Tonight, I was walking around in downtown Kingston after teaching, ironically, Body Positive Yoga for All at Life Yoga, and running to Staples and I legit got mooed at!
Let me set the scene: I had parked the car in the Wolfe Island Ferry line to hold my spot and then ran-walked a could of blocks to Staples to do a return/exchange for something I need for yoga teacher training first thing tomorrow morning. On my way back to the ferry, I passed by about six million people - rough estimate, but it feels pretty accurate - who were coming and going to and from Buskerfest, Movies in the Square, the Cirque du Soliel show that’s in town, or whatever. Also, for those who don’t live in eastern Ontario, we are in the middle of a record-breaking “extreme heat warning”. This has left us all melting into people blob bubbles on the sidewalks at the mere thought of physical activity in the out of doors. Due somewhat to my desire to escape the searing heat as quickly as possible, but more because I was rushing to catch the ferry, I was moving quick. So quick, in fact, that I *almost* didn’t hear when, as I passed by a group of four or so people in their late teens/early 20s loitering about as they do, one of the people made a long, low, and very distinct mooing sound directed right at my adorable Buddha Pant-clad self. I was probably about ten strides past them on the warpath to the ferry before it even registered and do you know what my natural, unplanned, true to my heart reaction was? I laughed! It was so ridiculous! A “grown” person mooing at a cute af stranger they have never met or spoken to while she just goes about daring to live her life. How dare I? Don’t I know I’m fat? What gives me the right to exist in the world? Don’t I have some lonely, embarrassing crying to do into my gallons of shame ice cream?
In all seriousness, it was at this precise moment that I was reminded just how grateful I am for the hard hard work that I have done (and still do every friggin day). I attribute my past struggles with body image and body positivity and the work that I’ve done working through that karma withy reaction today. I was beyond unfazed. It literally did not even slow me down. My next, and almost just as instant, thought was of some of the people I have met when they first start to practice with me in “Yoga for Bigger Bodied People”. I thought about how broken down and defeated they are from a whole life of snide comments, exclusion, and embarrassment. I thought about how long and how hard they work to build themselves back up over and over again. I know what a hurtful remark like that would have done to people like that and I was sad and disappointed at how cruel and heartless people can be.
What I know that this person is still figuring out is that I am not this body. The ME of me has nothing to do with my weight, height, hair colour, skin colour, or any other characteristic you want to assign to me to differentiate me from my fellow human. The mooer has told me more about who they are in their heart and mind with one syllable than a moment under their gaze as I swept by could have ever told them about me. I laughed because of how much I didn’t give a f*ck what this person sees when they see my body. I have clients who email, call, or message me everyday to tell me about how their lives have been made more full and enjoyable since studying with me. My husband and daughter light up when I come home to them at the end of the day. I feel fulfilled in my work. I have money in the bank. I am loved and I love deeply and generously with loyal conviction. I am proud of myself and feel complete every night when I rest my conscious soundly for a long and undisturbed night of sleep. I don’t need to look in a mirror to know that I am happy. Numbers on a scale (that I don’t own) will not determine my self-worth. I am a person. A heart, a mind, emotions, thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences. I am not my adipose tissue.
Your body is meant to be the safest place for you to live. To live, REALLY live, requires an embodiment that a lot of people who have been traumatized learn to numb. We watch TV, turn on the radio, binge-eat, over-exercise, worry, scroll social media, become our own victimizers, start fights or make drama, all in an effort to check-out and stay at arms length from our realities. To live, REALLY live, begins by coming home to your body and being present to what is, even when we’re mooed at! For a lot of people, this is so challenging because they have histories of being hurt, embarrassed, shamed, or made to feel unloved, unworthy, and unlovable. We can't be hurt unless we were embodied, so we stay detached. We disconnect from ourselves in a misguided effort to keep ourselves safe, but this is like wrapping your kid in bubblewrap and taping them to a tree because they fell and broke their arm - sure, they'll be safe, but is that any way to life a life? Body neutrality and, in time maybe, body positivity is a practice. It is a dedication to retraining the way the brain thinks. It takes time and opportunity to be experienced in a variety of situations.
If you are still working to find a comfy home in your body, start with finding a safe and cozy physical place - your yoga studio, back deck, bedroom, car, wherever. Somewhere with zero expectations and no judgement where all potential experiences of reality are equally celebrated. Then, find a way to move your body that bring your joy. Flow through asana, dance, or even just find a way to sit comfortably and breathe. Lastly, maybe with a teacher or someone that you trust to support you, begin to show elements of the You of you - maybe a little at first, then more and more - your sense of humour, your opinions, your expression of movement - all of you. Unfiltered. Find or create spaces where you can have the opportunity of being safe in your body, while being embodied and present, and do so as often as possible. Experiences like this will, in time, override/crowd out your memory and slowly change the paradigms you’ve formed about your body and your worth. You have the capacity to move through whatever issues are challenging you and the more you can surround yourself with people who care to see the You of you, the more opportunities you’ll have to be in the body and experience joy and love.
Being in the body is our first step towards healing. It is the key to living a full and intentional life and no amount of mooing is going to take that away from me.
