Shiva Rea Gets Real About the Root Lock: A Woman’s Guide to Mula Bandha

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Like many yoginis, I’ve tried futilely to squeeze the area I think is the root lock as a teacher calls out “activate Mula Bandha!” But those Sanskrit words came with as much instruction as how to roll out your sticky mat. And where is the perineum anyway?

In walks Shiva Rea, the worldwide teaching sensation who embodies the very essence of sacred feminine, fire and grace. Turns out, even she was once shy about sharing this knowledge.

“It’s pretty amazing that Mula Bandha is actually stimulating the very same process that creates orgasm,” Shiva Rea told me after her class at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. “We think it’s far-out or neo-tantric to talk about orgasm. But after you’re 40 you’re like ‘life is short, let’s not reinforce any more disconnection.’”

So in the spirit of getting real and helping women connect to their bodies, let’s start with the fact that Mula Bandha, or Yoni Bandha as Rea calls it, is different for women than for men. The Yoni canal connects to the clitoris and the entire womb. Women draw up at the base of the pelvic floor around the vagina and extending up to the mouth of the cervix. Draw in and up on the inhalation. Let go on the exhalation. Draw in strongly but not so much that you feel tension. It’s much more than a Kegel, which Rea feels is devoid of poetry and Eros. “It’s like this light that rises and illuminates the whole spine,” Rea says.

We’re all women in Rea’s Yogini Shakti class. The lights are dim. There’s freedom to experiment. Rea says one of the best poses to feel the Mula Bandha is Malasana. Try squatting with your heels in and toes out, lean your torso in between your thighs with your hands in Anjali Mudra. As you inhale, engage Mula Bandha and feel the current rise from the earth, enter the pelvic floor and “up inside the Yoni as if when making love,” Rea says. When you can’t inhale any longer, relax the squeeze on your exhale, without collapsing it entirely. You’re pulling energy up to tap into a subtle pulse, like the ocean tide.

Soon the room full of yoginis seems to be pulsing with new discoveries. I feel Mula Bandha’s potent source of power for the first time. After class, another woman tells Rea that she recently miscarried twins and is grateful to reconnect to her body. All it takes is practice, Rea encourages us, to let go of mechanical instructions and tap into your own beautiful and personal rhythm.

—Rebecca Tolin

Photo credit: Tony Felguieras 

Yoga’s Evolving Body Image: A Call to Action from Justin Michael Williams

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Yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams attended our Practice of Leadership panel and gave us his main takeaways after the event. Here, he talks about the evolving issue of body image and how it is represented in today’s yoga community. Plus, his two main takeaways.

When you Google the word yoga, the images you see are all too similar—tall, bendy, Caucasian women with a soft glow folded into pretzel-like poses. With the exception of the occasional Indian Guru, this has been the aspirational body image set forth by the yoga industry.

But times are changing.

If we take a closer look at what’s actually happening with the popularization of yoga over the last two years, we see that the representation of yoga in the media is indeed evolving at a surprisingly similar rate as reality of the demographics of practitioners.

Let’s be real. It was not “cool” to walk around town with a yoga mat slung over your shoulder until quite recently. Although yoga has been available in the United States for several decades, the mass popularization of the practice is just evolving through its infancy. For the majority of its prevalence in the States, yoga has always been a practice for the privileged – a niche offering at a high price point. But today, yoga is being offered to people of all socioeconomic classes, bringing diversity to the practice and fostering opportunity for people of varying colors, shapes, and sizes to become leaders in the public eye.

Yes, it’s true that most of the practitioners highlighted in yoga publications are still tall, thin, Caucasian women – but there has definitely been a shift. Look at any recent yoga magazine. You will find men, people of color, and women of all shapes and sizes making their way into mainstream media. New styles of yoga are forming to coincide with varying body types, spiritual practices, and social preferences. This is cultivating new leaders within the community – my personal experience is social proof. I am a multiracial male featured in a full page of an upcoming issue of Yoga Journal.This moment in history offers an opportunity and great responsibility for both the yoga community and popular media. It’s time for a call to action. Here’s what I think:

Yogis of all colors, shapes and sizes
We must step fully into our power, steep in the practices, and activate our role as leaders. It is time for alternative community frontrunners to step out of the yoga closet. Learn to use marketing and social media just as effectively as the current yoga icons so that we can spread our message to the world. This is the only way we can continue to shape the face of yoga.

