• Rewriting Our Body Narratives with Compassion

    “Body image is not a fact.” 

    I first heard this statement while in treatment for an eating disorder. I remember sitting in group therapy feeling outright annoyed upon hearing this statement. Who was this put-together looking therapist (also thin and white like me) attempting to convince me that my absolute intolerance for every square inch of my body wasn’t based on fact? Was she for real? Who did she think she was, invalidating the pathetic reflection I glimpsed in every single mirror and storefront window day in and day out?

    I amassed decades of evidence telling me that my body was wrong, disgusting, and took up too much space—from the size of my jeans to the teeny models on the magazine covers to my own unhelpful inner narrative. And so did the women with whom I was in treatment. Most of us were white and young-ish with varying body sizes, genders, creeds, and sexual orientations. We believed our body-loathing to be 100% legit. Not only did we “see” with our own brain-starved eyes our “lumpy,” “squishy,” and “overflowing” flesh, but the supreme keeper of fact, the almighty scale, would surely prove us right. The girls and I could rationalize for hours why the number, right down to the decimal, sufficiently proved that our so-called body image was indeed a fact.

    The Trap of Disempowering Body Narratives

    Years and a whole lot of healing later, I find myself compassionately sharing that same sentiment—body image is not a fact—with my yoga therapy clients. Do they believe me? Maybe. Probably not. At least not the first 15 times I say it. After all, we aren’t ready to hear something until we are ready to hear it (like when I was in treatment). I also deeply know how invalidating those word can feel when one’s body narrative absolutely feels like a fact—an inescapable plight of guilt, shame, and comparison and the thoughts and behaviors that express these painful states.

    Research on body image illuminates the extent to which body image influences self-esteem and self-worth. According to research presented by Dr. Margo Maine in 2017 at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre’s Body Image and Self-Esteem Conference, 15% of girls reportedly skip school, 13% will not speak out to give an opinion, 5% will not go to a job interview, and 3% will call out of work when they feel bad about their bodies. Similarly, 17% of women reportedly will not show up for a job interview, and 8% will not go to work.

    The journal Body Image reported a high prevalence of body dissatisfaction among adults in the United States. The study, which included 12,176 US men and women who completed an online survey, found that only about a quarter of the participants were satisfied with their appearance.

    The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, which interviewed 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17 across 14 countries, reported that higher levels of body esteem have a lasting impact on a girls’ confidence, resilience, and life satisfaction. Conversely, poor body image was associated with not participating in social activities due to feeling self-conscious about their appearance. The report found that girls generally would prefer that the media include more diverse body sizes and are dissatisfied with the emphasis on beauty as a means of happiness.

    Shifting Perceptions

    What exactly is body image, and why is compassion vital for creating personal and social transformation? According to Judith Lightstone, author of the article, “Improving Body Image,” body image involves our perception, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. Body image is sensitive to mood, environment, and physical experience. It is learned in the family, among peers, and through social and cultural expectations. Perception is fluid; fact is a hard stop.

    When we finally come around to giving ourselves permission to embrace (or at least consider) that body image is a perception rather than fact, portals to healing open in unexpected and powerful ways as new body narratives have space to emerge. Unlike fact, perceptions can be challenged, shifted, and reoriented. We can relieve ourselves from the oppression of self-hate and rewrite body narratives grounded in possibility. Although our body narratives are strongly influenced by social messages, cultural expectations, and familial beliefs, they still belong to us, which means we have the capacity to challenge, shift, and reorient our perceptions about our bodies. We have freedom to relate to our bodies in new ways and explore their power and grace.

    I wholeheartedly own that I write this article from a privileged perspective. Who am I to speak of oppression? I am uncomfortably and acutely aware that my body and skin color afford me social acceptance. Embracing body image as a perception I am free to revise is also a privilege. From my education (another privilege), conversations with others, and seeking out the stories of those whose lives look very different than mine, I respect the fact that power structures reinforce which bodies “belong” and which do not. Power structures that are sexist, racist, able-ist, size-ist, classist, heteronormative, and ageist are burdensome barriers, exacerbating the efforts of many to perceive their bodies in affirming or even more neutral ways. Although these barriers are mighty, compassion is a force that can move the human spirit in surprising ways and represents the possibility for shifts in perceptions about all bodies.

