• Working with Pleasure, Power, and Agency in Yoga Spaces

    Earlier this year, I had the unexpected opportunity to present at a yoga conference. With less than 24 hours to prepare, I sequestered myself and started researching and grinding out a PowerPoint on the foremost topic on my mind: power, consent, and agency in the yoga classroom, and the relationship between these concepts and issues of access.

    The resulting presentation drew from a number of sources of knowledge and inspiration, notably my trauma-sensitive yoga training with David Emerson , the written work of Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis , the gathered works encompassed in Adrienne Maree Brown ’s latest release Pleasure Activism : The Politics of Feeling Good , and, of course, the inspiring work around access and inclusion that a number of organizations are doing in the yoga world.

    We often associate power and agency with sexual assault and abuse. This conversation is vital, and we need conversations around power and agency in a broader context. In continuing to learn from resources like Pleasure Activism and its authors, and from my own experiences, it also occurs to me that we could tap into the erotic as a source of teaching within our own self-study practices–perhaps, as suggested in Audre Lorde’s essay “ Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power ,” a seminal work of black feminist thought originally published in 1978 (and not without some problematic passages indicative of societally-held attitudes of its time), we could use our erotic experiences and resulting understanding of sexual agency to better conceptualize what it looks like to be agents in other realms–a template for how disempowered people might take some power back.

    I am in absolutely no way suggesting that we sexualize the yoga space–in fact, I believe to do so would both disrespect the traditions we’re teaching from and create immense harm. However, in our private lives, we could work to recognize that our attitudes and behaviors towards sex and the broadly erotic largely mirror our beliefs and behavior elsewhere. We could use what we gather from the exploration of our sexual selves and the larger sexual politic to help us understand our relationships to power, pleasure, and agency in a larger context.

    Personally, this recognition has created a dynamic shift in all of my relationships. It has influenced my understanding of what it means to sit in the teacher’s seat as well as my perception of my rights as a student. It’s also led me to this gem of what feels like understanding: as a fat, queer, non-binary femme, the dominant culture is opposed to my pleasure. If I understand what I desire, what makes me feel good, full, and fulfilled, and I am able to actively seek it, then I might reject the systems that keep that dominant culture imbued with the power to dominate. I might start demanding equitable treatment for myself and other marginalized people. My pleasure is both indicative and a source of my power.

    Examine who the dominant culture desexualizes and/or fetishizes and I bet you’ll find that many of the same people viewed through these disempowering lenses are underrepresented in Western yoga spaces. These issues of constructed desirability and access are not extricable–sexuality is co-opted and intentionally weaponized against marginalized groups, and dominant culture continues to feed the narrative that only certain bodies (white, cis, thin, etc.) are appropriately sexual and, therefore, that only these bodies deserve pleasure. Don’t even get me started on the ways that the so-called wellness industry subtly correlates sex and food (sources of pleasure and survival) and implies that fat people, especially fat women and femmes, are deserving of neither.

    When the wellness and yoga industries place the baggage of their systematized fat phobia on me and I internalize it, my body image suffers and I feel less desirable, less worthy of pleasure and joy. Instead of moving towards my pleasure, I move towards assimilation–I diet and buy products I don’t even like, all in the name of becoming someone deserving of happiness. However, when I am resourced with real agency and knowledge of my desires, when I recognize that I am deserving just by nature of my existence, I am able to instead move towards those experiences which I find genuinely pleasurable in the body I have.

    In the yoga classroom, we have the opportunity to work towards an agency-based culture that allows each individual practitioner means to access the teachings of yoga in genuine-to-themselves, agentful ways. Teachers can create opt-in scenarios and provide variations to give students a more active decision-making role in their own practices. We can practice asking for and giving consent to touch. We can create more transparency around power dynamics and start to resource one another with the tools we need to assert our rights and desires in other realms.

    But by and large, we don’t. Instead, we reinforce oppressive power structures by allowing them to dictate who has access to yoga spaces (often those with the most privilege already), by centering dominant culture (through emphasis and exaltation of only highly-athletic asana and whitewashing our spaces and teachings), and by upholding authoritarian classroom management styles (insinuating there’s only one real option or insisting there’s zero space to question the teacher). When we talk about agency in the context of sexuality, we value autonomy, choice, freedom, equitable partnership, and pleasure in alignment with our ethics–why don’t we emphasize the same values in our yoga spaces? Why don’t we extend them to everybody?

