• Overcoming Agonizing Body Image Dissatisfaction with Yoga

    I now feel at peace with my body. I appreciate what my body can do. There are times when I feel triggered by social media, but yoga philosophy has taught me how to become more resilient to these triggers.

    I remember the day my life changed.

    I sat on my yoga mat after my first 75-minute hot yoga class. I was drenched in sweat when class ended. I experienced a feeling that I hadn’t felt before, gratitude. During the hour and a half class, my body bent, twisted, and inverted in ways that I hadn’t experienced before.

    I was so proud of my body for what it accomplished on the mat that day. I was proud of myself for what I accomplished on the mat. It was such a cathartic moment because I had never experienced this feeling before.

    See, ever since I could remember, I hated my body. I remember being four years old and wanting to wear a t-shirt swimming to hide my belly. I did not have the language at the age to articulate what I was feeling; however, I did have the ability to avoid situations where people would look at me. As a child, I would avoid my friends’ pool parties in the summer by faking sick. I wouldn’t play sports because I did not want people to see my body jiggle when I ran around.

    My body image issues got worse as I got older. At six and a half feet tall, I stood out from my peers when I desperately wanted to fit in. In the high school locker room, I would have a hairy chest when my peers were all bare-skinned. And despite having braces, the shape of my front teeth caused me to have a small gap that would never go away.

    I went all-in on diet culture as a teenager as well. I would starve myself so I could fit into the slim fit clothing all my friends would wear. I would feel guilty when I ate too much so I would excessively exercise to burn off those excessive calories. I would stand over a trash can and shove a cookie in my mouth, chew it up a hundred times and spit it out just so I could experience the flavor without having to consume the calories.

    I was a hot mess.

    My body image issues and self-hatred landed me on a couch in my therapist’s office. She suggested that I try going to a yoga class to help my body image.

    I absolutely refused. I told her about the first yoga class that I had taken. I was a broke graduate student, and a cheap Groupon deal enticed my friends and I to sign up for a yoga class. Throughout the class, the teacher would come by and adjust my posture. Every time she touched me, I flinched. I hated being touched by a stranger. Moreover, I got so stuck in my head worrying about what I looked like and worried that I was doing yoga wrong.

    The experience was so terrible that I vowed to never do yoga again.

    My experience with therapy wasn’t the greatest. I would sit on the couch and list all the reasons why my body is the worst. My therapist would grow frustrated with me and tell me that my thoughts were not objectively true.

    Though, I found that it didn’t matter what was true or not true. What mattered was how I felt about myself.

    My therapy sessions ended abruptly soon after, and I poured myself into my work. Meanwhile, I would tell myself that I would always hate my body, and I would just need to learn to accept it.

    ==

    My life changed when my then-boyfriend convinced me to go to a yoga class at a studio by our house. I reluctantly agreed to go. We checked in, and the instructor was by the front desk, and I blurted out, “Please don’t judge me for how bad I am at yoga.” She laughed and told me that nobody was bad at yoga.

    So here I was on the mat, having this amazing feeling of accomplishment.

    I was hooked. I immediately bought a pass to the studio and took all the classes I could take.

    Over time I stopped hating my body for what it wasn’t and started to appreciate everything my body could do. It was different than any other form of physical activity because the emphasis on mindful breathing got me out of my head. Yoga was different than running, rowing, or cycling because I wasn’t trying to burn calories. I was just trying to be present. I wasn’t trying to compete against anyone, and I never felt like I needed to compare myself to anyone.

    My enjoyment of yoga led me to learn more about yoga philosophy and the eight limbs of yoga. I started to become mindful of the values of my life. I was able to shift my mindset from a place where I felt inferior to a place where I felt empowered.

    I now feel at peace with my body. I appreciate what my body can do. There are times when I feel triggered by social media, but yoga philosophy has taught me how to become more resilient to these triggers. It is so liberating to feel this way.

    I am grateful for everything that yoga has given me. I want to share my love of yoga with the world by enrolling in a teacher training this year. I want to specialize my teachings so that way I can help others who struggle with their own body image so they can feel all the positive benefits of yoga.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars in collaboration with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and WOC + Wellness intended as an honest, thoughtful and holistic exploration of intersectionality, wellness and sustainable action with the intention of creating sustainable social change.

    By Cory Harris


    Cory Harris is a body image coach who overcame his own agonizing body image dissatisfaction through the practice of yoga. His yoga journey began in 2019 after being convinced to take a vinyasa class with his friends. The experience was life-changing and yoga became his obsession. Cory aspires to become a yoga teacher in 2022 so he can teach yoga to individuals with body image dissatisfaction.