"It's all good". "What is it about me that irritates me when I think about that person"? "Turn your face to the sun and you'll never see the shadows". There's a lot of positivity rhetoric out there, especially in the yoga world. And my goodness it’s hard to stay positive all the time isn’t it? I’m sure that people's lives look like perfection on Instagram, but that's because sorrow doesn’t sell, so a lot of the images that we are inundated with on the daily are constructs of a life put together from moments of joy or celebration. This is not reality. No matter who you are, being human has times when it is messy. It can be chaotic, anxiety provoking, sad, and scary and that feels like a lot to shoulder alone when all we see is perfection. The bank account is precariously balanced, your kids just won a screaming fight with you, you don’t look forward to work tomorrow … or maybe it’s less obvious than all that ... maybe you’ve just been working really effing hard. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a lot and you feel like the candle is burning from both ends. Everyone has their own struggles, their own issues to work through, and sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to, so I want to remind you that it’s okay if you’re not okay. Your feelings and emotions are valid. ALL of them.
It took me a while to learn this simple fact and the perfectionist in me still struggles with it sometimes. When I was going through my daughters adoption process, emotions were high and confusingly contradictory. No amount of pretty captions on Facebook about looking at the cup-half-full could make that go away. Every mundane interaction, meeting, or milestone was met with the weight of all of these built-up, unresolved feelings and I coped by constantly pushing my emotions down because I felt like couldn’t feel them at all - I couldn't open those floodgates - or it may swallow me up. I watched Netflix or slept a whole day away. I retreated so that people wouldn’t ask me questions. I ignored my feelings, but that didn’t mean that they disappeared. They were still there. They never went away. By pushing them away, I just delayed the explosion. In my case, it would come out at inappropriate times, so I found myself overreacting to things I didn’t care that much about, like sobbing uncontrollably through a sad movie or giving my husband the silent treatment because he didn’t thank me for making the bed, or something really silly like that. I didn’t even REALLY care about those things that I had emotionally exploded over - not nearly as much as the REAL issues - but boy did it look like a sink full of dirty dishes was the end of the world for me.
I get that it doesn't take a big upheaval like that to bring out the blues. Even day-to-day things can be overwhelming for some of us sometimes. We have jobs, bills, families, friendships, and relationships, all of which come with their own complexities. Juggling all of these responsibilities takes a lot of physical and emotional energy. We all have our limits and I don’t think that we have a lot of tolerance in our society for boundaries and self-care is definitely not prioritized as equally important to all those other responsibilities. So sometimes we get pushed over the edge of our limits. Sometimes things don’t go our way. Sometimes we are not okay.
Being vulnerable and admitting that we are not okay when we project the opposite (and are surrounded by the opposite) is scary, but it’s honest. Since Isabella’s adoption became (almost) final - it’s a long process, but we’re in the end stages now where it’s just time and paperwork, but there is no risk of losing her - I have been processing the emotions that built up over the last 18 months. It wasn’t until after I started to do so that I felt more like myself - less anxious, less tired, less on edge. The fastest way to move forward is to move through, as hard as that can seem sometimes. Feeling the emotions you’re feeling is the only way to let them run their course.
I’m not a psychologist or a counsellor, but I know that it’s okay to feel negative emotions; those negative emotions balance out our positive ones. As much as you may feel like you're the only one who struggles in your relationship, to balance your responsibilities, to achieve your goals, you're not alone. Stepping out of the shadows of shame to declare your not okay-ness can also give other people permission to talk about their struggles too. Very quickly you'll see that you're not alone.
It’s okay to be different; it’s okay to feel things. It’s okay to want to cry, to be angry, to feel negative emotions. That was something that I don’t remember hearing much growing up and something I try to instil in my own daughter now, even though she doesn’t really understand at 18-months, but I think it goes in. When you close the baby gate and she can’t climb the stairs (dangerously) by herself, she has her temper tantrum and I let her. I hold space for her expression and say things like, “I know. It’s disappointing when we can’t do things we want to do, but it’s my job to keep you safe. You can express your feelings about it as long as you need to though” and I wait for her to finish - usually seconds later. It’s so easy. It came to me so naturally. I didn't read any books that told me to say those things. With my daughter, it was second nature for me to allow her to express even if her feelings didn’t make sense to me. If she falls and isn’t really hurt but starts to cry, I don’t tell her “You’re okay! You’re okay!” or exclaim in excitement to distract her from her feelings. She is expressing her experience - it scared her, or hurt her and I can’t tell, or even just got in the way of her getting from Point A to Point B - I don't know, but I give her all the time and permission to express that she needs.
Why can't we do that for one another?
Experiencing the full spectrum of emotions and feelings doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. It’s okay not to be okay. If you start crying, I promise you you’ll stop eventually. It might seem scary because it’s the Devil you don’t know, but the only way out is through. It sucks. It’s inconvenient. It might be painful or scary. You don't even have to understand what you’re feeling and have a map for how to move past it, but the first step to regaining equilibrium is admitting that you’ve been thrown off. If all Is well for you right now, amazing! And if you’re not okay, that’s good information (all my YTTers are rolling their eyes at me and my “good information” right now).