    I’m not sure how we practice yoga with the intentionality and discernment it asks of us without agency. There must be the possibility of “no” for “yes” to exist. If we cannot give consent (to sex, adjustments in a yoga class, or anything else) without agency, could we practice surrender, ishvara pranidhana, without it? Could we engage in deep and honest self-inquiry? I don’t believe we’re living our yoga if we’re not working to create a just and equitable world. Part of this work is giving stolen resources and opportunities for agency back to those who are marginalized through systems of oppression, those systems that hijack and manipulate essential parts of our humanity to diminish our pleasure and our joy in order to keep us disempowered.

    We cannot keep recreating and upholding those systems in our yoga spaces. Instead, we might consider collectively creating an agency-based culture on the mat, the mattress, and everywhere else

    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.

  • What does it mean to be at peace with your body

    What does body positivity really mean?

    I’m struggling with the term, “body positivity” these days. It seems as though the term has been watered down from its original roots in the fat acceptance movement, which began in the 1970’s. Nowadays, the term “body positivity” has become a hollow shadow of its former self. The focus has been redirected from genuine acceptance, back to heteronormative standards of beauty. Body positivity is now being used as trope. It is a buzzword that minimizes what it means to be at peace with who you really are. More often than not, we see the term being utilized by major clothing brands in an attempt to sell us the “one sizes fits all” guarantee. This is not acceptable – body positivity has to mean more than that.

    Body positive should mean justice and visibility for all bodies – regardless of their size, color, ability or sexual orientation. We’ve brought the term body positivity into our mainstream culture, but now the message has been co-opted. As a result, I’ve decided to move away from the term body positivity, and instead, am embracing a more introspective connection to my body. My new, more peaceful approach to connecting with my body allows me to experience the full range of my human emotions. This means that some days I feel great about my body, and other days I don’t. Some days diet culture gets a hold of me, but I remember that I have the knowledge and power to break free from those destructive thought patterns. In my new definition of body positivity, I aim to remind myself and others that, above all else: you are enough.

    The Quest for Making Peace with Your Body

    Making peace with your body may seem like an impossible task. It’s hard find peace in a world that has a vested in keeping us entrenched in feelings of dissatisfaction. Our western culture is imbued with a drive towards perfectionism. We are told that the goal is always to be better: to work harder, to be thinner. Fighting for peace in my body often leaves me feeling as though I am toeing the thin line between seeking outward validation and finding inward acceptance. How can I make peace with my body in a world that doesn’t fully appreciate the diversity of humanity? We live in a culture that is continually seeking to reinforce the status quo, making it harder for us to break free from the social constructs that hold us captive to the drive for perfectionism. The desire to lower my blood pressure has recently lead me on the quest for better cardiovascular health. As a result. I’ve found myself back in the world of fitness, with all the negative trapping of diet and fitness culture. Our body image is influenced by the people around us, and it is hard to be around people who are constantly preoccupied with how they look over their level of physical fitness.

    These are the people who are exercising as a form of punishment, in order to burn off what they ate. Or, the ones who are perpetually trying to lose those “last 10 pounds”. The scale in the locker room is a trigger that reminds me that being fat is not the desired outcome – regardless of my cardiovascular health. I’ve reached an interesting point in my journey towards making peace with my body. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid. Hyperthyroidism, or Graves Disease, really messed with my head. As a person dissatisfied with the shape of my body, this disease gave me everything I ever wanted: I could eat anything I wanted and still lose copious amounts of weight. Graves disease had an internal dialogue with my history of disordered eating, which always lingers beneath the surface, regardless of where I’m at in my journey towards self-love. To make matters more challenging, I’ve found that triggering an eating disorder is comfortable, if not celebrated, in a culture that uses eating disorders to push the “wellness” culture. We see things like specialized diets that exclude entire food groups, fasting and excessive exercising as normalized behaviors.