Yoga media outlets
Keep your minds open to the changes on the ground level of the community. Watch carefully for developing leadership outside of the typical demographic. Remember that the image you highlight will be the image yogis aspire toward, so hold space for leaders of all shapes, colors, and sizes and provide a platform for them to shine.

This moment will never come again. This is our chance to create a clear, open, and authentic public image of yoga that matches the reality of the community and the ethics of the practice. Let’s make it count!

- By Justin Michael Williams

Justin Michael Williams is a social media expert, public speaker, and yoga teacher who decided to ditch corporate America to start his own yoga-centric social media marketing agency. 

See more on the Practice of Leadership panel at YJLIVE in San Diego

Wrap Up: Sociologist Kimberly Dark on the Practice of Leadership Panel

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Last weekend’s Practice of Leadership Conversation at YJLIVE in San Diego focused on body image in yoga culture. The timing couldn’t be better with the recent launch of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. (Learn more here.)

This lively discussion focused on how current media images of yoga practitioners do little to inspire and welcome diverse bodies to begin and maintain a yoga practice.  If this is our goal as yoga teachers, practitioners and yoga-focused businesses (such as Yoga Journal and lululemon athletica, both sponsoring this panel) then we are not yet doing our best work.  Businesses and publications, along with yoga teachers, can become trailblazers rather then simply reinforcing cultural messages that damage body image and prevent a wider range of yogis from reaching the mat.

The panel discussed the role of each yogi in becoming aware of how we perpetuate cultural values and stereotypes that fail to welcome every body – regardless of race, size, ability, gender or age.  In order to do this, individuals must become aware and change body-shaming language in the yoga studio and businesses must work to represent a wider range of bodies and experiences so that yoga seems accessible to all.  For instance, Rachel Acheson of lululemon pointed out that they generally “sample” a size six in all of their media material and that doesn’t have to continue to be the case. Even if the brand’s size range is limited, they can begin to show more of that range.

Indeed, magazines, like Yoga Journal, take a huge role in reinforcing cultural norms and values around yoga practice and what “looks like” a “yoga body.”  The audience was told to expect more body diversity in upcoming issues. Further discussion about this issue is on the horizon in public and private forums, to be sure.

Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociology professor and yoga teacher. She travels worldwide using humor and storytelling to help people discuss the body in culture. She’s a founding board member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com

Get Grounded Anywhere: 7 Ways from Teacher Saul David Raye

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The scene: Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego is a sea of water-bottle-armed, mat-carrying yogis buzzing with excitement as they book it from session to session.

Enter Saul David Raye’s Earth Prayer class. The sounds of Jim Beckwith strumming the sitar slip through the air, accompanied by the deep timbre of Raye’s voice and the spreading stillness of his serene presence. And just like that, any pre-conference jitters in the room fade away.

Aptly, Raye begins by explaining that our fast-streaming culture usually keeps us operating from our sympathetic nervous system. That’s the flight-or-fight pattern we all know so well. When we shift to the parasympathetic, though, we heal. We can return to our natural, relaxed state of being (the one our ancestors would have been in when they weren’t face to face with a dire wolf) and begin to undo some of the havoc nonstop stress wreaks on body, mind, and soul. “When we go into the internal experience,” Raye says, “we’re in the same time zone the wind is in, the earth is in.”

The way to bring peace to earth, he says, is to find it within ourselves. Here, the breath is the vehicle, along with his series of simple yet potent poses. We did them melting into the floor of the Sheraton San Diego, but these could be done just about anywhere—even your cubicle. If you can get outside, all the better.

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1. Easy Pose + Grounding Mudra: In a comfortable seated position, place your left hand on your heart and your right hand flat on the earth, palm facing down. In this mudra, offer your gratitude to Mother Earth for all she gives us.

2. Earth-Facing Corpse Pose: Lie on your belly and stretch your arms forward with palms facing down. Turn your head to one side if that’s most comfortable. Then breathe into your low back. Feel your bones sink into the earth. Studies show that grounding our bodies reduces inflammation and calms the nervous system, Raye says.

