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

Gigi Yogini

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.

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 3

Dana Smith

Dana Smith, Author of YES! Yoga Has Curves, Talks About the Power of Self-Love

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 Dana Smith, yoga teacher, certified Master Life Coach, Holistic Health Practitioner and author of YES! Yoga Has Curves. She’s also an ally and adviser of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

DS: …one where she shows quiet strength. I believe that when we spend so much time defending, seeking validation and living outside of ourselves we give away our power.

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

DS: It’s constantly evolving into a beautiful space of unconditional self-love and self-acceptance. Before I found yoga I would hold back from accepting and loving my body as it was. There was always something I felt needed changing—and quick. Often I was looking at my body through the glasses of someone else and failed to see my true beauty. Now from this space of love and acceptance of myself I can make any changes I see fit without stress or pressure. My path is to be the healthiest me, and I know this will reflect in not only my body but also my mind and spirit.

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

DS: I learned about true self-acceptance in stages. I decided to go far away from home for college, because I felt I needed a break from city life. When I got there, I got a shell shock. I wasn’t in New York anymore, and there were a lot of people here from down south. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me, that I wouldn’t fit in some way. I was always a very introverted person and making friends was never easy. I feared my silence would be taken as me being stuck-up, so I set out on a mission to prove that I could be outgoing and friendly.

This lasted several months and it all but drained the life out of me. It was hard being someone I wasn’t. One day while getting ready to drag myself to a party on campus I took a hard look in the mirror and asked, why am I doing this? I wanted people to like and accept me, but then it hit me, I didn’t like me. And if I didn’t like or accept myself, how could anyone else? That night I decided not to go to the party and thus started my journey. Today I am happy to say that I am authentically me, and if my ego whispers lies into my ear, I look into the mirror and say: I love myself totally, fully and unconditionally and that is ALL that matters.

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

DS: My physical body brings my emotions to light. I always had a habit of stuffing down or reasoning my emotions away when they felt good. My body would react immediately and SHOW me what emotions I was hiding from. In time I learned that it is fine to feel what I feel and let go of what no longer serves me.

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

DS: More diversity in media would go a long way to help encourage women to accept their bodies. We can host conferences, workshops, classes, and lectures all over the world promoting body acceptance. We need a louder voice! When we begin to truly accept ourselves and love ourselves this energy will radiate out and it is infectious.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

DS: My soul is the glue. It is what drives me, what supports me, what helps me to grow authentically.

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

DS: I haven’t always been good to you. There have been times where I have ignored you, abused you and took you for granted. But you were always there for me, allowing me to move toward my passions and away from the things that kept me in negative cycles. You remind me that I am a woman, a beautiful, curvaceous woman, and I am grateful to you. You supported me as I carried and birthed two beautiful children in two different ways. You are perfect! Every inch, every line, every dimple—pure perfection. Thank you just scratches the surface of my deep love and appreciation for you. But please accept those two words and know that I will spend the rest of my life taking care of you as you have of me.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

DS: Allow me to also give you those two beautiful words—thank you. You have challenged my strength, endurance and flexibility. We are one, we are in this together until the very end. I will always love you and support you.

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

DS: Connect to it. Every day I touch my skin and say loving affirmations, especially for those areas that are easy to judge. If you are not ready to stand naked in front of a mirror, light a candle and turn off the lights. Showing ourselves this deep love and affection can make us love ourselves that much more.

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

DS: Firefly pose all the way!

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Smith’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 4: Yoga Trailblazer Dianne Bondy Wants No Yogi Left Behind.

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 2

Rachel

Lululemon Lead + Optimist-Mom Rachel Acheson on Finding a Loving Inner Voice

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 Rachel Acheson, Vice President of Brand and Community for Lululemon Athletica.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

RA: …my daughter, jumping off the dock at our cottage. Half-naked. Bold. Strong. Courageous. Not an ounce of self-doubt.

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

RA: We are growing together—me and my body image. My body image is the first layer of my inner critic. The place that voice lands before anywhere else. And in the last 30 years I have learned to calm that inner critic. To tell her there are things so much more important. That there is love no matter what size I am. That I need to be as generous with myself, as I am with others. That the words I say when I look in the mirror have to be words I could utter to my daughter.

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

RA: Honestly, yoga has taught me the most about self-acceptance. I started my yoga practice when my marriage fell apart—or when I blew it up. I walked away from that relationship and from another. I left the space of validating myself through the love of others and began a journey of self-love and self-acceptance. I have to say that I have Elena Brower to thank for that. I can hear her, every day in my mind, saying “bathe yourself in the light of self-acceptance.” My mat is where I find that and remind myself of that.

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

RA: The most obvious and palpable danger would have to be my experience as a teenage anorexic. I spent 4 months in a psych ward. I was 82 pounds. I had eroded the lining around my heart. I was batshit crazy. And in that, I found community with such a range of people. All these other people who were just as crazy but had different “problems.”