    Practicing Compassionate Listening

    If you wish for a kinder relationship with your own body and the same for others and their bodies, my call to action, then, is twofold: First, compassionate listening so that everyone feels heard, seen, and valued. Fervently listen with compassion to the stories of those whose life circumstances are different than yours. Be curious, ask questions, invite others to speak about the barriers in their lives. Practice dropping your biases and open your heart to the greatest capacity for empathy and connection. Listen without giving advice or sharing your own story. Allow the other person to truly be seen and heard, as it’s in these moments—when we take up the space we rightly deserve—that the subtle and clear energy of healing shows up. Listening with compassion allows everyone to feel their life experiences are included, validated, and valued. And as we learn to listen without judgement to others, we show ourselves where there is room for compassionate listening within ourselves.

    Practice bringing this open, compassionate energy to your social media use, too. Diversify your social media newsfeeds so that you are learning from and about other groups’ experiences, the challenges they face, and understand what they value. In the spirit of compassionate listening and social empowerment, you might even share these posts on your own newsfeeds, amplifying those voices engaged in conversations about body image that our world needs to hear. Additionally, be mindful of the words included in your own posts to avoid perpetuating insensitive cultural and social messages about bodies.

    Honoring the Threads of Shared Experience

    Secondly, hold compassion for the intimate beauty of shared experience. Despite our varying life circumstances, we share a common thread, that at one time or another we were locked into the painful belief that our body image is a fact, that we can relate the weight of guilt, shame, and comparison, that we know the depths of despair that accompanies body loathing. This is a deeply powerful inner knowing, the kind that doesn’t even require we know each other’s names or other personal information. By nature of this shared common thread, we speak the same language.

    Connecting through such palpable understanding and empathy is a defining moment of human affinity from which personal and social transformation stems. For example, it’s because of this shared understanding with my clients that I can authentically embody compassion through my eyes, tone, body language, and words, allowing them a safe space to speak their truth. From this compassionate space flows the safety they need to move toward new, empowering perspectives and self-care practices.

    Compassion Creates Change

    I invite you to reflect on where there is room for compassion toward your own body and other’s bodies, too. What “facts” that inform your own body narratives are holding you back from offering this compassion to yourself and others? Take time to be with these questions, and no matter the answers that come, remember compassion. This is our greatest source of power as we seek an affirming relationship with our body and find healing in our shared experiences with others.

     

    References

    Judy Lightstone, “Improving Body Image,” Auckland PSI (Psycho Somatic Integration) Institute,

    Additional Reading, http:www.psychotherapist.org/improving-body-image.html.

    Margo Maine, “Invisible Women: Eating Disorders and the Pressure to Be Perfect at Midlife and Beyond: A Relational Culture Approach,” National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), http://nedic.ca/node/976. 7.

    David A. Frederick, Gaganjyot Sandhu, Patrick J. Morse, and Viren Swami, “Correlates of Appearance and Weight Satisfaction in a U.S. National Sample: Personality, Attachment Style, Television Viewing, Self-Esteem, and Life Satisfaction,” Body Image 17 (June 2016): 191–203, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.04.001

    “Girls on Beauty: New Dove Research Finds Low Beauty Confidence Driving 8 in 10 Girls to Opt Out of Future Opportunities,” PRNewswire, October 5, 2017, https://www .prnewswire.com/news-releases/girls-on-beauty-new-dove-research-finds-low-beautyconfidence-driving-8-in-10-girls-to-opt-out-of-future-opportunities-649549253.html.

     

     By Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

    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.

    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.

  • YOGA & BODY IMAGE: OUR INTENTION + GUIDELINES FOR LISTENING AND ALLYSHIP

    “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” – bell hooks

    It is in the spirit of building sacred community through conscious listening, compassion and love that this blog series was created. Our intention is to educate, demystify misconceptions, smash stereotypes and offer new perspectives on body image as it intersects with our race and ethnicity, our gender identity and sexual orientation, our socioeconomic class, age, size and dis/ability. In short, our intention is to raise consciousness and create bridges in understanding.

    It is our hope that through raised consciousness, more and more of us will be moved into mindful action. Because social change requires more than awareness… it requires awareness plus action. And raising consciousness and living consciously are at the heart of mindfulness practices. This where the real work begins for us. Off the mat. Off the meditation cushion.

