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

TARA-SOCIAL

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.

The Yoga and Body Image Coalition Debuting at YJ LIVE!’s Practice of Leadership Panel in San Diego

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While we often unite mind and body practicing yoga, there still seems to be a major gap in the conversation about yoga and body image. Our yoga practice is a powerful tool in transforming our relationships with our bodies, but modern yoga culture has a complicated place in the conversation.

At 1:30 July 12, 2014, at YJ LIVE! San Diego, the Practice of Leadership panel discussion will confront the complicated issue of body image in yoga culture. The gathering will be an open and honest dialogue that gets at the heart of our practice, our role as conscious leaders, and how to make yoga accessible and welcoming to every BODY.

This panel will be the first official event of the newly launched Yoga and Body Image Coalition, featuring the co-founders, Melanie Klein and Brigitte Kouba, along with two members of the founding board, Dianne Bondy and Dana Smith. The Coalition can’t think of a better opportunity to represent its full vision:

The Yoga and Body Image Coalition

Vision: To create a united effort in promoting inclusivity, active transformation, and physical, spiritual and mental empowerment in the yoga community.To raise awareness by utilizing critical theories that examine the role of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, able-ism, size-ism, age-ism and consumer culture in contemporary body image politics and provide solutions to make yoga more accessible for everyone.

Mission: Our coalition is committed to body love by developing, promoting and supporting yoga that is accessible, body positive and reflects the full range of human diversity. Our mission not only advocates yoga as an essential tool in personal transformation, from the inside out, but also includes a critical social justice component by challenging industry leaders and media creators to expand their vision of what a yogi looks like.

Who We Are: We are yoga teachers, practitioners, experts, educators, activists, writers, businesses, artists, non-profits organizations and advocates. We have come together to form a collective that advocates for optimal well-being and healthy body relationships through a consistent yoga practice, including physical asana, meditation, and more.

Core Values:

We believe in the transformative power of yoga.
We believe yoga is for every body and that every body is worthy of love.
We believe in eradicating negative self-talk and body snarking.
We believe the slogan, “love your body,” is a fully dimensional mantra promoting body acceptance in ourselves and each other.
We believe body positivity is more than a #hashtag, marketing slogan, or commodity – it’s conscious action and lived practice.
We believe in critical thinking as a core component in raising consciousness.
We believe in conscious marketing and messaging as related to body positive media content in language and imagery.
We believe media literacy education is key in deconstructing and creating new media imagery.

(Website coming soon…)

Read about our personal experiences with body image in YJ’s six-part series, My Body Image, My Self.

—Melanie Klein and Brigitte Kouba, SPECIAL TO YOGA JOURNAL

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies. She is a contributing author in 21stCentury Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.

Brigitte Kouba M.A., E-RYT (aka Gigi Yogini), is a Positive Body Image Advocate and Yoga Instructor. She is the creator of YOGAudacious, celebrating the courage of women who love yoga, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.

Photo Credit: Sarit Z. Rogers

Why Soccer Is a Yogi’s Sport—Plus, 7 Poses for the World Cup Final

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I love soccer and loved seeing the sport catch fire—among yogis in particular—this World Cup. Though it’s not surprising: Soccer is like yoga in many ways. (Stay with me here if you don’t see it.) Like yoga, soccer yokes and unites across cultures and sociopolitical divides. It is replete with ritual from the pre-game handshakes to the final heartfelt hugs. Its elegance is derived in great part from the fact that a player’s mastery depends on mindfulness, focus, intelligence, creativity, and physical skill over brute force. Plus, soccer follows yoga’s philosophy of Ahimsa—no pushing, pulling, kicking, or tripping is allowed; you bite, you get kicked out of the World Cup. Also not unlike asana, it’s simply a beautiful sport.

Sure, soccer also has a shadow side—gender inequality, the theatrics of faking injuries, nationalism, and racism among the most obvious. But its brand of sportsmanship and competition is something I think we as yogis can identify with and even learn from. I’m frequently touched by the behavior between teams at the end of a game. Case in point, last week’s World Cup match between Brazil and Columbia when two Brazilian players embraced and held tight a Columbian player who was inconsolable with defeat. It was a stunning moment of beauty and a glimpse into the wider metaphor: Yes, winning and losing are a part life, but our ability to know the pain and the joy of the other as our own is what unifies us at the end of the day.

No matter who wins or loses, our human connection remains. For a moment in these complex times, the World Cup brings us all together—in spontaneous communitas in cafes, pubs and living rooms yelling like maniacs at the television, dancing and celebrating a well-kicked GOOOAALLL—united in the love for this sport. This is something to be celebrated. Namaste!

World Cup Yoga Sequence

Whether you’re an athlete or spectator, the following sequence is ideal for warming up to get your World Cup freak on!

