‘Yoga Bodies’ Aren’t a Thing, People

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“I would never take a yoga class form a teacher who didn’t look fit.”

Yesterday, I was getting my hair blown out in my town’s busy salon when I overheard a woman say this to her stylist. The stylist herself is fit and “tight.” She is overall a lean and well-muscled woman and she intended it as a compliment. The speaker had no idea that I was a teacher or even that I was eavesdropping at all.

It blew my mind.

I don’t mean to say I am naive. I see the women on Instagram who are super skinny and 21 who can do handstands and backflips and I think: Wow, that’s amazing. I see them talk about their vegan diets and I think: Cool, me too! But I don’t feel inferior. I never have.

Which is why I didn’t take that comment personally at all. I have a yoga body because I do yoga every day.  I also have curves. I have an hourglass shape and while I am still almost always a small size in clothing (and a size 4 in dresses), I am probably somewhere in the middle in terms of “size” when it comes to the places I teach. Some teachers are smaller. Some are not. And I can honestly say until I was sitting in that chair, I hadn’t thought about it once.

Why would I?

I grew up with a mother who taught yoga. My mother was built a little like me (I am probably a little bustier). She never died her hair. She didn’t shave her legs or her armpits. She wore big glasses and old Birkenstocks. She was my first teacher and all of her yogi friends looked like her.

This was long before Lululemon. And Instagram. And ads for yoga classes that pop up on my Facebook feed. But even so: The big name yogis aren’t skinny. They just aren’t. Kathryn Budig is a beautiful, sexy, voluptuous goddess. She is one of the most well-known yoga teachers working today. And what makes her a good teacher isn’t her six-pack. It’s her soul. It’s her bravery. It’s her passion for yoga. Not the aesthetics. But the breath. The dharma. The deeper meaning.

I work in two different places. One is a smaller studio and the other is a gym. It’s a large gym with every amenity and a beautiful yoga studio and plenty of “real” yogis teaching the classes. But I have also been in classes where older women stare wistfully at one of our younger, thinner instructors and tell her they wish they looked like her. That sentiment makes me sad. But it also makes me uncomfortable. Because then they look to me.

And the truth is, I don’t wish I looked like someone else.

I love my body. I love all that it can do. I love that I birthed three babies and ran two sub-4 marathons. I love that I have run countless half marathons under 1:45 and had a lot of really good sex with my husband. I love that my husband loves my body. I stopped looking at my body the way women look at bodies a long time ago and started trying to see my body the way a man might. And it made all the difference.

The fact that I even have to justify this is so very sad. And so very beyond the point of yoga.

There are countless amazing yoga instructors who are not skinny. Jessamyn Stanley is perhaps the most well known, but there are many women like her, reinventing the idea of what it means to have a “yoga body.” But is it really reinvention? Or is the myth of the skinny, blond white woman the real reinvention?

Yoga isn’t fitness. It is breath linked to movement. But it is bigger than that. It is meditation. It is mindfulness. It is ahimsa, the practice of non-violence, both against ourselves and others. It is not becoming attached to silly ideals and ideas that cause us misery. It is calming the fluctuations in the mind so that we can find more peace.

Not one of those things requires a “skinny” body. Not one.

Low self esteem plagues women. We all have our insecure moments. But it makes me sad to see it among yoga teachers. I’ve always had pretty good self esteem. I was born into a family that valued education and I had access to the best schools. I have always had teachers who praised my brain. I have had professional success as a writer. I have always followed my heart when it comes to my career and my work and I have had a bit of luck as well. I went through the “I’m so fat” phase in high school, but I got over it. In high school. Because that’s where it belongs. If anywhere. How can women, especially women who practice yoga, even begin to think about whether or not they are “fat”? It’s so completely beside the point.

I don’t want to become disillusioned by the practice, but I think of my mother and the yoga she practiced and I recognize that modern Western yoga, taught in a gym setting looks very different from the yoga she practiced.

“Her practice was much less physical than yours,” my father told me the last time we were together. And he’s right. It was. She spent a lot of time on the breath. She spent a lot of time meditating. Yes, she stood on her head and yes, she moved through Sun A’s and the Warrior series, but she was a true yogi.