    Each writer in this series weaves personal narrative with years of experience, research and professional expertise. The words may move you to tears, bring you a sigh of relief or comfort… or they may make you angry. Or maybe the words simply make you uncomfortable or challenge a long-held belief. Whatever arises, it’s a gift in the form of an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to practice, listen, learn and grow. It may also be an opportunity to detect and identify internalized and unexamined prejudice or bias in our heart.

    This space is an opportunity to do the work as a collective. Because we must also work mindfully in community to elevate the collective vibration of society.

    Here are a few ways to practice this intention of identifying (and obliterating) prejudice and bias as well as working as allies and comrades in solidarity and love.

    –         Examine your own privilege. This may be challenging, if not painful, and may induce feelings of shame or guilt but this is a necessary step. Meditate on how YOU benefit from the existing power structures that are sexist, racist, able-ist, size-ist, classist, heteronormative and ageist.

    • Be an ally by opening your heart and listening.
    • Breathe and pause when you’re moved out of your comfort zone.
    • Reflect before you challenge the information presented or comment on it publicly.
    • Do the work. Allow your increased awareness to move you into action, however that may play out for you.
    • Ask yourself how you can contribute to an accessible, welcoming space for all without tokenizing anyone.
    • Recognize the humanity in everyone.
    • Identify how your experience connects you to others and how it differs.
    • Practice on and off the mat. Cultivate mindfulness on and off the cushion.
    • Allow your practice to grow your heart, make you vulnerable and willing to work actively as a member of a wider community.

    We all benefit from this process. Mindfulness, specifically the practice of yoga, has the potential to create both personal and social transformation. The practice of yoga has the potential to elevate us to our highest good and create equity for all.

    I invite you to read what is offered in this series in that spirit of connection and collective liberation. Seize the opportunity to expand your capacity for compassion, empathy and love.

    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. Be sure to read the first post in the series here.

    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) 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.

    Photo credit: Sarit Z. Rogers

     

  • How to do Marichyasana B

    Marichyasana B of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one of what I call “Birthday Cake Poses”. It involves specific ingredients that must be added in the proper order, at the appropriate time, for the recipe to work. The process is essential to honor the intention of the posture.

    The first ingredient is the lotus posture. Without lotus, it is really just a version of Marichyasana A. So take your time with your lotus position, finding release in the hip, checking in with the knee, bringing that foot high across the other leg, heel positioned within the line of the pubic bone and belly button. Once you have a workable lotus – perfection is not required, just something that is not painful and gives you space to work the other leg – lean back into the hands so that you can draw the second leg up, heel to sit bone. This moment may reveal some resistance in the hip, acknowledge that and navigate a path through it. If the hip is not too intense, rock your weight forward and diagonally toward the lotus leg. Eventually you want to feel secure in this foundation, the thigh of the lotus leg and the foot of the other side, that sit bone lifted. This is the baking phase of our recipe. Settle into your foundation, sit with ease. If you are still holding on to the planet to avoid falling back, then work here for a while. Next take a forward fold over you lap, reaching around for the bind just as in Marichyasana A, first arm around the upright knee, the other tossed behind the back. Got the bind? Frosting! Lastly, enjoy your dessert, finishing with a deep fold, forehead or chin to the floor. Breathe.

    If you rush this posture, you may end up with some distorted version with no integrity. Step by step process draws your awareness to places of resistance and thus places to work. When the full expression is reached it will feel like it makes sense, you will feel ready for it. No hurry! And always honor injuries, especially in the knees. It is certainly acceptable, even encouraged, to modify the lotus during a time of injury.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

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  • Parsvakonasana B Pose Guide

    This standing twist of the Ashtanga standing sequence is rather complex with many moving parts. You may find that different teachers approach this pose differently, but each are aiming for the same eventual end. I work this pose by prioritizing three different pieces: the the twist, the foundation, and the hips.

