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.
A few years ago, I facilitated a four-day yoga retreat off-the-grid in Northern Ontario. During our opening circle, one of the generous participants shared how she was eager to learn some techniques for staying present. She was a mom to two teenage boys and she was desperate to slow down the hands of time. Teary-eyed, she confessed, “we spent the whole summer together and I can hardly remember it. I’m missing out on my own life”. This was an experience that stuck with me. From that retreat on, I have focused time and energy towards cultivating an awareness of and appreciation for this present moment and it has changed my life. It connects me sincerely to the people around me, it keeps my thoughts focused, and infuses my work with energy. I have been most grateful for these practices in the last 14 months – since we brought our daughter home from the hospital in late December, 2016.
Before I go any further, a little background: my husband and I are in the process of adopting our daughter. We are working with our local Children’s Aid (now called “Family & Children’s Services”, or FACS) as “foster-with-a-view” parents. Without getting too much into detail, the intention of fostering with a view is to place children who have come to be in the care of FACS in what may be their permanent homes as quickly as possible. Prior to this system, children in the custody of FACS were placed in a foster home while birth parents were supported in gaining the skills they need to provide a loving and safe home for their child. If they were not interested or unable to do so, fostered children would then be transitioned to their forever homes, oftentimes months after first being placed in care. As a result, children who are vulnerable to attachment disorders would be taken from the foster families they called home for months and placed with a new family (for at least the third time) whom they were expected to re-attach and form healthy relationships with. In this new system, children under the age of two who come into care are placed with foster-with-a-view families in the hopes that they will only ever make that one move or, if birth parents can create the homes these children need, return to their birth families. FACS calls this "co-planning"; on the one hand, supporting us to raise a healthy and well-adjusted child and, on the other hand, supporting her birth parents to bring her back home ... It's been an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. In our case, this is a process that has drawn out for over a year and the baby we’ve had in our home since she was born won't be officially adopted until her case goes before a judge who will make a ruling one way or the other. Though this hasn't happened yet, I call myself a Mother and she my daughter because, short of carrying her in my womb and birthing her from my body, I have been the only Mom that my daughter has known since her birth. She was born on a Sunday, we got a call to let us know the following day, and, early Tuesday morning, she was in my arms.
Over the course of this year, I have been responsible for caring for my daughter in the same ways that any new Mom does and was tasked with the additional expectation of bringing the baby to scheduled two-hour visits with her biological parents three times per week. Try being anywhere on time as a new parent with a baby, let alone three times per week! Nonetheless, this was what we have had to do as part of the process; however, as she and I became more and more attached, it became increasingly difficult to leave her for the two hour visits. As her nap times shifted with every growth spurt, visits often cut naps short or happen right during her usual naptime. She has never been able to settle well for her birth parents and these visits are supervised by Family & Children’s Services, so she is usually one of many children in a playgroup with a dozen or so other families like ours – not the ideal naptime setup. Needless to say, I often pick up an anxious, tired, and overall unhappy baby who is too young to understand why her Mommy left her there and didn't come back when she cried for her. To make these drop-offs a little more emotionally manageable for both she and I, I always reassured her that, if she needed me to, I’d spend the whole rest of our day holding her (as she often napped twice as long post-visits). I made her that promise getting ready for our first visit when she was just three days old - the first day in our home - and, since then, most visit days, she takes me up on this offer. I have to reconcile this stillness with the productive, multi-task-aholic side of me. But I am reminded of that woman at the retreat all those years ago and I know that this is the most important “To Do” on my list.
While you may not be able to relate to that particular situation, I think most parents still experience this dual pull: one towards your baby, who loves nothing more than being in your arms and another towards the dishes, the laundry, making dinner, heck, some days, just a shower! I find a lot of parents (including my husband) often look forward to the next stage in my daughter’s development or ponder about her future, whereas, after years of practice, I mostly sit with her real-time. Whether it’s their first steps, starting school, or graduating from college, virtually every parent I have met has uttered some variation of “they grow up so fast” or “where did the time go?” Well, that’s a good question … I mean, a year is a year. There are the same amounts of hours, days, weeks, and months. A minute is always 60 seconds and an hour is always 60 minutes. Yet to so many parents, it feels like everything happens overnight. I am so grateful to the practice for arming me with the tools I need to stay present, but especially in this role as a Mama. It doesn’t feel like these 14-months have gone by “so fast” … it feels exactly like 14-months. I spent my days holding my infant, then watching and supporting my baby, and now playing with my toddler on her level as though there was nothing else I had to do. I know that I can set aside time for other work when she is napping or on the days that she is at daycare. Sure, I had to cut back on my teaching in the studio, my email can pile up, and I have spent far too many late nights trying to catchup on my work. But, I have no regrets knowing that I have been fully present for every smile, clap, hug, and milestone. Yoga is what gave me this perspective and skill.