3. Child’s Pose + Salutation Seal: In Child’s Pose, stretch arms forward, bringing hands into Anjali Mudra. This helps connect both sides of the brain. Inhale and then release it in a long, slow exhalation, letting everything go into the earth. “In yogic energy-mapping,” Raye says, “there’s no difference between the energy of a mountain, a star, the ocean, or you or I. This is the same heartbeat.”

4. Stress-Less Standing Swing: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with arm at shoulder height, elbows bent in cactus position. Begin to swing your upper body, breathing into your kidneys and adrenals. When you’ve had enough, raise your arms overhead with hands in chin mudra (thumbs and forefingers touching) and call up an intention.

5. Free Flow: Tap into your own internal rhythm, let loose, and move freely. Not sure where to start? Try a little swimming through the air and see where that takes you. “Learn to trust your body again,” Raye beckons.

6. Half Shoulderstand: Half shoulderstand is one of Raye’s top poses for rejuvenation. From your back, swing your legs up and straighten them over your head. Instead of lifting your torso as vertically as possible, support it at a 45-degree angle to the ground, holding your lower back with your hands. Breathe into the thymus (an immune organ near your heart) and then your thyroid in the throat. Feel your shoulders and arms being held by Mother Earth.

7. Corpse Pose: The ultimate earth hug. Let your pulse slow. Be in your body, firmly planted on the earth. You have arrived.

—Rebecca Tolin

Photo credit: Tony Felguieras 

6 Women Tackle Body Image in the Practice of Leadership Series

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Body image is deeply personal. Our perception of how we look can flare our most tender insecurities and unrealistic fantasies—especially in a media world of oddly homogenized beauty. How we create healthy images as a yoga community was the topic of The Practice of Leadership Series at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Six women came together—yoga teachers, body image activists, authors, a lululemon athletica executive and Yoga Journal’s editor in chief—to tackle this sensitive, often-sidestepped topic. And all agreed that a healthy body image starts with self-acceptance. Here are three goals panelists highlighted in the impassioned and respectful discussion, and their post-panel impressions.

 

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GOAL #1: ACCEPT THE BODY WE’RE GIVEN.

Melanie Klein, a professor in sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College, co-editor Yoga + Body Image (October 2014) and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition: “A healthy body image begins with self-acceptance and flourishes with self-love. Self-acceptance begins with being in the moment, what’s real and true at that time and letting it be (and letting it go). For better or worse, it just is. That’s where a consistent yoga practice comes in handy. An asana practice that focuses on the marriage between breath and movement, thereby cultivating awareness, can do the trick.”

Dana Smith, a yoga teacher and author of YES! Yoga Has Curves: “We can practice self-acceptance as a society by encouraging others to live from the inside out. Focus less on external beauty and work on cultivating internal beauty and harmony so that we can be more accepting of each other’s unique, individual beauty.”

Brigitte Kouba (aka Gigi Yogini), yoga instructor and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition: “Practicing self-acceptance requires a fierce commitment to be present and conscious, moment to moment, from a place of gratitude rather than self-loathing. Identifying our negative patterns can help us proactively reroute our self-limiting thoughts toward a pursuit of expansive happiness and vitality.”

GOAL #2: RE-BRAND BEAUTY.

Klein: “I don’t see a lot of diversity in media imagery—and when I use that word, I am talking about the full-range of human diversity, from race and ethnicity to size, age, gender identification, sexual orientation and class. Currently, we have a narrow vision of what’s inspiring, beautiful, and worthy.”

Kouba: “The most interesting insight about aspirational marketing is the fact that not everyone has the same aspirations. And if yoga marketing only focuses on a narrow definition of what an aspirational image is, then we inadvertently marginalize individuals who might benefit from yoga but don’t aspire to those same values as the images portrayed.”

Rachel Acheson, Vice President of Brand and Community at lululemon athletica: “I am taking the idea of aspirational = “authentic and real” back to my work and to my team; how do we reflect the true stories of ALL the amazing people we know, to re-define aspiration, in the media channels we control and influence.”

GOAL #3: EMBODY THE CHANGE.

Klein: “We each have a responsibility to live our practice through conscious action, including the language we use. Each of us has the ability to create positive change about how we represent the “yoga body,” what yoga culture looks like and could be. And that requires more that an ability to do a handstand or forearm balance. It requires awareness. In that way, we become role models, allies and agents of change.”