Can we really call it yoga when students stay after to tell a teacher they want to look like her? Truth bomb: When you are 35+ and have had children, you are probably not ever going to look like a 23-year-old childless woman. And what is “fit” anyway? I know what this one woman’s definition is. “Hard body. Slender. A six-pack.” But wow does that miss the entire point of the practice.

As a teacher, all I can do is plant seeds in my students. You are more than this body. You are loved. You are soul. Whether or not they believe me, whether they choose to cultivate the seeds into plants, is their choice.

But I know who I am. I am not sure if I am “fit” enough to teach the woman who sat in the salon next to me. But I hope that if she is ever in my class or if she ever happens upon my book at the library, that she opens her mind enough to recognize what yoga is really about.

Yoga isn’t about tightening the ass. It’s about getting your head out of it. And it seems we have a lot of that head in ass thing going around in the Western yoga community. Let’s do better, people. Let’s be better.

 

 

 

 

 

Lean Into the Discomfort

Discomfort. It is the one thing we try so hard to avoid. We take pills. We make ourselves busy. We drink tequila. We avoid people we don’t like. No one likes feeling out of their comfort zone, away from their home base, scared or alone.

I see it all the time in my yoga classes. The second the muscles start to burn or the sweat starts to drip, they are done. Holding these poses — chaturanga, chair, even warrior 2  — creates a bigger challenge. They get mad. I can hear their grunts and see their eye rolls and it’s like I can read their mind: How long is she going to hold me here? Is this safe? Is she insane? I hate this teacher!

I have had students walk out. I have had them say they can’t take the heat or the long holds or the discomfort one more second. I understand. But I wish they wouldn’t.

Because in the physical practice of yoga, the asana, we lean into the discomfort. Are you sweating? Good. Are you shaking? Better. Do you want to come out of the pose? Perfect. Because in that moment, when your mind and body are fighting you, then the real yoga starts. Then we settle in and use that breath. Then we learn how to wrestle our demons.

It can’t happen emotionally and spiritually if it doesn’t happen physically first. If you can’t confront your discomfort on your mat, you almost certainly won’t be able to do it off your mat.

Discomfort — not injurious pain — is part of our path of growth. We have to shake and sweat and get a little out of breath, both literally and figuratively, if we want to see results and forward momentum. So let’s get a little uncomfortable. Let’s breath into it. Let’s shake. Let’s sweat. Let’s find that forward momentum together.

There is no way out, but through. The people who believe this get those most out of their yoga and their life. I promise. Live it on your mat so you can live it off the mat, too.

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Thoughts on My First Book Contract

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I have been a writer my whole life. Telling stories and keeping journals and notebooks has just always been my way since the time I learned to hold a pen.

I have diaries from the age of 8 that still make me laugh and poems from my high school days that make me cringe. In the fifth grade, I was chosen out of the whole school to represent us at the regional “Young Author’s Conference” where we got to meet a YA author and read our stories aloud to an audience.

I was hooked.

The dream was set early. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to write several books.

After I lost my mother when I was 16 from breast cancer, I wanted to tell that story more than anything. I wanted to talk about grief and yoga, and mother love so deep it can transcend even death. I imagined some day being able to talk about losing my mother in a public way so that I could help other young women who experienced that same traumatic loss.

This was the dream. And this will be that book.

It was a long time coming, though.

From stints at daily papers to a couple of years in academia to years as a stay at home mom, writing has always been my one constant. But I was never sure it would take me where I wanted to go. Becoming a mother derailed my career in some ways. Although it opened new paths for me in terms of essays and writing about parenting, my unwillingness to go into an office (and work full time) stopped me from ascending the editing ladder.

Having one child after the other after the other also sucked some of my creativity. Any mom with little childcare will tell you: children suck the life out of you. All that love and creativity and passion I used for my writing went into my children. I don’t regret it. But it is a fact. As the famous writer (played by Tracy Ullman) said on Girls this past season:”“I am not a mother because childlessness is the natural state of the female author.”

Sometimes the truth hurts. So I accepted that.

I’ve always known that if I had to choose, I’d rather have my family than 1,000 books. But I’d always rather have both. But for many of us, it is a choice. Creativity or motherhood. Pick one.

I have watched other writers publish bestselling books and do some of the things I have wanted to do career wise. I’ve felt that sting of envy. I have felt that sense of competition and like I had to do better and be more and run faster and publish more.