When I became a Mother, I was struck with the sense of responsibility that this role requires. Especially in these formative first years, we are shaping a person (whether we’re conscious of it or not)! I’ve realized that presence isn't just about remaining in the moment. It’s also about being aware of your words and actions. My daily meditation practice has supported me to remain self-aware in all of my conscious communication. What we say to our children becomes their inner voice and our words and deeds help shape their understanding of the world and their role within it. This is a huge burden to bear. I turn inwards to my mediation practice to keep my vision for her future clear when seeking the right intention, right words, and right action.
As well as giving me the skills to stay present, yoga has given me the physical strength and mobility to raise my daughter. It has been in these last 14-months that I added a strength training component to my regular yoga practice and my body has never been more stable, strong, supple, or more taxed! My daughter has grown from 6.6 to a whopping 23 lbs. When you factor in the diaper bag and car seat, I’m loading 50-100 extra pounds daily. Add the 43 foot plunge into her crib (at least it FEELS like 43 feet), hauls into and out of the car seat, and the strain put on my erector spinae as those little hands grip my fingers and take step after tentative step, and my. body. is. SORE! Here’s the conundrum: never has my physical body needed yoga so badly in my life, yet never have I been so exhausted. Every yogi has been there – knowing that we’ll feel so much better post-practice, but too busy, sore, tired, or stressed to think about taking that time. After we chose the mat, every time without fail, it seems like such a no-brainer, but that’s post-practice! That’s after you’ve taken the time to connect inwards. That’s 60 full minutes of consciously removing yourself from the rat race and taking control of your life again. As a Mom, my practice is not a hobby or pastime, it is as necessary for my wellness as water, food, and air! Without it, as a sufferer of chronic pain, I would miss out on time with my daughter as I immobilized myself in bed or I would be unable to fully participate in our lives - to squat down, to run after her, to sit on the floor, or slide down toboggan hills. My physical body has never been more grateful for my practice than in these last 14-months. There is nothing that motivates me to come to the mat more than days spent trying to keep up with that energetic little girl.
Mamas, come here. Let me hold you for a few minutes because holy shit does a baby take what you thought you knew about the world and flip it upside down! Physically, emotionally, mentally, financially … it’s stressful. Would you trade it for anything in the world? Hell no! Are you blown away on the daily by the magic and wonder that this love of your life brings you? Yea huh! AND whether it’s sleep deprivation, tests to your patience, disconnection from your body, confusing and contradictory advice (sought out or - more often - unsolicited), a redefinition of your relationships with your parents, your partner, and yourself, that pinch in your neck that just never seems to go away, the tribulations of putting your career on the backburner … the only constant that has always been there (pre- and post-baby) has been my mat and this practice. Yoga is my doorway back to my Deeper Self and this practice restores and solidifies a much-needed sense of trust. It’s this trust that allows me to persevere, even when things are at their hardest.
We often think of “yoga” and “motherhood” as nouns – things that we do. They’re our pastime and our role; our hobby and our duty; our escape and our stressor. But, as seasoned practitioners will describe over and over again, after a time, “yoga” becomes an adjective – interwoven into your ‘you-ness’. I’ve come to realize that Motherhood is just the same. With practice and mindful connection, yoga and motherhood both become more than just things that you do – they define who you are, create a blueprint for your life, and reveal the gifts of your dharma.
When I was younger, I was always called a “social butterfly”. Flittering between cliques, I had my core group of friends, sure, but I was comfortable in nearly every social situation in a way that was unique in the harsh jungle gyms of adolescents. Always a nerd (in the best possible way), my teachers’ only constructive criticism on Parent-Teacher Night or on my report cards were always variations of “Carly talks a lot in class”.
Throughout my teens, this served me well as I moved neighbourhoods, moved schools, got my first job, and really started to experience the “real world”. In my career now, I realize that what injects me with joy and has shaped my path in the world is my love of community. Whether it’s creating specific classes to create communities (“Yoga for Bigger Bodied People”) or designing the yoga studio to encourage it (benches in the lobby, lots of time before and after classes, etc.), community is always at the heart of what I do.