    So, how do we make peace with our bodies in a world of conflicting messages?

    I believe the limiting outside influences and creating a personal dialogue about our bodies, is the first step in making peace with our bodies and improving our body image. We need to reinforce our internal dialogue with practices that make us feel worthy. It’s a tall order. The first step is awareness. Who are your peers and how do they talk about their bodies? Studies have shown that who you hang out with impacts your life and your self-worth. What if you could create a circle of friends and peers that aren’t excessively focused their bodies? What if you created a circle of friends who just enjoyed life as it comes? “Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Waterloo. “Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image.” For me, this means that it’s time to break away from social norms and create my own custom path to body acceptance.

    Finding My Way

    To improve my relationship with my body, I needed to surround myself with people who weren’t hyper focused on the way their body looks. I changed my relationship with exercise from a place of counting steps to a place of enjoying nature, hanging out with friends and exploring my strength and endurance outside the gym. I began to marvel at my connection to my body, and my understand of my body’s purpose evolved. My body wasn’t something I needed to fight with, she was my co-pilot in experiencing the intricacies of my life. Above all else, my body had been my friend all along – I had just chosen to listen to all the wrong things. It is freeing not to care about what others think. My body shows up the best she can in all circumstances. Once I figured out that my body was my friend, not my foe, I could begin to deconstruct the forces that kept me feeling small and insecure.

    Cultivating a positive body image is a practice. In fact, it is a very challenging practice given the hundreds of years of social conditioning that we must first unlearn before we can begin to befriend our bodies. Being media savvy, changing your perspective on your body, and focusing on the entirety of your life experience – are essential in overcoming the idea that there is a perfect way to be in this world. Rather than framing your experience of life based on the number on the scale, start by challenging yourself to experience life by living, tasting, feeling, exploring existing mindfully in each moment. Stay strong and be brave enough to end toxic relationships that diminish your sense of self-worth. To begin repairing our relationship with our bodies, we must stop looking outwards, and venture deeper inwards.

    By Dianne Bondy

    Seek Up interview with Dianne Bondy

    Dianne Bondy is a social justice activist, author, accessible yoga teacher, and the leader of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive approach to yoga empowers anyone to practice—regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne is revolutionizing yoga by educating yoga instructors around the world on how to make their classes welcoming and safe for all kinds of practitioners. Dianne is the author of Yoga for Everyone (DK Publishing, Penguin Random House) and a frequent contributor to Yoga International, DoYouYoga, Yoga Girl, and Omstars. She has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and People. Dianne’s commitment to increasing diversity in yoga has been recognized in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, as well as in speaking engagements at Princeton and UC Berkeley on Yoga, Race, and Diversity. Her writing is published in Yoga and Body Image Volume 1, Yoga Rising, and Yes Yoga Has Curves. Find Dianne online on IG, Facebook and Twitter or at diannebondyyoga.com and  yogaforalltraining.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.

  • Why it’s Not Just Up to You to Heal Your Own Body Image

    It’s easy for me to rhapsodize about the way yoga has held me in my relationship with my body. Like so many of us from so many backgrounds, my early life taught me to experience my body as a source of shame, vulnerability, and discomfort. When I began practicing yoga in my early adulthood as part of eating disorder recovery, it gave me a new sense of my body as a source of vitality, joy, and strength. I especially loved that it bypassed my struggle to fix my “body image issues.” When I move and breathe, I feel viscerally that, in fact, my body isn’t an image—it’s me, an ever-changing reality to be experienced, not gazed at.

    Yoga led me to spend the last twenty years trying to understand how we heal our relationships with our bodies. I became a psychotherapist. I sit with people day in and day out, supporting healing, self-discovery, and self-compassion. As a white, thin, Jewish woman and mother, my understanding is informed by my own privilege, perspective, and experiences of how I felt and feel I was supposed to look to fit in to belong and feel safe in today’s American culture. I invite my clients, too, to investigate how their own cultural experiences and experiences of oppression influence them. We talk a lot about how society influences body image, and inevitably I ask, how can *you* resist negative cultural messages?

