept what was present in the moment over what I thought it “should” be. I created space for silence. I sat with discomfort. I prioritized what I was feeling versus what my body or my yoga practice looked like. I learned what it meant to practice moderation and forgiveness with myself. I called a truce with my body. I embodied gratitude.

    Perpetual fad dieting was modeled for me.

    Compulsively exercising to override shame and guilt was standard sport.

    Groaning over the body I had and yearning for the bodies in MTV videos was normalized.

    Comparing and competing with others was standard fare in my household and among my peers.

    Rapport talk deriding and degrading my body and scrutinizing the bodies of others was ordinary peer group binding, completely sanctioned and expected.

    Denying my body’s needs and prioritizing my intellect’s desires was part of my socialization process as I moved from adolescence to young adulthood. It set the tone, the template and the foundation for my relationship with my body, myself and the way I showed up in the world. I was relentless, merciless, and unforgiving with myself and my body.

    And, damn, it was a painful, abusive and limiting experience. It was my greatest obstacle to personal freedom and empowerment.

    Understanding and unlearning these taken-for-granted values, norms, and rituals of behavior through feminist theory, sociology and media literacy education opened my eyes to the systems of oppression at work… and how my experiences were part of a statistical pattern.

    I stopped obsessively reading nutrition labels and logging everything I ate in food journals. I began to read liberatory texts deconstructing and challenging diet culture, the fitness and fashion industries, patriarchy and white supremacy while calling out ageism, ableism, sizeism, homophobia, consumer culture and the ways in which bodies are sexualized, objectified and controlled. I began logging the thoughts, feelings and aspirations that I embodied but hadn’t identified or expressed beyond the plate and the treadmill.

    I stepped on to the yoga mat for the first time. I began to meditate. I learned to deeply listen to my body and honor and meet its needs. I experienced joy as I moved mindfully. I began to accept what was present in the moment over what I thought it “should” be. I created space for silence. I sat with discomfort. I prioritized what I was feeling versus what my body or my yoga practice looked like. I learned what it meant to practice moderation and forgiveness with myself. I called a truce with my body. I embodied gratitude.

    No two people share the same path to personal acceptance, freedom or peace. This just happens to be a window into how unraveling my upbringing and cultural conditioning began and propelled me into my life’s work. And while there may be some similarities and differences to the path another walks, I know one thing to be true in every single situation… something needs to shift, a person needs to try something new and different.

    I dare you to imagine something different for yourself and your body relationship. What would that look like? Feel like? Sound like?

    You have full permission to drop what isn’t working, what’s harming you and holding you back from stepping into the fullest version of yourself with apology or shame.

    What’s one thing you can do differently right now?

    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 Melanie Klein

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

    Photo by Sarit Z. Rogers/

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  • So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays!

    The holiday’s may be over, but that doesn’t mean we get to stop talking about them. Anyone else out there struggle with anxiety over body image over this holiday season? If you did, check out what Erica Mather has to say about our feelings towards our own body image, especially related to the holiday season, and what you can do to avoid that icky body image angst in the future.

    There are a few times of the year when our body image anxieties reach a high pitch, and the holidays is one of them.

    Why? A few weighty reasons.

    1. You’re gonna see people you haven’t seen in a while, and they are gonna see you. People may have changed! (Gasp!) How will everyone react?!
    2. Food, food, so much food. And, booze. And dessert. So much: TOO MUCH!
    3. People talking about how other people look, behind their backs, usually not in a very nice way.

    Let’s take a look at each of these in succession.

    How we look. It’s beyond natural to want to really make a good impression on friends and family that you’ve not seen in a long time. Perhaps you’ve gained some weight (not that I personally think that it a problem, but other people seem to still think it is). Perhaps you’ve been sick, and it shows (again–cause for compassion, not for judgement). You know you’re not at your physical best. And you worry, because, not only does that dent your self esteem when you’re already feeling down, but now on top of that, you’ve forced into a situation where you’re worried about what other people will think, and what they will say–to your face–and what they will say behind your back. It sucks.

    Here are some suggestions.