I learned we were all the same. I sat down with my occupational therapist one day and she asked me to make a “balance sheet” of myself. The assets and the liabilities. I started with the liabilities. They were easy. And on the assets, I completely broke down. I sobbed for 30 minutes and I couldn’t find one thing to put in there. She gently reminded me I had friends and family who visited me every day. I was a straight-A student. I was beautiful. I had friends in the hospital. But nothing came to me. It was my breakthrough in the danger. I realized that truly I must not be seeing myself with love, generosity, accuracy.

But I think the biggest danger and the one that motivates me every day to quiet those demons, is the influence I am on my daughter. She watches and copies everything I do. The glances in the mirror, the adjustment of my shirt, the “checking out my butt.” And I cannot risk her adopting an ounce of that dangerous mindset. That is the biggest danger. She is not the lining of my heart—she IS my heart.

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

RA: We can love and nurture each other. We are all in this together and we all face the same struggle in some way, shape or form. We can be fuel for the RIGHT inner voice. We can ask each other “would you ever say that to your daughter?” And if you wouldn’t, you should never say it to yourself. We can encourage people to find mindfulness and their mat.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

RA: Soul.

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

RA: I’m sorry I judge you so harshly. I am thankful for the grace you have given me and the strength and the energy. I love you, no matter what size you are today. I ask of you vitality—not perfection.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

Breathe. Relax. I have you. I always have you. Trust me to catch you.

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

RA: Yoga. Fresh air. Movement. Throw out the clothes that belong to someone else’s body. Meditate. Remind yourself that you are not on this planet to be “thin.” You are on this planet to do great things. And doing great things takes love and energy, not skinny jeans.

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Acheson’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 3: Dana Smith, Author of YES! Yoga Has Curves, Talks About the Power of Self-Love.

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 1

Melanie Klein

 

Sociologist Melanie Klein Wants Everyone to STOP Body-Snarking!

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 Melanie Klein, MA, a writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College, where she teaches Sociology and Women’s Studies. She’s also co-editor of Yoga + Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body (October 2014) and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

MK: …one that is authentic, an image of a woman being uniquely herself—not a commodified, objectified or hypsersexualized image that has Photoshopped the life out of her. An empowering image of woman doesn’t erase her lines, signature features, curves or angles. Authentic images of women are diverse, directed and informed by the perspectives, stories, moods and interests of the women themselves.

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

MK: It has fluctuated over the course of my life—from a lack of awareness in early childhood that allowed me a unique sense of freedom to disappointment, frustration and anger. After decades of active work and practice, while I am more satisfied with my body image and my relationship to my body, the struggle is not over. I still vacillate between feelings of peace with my body image to ones of dissatisfaction. The difference is that I no longer allow my frustration to determine what kind of day I’ll have. I am able to notice my feelings, move through them and let them pass. I am less vulnerable to the state of my body image at any given moment.

As a result, I feel relieved of the tyranny that a distorted and negative body image had on my life for many years. This creates more time, space and energy for me to focus on the bigger picture and contribute to society in a fuller, more meaningful way. Making over my body and conforming to a narrow and unrealistic standard of beauty is no longer one of my biggest aspirations. It no longer determines my capacity for joy. And that’s liberating and empowering.

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

MK: Yoga, both physical asana and seated meditation, was the tool that allowed me to truly cultivate self-acceptance and self-love. 

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

MK: My physical body has taught me that it has moods of its own and that I need to honor and respect those moods if I am to honor and respect my whole self. In listening to my body and practicing accordingly, I have gained profound wisdom that extends well beyond the mat. It has allowed me to develop self-care practices, establish boundaries, communicate more effectively and develop deeper compassion and empathy for myself and others. 

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

MK: Deep in the throes of disordered eating, compulsive exercising and self-hatred, I put myself at physical risk repeatedly in order to conform to socially constructed standard of beauty, because I thought it would make me happy. All my life I had gotten the message that being beautiful and thin determined a woman’s value and self-worth. I thought the gains were worth the risk. Sadly, that message is continuously perpetuated through media culture, and girls and women gamble with their health in the pursuit of an aesthetic that often actually undermines their physical and emotional health. To me, this is dangerous and toxic.

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

MK: We can become more media literate; support companies that diversify the images they distribute; advocate for change; create new images that expand the current perception of beauty; celebrate role models that are more than just their face or their breasts; stop the negative self-talk; stop body-snarking; lower our levels of mediation; and educate others on these issues. And in this, we grow acceptance and live our practice by being conscious and present.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

MK: Impossible! Unity. Balance. Harmony.

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

MK: I am profoundly grateful.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

MK: Don’t forget to make plenty of time for play and deep rest. 

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Klein’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 2: Lululemon Lead + Optimist-Mom Rachel Acheson on Finding a Loving Inner Voice.