• Yoga, Journaling, and the Healing Power of Self-Discovery

    The human experience on this Earth is one that often comes with discomfort, pain, confusion and suffering. Our job, as human beings, is to navigate our way through the challenges presented to us in life so that we can find healing. This is what it takes to make our way back to our own essential natures, which are peace, love, beauty, and bliss.

    Yoga, Journaling and the Healing Power of Self-Discovery

    My belief is that the key to healing is self-discovery. As we begin to know ourselves more and more, the truth of our own essential nature becomes more apparent – like sifting through mud to find natural treasures buried beneath. Unfortunately, we cannot simply decide to know ourselves, snap our fingers and make it so. Self-discovery is a process that we must be fully dedicated to for it to unfold.

    Up to this point in my life, yoga is one of the most powerful tools for self-discovery that I’ve come across yet; and journaling, I’ve found, can be a pivotal piece in our ability to process that which we discover. We can think of yoga as the lens we use to see and capture the most beautiful pieces of ourselves, and journaling as the mechanism for focusing and zooming in so that the image becomes clear.

    As we do the work of capturing the most beautiful parts of ourselves, often times, we have to sift through our own muck first. Remember the discomfort, pain, confusion and suffering I mentioned earlier? These things often build themselves onto our being like a thick muck that keeps us from tapping into our essential nature. Both yoga and journaling can also help us with chipping away at our muck.

    If you’re already a yoga practitioner, it’s possible that you’ve been able to encounter the beautiful pieces of yourself on more than one occasion. When you’re ready to begin the work of processing and further developing your understanding of those things, so that you can integrate them into your life effectively, journaling could be the next step.

    Develop a Journaling Practice

    One of the best things about journaling is that there are no rules and you can choose to develop your practice in whatever way suits you. Whether you’re the kind of person who likes to make lists, build out thoughtful essays, write through stream of consciousness or just sketch and doodle, you can develop a journal practice.

    One of my favorite ways to journal is through stream of consciousness. A good yoga practice can help us tap into that essential nature I was talking about – the part of each of us that is peace, beauty, love and bliss. So, whenever I practice yoga at home, I like to lay out my mat and keep my journal close by. Then, after I move through my practice and/or meditation, I’ll grab my journal and just write down whatever thoughts pop into my head. Trusting that the words I come up with are either helping me work through the muck that blocks me from my essential nature, or helping me to focus in on that essential nature is key.

    Stream of consciousness journaling isn’t always easy for everyone, however; especially those who are newer to the practice of journaling. That’s where journal prompts come in. Using prompts to guide your journaling practice can help you focus on certain aspects of your life and yourself. You can choose to pair these prompts and your journal time with your yoga practice or keep them separate. Ultimately, working with prompts will help you let the process of self-discovery unfold in specific ways.

    When you’re ready to deepen your connection with the truth of who you really are, Omstars will be here to support you with yoga practices, meditations AND journal prompts. A membership with Omstars will give you access to regular practices and meditations; following @omstarsofficial on Instagram will give you access to weekly journal prompts.

    Every Friday, Omstars will share a new journal prompt that will help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself, your yoga practice and the world around you. Each month’s journal prompts will focus on a different overarching theme and each individual prompt within that theme will build upon the other. Ultimately, these prompts are designed to help create an organic unfolding of self-discovery and movement towards healing that can be supported through the practice of yoga. Plus, there will even be downloadable worksheets that you can print out and use to put together your own journal as you go.

    The human experience always comes with discomfort, pain, confusion and suffering in some form or another. Begin the work that will help you transcend these elements of humanity when you join us in this journey of healing and self-discovery through yoga and journaling. Let this be the beginning of a path that leads you back to your own essential nature of peace, love, beauty, and bliss. Sign up for your Omstars membership to practice with us every day and follow us on Instagram to journal with us every week!

    Download the Free Flow Friday Journal Template

    By Alex Wilson

    Alex C. Wilson is a SWFL based Writer, Certified Yoga Instructor and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist who is dedicated to helping others establish a strong sense of mental and emotional well-being. After spending much of her life in a state of depletion as a result of being fully dedicated to others, Yoga taught Alex how to first, be dedicated to herself. Now she spends her time helping others create more space for their own healing and self-discovery without ever letting her own cup become empty in the process. See more from Alex by following her on Instagram or visiting her website at www.alexcwilson.com.