    If you are brand new to this pose, I suggest starting with the back knee down, both knees aligned with about a 90 degree angle. This is a good starting place to end up with the right distance once the legs and feet are in full expression mode. If you feel confident, you can begin with the back leg lifted, but keep it in the parallel position, heel up…. for now. Connect to the front foot as your primary foundation point, and work your opposite arm across the leg, aiming to hook the elbow beyond the knee. Once you get that hook, you can leverage the leg and arm against each other. This establishes a bit of foundational energy and balance control, it also allows you to ratchet your ribcage deeper into the twist. See if you can, reach the floor with the hand, even if it is only fingertips. Press into that connection. More foundational energy. keep the arm across the leg, keep the leg resisting the arm. Remember, the push/pull of that connection is stabilizing energy. As you press deeply into the hand, energy rebounds across the ribcage owning and freeing your twist, reach the upper arm up and over the ear at a diagonal. finally, if you feel stable and if you have accessed your freest twist, bring attention to the back leg. If your knee is down, lift it by reaching the heel back, keeping the hips low, the front knee forward. If that position is stable, find the rotation of the back leg by releasing any tension in the hip joint, roll the thigh externally without dragging the pelvis along. As he hip opens, the heel reaches the floor.

    Piece by piece, bit by bit. Prioritize one element at a time, giving full attention to each without sacrificing the previous. If you loose something along the way, back up, re-establish the previous moment and work there. If this approach doesn’t work for you, try something else! The is rarely an exactly right way to enter a pose. If you understand what the posture is asking of you, and you honor its intention, you will get there!

     

    By Angelique Sandas

  • Why Yoga

    Why do you practice yoga? A yogi is a seeker of the truth. Intention sets the tone for what kind of journey you‘ll have along the path of yoga. Align yourself with the deeper dimension of yoga, practice with a sincere heart, and cultivate an attitude of devotion. Set your intention to know the deepest, most subtle, truth about yourself and about the universe because this is the goal of yoga from time immemorial.

    The yogis of ancient times in India were human beings like you and me. They were on a quest to directly experience the truth about who we are and why we are here and how this crazy thing called life works. The answers they found are the methodology of yoga that we continue to practice today. We cannot divorce yoga from its spiritual roots. In fact, I think the whole reason so many people are drawn to yoga is that in an age of spiritual vacuousness, rampant materialism and cut-throat capitalism, we have reached a kind of inner boiling point.

    So many people are hurting and wounded in their bodies and in their hearts and mind. So many people desperately want to scream, but instead, stand silently in shock. So many people show up to the safe and sacred space of yoga to discover the unfelt parts of their own bodies, to finally heal, to learn how to listen and ultimately to directly and personally experience the highest and ultimate truth, the truth that sets you free.

    If you haven’t asked yourself why you practice, ask. Dig below the surface for the hidden answers and you will find your true self.

    I practice because practice is prayer, a holy space of worship where I lay down all my heart and all my soul to the temple of the Eternal. I practice because in the quiet space between breath and body, I am free, immersed in the Infinite, replenished, restored. I practice because the simple purity of the seeker’s path keeps me real, humble and raw, it breaks my heart open so that love shines through just that little bit more and makes my world a more peaceful place, one breath at a time.

    Why do you practice?

    By Kino MacGregor

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned yoga teacher, the youngest ever teacher to be certified in Ashtanga Yoga by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, author of several yoga books, and the founder of OMstars.com

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  • The Tristhana Training Ground: Breath, Gaze and Pose in Ashtanga Yoga

    Life feels like it’s been going through a slow-motion upheaval for some months now. Relationships tumbled out of the place I thought they belonged. Teaching opportunities I hadn’t even imagined pushed themselves to forefront. The political vibe of the world has felt erratic and powerful social justice movements have shaken me. The landscape of my life has been changed radically. Amid all this disturbance I have remained dedicated and devoted to my practice, thanks to the 3 stabilizers at its core.

    The Tristhana Method teaches us how to concentrate our attention using the breath, the gaze and both the outward (and deep internal) posture of the body. In Ashtanga yoga we always begin by lifting the arms over the head, drawing our navel in and up. This combination of internal and external movement shapes the pose through outward alignment and the inward bandha. We pair this alignment with a deep inhalation that matches up precisely to the duration of the arms rising. As the palms press together overhead, the drishti (gazing point) becomes fixed on the thumbs.

    This first vinyasa (a term signifying the matching of any one breath movement with any one body movement) of our practice sets us up to expand the mind/body/breath complex in new and intriguing ways. A slow rhythmic breath has a powerful effect on the nervous system. It’s a fact of our biology that as we exhale the heart rate decreases. So we breathe with sound, giving the breath texture, something we can hold on to and extend. The sound is like that of fogging a mirror, but through the nose. This breath control leads to a greater awareness of the inner spaces of the body. We see how the breath creates an openness where calm, dispassionate self-exploration is possible. There is a play of aliveness here that’s suitable for working to balance effort and ease.