    Cory can be found on Instagram at @cory_does_yoga.

    Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

  • My Thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month

    We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    To be asked to write for “Hispanic Heritage Month” has left me frozen. At first, I was frozen from the narratives I’ve lived with my entire life, “Who wants to hear what you have to say? You don’t know enough to write a blog on this subject. Here you are again— you are an imposter, step down.”

    But as I sit and turn inward asking for Guidance, there is a clear voice that says, “You have lived experiences to share. You have unpacked this, and to not share your voice is a disservice.”

    Those old narratives are not truth; they are a colonized mentality — and I no longer succumb to the belief in those messages. So here I am again, shifting from muted to empowered.

    Where to begin?

    Let’s start with the name: Hispanic Heritage Month. That term is colonial in and of itself. “Hispanic” refers to people whose cultural traditions originate from Spain and centers European whiteness.

    The term is also problematic because it’s homogenous — it only highlights people and cultures of Spanish descent. We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    We also come from the many cultures of diverse countries in Latin America, Puerto Rico and beyond, and yes, many of us have colonizer Iberian and Spanish blood. All of us have been impacted by colonization, and have had our cultures, languages, and communities stripped and stolen: first our indigenous ways, and again when many of us have assimilated to the ways of the United States, Canada or other Western lands. This generational trauma impacts us all, and it is from this place I find my service.

    Once you start unpacking this internalized colonial mentality — rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism — it can be so daunting, so heavy. In my experience, I was angry. I grieved for cultures and languages lost, for the pain of my ancestors. I was conflicted with my multiculturalism — wondering where I belonged, where was home.

    Yet, as I did this work, co-created community, and began to speak out, a beautiful thing happened. Others with similar-lived experiences joined in, and allies arrived. A collective formed of souls who wanted to dismantle these oppressive systems and create a better, new world. I found folx who were willing to do this work in our small corner of the world.

    We learned that perfectionism and individualism would prevent us from creating a brave space for this work. We acknowledged that authentic relationships — ones where we can be truly vulnerable — take time, and we gave ourselves this time. We prioritized presence over perfection. We learned that we had to have a shared language in which to begin this work. We co-created a community agreement and held ourselves and each other accountable. We made amends when we messed up and didn’t shy away from the discomfort when we needed to step up and repair harm. We gave ourselves grace during this hard work, as we knew we were dismantling generations of engrained colonial mentality, and this was lifelong work. We were and are committed to creating a brave space for this work to happen, for us to heal, and for our community to rise.

    A beautiful thing happened this summer. A community came together and put themselves fully into this work. We didn’t rush the process. We valued and worked within the sacred circle cast and took the time to unpack all of it: white supremacy, anti-blackness, and colonization. We did the painful work of seeing where we are complicit in white supremacy and how we are privileged in its structure. Some of us did the painful work of seeing for the first time how we have had our cultures stripped and grieved for that loss.

    We held breakout groups for BI & POC to process this, and our white colleagues held their groups. We saw the value in this and embraced it. We didn’t succumb to a common narrative that breakout groups are divisive. We knew we needed space to be with folx with shared lived experiences to process. From here, the healing can continue.

    The breakout group process allowed us to come together stronger, in our authenticity, with voices and commitment to take this work off the mat and into the world. These radically inclusive and brave spaces are needed because as we work to dismantle these oppressive systems, we can be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. So we start with our small space, our small community, and we trust in the incremental effect of this collective healing to spread. We trust this is how change happens.

    This is the mission of Burning Spirits Yoga and Yoga Punx PDX: to serve our community, those most impacted by systemic racism, oppression and whose indigenous wellness practices have been stripped, colonized, and commodified. We are a growing organization, led by folx with lived experience of the clients we serve. We are guided by ancestral knowledge, a seeing and knowing that to heal our communities and the generational wounds, these are the spaces we must co-create. We can then rise, serve and be good ancestors.

    By Sandee Simon-Lawless

    Sandee firmly believes it is never too late to start a yoga practice. Although she came to the yoga mat at various times in her life, it didn’t resonate with her until her mid-40s, when she came to heal from emotional, spiritual, and physical pain. As she physically healed, she found unexpected gifts of love, resilience, patience and acceptance. She learned she was no longer a victim; she was a survivor. With this conviction, Sandee set upon a path of liberation for the collective.

    Sandee is the founder and Executive Director of Yoga Punx PDX, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to breaking down barriers to yoga accessibility and supporting those most impacted by oppression and systemic racism. She firmly believes that no one is free until those most marginalized are free. Yoga Punx PDX is a community that offers donation-based yoga, meditation, sound healing, and indigenous healing practices, taking classes to communities who otherwise would not have access. It also provides scholarships to QT, BI & POC, as well as folks in recovery for the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training.