    But here is what I have learned over time—it is a rare person indeed who can resist all the cultural messages about bodies and all that lies within our beauty/health standards—sexism, racism, ableism, classism, concepts of privilege and power. Even some of the bravest, most resilient, most culture-resisting people I know share in private that their body image issues have not disappeared. I am one of those people. To be quite vulnerable, despite the fact that I have been immersed in the recovery, yoga, and body positivity worlds for all these years, I often notice societal messages zooming through my mind.

    Because of this, I have come to believe that expecting perfect body image from ourselves is a setup, and one built on a major cultural trap: the idea that healing is an individual endeavor and an individual responsibility.

    We are taught: If you are poor, it’s because *you* haven’t worked hard enough. If you have health problems, the cause is *your* lifestyle. If you have an eating disorder or body issues, well, that’s because *you* haven’t resisted the cultural messages enough. Which is just what you need—something else wrong with you that you should spend some money to fix.

    Here’s where I come back to yoga: the ultimate aim of yoga is for liberation—individual and collective. Yet, in contemporary US culture, yoga can become zeroed in on individual healing. I am certainly guilty of using it this way—I wrote a whole book about yoga for healing. This approach has powerful gifts to offer, but I worry that when it is the only approach taken, it lets the culture off the hook. Most health problems owe far more to societal factors than individual.

    How are we to heal as individuals in a culture that continues to cause harm? How are we to heal if we are taught that, on basis of size, race, gender, age, or ability, our bodies are only meant to be sources of shame, vulnerability and discomfort? How do we learn to trust ourselves when our thoughts—based on very real messages we have absorbed in an undistorted manner—are labeled as distorted?

    I’m not going to stop supporting people in their individual healing because I know that work is crucial, too. The individual counts—our stories and voices matter. Eating disorders are not simply reactions to a toxic culture. People with eating disorders haven’t just failed worse than everyone else at resisting cultural messages. Eating disorders are illnesses with clear roots in genetics and life histories. Recovery must involve understanding and finding compassion for your unique temperament and biology in order to learn how to be a steadfast self-caretaker.

    But for that inner work to flourish, we need to collectively change systems, not just people. Changing society will not cure eating disorders—but it sure would remove many of the obstacles that make recovery and healing so very hard.

    Here are some tiny starting points for change:

    • Change systems that perpetuate fatphobia and weight stigma: this means media-makers creating messaging that counters the boogie monster “obesity epidemic.” Doctors can educate medical schools and organizations about Health at Every SizeÒ. Eating disorder professionals like me can change the norms in our professional communities—to stop reassuring clients that they are not fat and won’t get fat, and replace that with the message: being fat is just fine, and let’s help you survive in a world that works hard to teach you otherwise.
    • Expose the fact that most of our understanding of eating disorders and body image is based on research done by white, thin, privileged people about white, thin privileged people. Much of the research has been done by straight men, when the issue disproportionally affects women and LBGTQ people. Let’s fight for better research.
    • Change systems based on fatphobia, racism, and classism that affect who has access to care. This means changing a system that only insures some of us, and underinsures even the most privileged. Vote! In professional communities, we can ask why our public health campaigns, diagnostic categories, and treatment centers send a message that only people with thin, white, young bodies are “sick enough” to merit treatment.
    • In yoga communities, we can challenge the use of yoga to hoard thin-privilege and health-privilege, and teach yoga with a purpose—to fortify ourselves for real liberation work, for creating changes much bigger than our own bodies.

    A final note—please know that it is never up to one person to heal the world. If you are stuck in an eating disorder or body image struggle, please focus on your individual healing, however you may find it. Let those of us who are not as stuck do some of the fighting until you are ready to join in. As yoga teaches us—we are all connected, our healing intimately bound up together. In the words of Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

    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 Suzannah Neufeld

    Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, C-IAYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, certified yoga therapist, and mom of two who has specialized in supporting people coping with eating disorders, body image concerns, and maternal mental health since 2003. She is a co-founder of Rockridge Wellness Center, a counseling and health collective in Oakland, CA, where she has a private practice. Suzannah is the author of the book Awake at 3 a.m.: Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy and Early Motherhood (Parallax Press, 2018). She is also a contributing author in the anthology Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. Learn more at www.suzannahneufeld.com

     

     

  • How To Speak Lovingly About Larger Bodies

    “How can I lovingly refer to larger-bodied people in my yoga classes?”

