Monthly Archives: February 2010

Body Image, Obesity, and Yoga

For years I have struggled with two issues. Separately, they make perfect sense, but when viewed together, they contradict themselves. Let me explain here.

I completely agree that many of us need to learn to love ourselves, accept our flaws, and see beauty in dimensions that aren’t popular with the media. I whole-heartedly feel that society could learn to see hips, pudgy tummies, love handles, not-so-slender legs, and round cheeks as beautiful if we tried hard enough.

But I also know that childhood obesity has tripled in the last thirty years, and that two-thirds of America is overweight or obese (facts found here). And it doesn’t seem like the vital message of “love your body” is very often paired with “and treat it nicely”.

It’s a very fine line we walk here. There is a difference between noticing at age 15 that your hips are wider than your friends’ and noticing at age 25 that you’ve gained thirty pounds in the past year.

In the former, the most healthful choice would be to understand that everyone’s body is different and not berate yourself about your natural body shape.

In the latter, that might very well be the case, too. Maybe you’ve gained weight because you’re pregnant, you were underweight to start with, or you went on medication which made it unavoidable. Or maybe you started a new job and buy your lunch at a drive-thru five times a week now and are having problems finding nutritious meal alternatives. My concern is that as a society, we overlook the difference here.

I worry about both groups. My heart goes out to the people who have poor body image and self-esteem just because they are shaped differently, and are otherwise healthy. I fear for the people who are marching towards the danger zone on the BMI index, all the while maintaining a strong, healthy body image because they see the extra weight as just part of who they are.

I have bounced back and forth between the two groups myself. In the past five years I have made great strides towards positive body image, but it hasn’t been easy. Right now, I’m about 10-15 pounds above the weight I consider “healthy” for my body. It’s easy to use that “I’m beautiful the way I am” idea to justify lots of things, like forgoing exercise and eating too much junk food. “I’m beautiful the way I am”, at least for me, can turn into “I don’t need to worry about my weight”, which is what I call anti-dieting. And it is just not always the case, unfortunately.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2006/december6/gifs/eating.jpgAt other times in my life, it’s been the opposite. I have denied myself food when I was hungry (and not just for an hour), and forced myself to exercise when I needed rest, which stems from the other kind of pressure, the “I need to look like Beyonce” pressure. For an example, check out this website, but brace yourself – it’s painful to look at.

Self-guilt and shame do nothing for either situation. If you shame yourself into losing weight, even when you need to, you will put it all back on eventually. If your diet is only a punishment, you will someday return to your old habits.

This is where I see that yoga hits the nail on the head. “Honor your body” would be a perfect goal for our society – much better than the polarities of “love yourself the way you are” and “you need to look like Beyonce”. In many ways, honoring your body is more difficult than dieting or anti-dieting. It requires body awareness, serious introspection, and analysis of the “am I really hungry or do I just want ice cream” sort. Honoring your body allows for those occasional treats, but also teaches us to feed ourselves what we need, when we need it, and sleep and exercise at a reasonable rate.

So that is my mission to try to trim off these 10-15 pounds. I will count calories, but I will also treat my body with the respect it deserves. I will eat when I am hungry and try to exercise self-control when confronted with food that is ultra-tempting (ice cream and French fries!). And I will let you all know how it’s going. : )

Namaste,
Jamie

Clumsiness and Inner Peace

poppies in our backyard last summer, because we've all probably forgotten about the color green by now

I have always been clumsy. I lack a certain amount of grace and coordination. I whack my shoulders and hips on door frames and my shins on coffee tables, even if they’re in the same place they’ve always been. I’m embarrassed to tell you how old I was when I learned to ride a bike. I don’t have much hand-eye coordination, so I will never be a tennis, bowling, ping-pong, or four square champion.

These things I know and accept about myself.

This is all compounded by the fact that I get distracted easily and often. It’s not that I don’t know the door frame is there, it’s just that my focus is somewhere else – like where I’m walking to or where I’m coming from. In other words: I am not in the present moment.

It’s the same reason it takes me hours to clean my house: I need to vacuum the living room, so I have to pick up all of the dog toys from the floor. Then I find something that needs to be moved to the kitchen. While I’m in the kitchen I notice the recycling needs taken out, so I do that. On my way back through the kitchen, I realize that the counters need to be wiped down, and while I’m already doing that I should probably take care of the dishes too. Before I know it, I’ve spent three hours cleaning and my living room still needs to be vacuumed.

Another similar situation is the pens at my desk at work. I am right-handed, and my jar of pens in on the right side of my desk. But the place where I usually write is on the left side of the desk. I can’t tell you how many times a day I notice that there are five or six pens on the left side of my desk. I pick them up, write, and by the time my hand has set them down on the desk, my mind has already moved on to the next task. I probably spend an hour a month moving handfuls of pens back to the pen jar!