     

     

  • Yogis at Ramadan

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    This month, Ramadan, is one of deep inward reflection for Muslims. For many non-Muslims, the month of Ramadan immediately suggests a time of fasting, hardship, and deprivation. Perhaps for those very reasons, many of my non-Muslim friends are shocked to hear that I maintain my same yoga teaching and practice schedule throughout my observance of Ramadan. They are indeed correct that Ramadan involves fasting — from dawn to sunset, Muslims, myself included, refrain from the intake of food and drink and even abstain from bodily pleasures of intimacy. And they are certainly correct that this is a deprivation and can be a hardship, but the result is a time of deep cleansing and renewal and the effect supports and enhances my yoga practice. My yoga practice is deeper and more spiritual than it is at any other time of the year. Yoga and Ramadan bring out the best in each other and the combination brings out the best in me.

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    “As you are” takes on an even deeper meaning to me during the month of Ramadan, because it is a month stripped bare of distractions. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from who we are. For many of us, we are not comfortable facing who we truly are, so we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex, curated, online personas of ourselves, memories of what we once did, anxieties about what we might one day do. In fact, we have any number of tools at our disposal to keep us from facing the stripped down truth of who we are, as we are, at any particular moment. Yoga provides one framework for accessing our true selves, as we are, by penetrating and examining the five koshas, or sheaths, that overlay our true selves. The observance of Ramadan helps us strip away the distractions and focus on each kosha.

    Annamaya is the physical layer, our flesh and bones. During Ramadan, we fast during daylight hours and make careful choices to hydrate and nourish ourselves during the precious few hours between sundown and dawn, mindful of the delicate balance with our bodies’ countervailing need for sleep. Making the right choices involves a keen understanding of our physical selves, where our body is on that day and in that moment.

    Pranayama is our energetic layer, manifesting through the breath as a symbol of the energy of life. Islam encourages us to find balance in our lives and, during the month of Ramadan, we are asked to fast from the worldly desires that may, at other times, overtake us and throw us out of balance. During this month, we fast from temptations, anger, and aggression. Instead, we prioritize compassion, kindness, giving, and community involvement. This renewed focus cleanses our energetic selves.

    Manomaya is the mind, our means to self-identify, and Vijnanamaya is our intellect and wisdom. During the month of Ramadan, we increase our practices of reflection, contemplation, meditation, devotion, and prayers. Our increased prayer practice forces us out of the daily bustle and drops us into ourselves. This inward focus quiets the noise of our daily lives and connects us deeply with our own spiritual beliefs. Free from that noise, we understand who we are and we grow the intellect and wisdom that supports us on our path.

    Anandamaya is the absolute truth, our true self, as we are, at this moment. These daily practices purify our body, our mind, and our soul. Ultimately, they help us pull back the curtains we wrap around ourselves and face the reality of who we are. It might not be quite who we thought. It might not be an Instagram-perfect reality. It might be something we’ve been avoiding. But finding our true self is important because it links us to God. Believing in God requires you to find yourself and believe in yourself, after all, you are the only version of yourself that He made. To ignore or hide your true self is to ignore God. To change yourself or avoid your true self is to assume that God made a mistake in creating you. He didn’t. We tend to look for things in the wrong places, God included. In Arabic, we say Allah for God, pronounced al-Luh. When we say it over and over, it mimics the sound of our own beating heart. Our own heart is the best place to find our connection to God. 

    So, find your true self and celebrate what you find.  You may not be perfect, but you are as you should be, right now.

    Practice with Ahmed on Omstars

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

    Join live classes with Ahmed on Omstars

  • Visual, Aural, or Kinesthetic

    We see with our eyes, we hear with our ears, we feel with our bodies. What we have discovered is that everybody usually has one primary intake pathway, and that affects how they receive information.

    So, what do I mean by that? What I know they have learned in polarity therapy is that we all have different intake pathways.  We see with our eyes, we hear with our ears, we feel with our bodies. What we have discovered is that everybody usually has one primary intake pathway, and that affects how they receive information.

    For example, I am almost completely aural, I live through my ears. It is one of the reasons why I write books.  How this translates in business is when I started working with clients, because I do not need to write stuff down to remember it. I would assume that my client was writing something down while I was talking, that he or she was not listening to me. So, I would take away their pen. Well, when you take away the pen of a kinesthetic person–because writing is how they remember, they learn through their body–now they cannot hear you anymore. I learned I needed to let my kinesthetic clients keep their pens.

    What I want you to think about is consider the intake pathway of the person that you are dealing with.  One way to know this, or to figure it out, is consider what they do for a living. Highly kinesthetic people really understand 3D space.  These are your chefs, your sculptors, your race car drivers.  They know what’s going on, web designers, architects, landscape design.  Highly aural people tend to work with words, again, they are your writers and your editors.  Things like that. Highly visual people, you know, they are your painters, they are your decorators.  They really see the world in a very different way than you do.

    Consider what someone’s intake pathway is, and then alter how you might give them information.  Just a simple trick is, if, you are dealing with someone who is visual, you can say to them, you know what, I see what you are saying. If you are dealing with someone who is aural, it is, like, I hear what you are saying. And if someone is highly kinesthetic, you understand what they are feeling.