Whenever you need, seek out the support of people who love you or pay for professional support. Treat yourself like you would treat your child. Give yourself as much time as you need to feel what you’re feeling and re-balance on your own terms. Rest, recharge, and reset. You are as entitled to relish in bleakness as you are in joy. All of your emotions are important and valid - even the ones that don’t photograph well on Instagram.
Take care of yourself the best way you know how. You know what you need better than anyone else. I will hold space for all the pieces of you and you can do the same for me.
Hi there. Remember me? It’s been a while.
So much has happened since my last blog post and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Nutshell: I spent the month of May in Bermuda teaching my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training, which was unicorns riding mermaids magic! I’m already busy planning to return to my home away from home in St. George’s for a retreat in November, another 200-Hour YTT in February, and a 300-hour YTT with some amazing guest faculty in May of next year, so stay tuned!
I want to apologize for leaving you in silence while I was away. No excuses, but some explanation: When I first landed in Bermuda, I was surprised by the amount of time I didn’t have! It was a marathon teaching nine-hour days, six days a week, while spending early mornings and evenings on ‘Mom-Duty’ and desperately trying to soak up as much of Bermuda as I could. As a result, most of the rest of my life back home (including this blog) was unceremoniously halted. Things have calmed almost back to a normal pace since then (the 100s of emails returned) and, since I last wrote, my dust-collecting blog popped into my head at LEAST a half a dozen times. Funny though, as more time went by it seemed like the breadth of what I needed to write ballooned. Nothing seemed important enough to break the silence that had bubbled up between us and so, I wrote nothing. Somehow that made me feel. Isn’t that the way? We haven’t called that friend or loved one in a while and it gets harder and harder to pick up the phone. We haven’t been to our favourite yoga class in a while and what once was a regular part of our routine that we looked forward now seems like a chore because we first have to show up on the threshold of our shame and own those pieces of ourselves that we try so hard to hide. On some level, I think it’s easier to pretend that part of our lives never existed because to show up means coming face to face with our humanity - we are procrastinators who don’t like change and would prefer to lose an important element to our self-care rather than face a part of ourselves that makes us feel shame. Funny isn’t it?
I’ve come to see that showing our vulnerabilities to another person by writing that blog post, making that call, or going back to that class is actually where real growth happens. So this is me, telling you that this was always important to me even when my overestimation of ability to wear all my hats and run a full-time teacher training, shame for having missed deadline after self-imposed deadline, embarrassment with every passing week, and stress about what I would say in this blog post got in the way of this connection. This is me owning up to my failure. This is me trying again.
Sometimes we just have to dive in. Incomplete, unsure, vulnerable … just as we are … perfectly imperfect people. How much energy do we waste thinking about that unreturned email or that overdue apology? In my experience, once we pull off that bandaid, take that first step, or put ourselves out there everything just gets easier after that. It feels more aligned than hiding.
And, yeah, maybe this isn’t the most life-changing blog post you’ll ever read, but I sent it. I sent it and it isn’t even a Tuesday! Take THAT perfectionism! I am re-commiting to sending you a little piece of my heart over email every Tuesday and posting it online every Friday. It would have been easier to have ignored my blog baby. If I never sent another blog post out ever again, I doubt many would notice and even less would mention it to me, so I could hide my shame. If we don’t talk about it, it never happened. Except it did happen. I am not someone who avoids. I dive right in. I tell you exactly how I feel and I trust that you do the same with me (though, from experience, I know that’s not always what happens, but that’s fodder for another blog post). I hid from all of you at the risk of highlighting this failure, and now I’m here doing just that for one moment before we move on and move up.
I’m so glad we’re back in touch.
This weekend, I spent some time at Queen Street Yoga with an incredibly engaged and interested group of yoga teacher trainees. I was invited there to present on body positivity and speak to my experience teaching yoga for bigger bodied people as part of a larger conversation about inclusivity within the yoga space (and beyond). It is refreshing to me everytime I am called upon to share my expertise about these topics becuase it signals to me a future for yoga that is inclusive and empowering, which is what we all deserve. Also exciting, early Friday morning, I will be flying to Just Breathe Yoga in sunny St. George, Bermuda to teach my entire 200-hour yoga teacher training program! Just Breathe Yoga invited me there because Samantha, the owner, resonated with my approach to the practice and she wants me to spread that love all over her island. What these experiences are reinforcing for me is, more and more, we are realizing that the spaces that we have built, the language that we use, the assumptions that we have, and the actions that we take need to be considered with as many different lenses as possible. Our life experiences, our family history, our social groups, our workplaces, and our inherent priviledges shield us from some realities of experience that we could live our whole lives without considereing. The problem with this sceanario is that people are being left behind. Not just within the yoga space, but with regards to access, education, and many experiences in our communities. If we only allow ourselves to participate in the world from the safety of that which is familiar, we have no need to change our lens. The more time we spend in comfort, the more our beliefs, paradigms, and gaps in understanding are reinforced and, perhaps, the harder they may be to change.
Let me give you an example of how insidious this is: make a list of the ten most influential people in your life … Go ahead … I’ll wait.