Dianne Bondy, founder of body-positive online yoga studio Yogasteya.com, founding board member and partner of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition and a contributor to Yoga + Body Image: “You encourage the people that don’t fit the stereotype to stand in their own power and teach and be seen. We hold space for them to do so.”

Acheson: “I am also personally taking on the cause of creating a generation of people who are anchored in self-love and acceptance.”

—Rebecca Tolin

The Practice of Leadership Series is presented by Yoga Journal LIVE!, Off the Mat, Into the World and lululemon athletica.

Photo credit: Tony Felguieras 

Why These People Went Vegan—and What Might Be In It for You

There was a time when meeting a full-fledged vegan was about as likely as getting into Crow Pose on your first try. But now, abstaining from animal products is becoming more mainstream in America—and Hollywood is following suit.

Jessica Simpson reportedly went on a vegan diet for about two weeks leading up to her wedding last weekend, a source tells Us Weekly, and she’s just the latest star to try or stick to a plant-based diet. “Vegan eating is on the rise with everyday people and celebrities alike,” says Lisa Lange, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “But when Hollywood’s most successful and respected actors are outspoken about their commitment to eating vegan—and stars like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Jennifer Lopez are discussing how great they feel when they try out vegan meals—it really makes a splash.”

Jessica Simpson all smiles as she arrives at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) dressed in black and showing cleavage  Feat

It’s no wonder that Hollywood is foregoing foie gras: Studies have shown that vegans have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, face a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and are thinner than their meat-eating counterparts. Here are six more stars who traded steak for tofu and why it’s good news for their health.

Beyonce and Jay-Z announced last December that they would be taking a 22-day vegan challenge to celebrate his birthday. (The challenge from health food company 22 Days Nutrition invites carnivores to go meatless for a minimum of 22 days.) Although the diet didn’t stick, Jay and Bey, who both appeared slimmer at the Grammys in January, have since been seen dining out at vegan joints like L.A.’s Cafe Gratitude, a popular health food restaurant that serves up everything from baked kale chips to kelp noodle pasta.

Jay-Z and Beyonce

The Benefit: Weight Loss “A plant-based diet, by default, may be lower in calories,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Additionally, plant-based diets require your digestive tract to work harder, a function of overall fiber content, so you’re naturally burning more calories, which can keep weight in check.”

Jennifer Lopez also partook in the 22-day vegan challenge and was thrilled by the results. “I felt really good and I even stayed on with it a few more weeks,” she told Ryan Seacrest. “Now I’ve just incorporated a little bit of fish here and there.”

The Benefit: Healthier Overall Lifestyle  “The most likely reason a vegan has more energy is related to his or her lifestyle,” Cohn says. “Those who choose veganism are probably working harder to have an overall healthier lifestyle in general.”

Alicia Silverstone, a longtime vegan, outlined her reasons for ditching meat and dairy in her 2011 best-seller The Kind Diet. Since then, the eco-conscious actress has continued to spread the word about a plant-based diet in her new book The Kind Mama as well as by sharing vegan recipes like Cauliflower Buffalo Wings on her natural-living website The Kind Life.

The Benefit: Easy Digestion “Plant-based foods are naturally higher in water and lots of fiber, and water keeps things moving,” Cohn says. “It can have the beneficial side effect of regularity.”

Olivia Wilde was inspired by her Butter co-star Silverstone to go vegan when Silverstone whipped up healthy meatless dishes they could share on the set of the 2012 indie flick. “Being vegan is not always easy and accessible, but it’s a way of life and makes me as a person feel really good and physically look better,” Wilde told The Huffington Post. “My skin was better, my energy was better.”

The Benefit: Better Skin “This is most likely related to higher water and vitamin and mineral intake,” Cohn says. “Also, dairy is notorious for causing breakouts, so simply cutting dairy can make a difference for many people with acne-prone skin.”

Jared Leto, 42, has publicly credited his vegan diet (and yoga practice) as the secret weapon behind his boyish good looks. “Twenty solid years of eating vegetarian/vegan and taking care of myself, that probably helps the preservation process,” the Oscar winner told British GQ last year.