That’s one of the reasons why I love social media so much! It informs me about places or points of view that I don’t get to see in my day-to-day interactions, keeps me connected to people I meet at conferences or retreats, allows me to interact in pockets of community that may not exist here in my backyard, and has the potential to spread my messages of love and ability to so many more people than just my voice alone. That said, I recognize that social media can be a tool to empower or to demoralize, not only by what we present on social media, but through our relationships with what we see.
I have seen friends and family members make the leap and cut themselves off from social media completely. They delete their accounts because it’s sucking up too much of their time, they are disturbed by what they see, it’s affecting their mental health, or they are, ironically, disconnecting from the people around them and glueing themselves to their screens instead. While I support anyone in their choices to do so, complete separation just doesn’t feel right to me. A big part of my social and professional* life take place online, so here I am, mindfully connected. Over the years I have developed some super simple ways to do so that might work for you as well, so here they are:
1. Be a conscious and vigilant scroller. What we see, even if in passing, has an affect on our energy. It has the ability to raise us up or pull us under. This is why it’s so important to open your senses to what you’re reading and who you’re following. If you follow an Instagrammer because you’re inspired by her perseverance and motivated by her posts, perfection; however, if the negative self-talk snakes slither out when you see that six pack and your Newsfeed makes you scared to leave your house in the morning, you need to protect your mental health. While it can be enlightening to be presented with perspectives in contrary to your own, we have to recognize the ways that we can be triggered. Staying connected - present and mindful - to what you’re reading/seeing AND how it is making you feel is the key here. Remember too, this doesn’t mean an irrevocable decision to remove your source of stress from your life forever. You can always unmute, unblock, re-follow, or re-freiend when you’re feeling stronger if you want to do so. Those algorithms on social media are sneaky little suckers. The sponsored ads are the worst culprits in my Newsfeed for bullshit claims that focus on fast weight loss and promote unhealthy ideals of beauty. I’m aware of and sensitive to the ways that these companies hide behind messages of wellness when they are, in truth, commodifying our bodies and selling the manufactured yoga goddess image. While you cannot control when such triggerring messages slide into your Newsfeed, you can block the ad or, better yet, report it. This will not only get it out of your space, but tell companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that you are not interested in scams, propoganda, fear-based advertising, or promoting unhealthy/unsafe ideals of beauty attainable to the few genetically priviledged and harmful to the rest of us.
2. Be mindful about the message that you’re sending. I think that there is great strength that comes with authenticity representing the full spectrum of human experience on our social media profiles if it is connection that we’re seeking. Like the brilliant Brenè Brown says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path”. Perfect lives don’t exist. When one has excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations, it’s like they can’t ever post their house a mess, or when they’re having a bad day, or even when life is just kind of meh. So, it’s always planned, staged, and edited to present this picture of perfection. Not only is this harmful for the person posting, but it is harmful for the audience. Perfectionism is not attainable because it feeds itself. Studies have shown that this type of behaviour online puts us at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because we can never achieve perfection because IT DOES NOT EXIST. Post your triumphs - I want to see them and celebrate them with you - but post your failures and hardships as well, so that we can better support one another and connect in a more meaningful way.
3. Follow people who feed your soul (and the ones that feed theirs). When you’re scrolling away and listening to that internal dialogue, cozy up to the people who inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in you. Follow them and, on their Page, set your settings so that their posts will always show up in your Newsfeed. Then, watch for the people they Repost and talk about and look into following those people. This is how you’ll start to surround yourself with influencers and transform your social media experience to one that elevates you and authentically aligns us on our paths.
3. Mute, block, unfollow, and unfriend. Not only can you choose who you follow, but you can limit the voices of people who are triggering you in a myriad of ways. Consider muting, blocking, unfollowing, or unfriending not only accounts who are outright harmful to your mental health, but also the people taking up too much of your time and energy. The people you care about shouldn’t be buried among the people you passively follow. Maybe your Great Aunt isn’t hurting you with all of her posts asking you to “Type YES if you agree”. Maybe you aren’t drawn into her goading you with “I believe a select few of my friends will post this …”. But, all her memes are definitely filling your mental headspace and, possibly, overshadowing the messages from the people you want to see, so why keep her posts on your newsfeed? Same goes for Pages that no longer represent your goals or interests. Be vigilant. Your social media experiences ought to be intentional, focused, and in service to your highest purpose.