    We settle into a gentle coercion around the breathing. We imbue it with just the right meter (even on inhale and exhale) and feeling tone (not too quiet, but not too forced).  When the dynamics of the breath are correct they fuel the practice with a sensation of harmonious propulsion.

    This vinyasa method of linking each movement with an inhale or an exhale allows us to make transitions with fluidity and drives us into the second stabilizer- the posture itself. In Sanskrit we call the pose Asana. Its made up of two parts, the external shape and the subtler internal engagement. The outward appearance of the pose is created by alignment via the measured arrangement of limbs, torso, pelvis, head, toes and fingers. The internal engagement is created by bandha, subtle physical and energetic controls centered deep in the body.

    If the breath gave the inner spaces shape, the then bandha gives them a sense of mass and makes them movable. Uddiyana Bandha feels a bit like drawing the low belly in and up. Moola Bandha activates the pelvic floor. Imagine you have to pee really bad, and there’s a line for the bathroom. Those muscles you squeeze to hold it are the ones you should contract for Moola Bandha. When these two work together they have the effect of suctioning the outer body in. Like a corset, they pull the more external body tissues towards the center, slimming the waist. In this way, the gravity of your core increases and the mass of your body is more easily controlled, pivots more freely around this newly awakened energetic center.

    Bandha brings a sense of lightness. As these deep muscles that were previously unused step up and take on responsibility for some of the body weight, our posture becomes steady and still. To the observer there may appear to be and effortless grace about the practitioner.

    Perhaps the most easily understood of these three tools is the drishti, or gazing point. If the breath and bandha have worked together to cultivate an expansion of the mind/body awareness, then the gaze has the effect of locking it all in place. When we reach the arms over the head in Utkatasana and hold for 5 long breaths, the arms naturally become fatigued. But if the gaze is focused on the thumbs and unwavering, there is a psychic push. Under the strength of the gaze the background blurs out and the fingertips reach up further than you thought possible.

    This three-pronged approach is the proven heart of the Ashtanga Yoga Method. When practiced daily and for a long time, it seems to increase sensitivity, provide clarity and perspective.

    Presidents come and go. Lovers become friends. We wake up to important social truths with a start. Change is always coming, sometimes more quickly than were prepared for. But these moments are prime opportunities for carrying our practice off the mat. When our pulse quickens at the thought of a border wall, take a deep breath and remember that the next President might pull it down. The sight of our old lover with his new one is a cue to focus our eyes and hearts somewhere else. When you’ve heard ‘me too’ just one too many times, or see another black life disregarded and your heart wants to burst? That’s the moment bring the posture of your behavior into alignment with your core conviction.

    The three stabilizers teach us to move in ways that are healing and mindful, to turn our senses inward on the mat. Many Ashtangi’s are finding, as we move through the world of distraction and disturbance, that same self-sure steadiness is coming up. Harmony. Grace. Focus. We’re connecting with a voice of knowing that leads us more adeptly than before. Tristhana has been a training ground.

    By Joseph Armstrong

  • Shine Bright with us at OMstars 

    If you’ve spent any significant time practicing yoga, you’ve probably experienced the tremendous benefits that the practice has on your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. When your inner light is feeling dull, or muted, diving into the yoga practice is usually the best remedy. And the more you practice, the brighter that light inside of you begins to shine.

    At the heart of every sentient being is the light of spirit. Called Puruṣa in Sanskrit, it means that each of us has the potential to shine like a star with the luminosity of the spirit within us. You could even say that yogis shine like the stars that they really are. Tapas, literally translated as heat or fire, purifies the body and mind by kindling the inner light. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra 2.43 states that after many years of disciplined practice the body glows with an inner light.

    While we all know that practicing yoga comes with a host of mental, physical and spiritual benefits, but did you know that when you practice with us on OMStars — the Yoga Network — you can explore all the aspects of the yoga practice? There are classes and course to keep you inspired and practicing daily, and we encourage accountability with our incentive system that’s designed to reward you for time spent immersing yourself into the yogi life via OMstars.com.

    Here’s how it works:

    We track all practice hours accumulated with us online which allow to you earn points.
    For every moment that you spend practicing, meditating and immersing yourself in practice and study focused content, you earn points. The points you earn determine your “level” as an OMstars practitioner. The more time you spend taking in content from our yoga channel, the more points you earn, and the higher your level becomes.