Now, make a different list with some descriptions you could use to categorize people. For example: age; race; highest level of education completed (high school, post-secondary school, trade school, etc.); chosen gender identity; marital status; religion; sexual orientation; convictions; family status, etc. Lastly, fill in the second list with the characteristics of each of your top ten as well as for yourself. What did you find? For most people, those who we spend the most time with and/or who are most influential in our lives not only share very similar characteristics, but also are very similar to us.
We don’t know what we don’t know and we really have to try to know what we don’t know. We won’t learn and grow staying safely within the boundaries of our understanding. We need to read about, follow, and visit people and places that are outside of our own understandings. Want to know how you can best support elderly people? Spend some time at your local seniors centre, call your grandma, or strike up a conversation with a septuagenarian sitting by themselves in the restaurant, waiting room, or on the bus that you’re on. Once you’re embedded within this community, close your mouth and open your ears. You never learn anything new if you’re talking. You see, from our current vantage point, we can never see another person’s perspective and our beliefs will rarely be challenged because those around us are informed from the same histories, education, and influences. When faced with a reality that is completely different from our own is not only how we learn to do less harm as we participate in the world, but also what ought to inspire our allyship.
Allies are people who recognize their privilege and take responsibility for changing the patterns of injustice imbedded within our society that resulted in them earning said privilege (for example, able-bodied people who work to end ableism). Being an ally doesn’t mean that you 100% understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It just means that you are taking on this struggle as your own. A marginalized person doesn't have the privilege of casting away their identity through oppression on a whim. It is a weight they carry every single day. An ally understands that this is now a weight that they must also be willing to carry and never put down, though they have the privilege of doing so. This is a powerful voice alongside the voice of marginalized people.
To be an ally means to listen, be aware of limplicit bias, do research and learn about the history of the struggle that you are participating, do the inner work to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems, while doing the outerwork to change those systems, and amplify amplify amplify - you have a voice; use it to share the message of marginalized people and add your voice to the the voices of those who fight without your privilege.
As a fat person facing body shame on the daily, I use the internalized practice of body positivity to participate in a radical global movement that sees the individual right of every single human being to exist and participate in the world and be seen as equal to every other human being regardless of their size or any other characteristic society may choose to label them with. Uncover your own oppression and participate in movements that are working to end this discrimination as a marginalized person. Then, use the same thinking and actions to become an ally with other groups who are struggling against oppression. Is it easy? No. Change never is. Is it necessary? Absolutely. We deserve it.
As Nelson Mandela once said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who are learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future”
After spending all weekend teaching a yoga teacher training module about Restorative Yoga and the importance of balancing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-freeze) with that of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-digest-recover), I was inspired to write this blog post from a conversation I had in the studio with a student. This student and I were reflecting upon how "busy" has become such a meaningless term. Like "fine", "busy" seems to be the empty answer most people will reflexively reply when you ask them how they are doing. Sure, most of us are busy. We are a culture obsessed with multitasking and, more and more, I find people silence deprived. If it isn't music in the car, it's the television in the background or the pings and dings from our devices begging to snap up any free time we find ourselves in. You can't ride public transit or wait in a waiting room without noticing: we are obsessed with busying ourselves. As a result, what do I hear in my profession? "I can't meditate", "I can't sleep" "My mind is too busy". We have trained our sympathetic nervous system so well that it takes an ACTUAL crisis for people to remember the importance of balance. It's only when you really can't get out of that fight-flight-freeze state that you crave the balance that comes with rest-digest-recover. Compounding the issue as well are those around us. In our homes and especially in our workplaces, if you aren't busy, you're not pulling your weight. Tell someone you were in the office all weekend trying to finalize a big deal and they'll idealize your work ethic and tenacity. Tell them you spent the weekend at a mediation retreat (a very difficult emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental process) and the reply is much different ("Must be nice!).
Now, don't get it twisted. Yes, I am a yoga teacher, which is an incredibly magical career, but I don't spend my days meditating and making smoothies okay? I understand busy very very intimately. I am a business owner, Mom to a 16 month-old, wife getting ready to spend a month teaching in Bermuda (with the baby) while running a yoga teacher training program, creating content for my online course and classes for Yogasteya and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, writing these blogs, supporting my online clients, planning a summer YTT, and making some time to sleep and shower. I. understand. busy. I have always had a lot of balls in the air at one time. I like to keep my mind rolling in creative ideas and fun projects. I have a million on the back burner waiting for my physical form to catch up. When I was in University, I was introduced to the idea that stress is a choice and it was so empowering. I could be "stressed" or I could be "capable, but busy" or "working at max capacity". In my post-grad years, my attention then shifted from being "busy" to being "productive" and my mindset changed from frazzled and out-of-control to awake, alive, and able. That paradigm shift allowed me to get back behind the wheel of my time. We are pulled by dozens of priorities every day and it's unreasonable to think that we'll be able to give 100% to all of them all of the time and that's okay! That's why we're humans and not cyborgs. I say it all the time, but I promise you that you're not going to come to the end of your life and say, "Gosh, you know, I am so glad I spent that time emptying out my email Inbox". We don't care about that stuff, we care about people and we only connect with people in a meaningful way when we create spaces in our lives with which to do so.