     

    This question was posed by a thin, white, woman-identified yoga teacher in a weekend immersion focused primarily on physical accessibility and adaptive teaching. The lead trainer happened to be a fat-identified woman. Aside from her, I was the only fat person in the room. The question was very much directed at the two of us. We both knew it. We both stammered over our words trying to answer her question.

     

    As a fat yoga teacher, I’m asked this question all the time, almost exclusively by thin, white, able-bodied, woman-identified teachers. They hear me talk about my body using particular words or phrases, they watch me adapt postures or use my hands to move my belly out of the way in a twist or a fold, and then they approach me with their well-intentioned posits: “How do I instruct this without making it about body size?”, “How do I advise a student to manually adjust their belly to make more room without making them uncomfortable?”, or, as ambiguous a question as the one posed at the weekend immersion, “How do I talk about fat without offending anyone?”

     

    In the particular instance at the weekend immersion, I had the good fortune of being able to connect with the trainer, a teacher and friend of mine, over dinner after the training. It was a nice and necessary experience to be able to process our feelings about being the only fat people in that particular space. We started talking about this woman’s question and the difficulty we had in answering it.

     

    As we struggled to find words that equally honored our truths and our feelings, gave practical advice, and avoided alienating her or putting her on the defensive (a really tall order), I grew exasperated.

     

    “Maybe you could just try loving them,” I said. My friend sighed and emphatically agreed.

     

    My exasperated statement is at the crux of why these questions are so hard to answer. They’re hard to answer, because they shouldn’t need to be asked in the first place. If we lived in a world where all bodies were assigned equal value regardless of factors like size or perceived health, if all yoga teachers and practitioners were actually embodying the universal love towards all beings that they like to preach, if “inclusion,” “accessibility,” and “body-positivity” were more than marketing buzzwords to the mainstream wellness businesses that co-opt and capitalize on them, if fat wasn’t demonized in our industry and our society to the point that stigma and aversion are present in every single conversation we have about that one particular type of body tissue, then speaking “lovingly” about someone’s body, no matter their size, would not be something we struggled so deeply with. If we loved fat people as a norm, the way we love thin people, then we would always be speaking to and about them from that wellspring of love.

     

    I struggle to want to extend credit to thin people who ask me how to treat fat people lovingly and supportively. On one hand, I appreciate that there are teachers asking these questions when so many more simply won’t. On the other hand, it feels a little bit like when father’s say they’re “babysitting” their kids–no sir, that’s just called parenting. Treating fat people well shouldn’t be considered extraordinary–it’s your responsibility.

     

    I could spend this post giving you some suggested language or best practices. I could talk to you about the history of fat phobia or the fat liberation, civil rights, and accessibility movements that laid the groundwork for modern-day body positive activism. I could talk about the reclamation of the word “fat,” tell you how finally embracing that word as my own has freed me in ways I never knew were possible. But I won’t, at least not today. I hope you’ll seek out resources (including the blog posts yet to come in this series) that can provide all of those things, but in this moment, they feel beyond the point: you can’t speak lovingly to someone without loving them first.

     

    So, to all of the yoga practitioners and teachers out there who are asking these sorts of questions, I have a question for you: What is it going to take for you to start actively loving fat people and their bodies?

     

    Is it a matter of re-educating yourself about the relationship between weight and health? Of seeing diverse body sizes represented in a positive light in the media? Seeing more fat-identified people in leadership roles, heading studios and teaching prime-time yoga classes? Does it potentially mean confronting some harsh realities about the ways you’ve perpetuated harm towards fat people in the past? Or the ways you’ve talked about and treated your own glorious body?

     

    Are you doing that internal work? How about the external work? Are you clearing the way for fat leadership? Are you calling upon your media sources to diversify representation? Are you supporting fat yoga teachers and making sure yoga spaces are actually accessible? These are examples of active love.

