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.