    Sandee is the owner and director of Burning Spirits Yoga in occupied land now known as Portland, Oregon. The Portland Metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River creating both permanent communities and summer encampments to harvest and use the plentiful natural resources of the area.”

    She, along with her co-teachers, guide the Mysore Ashtanga Program and the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga School, which is committed to education in Yoga philosophy and the Eight-Limbed Path. Along with her co-teachers at Burning Spirits Yoga and with Yoga Punx PDX, Sandee is committed to social justice and anti-racism and providing de-colonizing offerings from an intersectional and trauma-informed lens.

    Lastly, Sandee is a healer — a Curandera working with energy, guidance, yoga, and plant medicine to guide folks to self-healing.

    Sandee is forever grateful to the teachers and ancestors who came before and made this work possible. Without their labor, this practice would not be. She would like to thank her teachers, past and present: David Garrigues, Dianne Bondy, Tim Miller, Saraswati Jois, Khristine Jones and her life partner, Ami Lawless.

    Sandee holds an MBA- Healthcare, BA in Gerontology. Sandee is a EYRT 200, completed 100 hours of advanced Bhakti Flow, current 300-hour student with Dianne Bondy, Primary Series Teacher Trainings, apprenticed for 3 years with her teacher, David Garrigues. Sandee is a Level 1 Reiki practitioner, and has completed intensive trainings in herbalism, channeling and energy healing.

    You can follow Sandee on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sandeelawlessyoga/

    Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sandeelawlessyoga

    Support their work at https://www.yogapunxpdx.com and https://burningspiritsyoga.com

  • The Connection Between Handstand and Forgiveness

    When I began practicing Yoga, the absence of a left hand compounded the weakness in my left arm during asana practice and I couldn’t complete a handstand or any other arm balance exercises for that matter. That’s when it struck me – I need a tool.

    Looking retrospectively at my life’s journey over the last 46 years, I see more and more the connection between forgiveness and living the ‘beautiful life’. We all have our moments where we ‘fly off the handle’ so to speak and react impulsively, and then sometimes devolve into anger or hate. We may even allow negative emotions to fester and then we unconsciously develop a negative personality. We don’t notice it because we don’t realize how much we distract our attention with adverse situations.

    A unified spiritual field, if we could call it that, reflects our inner being. Why is this so? If one follows the progressive scientific realizations of quantum mechanics, it shows up more and more that space and time don’t apparently exist. This leads to the realization that everything happens simultaneously and not spatially separated, which in turn only allows the conclusion that we are all connected and can’t actually live as entirely separate entities in a ‘vacuum’.

    Almost simultaneously, on the path I began with Ashtanga Yoga in 2013, I started to intensively study the teachings of Jesus, who channeled his wisdom in a masterpiece called A Course In Miracles. This book was published the year I was born, and I take this to be a wonderful synchronicity.

    Many miracles, which I actually wondered about without understanding them at first, happened. As I continued to study the wisdom of Yoga, which can be beautifully harmonized with the teachings of Jesus, as Paramahamsa Yogananda impressively demonstrates, I realized more and more why the situations, circumstances, events, and people that crossed my path were analogous to my own emotions, beliefs, and self-image in the context of existence.

    Nothing happens by chance. We often just can’t make the connection and don’t recognize the connection or the lesson. And the central lesson of life is actually quite straightforward: recognize yourself. Realize that you are a reciprocal image of God and that He does not dwell outside of you. When we cultivate anger, bitterness or discontent, the universe shows us as a 3D canvas of what we have become mentally and how far we have moved away from the awareness of what we actually are. At the moment of forgiveness, we give up judging and open ourselves to the truth. Judging is the basis for suffering of any form.

    Suffering arises from the mental separation from God. Yoga is one of the ways to remove this misinterpretation of oneself, but it is not the only one. Everyone has their own approach to this subject. For me, as a pragmatist, reduction to the essentials and a close observation of effects that must be reproducible is the guide through the labyrinth.

    Also, even more important than the monotonous parroting of mantras, whose content I may not even understand, or the pure practice of asana, is the internalization of the pure and simple truth through extended walks in the forest in which I reflect intensely and re-evaluate the things that have happened in the hours, days or even years past through the filter of the great insights espoused by great masters in harmony with my own spiritual insights and views. Through this approach, I have successively established a completely new self-image and understanding of my role in the context of the wider world over the last few years.