Yoga teaching changed all that.

When I decided to become a yoga teacher three years ago, I didn’t do it because I wanted to teach necessarily. I did it because it was this other passion of mine, one that had been gnawing on my insides for 15 years. I’d wanted to go to yoga teacher training for more than a decade, but I’d always either been too poor, too busy, too pregnant, or too preoccupied with other things. When everything finally lined up, I jumped at the chance. It was a labor of love and something I viewed as a curiosity, a departure from the world of writing and the competition among fellow writers.

I never thought it would be the link that finally gave me the platform to tell the story I’d always wanted to tell.

This envelope the hard copy of my first book contract. 90,000+ words due in mid-October. It is scary. It is exciting. It is what I have been waiting for.

But it is more than a book contract.

It is more than an advance. It is more than the dream of a 16-year-old grieving with a journal and a purple pen. It is more than a young mother’s sense of resignation at choosing between career and baby and more than a yogi deciding to teach just because she wants to share the practice that changed her life.

It’s all of those things and once.

Of course, it’s also pressure.

I have six months to write something that means more to me than anything I have ever written before. I have to dig deep and uncover memories I have spent decades running away from. I have to open myself to the inevitable sadness and grief and anger that comes with picking away at scabs.

Just writing the proposal was exhausting and emotionally taxing. But I am ready.

It doesn’t feel the way I expected it to feel.

There is more fear and awe and pressure than I ever expected to experience upon finally signing a deal. I want this to be good. I want to tell my story (and my mother’s story) accurately and with all the love I felt (and still feel) for her. I want to do it well.

I don’t view this as a career move. I view this as another step in the path of curiosity and love. And maybe that was the reality all along. I can’t make choices out of ambition or envy or a sense of competition. The path of love and of curiosity is always the right one. I don’t know where it will drop me. I don’t know how many forks will be in the road or how winding this path may turn out to be, but I am on this journey with my heart forward. I am open and vulnerable and all those ugly motivators — fear, competition, envy, anger — they are nothing compared to the bliss of knowing I am on my own journey.

Commencing in 3, 2, 1…..

The Parable of the Squirrel (AKA, Compassion Sometimes Sucks)

Yesterday, I saved a squirrel’s life. And the truth is, while I am glad the little baby is going to make it, the process of doing so pretty much ruined my beautifully planned Easter.

My children have just returned from two weeks spent in Ecuador. The day dawned perfect and bright. We had an egg hunt and set up two surprise playdates so both children would get to see their friends. I planned to take an 8-mile run and spend the rest of the day basking in the sun with my family.

The squirrel had other plans. In the last quarter mile of my 8 mile sprint, he crawled off a grassy patch and on to the road in front of me. His left hind leg was swollen so he couldn’t walk. He was crying. And crying. I knew I couldn’t leave him. So I called my husband and told him to bring a box.

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This week my entire focus of class is around Anahata. The heart chakra. It’s all about love. Compassion. Self-care. Empathy. The affirmation for the chakra speaks to nature. To our unity with nature. It’s the only way to open the heart. And yet, I didn’t want to deal with this squirrel. I didn’t want to have him in my path. I wanted to sit in the sun and eat chocolate and drink passionfruit cider.

So why did I have to be the one to find him?

I could have left him. I could have run on by. I posted his photo on social media and asked for help and people were so grateful. They told me how wonderful I was for saving him. But I wasn’t wonderful. I was resentful as hell.

I googled and searched. I called animal control. I knew they would just put him to sleep. I called our vet who said they don’t deal with wildlife, but they have a rescue place that does. In a town 90 minutes away from my home.

I truly debated. What I wanted most of all was for this squirrel to be out of pain. If that meant he was put to sleep, maybe that would be OK. But my husband asked me the question:

“Could you live with yourself if you chose to let him die because you didn’t want to drive three hours?”

I had my answer. I can’t spend the week asking my students to practice self love and self compassion while not having any for this poor little squirrel. So I put him in a box and I got in the car.

Now is the point in the story where I should tell you: I hate squirrels. Honestly, they terrify me. One jumped on me once in a park in Boston and I have harbored a not-so-secret phobia of them ever since. Their fuzzy tails and claws and weird jerky movements fill me with fear and they are ubiquitous in New Jersey. On the drive to Blairstown (the site of the animal rescue)  alone, I saw four dead ones on the side of the road. What was one more?