1. Supine Core Strengthener
Benefit: Core strengthening
Lie on your back and lift both legs up to 90 degrees, arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing up. Place a block or ball on top of feet. Press down through lower belly, while presssing up through heels and keeping back ribs and lower back on floor. Bend elbows to 90 degrees and slide shoulder blades down away from ears. Keep back ribs and lower back on floor. Take 15 breaths with both legs up. Then extend one leg to 2 inches above floor and take 15 breaths with one leg up balancing the block or ball on foot. Repeat on opposite side.

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2. Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Benefits: Opens shoulders, hamstrings, calves, Achilles heels; decompresses lower back
Come on to hands and knees. Place palms slightly in front of shoulders, shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart. Root down through palms and heels, while lengthening spine toward the sky and reaching through sitting bones. Allow your awareness to settle, relaxing your attention on the sensation of opening in the shoulders, torso and backs of the legs. Stay for 20 breaths.

downward-facing dog pose

3. High (Crescent) Lunge
Benefits: Great for strengthening and warming up the core, back extensors, legs 
Step one foot forward and bend front leg to a right angle, aligning knee over ankle. Lift up through the lower belly to lengthen the torso, lifting weight out of the front hip. Extend a line of energy from pelvic floor to front knee and back heel simultaneously, as you drop the front sitting bone and lift the back thigh. Stay for 15 breaths per side.

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4. Twisting Low Lunge
Benefits: Creates space in thoracic spine; stretches back extensors, ilia-psoas, thighs
Starting on hands and knees, step one foot between hands. Lower back knee to floor (use padding if you need), aligning front knee with hip joint and front ankle. Use lower abdominals to lift weight off of front hip joint, lengthening up through entire torso. On exhale, twist, bringing opposite elbow to outside of front knee, drawing bottom ribs towards inner thigh. Make fist with bottom hand and drape with top to lift out of front hip. Breathe into back ribs. Lengthen spine on inhalations, deepen twists on exhalations. Take 5 breaths each side.

twisting low lunge

5. Chair Pose with Hip Opener
Benefits: Develops balance; strengthens and releases gluteus medius; hip opener; applied core strengthening
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Cross right ankle on top of left knee. Hinge at hips and lower sitting bones. Keep hips and pelvis square to front. Firm and lift from lower belly and lengthen through both sides of torso. Place a block or ball in between your palms and extend your arms up overhead, while keeping shoulder blades on back and shoulders away from ears. Stay for 10 breaths per side.

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6. Pigeon Pose
Benefits: Hip opener; releases and lengthens gluteus medius and ilia-psoas 
Starting on hands and knees, place one foot between hands and lower back knee to floor. Walk front foot toward opposite groin, externally rotating front leg. Direct the center of the back thigh onto or pointing toward floor. Keep pelvis neutral. Extend crown of head and back foot away from each other and breathe deeply. Bring awareness into the sensation of opening in the hip of the bent leg. Stay for 20 breaths per side.

pigeon pose

7. Seated Forward Bend
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and back muscles; relaxes and focuses attention inward
Sit with legs extended forward. Move sitting bones back so weight of torso falls to front of sitting bones, not back. Extend and lengthen spine and fold forward hinging at hips. Use a block or ball to support forehead. Stay for 20 breaths.

seated forward bend

Micheline Berry is an urban yogini, multi-media artist and avid soccer fan. Her work catalyzes life art through a cohesive fusion of Liquid Asana™ vinyasa flow yoga, world music, somatic + fine arts, and meditation. She has a passion for connecting mindfulness practices with art and culture. Based at Exhale in Venice, Calif., Berry leads Liquid Asana™ Teacher Trainings and Yoga + Art Retreats internationally. 

Photography by Robert Sturman

Model: Brazilian yogini Mel Cordeiro 

Test Your Mat Savvy: 5 Yoga Teachers Pick Their Favorite Mats (One Folds Up Into the Size of a Napkin!)

Buying your first yoga mat? Your 10th? Whether you’re just getting on the mat or looking to replace your tattered but well-loved piece of rubber, our experts agree that’s it all about stickiness, knee support, travel- and eco-friendliness. Below, five of our favorite yogis reveal what they look for in a mat and why—plus, the brands they love.

Kristen Dollard, Yoga Journal’s Brand Director and author of The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks (Without the Stress)

Stickiness is the absolute most important. If you slip, you’ve thrown money out the yogic window. Also travel-ability, because I am always on the go. I throw it, fold it, flip it…but I carry it and I don’t want it unraveling or smacking other people so I tend to go thin. Normally, style is #1 on my list, but when I am in yoga, I’m not there for show. But your mat says a lot about you: Is it uber-eco (I like to make sure my mat didn’t destroy a forest and won’t create carcinogens), hipster, pretty, worn out (that’s how I prefer mine—well-loved!)