    What was amazing to me was the analogous change of my body. At the same time that I developed my new insights, inflammations, colds, herpes, and also disharmonious people disappeared from my life. In moments of emotional relapses into negative areas, they appeared again. More and more I controlled the impact of these outside influences on myself, as an active observer. More and more gifts came into my life and nurtured me.

    One event that I believe best sums up the consequences of ignoring the truth as a co-creator in God, was when I ignored my intuition, which is a divine guide to me and all people, and had a terrifying accident that cost me my left hand. Everything was suddenly different. However, today I forgive myself. I do not regret anything, because I continue to learn and marvel. We all have the ability to do the same; it’s in our hands.

    Let’s talk about Karma. The law of ‘you reap what you sow’. Divine punishment is a myth believed by the fearful. The God-fearing who do not know that they themselves are God. Forgiveness and karma are closely connected. Through forgiveness and the realignment of thoughts and feelings, all karmic entanglements can be resolved. Because only the belief in a karmic “punishment” allows such a punishment. For the principle of fear has taken hold and this is the opposite of the Greek term agape – unconditional love.

    ‘According to your faith be it done unto you’, is a statement from the Bible. We have the power within ourselves. If we believe in a punishing God, a punishing environment will envelop us. No asana, pranayama, or mantra chanting will alleviate this negativity. Belief, emotion, one’s paradigm, and self-image can either punish or reward.

    Too many people seek salvation on the mat or by performing Pranayama. They feel comfortable and secure in a class. Inside, however, conflicting thoughts distract and their path remains sorrowful. Forgiveness and self-image adjustment – result of the true Yoga path are the tools that lead to final realization and eventually redemption.

    Powerful guides help us. Synchronicities, miracles, and things literally laid at our feet are clues that show us where we stand. This is how I was guided in November 2019 when having a conversation with a dear friend with whom there was a temporary disharmony. I decided to forgive the matter and just see things relaxed without resentment and acknowledge him as part of myself. In your own environment, you must live the word, not just read it. There are too many theorists who never implement because of this-or-that legitimizes their anger.

    A Course In Miracles asks the question: ‘Do you prefer that you be right or happy?’ This is an incredibly simple yet profound question. Personally, I chose happiness. Not only in difficult situations but also in general.

    God wants to rejoice in each of us. He helps us to make this possible and only we can retain the ignorance that blocks the flow of happiness through our lives. I for one have experienced the strange serendipity of Karma as well; a small idea, followed by an act of forgiveness that ultimately led to life-changing ‘vision’.

    When I began practicing Yoga, the absence of a left hand compounded the weakness in my left arm during asana practice and I couldn’t complete a handstand or any other arm balance exercises for that matter. That’s when it struck me – I need a tool. And so I had an idea for a new yoga block. I had this idea for several weeks before I talked to my friend. A yoga block that supported my left forearm so that I could lean against it. I designed and built the block and could finally achieve poses that weren’t accessible to me for years. Soon after, my friend and I had an argument. I chose to let it go and forgive for the sake of our friendship. Not long after that, I had a ‘vision’.

    I now believe that this vision was in fact divine ‘karmic’ intervention as it led to the development of something I called ProHandstand. The device proved essential to practicing handstands or other exercises. I truly believe that an act of forgiveness between true friends led to a karmic reward that evolved into the development of a groundbreaking invention which I am presenting to the world this year. Just as my yoga block helped me to master the most challenging forms of asanas, so too does this invention now help every yogi do the same.

    I have actually managed, as a yogi with one hand, to achieve what I never thought possible: The handstand. Receiving and giving are the same as we are all the one son of God and not separate beings. This invention is my gift to all yogis. Namasté

    By Heddies Andresen

    Heddies is a natural creative. He was 22 years old when he made his first invention and he loves to expresses himself through design. Heddies is a human movement specialist and contracts to private clients for custom body movement plans that improve both Asana routines and everyday life movement patterns. Heddies found Ashtanga Yoga in 2013 and has practised on a daily basis since. Yoga not only improved his flexibility and balance, but also taught him techniques that allowed him to centre his thoughts and effectively manage the stresses of daily life. Since early childhood Heddies has maintained an inquisitive attitude that allows him to explore life with an open mind. To this end, he is a keen student of Ashtanga Yoga and A Course In Miracles. Heddies founded a healing circle in 2018 following the principles of healing he has been studying over the years. By nurturing his boundless curiosity Heddies gained a deep understanding of how to convey helpful insights to those in need of spiritual guidance. Follow Heddies on Instagram @heddiesyoga and see his handstand-invention on his website, Prohandstand.com.