    Point levels are named after the order of brightness in a star system, going from Gamma, to Delta, to Beta, and finally to Alpha. The more practice hours you put in, the brighter you shine – both symbolically and physiologically.

    We know that our point system can’t track every hour you’ve been practicing so we don’t judge. Once you collect your points you can redeem them in the shop or donate them to charity. You can literally practice yoga and change your world!

    So the next time you feel your shine is starting to dull, dive into your practice with our yoga channel. We hope that our content makes you feel inspired to keep practicing yoga every day, and that you’ll choose to make OMstars.com your go to online yoga platform for all things yoga related!

    by Alex Wilson

  • Member Feature: Johanna Kivinen

    We love hearing and sharing stories from our students, so this month, we reached out to Johanna Kivinen (@yogalogen on Instagram!). Johanna and her husband live in Sweden. Together, they practice yoga on OmStars every day, and she has a very inspiring story to share about her own personal journey with the yoga practice.

    My name is Johanna Kivinen. I am a Swedish/Finnish yogini living in Stockholm, Sweden and working as a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychiatry. I have practiced ashtanga yoga for the past 8 years of my life and it was through my husband that I found the practice of yoga, while at that time, living in Turku, Finland.

    My husband had tried ashtanga yoga while living in the USA and fell in love with the practice, so he asked me to come along, so I brought my competitive, stiff and anxious self to my first ever yoga class.

    To be honest, it hurt and did not feel good neither physically nor mentally. I was stiff in my body (and mind), but I felt that the practice could teach me things I did not know about myself if I kept going.

    So I did.

    I practiced hard and diligently, but I was not attentive to the limits of my body or my mind. I pushed myself way beyond my abilities, and ended up with a long-term knee injury, severe anxiety, depression and exhaustion.

    This psychological pattern kept repeating itself both on and off the mat, and eventually I ended up with suicidal thoughts. The low self-worth that I tried to cover up with extreme ambition led me to hit rock-bottom and my life contained no meaning, not even for practice.

    During my rehabilitation as I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided to listen to one of Kino MacGregor’s yoga talks on youtube. She talked about yoga as a spiritual path and the philosophy behind the practice. She said, “what if everything in your life is happening for a specific reason, that everything is exactly how it is supposed to be in whatever you are going through”.

    These words made me realize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and in the midst of my suffering I realized even that was meaningful. My only way out was through practicing acceptance every step of the way.

    The next day I walked to a local yoga studio’s mysorestyle practice in all my misery, and started over. There was no way I could even handle a sun salutation, let alone standing up properly. I knew I had to build myself back up from zero, starting with the acceptance of where my body and mind were at that time. From that day on yoga gave me a purpose to continue my life and work through the repetitive psychological patterns that had been stuck in my mind.

    For the first time, I felt that I had been put on this earth for a reason and that alone was already enough. I no longer felt the need to achieve anything to prove my self-worth. With time and practice my body and mind grew stronger and the depression, anxiety, exhaustion and physical problems decreased. In some ways yoga saved my life and I have had a continuous practice ever since, (accepting my limits and all).

    My husband and I both work fulltime jobs and we have a son, so we have a hard time going to a yoga studio as regularly as we would like. Sometimes we would practice together at home, but not regularly.

    When Omstars launched, we knew it was exactly what we needed to start practicing every single day in a way that worked with our schedules.  Even our 4-year old son loves Omstars and tries out some asanas along with us. Kino, to you I would like to say Thank you from the bottom of my heart, it is thanks to your bravery in sharing the practice of yoga with the world that I now live a happy and peaceful life. Had I not listened to your talk that day, I might still be suffering from severe mental health issues.

    When I was ill I opened my Instagram account @yogalogen to share my recovery through the vehicle of yoga and hopefully spread some hope and light to other people suffering from mental (and physical) disorders. As a psychologist and as a patient I knew my story might lead to less stigma around mental health issues and it felt like a meaningful thing to do.

    I am a living example that the quote of Sri Patthabi Jois really is true… “Do your practice and all is coming”. Thank you Omstars for sharing my story.

    Shanti and Namaste.

    By Johanna @yogalogen

    OmStars member, boat pose, navasana, yoga practice story