Recommended brands: Baron Baptiste let me use his Jade mat in the sweatiest yoga class I ever took. The next day, I bought mine. That was 10 years ago, and I still have it. I’m terrible with attachment…but I’m working on that in yoga!

jade yoga mat

I also own the Manduka PRO original mat. It costs $100, and it’s like brand new. It’s like owning a vintage Porsche. I love it more and more each time I practice.

Manduka PRO

Lauren Imparato, NYC-based yoga teacher and owner of lifestyle company and yoga studio I.AM.YOU.

I look for a mat that is not glossy, of medium thickness, with no rubber smell. Not slippery but not super grippy. A natural feel without endless squish at the bottom.

Recommended brands: I love Jade. It’s standard, durable, easy to clean. Lole just came out with a travel mat I love—it folds up into a tiny square, so it’s ideal for travel and major days of schlep. Light and compact!

lole travel mat

Amy Ippoliti, Boulder-based yoga teacher and co-founder of 90 Monkeys, an online professional development school for yoga teachers

My favorite mats are sticky, like the name “sticky mat” implies! Soft enough to pad the knees and elbows but not so soft you feel like you’re on a piece of foam and start sinking in.

Recommended brand: prAna’s mats are my favorite, because they do all of the above and are made from biodegradable materials and are constructed in an eco-friendly way. Even so, they totally hold up and stand the test of time. With how much time we spend breathing on our mats, I appreciate the toxic-free manufacturing as well. My favorite is the Indigena Natural Yoga mat.

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Masumi Goldman, co-founder of wellness company Two Fit Moms

Goldman, like most of our yogis, looks for a mat that prevents slipping and has just the right thickness.

Recommended brand: I find that my hands slip on most mats, but with the Gaiam Sol Dry Grip mat, I’ve never slipped. I love the thickness of the mat, too. I can practice outdoors and not feel any stones or unevenness in the pavement underneath me. I also love the black-on-black design. It’s visually interesting and beautiful, but not overly feminine. (Note: Gaiam sponsored Two Fit Moms’ recent Yoga FamJam event in NYC.)

gaiam

Rina Jakubowicz, owner of Rina Yoga studios in Miami and presenter at Yoga Journal LIVE!

The mat needs to be thick enough to support my joints when placing them on the floor. In addition, the mat must not be slippery, must be durable and must grip to the floor because this creates a stable environment and foundation for my practice.

Recommended brand: My favorite mat is the Manduka Pro. I have had it for 10 years and it is still in the same stable condition as when I got it. [It is] sustainable and eco-friendly, which is a plus! I use a Manduka carrier with a zipper because I like to enclose my mat for protection from outside elements and from the sun . I also put other things in it like a towel, headband and a water bottle.

–Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman

A Yogi’s Guide to San Diego, Part 3

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Whether you’re a SoCal native or a yoga tourist joining us for Yoga Journal LIVE!, check out this three-part guide to the town’s top stops for yogis. It’s just T-minus 2 days before YJ decamps in San Diego for serious yoga, supplemented by worthy distractions like beachfront dining and discounted on-site shopping (expect 40+ vendors with countless awesome finds!). So we’ve asked three teachers from our partner studios what they love about this yoga town. (Not one of our partners yet? Sign up here.) From nightclubs to a Taoist Sanctuary, San Diego is having its own Zen moment. See it through local yogis’ eyes.

Timothy Schultheis isn’t satisfied with the status quo. Teaching for almost a decade now, the owner of North Park Yoga has a new pet project: leading free yoga classes in the city’s brand new central library later this year. But that’s not all. He’s extending the invitation to blind and deaf students. “I opened my classes up to this population because I firmly believe in making a yoga practice available to people who would otherwise feel left out,” Schultheis says. His class will emphasize giving the non-seeing ample instruction, and when needed, Schultheis, who has years of sign language experience, can also teach in American Sign Language. Find out where this man—with such keenly aware senses—suggests stopping in San Diego to om like the locals.

1. What’s the perfect location to take your practice outdoors?

The mountains in the San Diego area are home to meadows and forests of oak, cedar, and pine, with many places that are ideal for hiking, meditation, and asana practice.

2. Are there any local treatments we shouldn’t miss?

The sensory-deprivation of float therapy at Float Spa San Diego or the famous Chopra Center with its Ayurveda spa, workshops, and retreats.

3. What if we have a day and want to stretch our brains and bodies?

Find a school related to the healing arts including: Pacific College of Oriental MedicineMueller College, and The Natural Healing Institute. And take try complimentary practices of Tai Ji & Qi Gong at the Taoist Sanctuary.

4. Other noteworthy SoCal pastimes?

The farmers’ markets—they’re everywhere!

Want to meet us in San Diego this weekend? Use promo code YJLOCAL to save 20%!

Meagan Dobson

(Images courtesy of Sharon via Flickr (cc), sandiegomarkets.com, and Timothy Schultheis)