4. Turn off your notifications and schedule in social media time. Here’s a big one. I recently turned off all my notifications for email, Facebook, Pages, Messenger, Twitter, and Instagram. This has freed me up from the compulsive checking over and over again every time I see a little red circle over the icon on my phone. Hand-in-hand with this leap to freeing myself from being a slave to the screen, I schedule time throughout my day for scrolling and social media. This idea was introduced to me from my brilliant friend Meaghan who doesn’t polarize her focus jumping in and out of social media every time her phone dings. She taught me to focus on the task at hand and, a few times a day (for a set amount of time), to give myself permission to scroll and distract myself with social media. This time limit makes the selection of who you follow and unfollow so much more important. Is this person going to take up your social media time and leave you depleted or inspire and enliven you? Do you know the average person spends OVER TWO HOURS A DAY on social media? Is that how you want to be spending your time? Maybe. If not, scheduling your social media time may be an excellent idea. Maybe time yourself on social media for a week or so to get a good idea about how much time, on average, you spend online and consider limiting yourself by even just an extra 30 minutes. You could use those extra 30 minutes to treat yourself to a long bath, read that book that’s been on your nightstand forever, call a friend, or catch up on whatever else you’ve been meaning to do!
5. Use that Do Not Disturb function. In your phone settings, you can set up Do Not Disturb daily at certain times. This function silences calls and alerts. Consider scheduling ‘off time’ everyday - maybe from 10pm to 7am. To give your brain a little break. You can adjust the settings to allow calls from certain people, allow calls when people call twice within three minutes, etc., so you’ll still be reached in case of emergency.
6. Don’t let your children see your phone unless you’re making a call. This is a big one for me. More and more I am reading about potential risks of screen media for children (especially children younger than 5 years-old). Most experts agree, in order to promote healthy habits for our children, their early media experiences should be minimized, mitigated, and mindful and this starts with modelling healthy use of screens. For our house, this means that I never want my daughter to see the top of my head. The phone acts as a phone, sometimes a camera (let’s be honest), but SHE has my attention more than the screen in my palm. The best feeling in the world was when she first came along and I would catch myself having no idea where my phone was because I was so present with my wee one. This is what living looks like!
7. Whether you have children in your home or not, set up ‘No Phone Zones’ in your home. Maybe it’s the kitchen table. Maybe it’s the bedroom. Consider the spaces in your home where you want to be fully present and make these spaces phone-free. Stack your phones at the door before entry to safeguard your sacred spaces.
8. (CHALLENGE) Once day a week - or a month to start - go COMPLETELY phone-free. I started to do this one day a week - usually on a weekend - after I upgraded my last phone. My husband took the phone to the store to trade it in and I felt panicked. What if someone was trying to reach me? What if I miss an important email? What if someone messages my business Page? I worked hard for that response rate badge and now it’s getting tossed out the window! After a few minutes, I settled down (not without hearing phantom dings and pings or reaching to my pocket for a phone that wasn’t there). Then, when he came home with my new phone, I was SO relieved and immediately checked to see that I had missed basically nothing. How humiliating. I felt so chained to this stupid piece of glass and plastic … You win Steve Jobs! That’s when I vowed to purposefully go phone-free one day a week. If I am travelling, I’ll just turn it off (in case of emergency), but if I am home, it just lives on Do Not Disturb mode upstairs on my nightstand. If once a month or once a week feels overwhelming, try it for even one day and you’ll gain such an interesting perspective on the world. Not only do you get the chance to actually look at people, maybe even talk to them, to be bored, and to wonder without the luxery of asking Siri to find every answer, but you’ll also see how the world interacts with their devices. Not until I was out of that zombie-like obsession did I see it: dead silence in a room full of people; people scrolling for HOURS and, when asked what they were reading, they were so disconnected from it that they say “Oh, nothing” because there is no substance to what they’re reading and/or they’re not reading in a mindful way; meals being eaten together, but separate with each family member on their own screens; I could go on. Nooooo thank you! I promise, you step away from that world for a day and see it for what it is and your relationship to that phone will be forever changed.