Also, I eat meat. Why was I willing to drive 80 miles out and back to a town I’d never heard of to save the life of an animal I don’t even like when I would just go home and eat chicken that night?

Sometimes compassion really sucks.

I got to the rescue and was told she could save him. He would live to eat another nut. He will be released into the wild and be free. He will grow a fuzzy tail and probably terrify me if I see him on the street. When I got home, my house was a mess, the laundry undone and the kids resentful of the time I spent away.

Sometimes having compassion sucks. There are no karma points for doing a good deed. It didn’t save me from a potential speeding ticket or from my daughter having a fit that night. It didn’t magically help my son finish his book for the battle of books or mean that the universe owed me any favors.

But I do believe that squirrel was meant to live. Because he crawled in front of a person who couldn’t let him die. Because he crawled in front of me at a time where compassion and care was at the forefront of my mind, when every ache and pain this little being felt was too much for me to bear.

I saved a life. I had compassion. And it was hard. Sometimes doing the right thing ruins your day. Sometimes it means trying to resolve bizarre hypocrisies in your mind. Sometimes it means going out of your way for something you normally try to avoid. You should do it anyway.

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Stay at Home Mom Again (For a Week)

For the first four years after my first two children were born, I was a stay at home mom. I freelanced a bit here and there, publishing essays and the occasional reported piece, but my older two were only in school a couple times a week and both only once they turned three. Therefore, a good majority of our time was spent together.

I knew the music schedule at the library like the back of my hand. I knew all the best sprinkle parks and lunch spots. I had a dozen stay at home mom friends who I met in park for playdates and bitch fests. I remembered to carry diapers always had snacks in my bag. I also couldn’t wait for Rob to get home and night, rarely had any time to myself, and felt incredibly envious of my friends who had bustling careers. I adored (and still adore) my children, but I knew I was missing something that really mattered to me.

And then I went back to work.

I have always straddled a weird line since I haven’t worked in an office full time since my babies were born. I am the one who is home when they come home from school and the one who drives them to their various activities. But I am also rarely around during the day as, between my writing and yoga practice and running and teaching, I almost always have something to do. And my baby went into care from 9-2:30 right at 18 months.

In other words, it’s been a long, long time since those long days of crafting and library story time and walks to and from the park. And the truth is, I hadn’t missed it.

I know this is the part where I am supposed to say how much I loved being a stay at home mom and what a gift it was, but the truth is, I didn’t and it wasn’t. Sure, I am grateful I spent so much time with my babies when they were little, but the truth is, the fulfillment I get from work is so much richer than the kind of I had when I was home with my children.

I know, I must be a horrible human.

So the knowledge that my two oldest children would be in Ecuador over the same two weeks that coincided with toddler’s spring break has been looming over my head for a few months now. I considered enrolling her in “camp.” But I felt guilty. The truth is, my work is very flexible right now. And, much as I’d love to flex my schedule and enjoy my usual amount of personal time, I felt like I ought to try being home with baby girl. Alone. Just me and her.

Today was Day one. And between you and me: I was dreading it. I know, I know. Just revoke my mommy card already.

I woke up to teach my 5:45 AM yoga class and followed that up with an 8 mile run. Then Rob left for work. It was just me and Dar. I emailed a friend: “What do I do with a toddler?”

I decided to take it easy. The weather was beauiful. We walked into town. We played at the park for two hours. We got some lunch and some ice cream and bought two books. We counted the turtles in the park’s pond and smelled every flower on the walk home. She’s currently napping next to me.

My phone was dinging and I felt weird, almost like a babysitter. It was definitely a throwback to a life I’m not interested in returning to any time soon. But it was also a really good day. To have her all to myself. To watch all the things she can do and play. Toddlers are just as hard and exhausting as I remember and I am really looking forward to teaching tonight and attending a meeting with some of my fellow teachers.

But I am also looking forward to tomorrow. And the next 10 days. This staycation alone with my baby girl may end up being exactly what I needed after all. Bring it playdates and naptime and libraries and park time. The next 10 days are a throwback to my early days of motherhood. They say you can’t go back again. But I think I will. At least for a little while.

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