You can take intentional steps to break out of this ugly cycle of "busy" (to unbusy yourself). Here are a few to consider:
1. Realize that being busy is a choice. It is a decision we make. We are never forced into a lifestyle of busyness. The first, and most important, step to becoming less busy is to simply realize that our schedules are determined by us. We do have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to live busy lives. If, like me, you have a very abundant calendar, consider changing your language from "busy" to "productive". Without that full calendar, I don't feed my family, so I want to stay productive! What I don't want is all the loss of control that seems to follow when one is stuck in the cycle of business.
2. Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it is actually a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy!
3. Appreciate and schedule rest. One of the reasons many of us keep busy schedules is we fail to recognize the value of rest. Start small, set aside one waking hour per day for rest and family. Intentionally schedule it on your calendar. Then, work up to a full day and guard this rest day like gold!
4. Revisit your priorities. Become more intentional with your priorities and pursuits in life. Determine what are the most significant contributions you can offer. Then, schedule your time around those first. Busyness is, at its core, about misplaced priorities. Download an app like In Moment and see how much time you spend on social media and even limit that time through the app. One of my favourite prioritization tools is my "Big 3". I've talked about this tons already, but, essentially, this is a list of three things that I must handle today for my day to be complete. As a creative entrepreneur, I have a growing list of ideas and inspirations along with good ole' To Dos. To try to keep myself on task, I take three of those tasks each day and, relentlessly, focus on their completion. This has become a great tool both to keep me focused on one job but also to draw a line between when my kitchen table is a desk and when it's back to the table.
5. Own fewer possessions. One of the biggest lessons popularized from the smash hit book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (that I'd already known for years - humblebrag) is that the things we own take up far more time and mental energy than we realize. They need to be cleaned, organized, and maintained. And the more we own, the more time is required. Own less stuff. Take a page from my book and intentionally live in a tiny house so that you don't have room to take on stuff. Do you know what's more valuable than things? Time!
6. Prioritize space in your daily routine. Take time to go for a walk over lunch. Find space in your morning to sit quietly before starting your day. Invest in a yoga practice. Find opportunity for breaks at work in between projects. Drive in your car without turning on the radio or music. Even notice the little pause between your breaths. Try it now: inhale. Exhale. Now notice the pause before inhaling again. There's possibility in space. Space is where our creativity thrives. It's where we connect to ourselves and each other. Begin cultivating little moments of space in your otherwise busy day and see how the brain starts to change.
7. Practice “no". Recognize the inherent value in the word “no.” Learning to say “no” to less important commitments opens your life to pursue the most important.
Busy does not need to define you. Unbusy is possible. It’s okay to be happy with a calm life. And, honestly, considering the chaos and uncertainty of our political and social climate, doesn’t calmness sound pretty wonderful?
I wrote this piece a few years ago and, just yesterday, it showed up on my personal newsfeed. It still hits me right in the feels, so I was inspired to share it with all of you.
As a yoga studio owner and instructor, I am always seeking knowledge. I often look in yoga-based magazines, books and online resources to deepen my personal practice and, by extension, what I offer as a teacher. This never ending search has lead me to some of the most incredible discoveries of my life, but it has also lead me to witness a presentation of yoga as a trend; a branded yoga, a sexy yoga, a fashionable yoga, a yoga for "losing those stubborn 10 lbs. FAST!". It sometimes shouts right in my face that I do not belong because I do not look like a 'yogi'.
This is not the yoga that I know. This is not the yoga that fills me with light or the yoga that I crawl to on my knees in desperation. My yoga can't be 'selfied'. It is not owned by a corporation. It is not better than or worse than. It is me ... in this moment. My yoga is unbiased, without expectation, judgement-free. She enables me to live fully and love deeply. To be as grounded in the ebb as I am in the flow.
Once, a long time ago, I forgot who my yoga was. I lost her in the rush of my day-to-day life. You see, my yoga is not always blissful. She can be tortuous, unrelenting, ugly, and uncomfortable. It was easier to be busy than accountable to the steady beat of my own heart telling me to do the work and to keep me on my path. I missed my yoga at first, but it was much easier to get swallowed up by the hypnotic siren virus that is 'busyness'.
Then, one day, I took myself deep into nature. I cut off from technology and creature comforts and I had nothing to busy myself with. There, in a pre-dawn darkness that was so deep, it swallowed and filled me all at once, I was silent enough to hear her softly calling to me. I dove into the blackness. Alone and draped in nothing but the night, I found my yoga again. There was no one to there tell me that this body wasn't right, didn't fit or wasn't beautiful. I could not see with eyes that polarize and judge. I could only feel my yoga. I saw my truest self without vision. I knew her. I was her.
I became overwhelmed with gratitude for this body for bringing my yoga to me. This body a full-fledged bootylicious miracle! This is the body that my parents, the two people I love most in the world, created. These chubby legs ran after my brothers (and, yes, my thighs touched with every stride). These sausage fingers helped deliver a fucking baby! This is the abundant body that the man of my dreams fell in love with. The round face that my community resonates with. The flabby arms that embrace my baby girl every day. Each time I come to my mat and move this body, I am reminded of just how grateful I am.