The Benefit: Anti-Aging  “Fruits and veggies are high in flavonoids and carotenoids which are antioxidants,” Cohn says. “Antioxidants stabilize free radicals from your body that cause premature aging.” In other words: you’ll feel better and look better, too!

The Time Teacher Eric Paskel Gave Up Yoga for the Gym…

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My name is Eric Paskel, and I have the privilege of being a yoga teacher. While 2 million people were hashtagging #yogaeverydamnday, I took 90 days to check out the “fitness” world. For you asana-goers, that means the G.Y.M. When I told my editor at Yoga Journal, she asked, “What did you find out?” Here it is, yoga community. Learn just what over-dosing on studio classes opened my eyes to. From abs to adrenaline, the gym’s got nothing on asana man.

 

SPINNING IS SOULLESS. Spinning. After spin class I was still “spun.” After 60 minutes of pedaling my ass off while listening to someone shouting, “Harder!” “Higher!” “Faster!” “Longer!” I felt like I was in bed with a partner I couldn’t please. Yes, the class worked out my legs and butt, but what about the other parts of my body? My core and arms were forlorn, neglected. Now it was the bad lover I was reminded of…

LESSON LEARNED: Spinning left me sweaty and searching for some spiritual takeaway.

 

CROSSED UP OR CROSSFIT? A big part of my adventure was spent taking cross-training or circuit-training classes; now called CrossFit if you’re cool. Much like spinning, these total-body-toning teachers seemed focused on some false promises. Repeatedly, I heard that whatever I was doing in the moment would continue to burn calories when I wasn’t working out (HUH?). And apparently, the new thing is making the class duration a convenient 45 minutes but claiming that’s the optimal workout length?  Bull$#!! If you are athletic—or ADHD!—these classes can challenge and engage you. But I am both…so what was I missing?

LESSON LEARNED: I long for community. In yoga, there is a signature undercurrent of empathy: Come as you are, leave the negative behind, here’s the loving touch you didn’t find today.

 

KICKED AROUND. Kickboxing wasn’t new for me, but it had been a while since I punched and kicked my calories away. And let the record show that I think martial arts are powerful, beautiful and can be evolutionary for development. But this wasn’t the zen-inducing archery-esque class I was hoping for. Instead I wound up putting faces on the punching bags and reinforcing my own resentment toward a slim few.

LESSON LEARNED: This kind of blood-boiling bag-beating only leaves me exhausted mentally and emotionally.

 

BARRED. Barre, Shape, Sculpt classes by any variety of branded, creatively named moniker, left me feeling emotionally misshapen. Despite the need to go back to redefine my currently decent—by adult male and yoga standards—shape.

LESSON LEARNED: Sculpting my a$$ didn’t stop me from being an a$$. And none of it helped to shape a better life for me.

 

ASANA MAN’S ASSESSMENT

If you are looking to get a work out and work your issues out, there is still only one class for all of us. One-stop shopping for your mind, body and intellect? That’s a dynamic, button-pushing, badass yoga class, of course.

Want to get more out of your yoga? Here are some tips on how to get a meaty, deep, emotionally and physically challenging class that’s slightly less chaotic than cross-fit-sculpt fusion.

1. Find an instructor who isn’t there to be liked.

2. Try a few classes and pick the one that makes you feel like a better person when you walk out of the room.

Meditate on this: We have such limited time in the day, spend it on what’s most important to you. Being fit is up there, but is it worth sacrificing the calm, serenity and sweetness a yoga class provides? I’ll give up some tightness in my arms, so I’m not such a tight ass. I will most happily sacrifice burning a few more calories, so I can learn how to not burn myself out any longer.

LESSON LEARNED: Yoga still rocks.

Eric Paskel is founder and owner of Yoga Shelter and a presenter at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego this weekend!

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 6

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Tara Stiles Talks Passion, Purpose, and Goosebumps

In this six-part series, Yoga Journal asked six women participating in the Practice of Leadership conversation on Saturday, July 12, 2014, what body image means to them. Disclaimer: It’s positive, pop-y and powerful. And yes, as a yoga community, we do believe experience is everything.