    • Dress your best. Take the time to find something to wear that you feel really good about, shopping, borrowing. Make it fun. In-character. Fashionable. Get a sympathetic friend to help you out, if you HATE figuring out what to wear alone. Be relentless in your determination to make the holidays feel good to you, so you emerge victorious, at least knowing that you took the best care of yourself.
    • Wear a smile. You ALWAYS are well-dressed when you do.
    • Rehearse gracious, de-escalating responses to incendiary remarks, like the following:
      • “It looks like you’ve gained weight!”Haha! Maybe!–My body does what it does. By the way: You look wonderful! I love you so much, and I’m so happy to see you. What is something really terrific that has happened to you recently? 
      • “You look so great! Have you lost weight?” I’m not sure! I don’t weigh myself. I really try to not get caught up in that: it makes me crazy and ends up taking up so much of my mental space, space that I want to spend thinking about truly important things. Speaking of really important things, how is your (fill in the blank, choose something you know is really important to that person in their life) going? 


    • Take deep breaths, and feel free to spend some time alone in the bathroom to regroup.
    • Bring your compassion for yourself along. If someone says something less than kind, breathe, smile, say something that shows your own self-compassion, and encourages that in them, even complimenting them as a retort. Use your rehearsed responses. Trust yourself to be your own advocate, and to do so in a way that is gracious, and instructive, even if the people you are talking to don’t or can’t understand.

    How other people look. Basic rule: it is none of your business. If you don’t have something kind or gracious to say, then you best not say it! There is no real reason to comment on another’s appearance. You can focus on their person. After all, the body is just an aspect of the person. Say something honest, about them. Say: I love you, and I’m so happy to see you! Or if that isn’t honest: It’s been so long! We have so much to catch up on. Tell me, what has been the highlight of the last year for you? 


    If part of your body image anxieties revolve around food (how could they not??!) make an honest assessment of where you are with this issue, and then make a plan.

    THE PLAN. Here’s my general plan. It might not work for you, we are different people with different histories and growth trajectories, but I offer mine as a sort of guidepost. Eat “normally.” Meaning: don’t NOT eat because there’s going to me SO MUCH FOOD at dinner. No, no. That suggests a restrict/binge cycle. Have breakfast. Have lunch. Then: eat “normal” portions at dinner. Not bird portions. Not THREE helpings. Like, one plate. There will be leftovers. Plan on enjoying those in the days ahead. Or not. There will be another scrumptious meal in your near future.

    THE ENERGETICS. Here’s something interesting I learned from my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest. Our energetic anatomy and our physical anatomy overlap. So, if the part of you that is busy taking in conversation, or energy from another person, the corresponding physical apparatus will be partially or fully offline. At these parties, there are often many people, and the energetic input is like a flood. Because of that, it makes it even harder for us to connect to the feelings of our actual stomach. When I can’t detect my stomach, I make the decision not to eat too much, because I can’t feel what’s happening. This is the ONLY reason I will personally accept for not eating much at such events. Often people bombard their stomachs with too much food, in order to ground, or in order to get pulled back into the reality of the situation, or to try to feel something. Pay close attention. Take a break, in the bathroom to regroup, if you loose the capability to pay attention.

    THE SOCIAL ANXIETY. Recently, I’ve noticed that I eat too fast when I’m experiencing an energetic situation that I feel uncomfortable with. It’s like, somewhere deep inside I’m thinking “when the meal is over, I can leave!” because that’s the way it worked as a kid. When the plate was clean, then I might be excused from the table. I don’t like the conversation: I eat fast. I’m tired: I eat fast. I JUST WANT TO GET AWAY! GAH! Oh, my. This is very disconnected patterning.

    This past Thanksgiving I commented on the “speed eating” phenomenon to my cousin, and she laughed saying at a friend’s dinner, they clocked it at fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Ya spent all day cooking, and sit down to eat for FIFTEEN MINUTES?! Did anyone even CHEW?!

    Tips to slow down:

    • Take one bite.
    • Put down your cutlery.
    • Chew.
    • Taste.
    • Swallow.
    • Taste
    • Breath.
    • Taste your food.
    • Consider how fast you want to take the next bite. Or if you even want to. Sometimes the food is not as tasty as you anticipated. You don’t have to finish it if you’re not actually enjoying it! But, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t actually KNOW if you’re enjoying it or not…
    • How much of your attention is on enjoying your food? How much of it is one the conversation? Can you pay attention to both? I have a hard time with that, actually…

    Recognizing your anxieties and handling them head-on is an advanced, ADULT skill. Mostly we’ve been taught to ignore/deflect/numb, and at the holidays, we are confronted uncomfortably with so many of our boogeymen. Uncomfortable, fraught relationships with people who are unkind or judgmental. Our own unkind thoughts about other people. People’s assessments of us, and ours of them. Good grief. Of course I just want to eat fast and go home! It’s fucking exhausting! Adulting is hard. But, we can do it!