     

    As practitioners of yoga, we’re called to engage in active love, active service, and unwavering ahimsa, non-violence, as a practice, not just a thought experiment. We’re also asked practice discernment as part of our greater engagement with satya, truth-telling. We’re called to act mindfully, and to remain ever open to self-study and reflection. If we’re honestly living these values, then we’re living in love and service to all people. Fat people are not excluded.

     

    If you want to speak lovingly about fat people, practice actively loving us. Build genuine relationships with us and listen when we open up about the impact of fat phobia on our lives. Question the messaging that continues to reinforce thin supremacy the way you would question messages that sought to marginalize other people you love. Do the work. I promise, the loving words will come to you.

    By Melanie Williams

     Photo credit: Cinthya Zuniga, cinthyazuniga.com, @zunigaphotography on Instagram.

    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
  • Every Body is a Yoga Body.

    When Michelle Bowler came across some less than kind comments on an image we shared on instagram late last year, she felt the need to speak up and help educated those who were leaving negative comments. The image was of the amazingly talented, body positivity activist, Valerie Sagun. The negative comments sparked our desired to start a much bigger conversation about the concept of body shaming in the world of yoga. So, we reached out to Michelle and asked her to write a blog post for us related to this subject. This is what she shared:

    Who does yoga belong to? And why does it matter what size you are in order to do yoga?

    I’m a yoga teacher and student in a bigger body. I’m also a Legal Aid lawyer and a mum.

    I have a same sex partner and we have 4 kids – a singleton and triplets. I’m on Instagram and one of the things I love seeing in my Instagram feed is diverse families. Seeing gay dads and their kids and their stories gives me joy. Seeing people managing with twins or triplets or bigger families gives me some much-needed strength. And seeing people with lives that are different to mine makes me think.

    I also deliberately cultivate a diverse yoga feed on my Instagram.  Seeing queer yogis gives me joy and strength. I like seeing people from all walks of life, including people with a disability, people of colour, people in a bigger bodies, people who are trans gender, or people in prison doing and teaching yoga. It reminds me that yoga is for all of us, and not reserved for just some of us.

    When I first started teaching yoga, I was waiting for someone to tell me I was too fat. But no one ever did. That’s probably because being thin isn’t a prerequisite for teaching or doing yoga. It’s probably also because people are more polite in person than they can be anonymously on social media. In my classes I don’t promote obesity but I don’t promote weight loss either. I don’t talk about weight at all. I talk about how to modify poses, how to use props if they’re helpful, how to rest, and how to call a ceasefire with the way you talk to yourself when you step on the mat.

    One of my favourite yoga poses is Downward Facing Dog, holding it for a few breaths and closing my eyes. It took a long time to become a favourite, though. Over time my wrists have become stronger and now, I love the way Downward Dog feels – when I’m on my own and I can find some stillness and decompress my spine after a long day sitting at a desk, and when my kids find me and start clambering all over me and making me laugh. There’s nothing Instagram worthy about my down dog or my home practice with my unruly kids. My ankles don’t touch the ground and maybe they never will. I’m long past caring.

    Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes have been huge influences for me – 2 intelligent, experienced, kind, passionate Yoga Teachers who happen to be in bigger bodies. As Dianne says, yoga can bring people in from the margins. Good yoga doesn’t say ‘this is not for you’. The Yoga and Body image Coalition also does amazing work to spread the message that yoga is for everyone.

    Yoga is one of my means for self-care. My practice has allowed me to see how much my body does for me. It’s helped me find my voice as a teacher in a bigger body. It’s made me thankful for my arms that cuddle my kids and for my legs that carry me where I want to go. It’s made me thankful for the miracle of growing 3 babies at once. It’s helped me step off the yo-yo world of dieting. It’s made me more grateful for my many good fortunes in the lottery of life.

    In my practice and my teaching, I return again and again to santosha (contentment). Accepting and appreciating the life and the body that I have right now. Everyone should be allowed to practice yoga and put a photo of it on Instagram if they want – without stigma or shame. It is too easy to be negative on social media when you see someone in a different body doing yoga.