Again, I love social media. i don’t want it to sound like I am in my off-the-grid cabin judging everyone who participates online. I am VERY online and I love it; however, like everything else that we do, i think we need to be intentional in how we participate with it and mindful when engaging in order to ensure that this is a tool that is uplifting us and not one that is contributing to our imbalance and illness.
*Keep in mind that, because my professional life includes an active online presence, most of these rules don’t apply during business hours. These are the rules during my personal/family time, which will likely be most applicable to your life anyways unless you also integrate social media into your work. That said, some of these tips are still super relevant in order to be productive in our work and we still need to be mindful or else you’re in for another embarrassing Parent-Teacher Night.
If you sit back and think about your day today, how do you feel? Do you feel that you connected to the people who shared space with you? Was it more of a rat race that sort of scooped you up in the frenzy and spat you out on the other side? It’s surprising, when you notice it, how the world can detach us from ourselves, both mentally and physically. I know how important it is to strike a balance that allows us to handle our responsibilities, while making mindfulness part of our daily routine. This is why I try to make space, at least once a week, to patron a locally-owned health/wellness business. I am blessed to have so many good friends who work tirelessly to create these ventures in this magical City and, many of my business-owning friends, I've met and we've connected over our shared vocation. This week, I’ve carved out some time Sunday night to attend my third visit to Immerse Spa. If you haven't heard of them, this local business offers a service so unique and effective, that my words will barely do it justice: float/immersion therapy. Since visiting the first time, lot of you guys have asked me about my experience, so who am I to pass up a chance to relay what I thought of the place and support a local business at the same time?
Let’s examine this art of floating and see why we can alllll benefit from this revolutionary service*.
We’ve all heard the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But, in my experience, when it comes to businesses, this is not the case. The way a location presents itself is a huge indicator of what’s in store for its customers. Immerse Spa hits the nail on the head in every category: cleanliness, decor, ease of use (you can book online y'all) and - most importantly - authentic staffers. Spencer, one of the co-owners is a man whose knowledge is trumped only by his warmth and genuine charm. If you want to meet a guy who embodies all the enthusiasm, know-how, and dedication of a great small business owner, Spencer is the guy! He makes you feel welcome and at ease from the moment you walk through the doors and get welcomed by name. He has an answer for every question you have and even the ones you didn't think to ask.
When you first enter your large private room, you'll notice the large float pool dwarfing the centre, but then maybe scan the perimeter. Each room has everything you need (EXCEPT a private toilet, so be sure to use the facilities before getting too comfy). The rooms are stocked with: a private shower, locally made yummy smelling shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, a hair dryer, earplugs, and even Vaseline to protect any cuts or scrapes. Using the earplugs keeps your inner ears dry, but Spencer told me that if you avoid using them, the salt can clear up to 10 years of wax buildup! Frankly, I’m not sure what is more shocking – that an hour of soaking can clean your ears so thoroughly, or that said ears can contain 10 years worth of wax and residue. If you are going to use the earplugs, stick them in BEFORE you take your pre-float shower (no one wants to try to put earplugs in wet ears).
Once you’ve showered, it’s time to step into the “tub”. I use the term loosely because, in reality, it’s more like a pod, equipped with a hydraulic cover that can be closed completely or partially as you're comfort allows. Strangely enough, closing the lid all the way didn’t make me feel uneasy, despite me being somewhat claustrophobic ... I think I was just really eager to submerge myself into the full experience (pun very much intended).
From there, you can control your entire environment: the colour of the lights, or whether you have lights at all, and music - on, off, or your own from home! In keeping with the spa's theme of taking care of EVERYTHING, the pod starts generating bubbles at your feet to signal that your floating time is up, so you don't have to worry about keeping time as you float. Keep in mind, one of the major benefits of this experience to ability to cultivate a super deep meditative state, so having clocks or alarms to deal with would make it hard to reach that kind of relaxation. Although the float itself lasts an hour, you’re booked for two hours! This lets you take your time before starting or after completing your float bath. After all, nothing would ruin the experience more than being ushered out the door as soon as you finish your float in an effort to get the most number of people through the doors in one day as is possible.
The water itself is extremely salty – 1,000 pounds per tub, to be exact – so expect to automatically float once you get inside. Unlike beds or pillows, floating allowed my body to align naturally. In the end, it’s like a gentle visit to my chiropractor, coupled with a relaxing meditation, and the best nap I've ever had!.
