• Mind Your Own Body, and I’ll Do the Same

    Why Commenting on People’s Bodies Needs to Stop. How often do you find yourself commenting on your friend’s appearance? Why is it that our go-to compliment is, “Wow – you look great” even before we connect over the changes or news in our lives? Why is it that we praise one another for losing weight, even if that weight loss was due to a traumatic event or a health crisis?

    Why do we feel the need to comment on each other’s bodies at all? As if it’s not enough to be bombarded by messages from the media reminding us of how we are supposed to look. Society has done a great job of conditioning us to size each other up.

    Former fitness guru and celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels was recently asked to comment on the body-positive movement, and how it relates to stars like Lizzo, who openly celebrate a body that has traditionally been deemed unhealthy. Unsurprisingly, Ms Michaels reached for the “health” argument in relation to Lizzo’s physical appearance. Without being a medical professional, or having any idea of what Lizzo’s health records have to say about her physical wellbeing, Ms Michaels told the public that Lizzo was a candidate for diabetes, and disease wasn’t to be celebrated.

    So why do we immediately comment on the size and shape of other people’s bodies – as if we can determine their experience of life-based on their jean size?

    Being in the public sphere has been challenging for me. I am an activist and I represent a movement that I am so deeply passionate about. The people that follow me, and those that I care most deeply about, rely on me to live out my values regarding health at every size. This is the message that I advocate for day in, and day out.

    As a result, my body is often the topic of conversation, and it makes me uncomfortable. I am a survivor of both sexual abuse and an eating disorder, and as a result, having my value accessed based on my looks is triggering. When my body is evaluated, dissected, and discussed, it feels like a fundamental invasion of my personal boundaries – and it’s scary.

    This has been especially confronting as I’ve undergone a dramatic weight loss due to illness. I’ve been public about my struggle with Graves disease, and what it’s meant for my relationship to my health and wellness practices. But, nothing really prepared me for the cognitive dissonance I experienced when the world kept telling me I looked great, even when I felt like I was dying.

    Since my formal diagnosis, recovery has been a slow process. As I navigate my health challenges, new and old triggers often combine. It is hard to own lifestyle changes as empowered choices when the world is so intensely focused on the physical changes.

    The gym used to be a place that fueled my eating disorder. In my youth, working out was a punishment. It was something I did to make up for the things I ate (or didn’t eat) and a socially acceptable way to execute self-hatred. My attachment to seeking outside approval was reinforced in this space, and I was scared that returning would re-open those past traumas.

    But in truth, I love to workout, and I’ve worked hard at making peace with my body. I sometimes lose sight of how far I’ve come, and how much more appreciation I have for the body I’ve been given – especially after fighting for my life in many ways. These days, the gym is no longer a place where I punish my body for what I ate or a place to look for external validation. It has become a place to celebrate feeling good in my body and a space where I can safely disrupt any narratives that say otherwise. I practice my activism by shutting down any fat or food shaming. Getting well has been a real struggle and a confronting space to be in, and I never want to take my health for granted again.

    Our fixation on accessing each other’s bodies is strange and it keeps us from focusing on what is really important. Happiness cannot be attained through the constant seeking of outside approval. Happiness cannot be achieved by people-pleasing, and no one’s body is anyone else’s business.

    Commenting on other people’s bodies is unnecessary, intrusive, and harmful. It reinforces gender stereotypes and it perpetuates unattainable standards of beauty. We need to find new ways to interact positively with one another, and we can start by giving each other compliments that celebrate our positive energy. We can connect to one another by sharing our thoughts and emotions, and how we make each other feel. We can talk about pop culture or god forbid even politics. Either way, it’s time to stop this hyper-focus on what we look like. Our external appearance is seldom an accurate mirror for our internal world. Mind your own body and health and I will do the same.

    By Dianne Bondy

    Dianne Bondy is a celebrated yoga teacher, social justice activist and leading voice of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive view of yoga asana and philosophy inspires and empowers thousands of followers around the world – regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne contributes to Yoga International, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal. She is featured and profiled in International media outlets: The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, People and more. She is a spokesperson for diversity in yoga and yoga for larger bodies, as seen in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition. Her work is published in the books: Yoga and Body Image and Yes Yoga Has Curves. https://diannebondyyoga.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.

  • 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.

  • The Top 3 Things You Need to Know to Start Yoga

    Many, many more people think about doing yoga than actually get around to starting. I’ve often pondered what is getting in the way. After talking to many an interested, but nervous potential student, these are the most pressing 3 things that I have gleaned.

    1. You do not need to loose weight first. I know that all the people photographed doing yoga look really thin, but believe me, there are many, many people doing yoga who do not have bodies that those models do, and they still benefit from yoga, and are still happy doing it. Moreover, many of those people with “regular” bodies come to appreciate the body that they have, instead of longing for to live in someone else’s.

     

    1. You do not need to already be flexible. When I started yoga, my hamstrings were very tight. As I’ve done yoga, they have loosened up.   Many an interested person will say “oh, I can’t do yoga—I’m not flexible enough!” I think that often adults figure that if they don’t already show an aptitude for an activity, then they ought not to waste their time. For instance, why learn to play the piano if you believe you have no musical talent?

     

    The point of yoga is not to excel, but to experience. When you allow yourself the space to do so, you might find that your hamstrings relax, and that you have an aptitude for flexibility that you didn’t anticipate.

     

    1. You do not need to have the right wardrobe. People who do yoga—especially in the coastal urban metropolises—have become their own kind of fashionistas. This can be a bit off-putting to the beginner. When I went to my teacher training—a 27-day immersion—I went with 5 sets of clothes. It worked out—I washed my clothes in the shower. My experience of yoga was not improved or diminished by my clothing choices.

     

    As I’ve grown into a busy teaching career, my yoga wardrobe has expanded considerably, for two reasons: it is my professional attire, and I spend all day wearing it. I have more yoga clothes than street clothes.

    To start yoga, all you need is some comfortable clothes that you can move in. That’s it. Sweatpants and a tee shirt will do quite nicely. Over time, you may choose to wear things that are more fitted, because you will discover that there is a fine line between comfortable clothes, and too much fabric.

    Once you overcome these common impediments, we can fine-tune your approach to yoga, like what style, teacher, level, and how often to go.

    Above all, have fun!

    by Erica Mather

    Originally published in Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine (print version). 

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    Top 3 things you need to practice yoga