    When we judge each other on social media, it could be helpful to take some cues from the yamas and niyamas. Ahimsa (non-violence) and svadhyaya (self-study) stand out. Is it necessary to say that a photo of someone in a bigger body doing yoga is promoting obesity? Is it true? Does this belief say more about the person holding it than it does about the person in the photo? It is not hard to scroll on by rather than assume someone is unhealthy and needs to be told so. I’m not sure who this quote is from but ‘Yoga is not about tightening your arse, it’s about getting your head out of it’. Every body is a yoga body.

    By Michelle Bowler

    Michelle Bowler is a Yoga teacher and mother of 4 based in Ballarat, Australia. She teaches classes at BALC and Absolute Yoga & Pilates.

  • Exploring Yoga & Body Image with Omstars – The Yoga Network

    Welcome to the “Exploring Yoga & Body Image” Blog Series on Omstars!

    We’ve gathered yoga teachers, social justice activists and inspiring critical thinkers to lead us on a deep dive into yoga & body image! Our new blog series gives you the opportunity to learn from the top thinkers and activists in the field of body positivity, plus,  join a bigger conversation that will create lasting change, both in your life and in the world. This free blog series holds space for this work with inclusivity and compassion. But, it’s not only blogs—we will also be hosting IG and FB lives with each of these powerful voices. The path then culminates with a live discussion panel, hosted in Miami at Miami Life Center which will also be filmed for online viewing and made available via the Chat & Chai podcast. This weekend event, taking place June 7th-9th 2019, will be accompanied by a weekend of workshops for those able to attend. Many of these workshops, if not all, will also be recorded and available on Omstars thereafter, so as to make these vital and potentially world-changing workshops accessible to all.

    Discussing yoga or movement, diet culture, or basically any conversation about body image can be challenging; whether you feel the effects of negative or hurtful comments yourself, or you are unsure how to approach the issue and learn more about the topic. Either way, having clear guidance to navigate both the inner and outer work is needed. Think about this blog series as a kind of community re-education. We seek to bring the discussion of beauty, body and culture to the forefront of awareness, and in doing so, we hope to crack the myths of privilege and mainstream beauty norms. Relying on solid facts and research, our expert team of leaders guide you through a powerful process of self-discovery. We hope you will be engaged with us each step of the way and share your own stories, be active in the comments and join as many of the livestreams as possible.

    REAL inclusivity means being willing to have difficult conversations AND hold each other in a space of vulnerability, tolerance and kindness. When we learn to sit with and hold ourselves in this way, it teaches us how to then hold this space for others. This isn’t just a blog series, this is about creating a movement towards waking people up, opening up an important conversation and creating a safe, caring and supportive space for people to explore their thoughts, feelings and ultimately a chance for people to support each other in a meaningful way.

    But more than anything, we want you to know this— We hear you, we see you and we are here to support you.

    Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to our esteemed group of experts from the Yoga & Body Image Coalition who are leading the charge on this series for us.

    LAURA BURNS

    Laura Burns is the fierce, fat, feminist founder of Radical Body Love Yoga. She’s obsessed with bringing body-affirming yoga and self-love coaching into as many lives as possible. Her commitment is to helping folks honor their bodies in each moment, regardless of size, ability, age, gender expression, ethnicity, and experience with trauma. She feels called to help people become more present in their bodies, more loving toward themselves, and to move forward toward living the life they want and deserve.

    Through her online courses, workshops, classes, and radical body-love activism, Laura is sharing her personal experience with the life-saving power of yoga and body-positivity with the world. Accessibility, trauma-sensitivity, and body-autonomy are the guiding principles of all her work and interactions with the world. Laura is an E-RYT 200, YACEP, trained and certified by Curvy Yoga, a Certified Punk Rock Hoops Instructor, a Community Partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and the creator of the HoopAsana and Radical Body Love Yoga philosophies and practices. She lives in Houston, Texas and sets up shop online at radicalbodylove.com.

    DIANNE BONDY

    Dianne Bondy is a social justice activist, author, accessible yoga teacher, and the leader of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive approach to yoga empowers anyone to practice—regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne is revolutionizing yoga by educating yoga instructors around the world on how to make their classes welcoming and safe for all kinds of practitioners.