Why I love It
As some of you may know, chronic pain has been a major part of my life for decades. Combined with my regular yoga practice, a floating appointment once or twice a month is a great way to sooth my busy mind and overtired body. I also think that it would be the perfect start for those of you who need a little help getting into meditation and understanding the value of the daily experience. Start off with the lid open, lights on, and music playing and, after a few visits, start to slowly take away one of these supports at a time in a comfortable way (remember, the intention is ALSO to relax). Increase the time in the pods - Spencer will float for HOURS! - while you decrease the sensory input ... that shit will blow. your. mind.
In conclusion, I highly recommend you give Immerse Spa a try. All you stand to lose is stress.
*I also want to mention that Immerse Spa is, in no way, paying me to talk about their business and I genuinely just like to talk about things that I love. That being said, if they happen upon this blog and think of tossing a couple floats this way, I mean, who am I to deny them the gift of giving you know?
I am so grateful for the incredible overflow of dialogue that the recent podcast that I recorded with my friend Kathryn Bruni-Young has sparked in the last week.
*In case you missed it, take a listen here.
We talked about everything from body positivity and strength training to the power of language, embodied movement, being present, and so much more! What you heard was an uncut, unedited conversation that Kathryn and I had, face to face, around her kitchen table. It was unlike other speaking engagements or panels that I have been invited to. There was no pre-prepared speech edited to as close to perfection as I could muster, then read and re-read by my editor. I was really proud of this podcast because I think that it is an incredible summation of where I am at this moment in time in my life, my practice, and what I teach. That said, it is chockablock with seedlings of these big, complex ideas. For example, when Kathryn asked me what body positivity is, I gave a super simplified definition applicable to the work that she does and the work that others in her field (thus, likely, listening to the podcast) may resonate with. This is what prompted me to elaborate about what body positivity means to me in my very first blog post "Let's start at the very beginning ...".
Today's blog post was prompted from a great question that my friend and fellow yoga teacher Jane emailed me earlier this week about the podcast. Jane asked, "Hey Carly, I enjoyed listening to you chat with Kathryn on her podcast and have a question for clarification: I think I heard you say you are moving away from using props to adapt poses and towards building foundational strength. Are they mutually exclusive? I see these as different, sometimes intersecting, paths to goals of [strength, stability, and flexibility]".
To clarify, and what we didn't have time to flush out fully in the podcast, here is where I stand on props: I love them. I use them. I think they are incredibly valuable for everyone's practice. What I don't practice (or teach) is the use of props to get into a particular pose.
I don't think that propping to get into a pose is a harmful way of teaching and certainly consider it more accessible (thus, more valuable) than not offering props at all; however, I think that we can do even better if we are working towards transformation and not merely achievement of asana. Even that last sentence isn't a hard and fast rule though because we experience transformation in so many ways through asana practice - not only physically. Let me give you a great example: I used to teach my "Yoga for Bigger Bodied People" drop-in classes as a pre-registered 6-week series. As part of the last class, we used to do partner-supported handstands (see the photo of a badass babe, Meaghan, flipping for it)! Now, were their arms strong enough for this challenging asana? Are their shoulders mobile enough to bear weight in this range? What about their wrists? How accessible is a hip hinge for them? All of these component skills, and more, are necessary for the foundation of a functional handstand. That said, we didn't do this as part of a logical progression as these skills were built, but because I wanted to end this session and leave the participants with a major sense of accomplishment. Very few 20-, 30-, 40+-somethings hear "Today we're going to do handstands" and think "Noooooo problem". The inner dialogue is usually more like "Yea, right!", "I can watch YOU do handstand", and, sadly, "Great (eye roll) another place that my body gets in the way of what the world wants me to do". After trying this with a partner, I don't think that there was ever anyone who couldn't get up in some version of a handstand and it was incredibly empowering! Not only did they reframe what their bodies were capable of but, for most, questions started to come up about what other paradigms might be holding them back in their lives. Turns out, when people flip upside down, they really start to see the world a little different. Now, is this what I would teach today? Likely not. Do I regret it or think that I should be thrown in yoga teacher jail? No. It was really powerful and one of the most beautiful things I had the honour of witnessing.