All of this is very different when I’m On the Mat. When I’m focusing on staying in the moment and being aware of my body, I do a pretty good job of it. Nowhere perfect, mind you – I won’t be achieving enlightenment anytime soon – but when I’m trying, it works pretty well. It’s just that as soon as I step off the mat, my mind goes a million miles an hour and it’s very hard for me to concentrate on one thing at a time. This is especially true when I’m hungry, running late, tired, overwhelmed, or when someone is waiting on me.

Sometimes I tell myself I’m hurrying because I’m stressed out, but really I think I’m stressed because I’m hurrying. It’s hard sometimes to stop myself when I’m about to spiral out of control into a big ball of stress and bruised elbows, but I’m learning. I have tried to take some different approaches to carrying yoga with me throughout my day, but conscious breath is the only thing that helps. Focusing in on my breathing allows me to center myself and immediately slows my hurried brain. The trick is remembering to do it in the moment.

What about you, dear readers? How do you keep your inner peace going while you’re off the mat?

Namaste,
Jamie

Plea for feedback : )

Since the New Year, my practice has been all about backbends and inversions. I did just recently start attending a weekly class, but my practice is mainly at home these days, so sometimes I worry I’m lapsing into bad habits. I know there are some seasoned yogis and teachers who occasionally read this blog, so I thought I could take some photos of the more challenging poses (with my hubby’s cooperation!) and put them on here to get input. Thoughts?

Wheel:

Pigeon: (I’ve been a little too scared to reach back and grab that foot, but it only recently started reaching my head)

Bow:

Headstand: (I have worked hard on this one and have seen vast improvement in the past 6 weeks, but still need that wall for now!)

Shoulderstand: (tried this one with the self-timer, so I threw that last one in for your amusement :))

Namaste,
Jamie

They Like me! They Really Like Me!

I started this blog on October 28, 2009, so it is less than four months old – still a baby blog, really. But it has brought me so much joy! Not only is it beneficial to record my yoga journey, but through my blog I have connected with so many amazing, inspirational, and lovely yogis and yoginis. I so look forward every day to checking if they’ve updated – I love hearing all of their opinions and reading all about their own yoga journeys. I have truly found a yoga community of people worldwide, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Tonight, one of my newest blog friends, Namaste_Heather, gave me my first blog award! I am so honored that she chose me as one of the bloggers for the Sunshine Award:

It’s February, and don’t we all need a little extra sunshine in our lives? : )

I am happy to pass the award to the following yoginis, who always light up my life with their posts!

  1. EcoYogini – I really appreciate Eco’s thoughtful and non-judgmental approach to combining yoga with an eco-friendly lifestyle. (This woman lives in Canada and walks 40 minutes to work EACH WAY – yes, in the winter, too – now that is some eco-dedication!)
  2. It’s All Yoga Baby – The subtitle of this excellent blog says it all: “all things yoga & yoga in all things”. Perfect! This blog is tuned in with current culture, yoga-ish and otherwise.
  3. Bab’s Babble – Her babble is not babble at all! Very thoughtful. I have especially enjoyed hearing about her foray into the world of pre-natal yoga lately.
  4. Yoga Spy – Does ahimsa apply to spiders? Excellent questions over in this corner of the blogosphere. She really caught my attention when she compared yoga teachers to Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. Amazing!
  5. Grounding Thru the Sit Bones – Always raising deep questions, especially about yoga and how it pertains to life.
  6. Damn Good Yoga – I love reading about the Misanthropic Yogini and her practice. She is a new friend and I don’t believe I’ve reached out to her in blog-land, so hello and thanks for bringing sunshine into my life. : )
  7. Daily Cup of Yoga – Brian has expressed uncertainty about this blog’s future, but I hope it stays as smashing as it always is! I’ve appreciated the focus on minimalism lately.
  8. The Highs and Lows of a Suburban Yogini – She already received the award from Namaste_Heather, but I have to include her in my top ten. A must-read.
  9. The Joy of Yoga – Emma comes up with a new yoga sequence every day! Always creative, fresh, and inspiring. (Also another double-doozy from Namaste_Heather’s list, what can I say…great minds)
  10. And I don’t know if this is breaking the rules, but I’d like to return the award to Namaste_Heather as well. Because she lights up my life! I love hearing about her family, her yoga, and her life – one time her kitchen cabinet literally fell off the wall. Now, if that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is!

Thank you, fellow bloggers, and I hope the rest of you enjoy the links. There are really some incredible women out there…

Namaste,
Jamie

Yoga in the movies

If I knew nothing of yoga before this weekend, I would believe yoga to be nothing more than an oversexed version of Pilates. Why? Because I went to the movies, twice, to see “Valentine’s Day” and “Couples Retreat”. Both movies included yoga, and both made me cringe.

In the latter, yoga is something that scantily-clad, flirtatious women do outside to impress a macho football star. They weren’t so much doing asanas as just shoving their naked hips in his direction and stretching to show off their bare midriffs.