Meet Tara Stiles, founder of Strala Yoga, book author, fashion designer, and teacher. Oh wait, you already know her

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

TS: …a woman doing something she is passionate about.  When a woman uses her body as a tool to focus on her purpose. Think Joan of Arc.

YJ: How would you describe your relationship to your body image?

TS: Enjoyable. I enjoy being in my body and respecting it as the amazing machine I live in.

YJ: What scenario taught you more about self-acceptance?

TS: Realizing outside opinions have little to do with reality and to focus on going after what makes me feel great—not worrying about other people’s fears.

YJ: What has your physical body taught you about your emotional self?

TS: It’s all connected. One cannot be in harmony without the other. One can lift the other to balance with attention and compassion.

YJ: What has been your most dangerous experience with body image in your personal life or culture?

TS: Seeing women tear each other down on-line.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

TS: Consciousness.

YJ: If you could speak to your physical body, you would say, “_________.”

TS: Radiate for me. I want you to last and be well for a long time.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

TS: Got it. Make sure to nourish me properly, inspire me regularly, and restore me completely.

YJ: What’s your best advice for feeling comfortable in your own skin?

Practice what gives you goosebumps.

YJ: Fireworks or Firefly pose? (It is July…)

Whatever is most fun for you.

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Tara Stiles’ personal experience with body image at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Or head over to our Facebook Practice of Leadership group to join the conversation.

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 5

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LA Yoga Teacher Gigi Yogini on Cultivating Courage

In this six-part series, Yoga Journal asked six women participating in the Practice of Leadership conversation on Saturday, July 12, 2014, what body image means to them. Disclaimer: It’s positive, pop-y and powerful. And yes, as a yoga community, we do believe experience is everything.

Meet Brigitte Kouba, MA, (aka Gigi Yogini), a positive body image advocate and yoga instructor. She is also a co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

BK: …Rosie the Riveter. I can’t lie. I’ve always loved the image of her. It was used during WWII as a symbol of women’s physical and economic earning power, eventually inspiring multiple spin-offs to communicate women’s ability to be bold, brave, and beautiful.

YJ: How would you describe your relationship to your body image?

BK: Body image is someone’s perception of their body and their relationship to this perception. I believe that I have a healthy relationship to my body image, although it’s an ever-evolving relationship as I work through injuries, get gray hair, and continue to see myself in different elements.

I see my body in my mind’s eye and I feel how my body works from day to day in my yoga practice. Yet as I put my image out in the public promoting healthy body image, I see videos and photos of myself where I look different every time. People have mixed feedback about my mission, sometimes celebrating my curves, other times vilifying me for promoting “body love” although I’m not plus-sized.

I think overall what’s most important in my mission to promote body positivity is the cultivation of courage, confidence, and gratitude for one’s body in each moment. When we accept and appreciate ourselves, as we are, we treat our bodies with respect. If we feel shame and guilt, we have a harder time showing our bodies the love they deserve.

YJ: What scenario taught you more about self-acceptance?

BK: In my advanced teacher training, I often judged myself as being big compared to the other women in the room. This comparison initially made me a little more nervous, feeling like maybe the other women wouldn’t take me seriously because I was tall with thick thighs and large breasts. But one day we got into a circle and started discussing deeper emotional elements of our lives and practice. I was shocked when I heard multiple women in the circle talking about their body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and low self-esteem. I had just assumed that because they were thin, they were confident. But I realized that self-acceptance is a challenge for many people, regardless of age, shape, size, background, etc.

YJ: What has your physical body taught you about your emotional self?

BK: My physical body needs to dance, stretch, hike, and play in order to be fulfilled. The more I move, the easier it is to move through emotional challenges. When I’m physically stagnant, my emotions get stuck too. But one of the easiest ways for me to process emotions is to get outside and go for a walk. My body was made to move.

YJ: What can we do as a community to support women and create a body-positive culture?

BK: Thought leaders and media influencers can provide images of health that reflect the full range of human diversity. We have a great opportunity to share tools and resources to promote self-respect, especially in the yoga community, where we can continue to develop, promote and support yoga that is accessible and body-positive.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

BK: Body, Mind and Soul already are One.

YJ: If you could speak to your physical body, you would say, “_________.”

BK: Thank you.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

BK: Keep up the great work.

YJ: What’s your best advice for feeling comfortable in your own skin?