    Continue Where Yoga Meets Business with Frances on Omstars

    By Frances Cole Jones

    Frances Cole Jones is the author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation and The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World (Ballantine Books/Random House). She also has an app for the iPhone and iPad called “Interview Wow”. In addition to writing and speaking, Frances is the President of Cole Media Management, a media training company focused on cultivating clients’ inherent strengths to develop more powerful communication skills. Prior to founding Cole Media Management, Frances worked at St. Martin’s Press, Viking Penguin, and Doubleday as an editor of commercial nonfiction. The experience of helping authors translate their ideas into books that retain their unique voice is part of what makes her valuable to clients.

  • Maintaining Peace, Equanimity, and Authenticity

    I want to talk with you about what it means to maintain peace, equanimity, and authenticity in your walk in the world.

    As a yogi, it’s traditionally understood that you are held to a higher standard, which means that, as a yogi, you constantly have to tune back into yourself.  Maintaining an equanimeous mind and a compassionate open heart that simultaneously maintains the dual vows of what’s called in Sanskrit, Ahimsa, which means non-violence and truthfulness, or Satya.

    These two together will help you walk in the world, and truly live the yogi’s life. For it is not enough to only be truthful but you must also be compassionate.  And it is not enough only to be compassionate, for you must always be truthful. So, as a yogi in the world, it’s inevitable that you will come into contact with difficult situations, but you always have the benchmark of your daily practice.

    If you get on your mat everyday it will bring you back into your center, and if you don’t know how to act because you have interacted in the world or been stimulated by negativity, then the yogi’s teaching, or the yogi’s path, is to not act in anger. To not act out of jealously. To not act out of negativity, but instead, to remain calm, to redirect your mind back into the inner body until your mind maintains a calm and equanimous center.

    And only after the mind maintains a calm and equanimous center then compassionate, rightful action, that is simultaneously truthful and compassionate will be presented to you. And it will unfold almost like light shining on the path ahead.

    Continue this lesson with Kino on Omstars

     

    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

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Reevaluating your New Years Resolutions – A Guide for Yogis

    At the beginning of each and every year, many of us begin with a set of resolutions intended to help us better our lives in some way, shape, or form. But by the time we reach the end of the first month, in most cases, many of us let our resolutions slip by the wayside. In other cases, we find ourselves moving forward without success, and perhaps a felt sense of failure. Fortunately, some of the more basic principles of yoga can help us re-evaluate our resolutions and move forward with more manageable intentions.

    In the process of re-evaluating your New Year resolutions and plans, it’s a good idea to start out  by checking in with yourself. How are you doing with your New Years resolutions? How do you feel about them? How do you feel about you?

    Be honest. Awareness is key to moving forward with success.

    In many cases, we tend to approach the new year with high expectations and far reaching goals that are hard to achieve. Then, when we fail to stick to our resolutions, our self-judgement can be harsh. AS human beings, we can be much harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else.

    If this sounds like you, here’s what you need to do: take a deep breath in and a deep breath out.  Let go of your guilt and consider replacing your hard to achieve New Years resolutions with a few basic Intentions.

    New Years intention #1: Practice more compassion toward yourself.

    Think about what you would say to a friend who is being hard on herself for her perceived failure. You’d likely be kind and encouraging, right? Treat yourself exactly the same way you would treat your friend. Then, try to understand why you’re not finding success through this method of forcing new lifestyle habits into your life.

    If you notice that you’re being unkind to yourself, apologize and make a mindful attempt to be nicer. Simply by practicing more compassion, we can being to move away from this idea that we should be forcing change upon ourselves. This small change can help us shift into a new perspective of allowing ourselves to create healthier habits more organically. Which brings us to our second recommended intention…

    New Years intention #2: Create change in a more fluid and organic way

    Try changing the way you set your New Years Resolutions. Instead of forcing a new diet or workout regime upon yourself, for example, try setting an intention around making healthier food choices and finding more ways to be active every day.

    Hold your new, softer intentions in your mind, and revisit them every day. When you approach your intention to be healthier from a place of loving kindness toward yourself, (making healthier choices as a means of taking care of your body) instead of self-critique (trying to eat a restricting diet and stick to a strict exercise regime in an effort to change your body), you’re more likely to find success. If you don’t manage to fulfill an intention today, be kind to yourself and just try again tomorrow.

    New Years intention # 3: Build more inner strength

    By keeping your New intentions at the forefront of your mind each day, you have the opportunity to act based on those intentions, using your discerning mind (buddhi), instead of your sense mind (manas). Every time you take action on your intentions with discernment, you give yourself the opportunity to build inner strength.