    Before I got better at really noticing that large groups of people–not even necessarily family, just PEOPLE!–make me uncomfortable, I would just position myself by the cheese plate, and eat the whole thing. The only people I ended up talking to were other people who loved cheese. So, they were already pre-approved. Haha.

    Before I got good at noticing that I was eating away my loneliness and my desire for other, safe, human contact, I would eat entire cheesecakes in solitude, by myself. So huge was my appetite and its need to be filled. The problem seemed so intractable, it was easier just to solve with food. At least cheesecake is reliable. And safe.

    The trouble with holidays, is the seem to be referendums on our entire life for the past year. And, often, when we’re not working on ourselves, they catch us by surprise. Even if we ARE working on ourselves, and somehow feel like we’ve fallen short of our goals (always a setup for disappointment…try “setting intents” instead), they will catch us by surprise as we administer a hearty dose of flagellation.

    The holidays don’t have to be a referendum. It’s just a yearly blip on the calendar. We can choose to cruise through them as such.

    Or–and I’m not necessarily advocating this approach–you can use them as a yearly check-in on how you’re growing, changing, becoming more resilient. I started to know that I was getting better at it all when I could sit quietly with a glass of water and talk to people and “sort of” enjoy myself. No more cheese plate stakeouts. Huzzah!

    But that progress relied on a steady, year-in-year-out self-study and examination using the tools of yoga and therapy. If you don’t have some tools, or support in place, the holidays will surely be as painful as they were last year. I think that’s a shame, and wouldn’t want that for you!

    Which is why I put together a worksheet for you, to help you get started making a better relationship with your body. I call it The 5 Adoring Core Competencies. CLICK HERE to get your free copy! 


    The Gossip. UGH. We’ve all experienced it. You go into the kitchen, innocently looking for a glass of water, and there are your (fill in the blank relatives) talking about another relative. WHAT A DRAG.

    “Did you see what she was wearing…?”

    “Did you see how much she ate…?”

    Sometimes, sometimes, people are talking about another out of true concern. But–does the talk really help them? Probably not.

    When I hear these sorts of conversations, or am involved personally in these conversations, what I’m feeling for is the place of HELP for the person. If it isn’t there, then I start to wonder what purpose this conversation is actually serving. Is it making the participants feel better about themselves by comparison? Is it creating a point of bonding for the people in the conversation, like they have something to concern themselves about together? Both of these are not good reasons to gossip, but they also show a deficit in social skills, specifically how to connect without doing it on the back of, or at the expense of others. This moment can be a teaching opportunity. A chance to elevate the awareness and basic decency in the world.

    If the people try to drag me into the conversation, the only way I will get involved is if they can answer these questions: Is our conversation actually helping the situation? Does the person in question desire help in this regard? If the answer is NO to both, then the conversation is a waste of time, and I would say as much. 

    Gossip does nothing but harm. 


    • Pull your energy back into the present moment, with the people present
    • Insist on talking about only the people present in the room: their lives, their concerns 
    • If you are talking about another person, make sure it is used to help you have insights into your own life and experiences
    • Make it part of your ethics to only speak well of people when they are not around, particularly if they have done nothing to harm you personally
    • Combat gossip by countering with kind, generous, compassionate statements. Insist that you do not know they entire story as to why a person speaks or behaves the way they do. Never rob another person of their autonomy. Make space for them to speak for themselves.

    Ok. Good luck, soldiers of love! Go forth, and spread good cheer! And, remember, it’s O.K. to make holidays that YOU love, and feel good about. You don’t have to spend them with people who make you uncomfortable about yourself. In fact, that might be the healthiest thing you could choose for yourself, and your sweet, tender body.

    By Erica Mather

    This article was originally posted on stuffilearnedatyoga.com. Check out Erica’s free class as part of our 30 Day Yoga Living challenge. Plus, stay tuned for more from Erica, coming soon to OmStars!