Your yoga is waiting for you even if you never step foot on a yoga mat your whole life. You are her. She's in there. One day, you will meet her, you will know her, you will love her and you will never be able to live without her ever again.
Last Tuesday, I had written a blog to send to you all about how time is our shared currency (and most of us are running low) with some time management misconceptions that I've discovered and some ways to avoid unproductive booby traps. It was great. You'll see (I'll send it this week). Then, the phone rang and on the other end was the best news that I have ever received: our daughter (up until that point, our "foster daughter") was now a Crown Ward. From that point on, I couldn't consider doing very much else other than hold my daughter, play with her, cry a lot (tears of joy), and spend every waking moment with her and my husband, family, and closest friends. While I did keep working a little later in the week, it just felt odd to send out the blog post I had planned instead of this story with all of you - my closest followers and friends. It felt so impersonal and not at all authentic to what was actually happening in my life. So, while this blog post may not help you deepen your practice, I feel like I would almost be lying to you if I didn't share this story with you. The whole story - from the moment I met my daughter to the moment she became my daughter.
You have already read a little bit about this journey in my blog post entitled How my practice has supported me in my first year as a Mom; however, I was purposefully vague when discussing our situation because, up until this past Tuesday, we were still just fostering this baby, our foster daughter. Legally, someone else's child. Long before this though, my husband and I went through a tedious process to become approved to adopt a child through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (CAS). This included baby proofing every corner of our home, undergoing nearly a dozen interviews lasting two to four hours each, and completing a 12-week course about fostering and adoption. We were approved in March, 2014 and waited for almost three years before we received a call that the baby we had been waiting for was expected to be born late December 2016. On December 19, I got a call that she was born (a week early) and, with five days between finding out about her existence and this call, we brought her home on December 20, 2016.
If you're not familiar with the current process to foster/adopt, if a child under two is apprehended from their birth parents, they are placed in a home like ours: a "foster-with-a-view" home. Here, the foster parents who are caring for the children will also be the ones to adopt them should their biological parents be unable to regain custody. In the old way, children first went to foster homes - a transient home where people knowingly care for other people's children in the short-term. Then, once the legalities were sorted out, the child was returned back to their birth parents or was moved once again to the forever family. This new system means more stability for children, as they may be in their forever homes from day one or, at the least, limit the number of moves they experience. But, for foster-with-a-view parents like us, the risk of children being returned to their birth families is quite high. CAS works very hard to help birth families get the skills or support they need to keep their family together as this is the best outcome for the child. They even favour kin placements with neighbours, family friends, and biological family members over foster-with-a-view parents. For these, and many, reasons, we knew that this perfect little angel was precariously placed in our arms, to say the least.
On December 20, 2016, I followed the local CAS worker into the locked hospital ward with my husband beside me. Winding through what seemed like an endless stream of bassinets and incubators, I eagerly looked from one to the next, looking for a familiar face, though I had never seen the baby before. Finally, we turned a corner and the CAS worker stopped, turning to me as if presenting the room ahead. In that room there were two bassinets, with two tiny bundles inside them. I looked from one to the next, then back to the CAS worker, asking which one she was. She gestured to my left and my feet lifted off the floor. I floated across the room and lifted the lightest bundle of baby into my arms and that was it. In that moment, I became her mother. More, I realized that I had been her mother since time began. I had been missing this piece of myself that I had now found. She and I had meant to find each other. I felt it in my bones. It was written in the stars.
The 15 months that followed were some of the most joyous and the most trying of my entire life. Of course, I went though the same adjustments that all mothers manage. As well, there were supervised visits with her birth parents for two hours a day, three days a week, court dates, home visits, and so so so much documentation and paperwork. Hardest of all, there were moments of intense fear that I would have to say goodbye to the second half of my heart. All of that came to a head at 5:19 p.m. this past Tuesday, when the news we had been waiting for, hoping for, praying for, finally came.
To be honest, I have been healing some deep seated trauma this past week. Trauma from back in 2005 when I was told that I could not have children, from waiting and waiting for her, from the past 15 months ... all of it. All of it is in the past though. Here she is. My daughter. Isabella Joy. From the moment I saw her, I was her mother. I was her mother before I ever met her. I grew her in my heart. When I met her, everything in the world made sense. Regardless of who's home she was living in, I was going to be her mother for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, my head has since been in a bit of a fog! I'm still not over it. I'll never be over it. But, the constant stream of company - family and friends who felt compelled to hold her (and me) once they heard the news - has dissipated and my feet are closer to the ground. Tomorrow, Isabella will be back to the routine of daycare and I'll be back in the studio. I'll never lose the magic of this week. I know from experience, it's like being faced with a life-threatening illness, disease, injury, or surgery, and coming out the other side with a new perspective on life. You never forget, it lives in your consciousness forever. It affects how you understand the world forever, but you can also, eventually, ground yourself to a new normal. That and, throughout the last 15 months, amongst all the turmoil, we have been grounded daily by the routines that a baby creates: naps, feedings, diapers, playtime, cuddles, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I have been her mother since before I met her. Since time began and it was written in the stars that we would be together. Since December 20, 2016. Forever and always.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.