    Inner strength is ideal for living your life with more intention, which is really what this is all about. As yogis, we want to be more intentional about the decisions we make and the way we do things.

    New Years Intention #4: Connect with your Higher Self

    As we begin to live our lives more intentionally – practicing more compassion toward ourselves, and cultivating a sense of inner strength – we can also begin to strengthen our connection with our Highest Selves. This is where the real change happens.

    Developing a deeper connection with yourself will help you to raise your vibration. Raising your vibration will help you create positive change not only for yourself, but for the whole world.

    Let me reiterate: intention is key. When it comes to creating positive changes in your own life and the world at large, we must understand that it’s all about living with intention. So, if you’re beginning to feel that your New Year’s resolutions aren’t really serving you, consider making this subtle shift. Trade out your limiting resolutions for a few life changing intentions, and notice all of the positive changes that find their way into your life.

    Best of luck!

    By Alex C. Wilson

    Alex Wilson is a writer, yoga teacher, and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist. She is passionate about empowering students to create space for healing and self-discovery in their lives. She is also the content manager for Omstars.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

     

  • The Power of Meditation

    In the last 10+ years, both yoga and meditation have grown significantly in popularity across the globe. For most of us, however, the path of yoga begins with a focus on the physical aspects of the practice, like building strength, flexibility and coordination. It isn’t until we begin to further develop and deepen our practices that we actually discover the truth – yoga is more about the mind than anything else.

    I, like many, began my pursuit of yoga with a focus on movement, eager to flow my way into a stronger & suppler body. So, I practiced frequently, both at home and at my local studio. With time and dedication, I was indeed able to achieve the results I was looking for, but I also noticed other effects – like the fact that I felt less stressed and more at peace in my body. As someone who had always been a bit of a worrier, this was huge.

    Yoga became a place of solace for me. The more I practiced, the more I began to realize that it was the moments I spent in stillness that truly impacted me. So, naturally, I became increasingly interested in the stillness part of the practice – the meditation.

    I like to think of yoga as training for meditation. The physical postures work as a means for helping us find more comfort in our own bodies. This in turn, allows us to sit in stillness for longer periods of time without getting too distracted by our bodies. The best time to meditate is after asana.

    Unfortunately, most yoga studios don’t offer time for meditation after practice. For this reason, it’s important to get comfortable practicing yoga at home. That way you can move into meditation straight away after you’re through with asana. But, what if you don’t know how to meditate?

    Figuring out how to sit for meditation is a lot more difficult that you might think. When we’re new to meditation, most of us simply don’t know what to do. We often find ourselves wondering, am I doing this right? Then, when we notice that our minds are going a million miles a minute, we start to think we just aren’t meant for meditation.

    This could not be further from the truth. Every single person on the planet who sits down as a beginner in meditation will find a million thoughts racing through their heads. Even advanced meditation practitioners have a hard time getting their minds focused sometimes. The important thing to remember is that like yoga, meditation is a practice, and it takes some getting used to.

    If you’re curious about meditation or think you might want to give it a try, there are tons of meditation classes you can practice with on Omstars.com. I recommend moving through an asana practice with one of your favorite teachers first, then transitioning into a meditation class. Try clicking the button below to browse through some of the available meditation classes offered online, or sign up to become an Omstars member by clicking here.

    If you’re interested in giving meditation a go on your own, check out this Beginners Guide to Meditation, or just follow these steps:

    Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for at least 5 minutes. You can sit in a chair, on the floor, in your bed – really, anywhere that works for you.

    Step 2: Sit up tall, let your spine be long, and find comfortable stillness.

    Step 3: As you settle into your seat, bring your awareness to your breath, observing each inhale and exhale.

    Step 4: Try deepening the breath so that the belly begins to expand as you breathe in and out. Keep your focus on your breathing.

    Step 5: If your mind starts wandering, just notice your thoughts. Then, let them go and bring your awareness back to your breath.

    Step 6: Continue focusing on your breath for at least 5 minutes. Each time your mind wanders off, notice, and come back to your breath.

    That’s all there is to it.

    It’s important to know that your mind will wander off – probably several times. You will get distracted and you will most likely feel like you can’t focus. This is part of the process. That’s why it’s a practice. We have to practice bringing our mind back to our point of focus (in this case, the breath) again and again.

    Learning to focus the mind in meditation can carry over into everyday life. In time, we can learn to let go of stress and anxiety with ease. We can learn to keep our attention on projects and work for extended periods of time. We may even find that we become better listeners, better students, better partners, and better human beings. That is the power of meditation.

    By Alex Wilson

    Practice Meditation on Omstars

     

    Alex Wilson is a writer, yoga teacher, and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist. She is passionate about empowering students to create space for healing and self-discovery in their lives. She is also the content manager for Omstars.com.