    Dianne is the author of Yoga for Everyone (DK Publishing, Penguin Random House) and a frequent contributor toYoga International, DoYouYoga, Yoga Girl, and Omstars. She has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and People. Dianne’s commitment to increasing diversity in yoga has been recognized in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, as well as in speaking engagements at Princeton and UC Berkeley on Yoga, Race, and
    Diversity. Her writing is published in Yoga and Body Image Volume 1, Yoga Rising, and Yes Yoga Has Curves.

    Find Dianne online on IG, Facebook and Twitter or at diannebondyyoga.com and  yogaforalltraining.com

    CELISA FLORES

    Celisa Flores: Since obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling in 2007 at CSU Fresno and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2013, Dr. Flores worked as a therapist and program director in a wide variety of mental health treatment setting. This diversity of experience allowed research and training to expand her skills as a Feminist therapistwith emphasis on Eating Disorders, Mindfulness and women’s issues.

    With a history of providing individual, group, family, and couples counseling services, as well as therapeutic yoga services, Dr. Flores has focused on evidence-based practices, providing guidance and support in Mindfulness in Recovery, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other self-empowerment strategies. In addition to training as a therapist, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher, also trained in Mindful Stress Reduction, Reiki and as a doula. By integrating a variety ofholistic tools into recovery and wellness, she works to create a long-lasting, sustainable wellness plan.

    Now proudly with Center for Discovery, providing clinical outreach for Orange County and the Central California region.  This role has included national and international training and speaking engagements on eating disorders, mindfulness, yoga, body acceptance, and professional wellness, as well as facilitating accessible, body-affirming yoga annually at the Los Angeles NEDA walk.  With a passion to support other therapists and community members with understanding eating disorders and treatment as well as self-care and overall wellness, she is always working to share information, research and training.

    MELANIE KLEIN

    Melanie 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) as well as the editor of the new anthology, Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and is the co-founder of The Joy Revolution. She has been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and currently lives in Santa Monica, CA.

    Connect: melaniecklein.com, ybicoalition.com, yogaandbodyimage.org, yogarisingbook.com

    JENNIFER KREATSOULAS

    Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body. Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. She also mentors professionals who wish to integrate yoga into their work with eating disorder clients. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga International and Yoga Journal and other influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 news and WHYY’s “The Pulse,” and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, The Yoga International Podcast, and ED Matters Podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com.   

    SUZANNAH NEUFELD

    Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, C-IAYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, certified yoga therapist, and mom of two who has specialized in supporting people coping with eating disorders, body image concerns, and maternal mental health since 2003. She is a co-founder of Rockridge Wellness Center, a counseling and health collective in Oakland, CA, where she has a private practice. Suzannah is the author of the book Awake at 3 a.m.: Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy and Early Motherhood (Parallax Press, 2018). She is also a contributing author in the anthology Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. Learn more at www.suzannahneufeld.com

    SABRINA STRINGS

    Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. has always wanted to write. As a young girl, her parents gifted her a little desk so that she might have a proper place to sketch out the tiny imaginative stories she passed to them when the inspiration struck. Today, Sabrina is constantly seeking ways to combine her love of writing, her passion for yoga, and her devotion to teaching and community service. As a yoga teacher, she offers free and dana-based yoga classes and workshops in low-income, POC-dominant communities like Oakland, Richmond, and East Los Angeles. She the co-founding editor of the first-ever publication dedicated to interrogating the link between race, gender and the modern practice of yoga, Race and Yoga Journal. As a professor, she travels the world giving talks on race, yoga, and women’s history. She teaches courses on feminist theory, social inequality/collective liberation, race/gender and embodiment, and food justice. She is on the Community Resilience Project Faculty Advisory Board, where she helps to organize and promote local actions for environmental and climate justice. As a writer, her social commentary has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Truth-Out Independent News, and Yoga International. Her writings on the nexus of fatness and blackness can be found in Fat Studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and the Oxford Handbook of Body and Embodiment. Her new book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019) explores how the phobia about fatness has been historically related to fears of racial integration.

    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.

    By Kino MacGregor, Anna Wechsel and Melanie Klein