In the former, a yoga teacher is a total pervy-Fabio-type who can’t – or just doesn’t bother to – discern between a yoga adjustment and a sensual touch, and “spanks” his participants as a form of encouragement (and later drinks with them).

In fact, the most accurate “yoga” moment in either of the movies was in “Valentine’s Day” when the 5th grader’s nanny told him to calm his anxiety by “doing that breathing thing I taught you”, at which point the little boy starts Chandra Bheda, or cooling single nostril breathing (through his left nostril, opening the passive side of the body).

What do you think about the way Hollywood illustrates yoga? Is it enough to make you shudder, or am I taking it too seriously? Surely people realize that’s not what yoga is like, just like the movie is not what life is like, right? Right?

Namaste,
Jamie

Teaching troubles, or how Les Mills is taking over the world.

I have resisted blogging about this for a while – mainly because I want my blog to be a positive space, and this is kind of a negative topic. But it’s been frustrating me, and I think it’s time to ask my blog friends for some advice : )

I decided at the end of July 2009 to register for Level 1 teacher training. So I spent the month of August contacting every gym and fitness center in town, asking if they’d have any yoga positions open in the fall of 2009. I sent lots of emails and made lots of phone calls, and I found two gyms that seemed pretty excited about me teaching, as well as a couple of “maybes”.

My Level 1 training was at the end of October, so about midway through that month I got back in touch with everyone who seemed interested. This time, I got some lukewarm responses and went in for an interview at one gym.

By the time I got back from my training I was doing my community service teaching, which took me through the beginning of December. During that time, I focused my efforts on the two gyms I thought were my best bets, and working with my local parks and rec department to get something going.

It’s now early February, which means I have been working on starting a class for more than 6 months. Both gyms that thought they’d have a class for me have fallen through. There are lots of gyms in town that used to offer yoga but are now replacing it with BodyFlow. The more I talk to group fitness directors, the more it seems that Les Mills and similar programs are taking over the world. My local parks and rec department is very willing to promote a yoga class with me, but we are both at a loss about where to hold it.

It seems so easy – all I need is a few feet of open floor and some willing participants – but the logistics have proven to be somewhat of a nightmare. Finding a rent-free space hasn’t been as simple as I thought, and none of the gyms are hiring at the moment. On a whim, I posted my information on an internet board at work, just to see what happened.

In the past month, I have been contacted by two women, one in my town and one in Bloomington, where I work, who are interested in organizing informal classes. These would be classes consisting of their friends, held at their homes, in church basements, free community center space, etc. I am thrilled about the possibility, and really hope it will work out. I’m hoping this is the way to finally get some teaching going. But I have to admit, I wish this process were moving a bit faster.

Is this a pretty typical experience? There were 12 people in my Level 2 last month, and I was one of two who didn’t currently teach a class. Is it just that this community isn’t very yoga-friendly? Bloomington-Normal has a combined population of over 125,000 people, and one yoga studio. What’s the deal with that?

Thanks in advance for what I know will be thoughtful advice and encouragement, and keep your fingers crossed that these two possibilities work out!!

Namaste,
Jamie

Re-defining yoga

18 hours, 45 minutes!

There is a lot of talk out there about what yoga is and is not.

Yoga is not a religion for me, but in a lot of ways the contemporary yoga discourse is very similar to contemporary religious discourse: there’s a lot of “my way is the only way” going on. The good thing about the internet, of course, is that you can choose what you read! : ) And for every blogger or teacher who is adamant that they have defined yoga the “right” way, there are five others who are open-minded, willing to try new things, and are consciously refraining from judgment.

As my dear loyal readers know, in January I challenged myself to practice yoga daily for at least 30 minutes. I think I did a pretty good job.

This experience opened my mind because it not only challenged me to get on my mat, it also challenged me to define yoga differently. My definition now is much broader and forgiving. Before, my practice consisted primarily of vigorous Vinyasa classes – but, believe it or not, there are many times one is just not in the mood for 8 sun salutations! For instance, when it’s Friday evening at 11:30 pm.

So here are my “notes” (so to speak) from the month of January.

Yoga does not necessarily have to

  • include sun salutations
  • include any warrior poses
  • make you sweat

Yoga can be

  • one pose or a hundred poses
  • energizing or calming
  • empowering or humbling
  • spiritual or silly
  • meditating
  • supta baddha konasana for 15 minutes, then child’s pose for 15 minutes

While practicing yoga, you can

  • play music, but only if you want to
  • use nothing, or use lots of props (blankets, straps, blocks, bolsters, dining room chairs)
  • follow the rules or make up your own
  • belly laugh at your laptop when your yogaglo instructor suggests you jump into crow pose from plank
  • sing at the top of your lungs to a Brandi Carlile album – if that is just the kind of day you had
  • let your dog in the room to give you kisses while in savasana

What about you guys? What practices have you had that break the rules and defy conventions?

Namaste,
Jamie

Have you seen this calendar? It cracks me up! My sister got it for me for Christmas.

I also read these books in January! Busy month!