This week was a particularly stressful one for me. Not that it wasn't full of joys and balance, but for the most part it was overwhelming and left me feeling out of control. One of the insidious ways that I try to regain control is that I become obsessed with perfectionism. It's this awful cycle: stress and lack of control -> perfectionism -> self-criticism -> anxiety -> loss of confidence -> greater feelings of failure and over and over and over and over.
Frustratingly, perfectionism is almost revered! Mention that you spent the weekend doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the interior of your car, flipping your mattresses, prepping your family's meals for the week, running errands, Spring cleaning the house, and so on and people will ooo and aww over how you manage to "do it all". Mention that you turned off your alarm clock, read a book you've been meaning to finish, went to a yoga class, and spent some time outside this weekend, and people almost shame your commitment to wellness ("Ohhh, that must be niiiice"). As if the latter isn't work at all! What are we to think about the value of these qualities?
Here's the thing about perfectionism though: it does the complete opposite of what you THINK it will do! When I am wearing my perfectionist hat, I have a certain set of unwritten rules or guidelines governing how things should be done, what the results should be and what they should look like. Any deviation – even if the task is completed properly – makes a good job seem like a botched operation. The end result, of course, is that even if something is done right, it’s still fundamentally wrong. This lack of flexibility makes it difficult to switch gears and try new methods – even if a new approach will save time and effort. Making matters worse, as it does, the stress can spread to those around me because I have the unrealistic expectations and a set of rules for governing yourself that make no sense and that I can't even express and yet, somehow, everyone is breaking the topsy turvy rules. It's nonsense. But, don't try to tell me it's nonsense when I am stuck on auto-perfect because I'm bound to burst into tears or punch you in the throat.
It's so confusing though because, when I am stuck in a cycle of perfectionism, I am undoubtedly good at what I do, people LOVE to compliment perfectionism, but this leads to a cycle of self-limitation. If there’s one thing I fear the most when I'm off balance in this way, it’s making mistakes. I already feel out-of-control and making mistakes can feel like a lack of control. That's just one way to look at mistakes though. You can’t learn how to do something without getting it wrong! I think of my daughter falling about a MILLION times as she was learning to walk. First she moved her arms and legs, then rolled, then crawled, all on her journey towards walking and falling falling falling again for over a year without ever giving up and without losing her enthusiasm for trying either. Not only are mistakes a normal part of our development, but they also often lead to new discoveries. If Alexander Fleming had been perfectionist enough to keep his lab clean, we wouldn’t have penicillin!
The place that I try to relax my perfectionist grip the most is when I am acting as Studio Director at Life Yoga. Any leader will tell you that it's a tough role as you try to strike a balance between being professional without becoming too friendly. The best leaders set realistic expectations and give their team a certain degree of autonomy. Perfectionist bosses? Not so much. Anyone who’s dealt with a perfectionist leader no doubt will complain about micromanagement, excessive expectations, and a low tolerance for mistakes. If you’re in a position of leadership – however small – keep in mind that your perfectionist tendencies (if any) will achieve the exact opposite of what you hope to get.
I am most sensitive to this tendency towards perfectionism now that I am a Mom. I read in Psychology Today, that perfectionists are built, not born. Parents with high expectations – be it academic, social or organizational – often put that strain on their children, leading to a continuous cycle. And while these individuals mean well, they’re setting their kids up for what could be a lifestyle of stress, self-doubt, and poor health. I want to teach my daughter to care about her academic work and practice good habits like cleaning up after herself but, I don't want her to model my perfectionist imbalances as everyday ways of being. She is ageing me so much already - it's hilarious usually - and it makes me hyperaware of what I am saying without saying a word.
When I realize that my perfectionist tendencies are swinging to the side of unhealthy obsession, I do what I always to to connect me back to the truer parts of myself: I practice. Sure enough the further I get from my mat, the more concerned I become with everything being just so. When I take a few minutes to meditate, I remember the truth of things, I see the bigger picture, and I can take the time to deal with feelings of stress and lack of control in a healthy way.
Inspired by my friends at The Yoga and Body Image Coalition and their sincere efforts throughout National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I felt compelled to share this short piece with you. I wrote it as a guided mindfulness practice directing love to oneself for Valentine's Day this year. Below, you will find a link to an audio file version of this guided meditation that you can listen to should you lose sight of the inherent miracle that you are.
My intention in sharing these resources is to help raise awareness about the serious nature of eating disorders and to help direct those affected to receive the help they need and deserve.
Thank you to my eyes for the ability to see the beauty that is all around me: the sun; the trees; a smile on a friendly face. Thank you for seeing our shared humanity - from my windows to another's. Thank you, eyes, for my highest vision. Thank you for your belief in the dreams that you house and your glimpse into things unseen.
Thank you to my ears for your willingness to stay open to all experiences. I can close my eyes or mute my voice, but you, ears, stay present without reservation. Thank you for reminding me that all expressions are equally worthy of my attention. Thank you for your example of undiscriminating observation.