BK: Use your senses. Look at yourself in the mirror and truly see yourself as whole. Close your eyes and listen to your breath, realizing what a magical gift it is to be alive. Exercise so hard that you can smell yourself releasing toxins and taste your own sweat. Be present in the full range of experiences your body can have and most importantly, remember to give thanks.

YJ: Fireworks or Firefly pose? (It is July…)

BK: How about both—Firefly while Katy Perry’s song Firework is playing!

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Gigi Yogini’s personal experience with body image at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Or head over to our Facebook Practice of Leadership group to join the conversation. But first, read Part 6: Tara Stiles Talks Passion, Purpose, and Goosebumps

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 4

Dianne Bondy

Yoga Trailblazer Dianne Bondy Wants No Yogi Left Behind

In this six-part series, Yoga Journal asked six women participating in the Practice of Leadership conversation on Saturday, July 12, 2014, what body image means to them. Disclaimer: It’s positive, pop-y and powerful. And yes, as a yoga community, we do believe experience is everything.

Meet Dianne Bondy, a Yoga trailblazer, motivator, risk-taker and teacher. She’s the founder of Yogasteya.com, a body-positive online yoga studio for people of all sizes, genders and abilities. She’s also a founding board member and partner of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition and a contributor to Yoga + Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body (October 2014).

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

DB: …someone who stands strong in her power, who is not afraid of being a strong woman. She compassionately speaks her mind, is aware of the presence of others and holds space for people to be themselves without apology. She supports diversity and inclusiveness. A strong woman to me is someone who is not afraid to impact the world through her actions, her words and her appearance. She is kind. She is compassionate and she is fearless.

YJ: How would you describe your relationship to your body image?

DB: I have had a love-hate relationship with my body for most of my life. I am afraid to say mostly hate. I have been tortured because of my size for a great deal of my life so it is hard not to internalize these comments. I have been really fat and really thin. (It was much easier to be thin.) Now I am just focusing on being the best person I can be for me in any body I have. I appreciate my body for taking care of me. It is the only instrument I have to navigate this world and connect with others. It is not about what I look like, it is about what I have to offer the world.

YJ: What scenario taught you more about self-acceptance?

DB: Being at an advanced yoga teacher training that I had no business being at. My asana was not up to it. I was the only big black girl in the room of thin, small, hyper-flexible, strong, and mostly Caucasian yogis. I spent most of my time crying on my mat. People where afraid to pair up with me because of my size. Feeling very lost and alone and the big brown spot in a sea of white faces. I remember feeling like there must be others out there like me. I will take this miserable experience and create my own awareness and classes for bigger bodies.

YJ: What has your physical body taught you about your emotional self?  

DB: I am more than what I look like. I have the ability to inspire others. I am not alone.

YJ: What has been your most dangerous experience with body image in your personal life or culture?

DB: I was bullied relentlessly by my father about my size and developed an eating disorder. I allowed the bullying to determine my self-worth and participated in dangerous self-harming practices.

YJ: What can we do as a community to support women and create a body-positive culture?

DB: Shape consciousness around body-positive self-image. Change mainstream media to include people/women of all sizes, colors, and genders. Don’t pander to negativity. Be inclusive in our language as well as our actions.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

DB: The soul is infinite and beautiful. The body is limited and temporary.

YJ: If you could speak to your physical body, you would say, “_________.”

DB: I love you and thank you for supporting and sustaining me. I am so sorry that I abuse you and am sometimes critical and hateful toward you and you love me anyway. Thank you for being the perfect instrument for which I experience this world.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

DB: I love you unconditionally, and we are here in this together.

YJ: What’s your best advice for feeling comfortable in your own skin?

DB: Do what you love and shape your life around that, and it will give you confidence, support and joy. Remember, people who are critical of you are just not ready to receive your gifts. Meditate every day and create your own personal mantra: I am enough and I have something powerful to offer the world!

YJ: Fireworks or Firefly pose? (It is July…)

DB: Fireworks…Arm balances are just not my thing :)

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Dianne Bondy’s personal experience with body image at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Or head over to our Facebook Practice of Leadership group to join the conversation. But first, read Part 5: LA Yoga Teacher Gigi Yogini on Cultivating Courage.