Thank you to my voice for acting as the bridge between my mind, my heart, my vision, and the rest of the world. Thank you for your bravery, even if you sometimes shake. Thank you for the words - sung, spoken, whispered, or written - that empower and elevate. Thank you for your direct line to my expression of Self and for the secrets that we share that you communicate discerningly.
Thank you to my heart for keeping me honest. Thank you for aligning me with my sense of wonder and joy. Thank you for housing the experiences for which there are no words. Thank you, heart, for your vulnerability; for teaching me about hope. Mostly, soft heart, thank you for blossoming without reservation and for radiating your gifts despite adversity, fear, and efforts to dull your shine.
Thank you to my hands for allowing me to share generously and accept what I need with gratitude. Thank you for your acts of love, compassion, and connection when words cannot express. Thank you for your guidance and protection. Thank you, hands, for teaching me when to extend and when to withdraw.
Thank you to my feet for allowing me to stand present in this moment; for your support and for your steady rhythm. Thank you for the wisdom to guide me on my path.
Thank you to my body for humbling me; for being the home within which I reside and the vehicle that allows me to share with and experience the world. Thank you for teaching me about cause and effect, growth and loss, attachment and trust. Thank you, body, for your daily reminders of my limitless potential and your willingness to adapt.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This week, I was thrilled to host my first monthly Yoga Teacher TuneUp call via Google Hangout. As part of my "Wonder • Learn • Integrate • Share" model of teaching, these calls are designed to get people thinking about the tools we can synthesize to create experiences that are compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering. This first discussion was all about language. Maybe more than any other tool that we have, language has the unique ability to strengthen or weaken each of the four pillars of our practice (compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering). I was so thrilled to have so many heart-centred, responsible teachers join me on the call.
Those who know me or have studied with me (or read this blog) know that I am very particular about language on and off the mat. It’s super subtle sometimes, but the way that we use language has the potential to empower or demoralize and injects energy into - or draws from - our purpose. When we discuss language in the studio or gym setting, we could talk about supporting different types of learning styles with our choice of words, the volume of our voice, creating biographies and class descriptions, etc. This conversation can evolve and branch out in tons of interesting directions; however, in the interest of time, this call was really just focused on vocabulary choices while you're teaching in a studio space or gym.
We are so fortunate to be witnessing an ongoing growth, expansion, and diversification of our communities to include the full spectrum of the human experience: whether it be by age, race, body size, ability, gender identity, and so on. So, as yoga teachers, we need to constantly be asking ourselves "How can we teach in a way that includes and resonates with everyone at once?" For me, this translates to: how can we, as teachers, connect to our compassionate hart, bolster our understanding through education, be mindful with our words, and empower through our practice. This starts with cultivating a sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms that are unlike your own.
So how do we do that?
Let me first paint a picture for you: I often see teachers advertising their classes as "Yoga for EveryBODY". While I believe that many studios intend to be inclusive and accessible, the reality is that a safe container conducive to learning and transformation doesn't manifest from good intentions alone. Take a look at these yoga studios' websites ... oftentimes, all the images are of thin, white, flexible women. All are well-dressed with perfectly coifed hair in branded yoga clothing and matching accessories. Then, when you arrive at the studio, it's on the second story of a building with no elevator access. The yoga mats are two inches from one another and there is nary a block or strap in sight. When you are represented in the photos you see, your able-body allows you to climb the flight of stairs no problem, and your strength and flexibility allows for you to access most asana unassisted, it's easy to feel like this space is welcoming because it's welcoming to you. Can we really say that this class is for everyBODY?
When yoga teachers/studios want to be sure that they are not just paying lip service to accessibility, they can start off by reading up on conversations about inclusivity in other contexts. You see, yoga may only just be on the verge of accessibility, but conversations about diversity have been going on beyond the yoga studio for decades now. Think about the corporate world, academia, the tech world, and so on. How did these communities tackle the questions that you may have about accessibility?
There are also incredibly positive examples in the yoga world that we can align ourselves with. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition, the Yoga Service Council, and Accessible Yoga are just a few. Seek out these leaders. Like and Follow them and the people/groups that they feature. Integrate their best practices and be sure to post on your own social media images and representations of the practice that embody the full spectrum of life.
Examine and acknowledge your privilege and power with compassion. If we want to talk about yoga as a tool in social change and whether all bodies are welcome, we need to understand how our privilege grants us access to the practice and the studios with which we practice. It is important to recognize your privilege in order to recognize those who do not have the same privileges as you.
If you look outside of your own experiences and want to reach out to discover and support the needs of people who aren’t like yourself, it is necessary that you collaborate with the communities that you wish to serve. Volunteer and listen to their stories so that you can cultivate sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms. Get real about conscious/unconscious assumptions that you may make with the desire to overcome them and learn to work with this community in a way that doesn't inadvertently offend, demoralize, dismiss, or exclude.
Lastly, when we're embodying progressiveness, we have to be willing to change the way we think about things (including ourselves). Be humble. Admit when you made a mistake or misunderstand something. Seek to know better and do better and consider everything as an opportunity for learning. Take it to heart, but don't take it personally.