Do you see how asana can be harmful, or maybe not even harmful, but just not helpful for people's bodies, but be pretty magical for their mind and spirit? In this example, the wall and the other person were used as props to get people into handstands when their bodies were lacking the strength, stability, or flexibility to get them there. This is where most people are with accessible yoga practices. Which, I think is 100% WAY better than offering handstand in class and having a room full of people standing around watching one or two kick up and, when luck and gravity were on their sides, happen to hold their feet over their bodies for a fraction of a second. Using props to get people into otherwise inaccessible asana is empowering. It is uplifting. It builds a sense of belonging within a community. But, does it help people to become more stable, more strong, and more flexible? I don't think so.
So, right now, I am working towards transformation in physical bodies: moving out of pain, getting stronger, becoming, physically, more capable by building the component pieces needed to progress, over time, to conquer a challenging skill like a handstand, but (more importantly, for me) also to live their lives - to play on the floor with their children, to walk in the winter without a fear of falling, to stabilize hyper flexibility, to grow older without losing mobility or bone density, and so on.
If you are using props to challenge mobility, or build strength, or roll out adhesions, I think this is all moving us towards ability from the inside out. If you're using them to help people who can't get into a pose, practice the pose, then - like I mentioned in the podcast - I think we're propping up a house that's built on a sinking foundation. Will the house be able to stay in the neighbourhood? Sure. But, are we ACTUALLY fixing the problem? Nope.
I like to focus on component skills like joint mobilization exercises, movements to strengthen deep muscles, full spinal articulation, etc. because this work both leaves no practitioner behind AND builds our skills from the inside out. I certainly use props, but I don't use them to get into an asana because I don't value asana. I value movement and EVERYBODY moves.
Not everybody handstands.
This week, I was inspired to write about identity, privilege, allyship and inclusion. These are very weighty topics with no short answer and no quick fix, which is probably part of the reason why it came out three days later than planned ...
Here's what inspired me to want to start this conversation: twice last week I was asked something to the effect of "I consider myself body positive and I want to support a body positive practice; however, I feel unsure of how to communicate that message to people because I have thin privilege and don't want to offend those who feel marginalized by their size." This got me thinking about thin privilege and identity and issues of inclusion, entangling myself further and further into this web. Then, at this past weekend's Yoga Teacher Training module about creating community, we more thoroughly explored these ideas of privilege and inclusivity from just about every angle we could imagine. This only sent me further down the rabbit hole. Now, it's Thursday night and I am still all wrapped up in these concepts. I've spent every night since Monday adding and editing in an effort to sort out my thoughts, but they just keep spinning. I have resisted putting this to paper and publishing it all week long because I know that this is incomplete. I don't have the answer and I wish that I did. I could type for a year and I still wouldn't be there; however, you're reading this now because the crux of the issue doesn't lie in the solution, but in the discussion. Consequently, I chose to publish this to start a dialogue. I KNOW that the solutions we seek in response to life's biggest problems never dwell in the realms of ignorance or complacency, so I'm looking to shine a light on some of our shadows.
Let's start breaking this down: what the heck is privilege? At its simplest definition, privilege is a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Types of identity that can afford you privilege might include: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, country of origin, language, and/or ability. If you want to understand more about privilege and see how privileged you are, spend a few minutes watching this video and taking this eye-opening quiz. Recognizing your privilege does not mean that you are immune to hardships, but it does mean that you recognize that you have, in some ways, an unearned advantage in society by nature of your identity - a sort of head start over other people who don't share that identity.
I think that people ask me so often about privilege because it's really really complex and we don't want to trigger people or hurt people's feelings when we're trying to understand an experience that's not our own. This is the shortcoming of "safe spaces". Well-meaning people call for safe spaces so that people can engage with one another with sensitivity, honesty, and respect. This is incredibly important, but where is there room to ask questions and gain a new understanding from less privileged perspectives without, possibly, offending or risking being unkind to another person? These complex issues cut deep to the core of our paradigms and morals and so often move from polite to provocative, which can create feelings of unease. As a result, when faced with challenge in a safe space people may discount, deflect, or retreat in an effort to preserve the aforementioned safety of the space. But, isn't comfort the problem? If we all remained comfortable, how would we really create change? Disruption is a requirement for change and why would we break apart what we don't consider to be broken in the first place?
The first step in undermining systems of oppression is to refuse to live with unchecked privilege. Simply by reflecting and challenging our privileges, and working to change the system of discrimination through direct discussion, we can help shift the status quo. Being open to acknowledging, critiquing, and accepting my own privilege hasn’t been comfortable. It didn't happen all at once and it's not a process that you complete. Thinking about privilege is an ongoing exercise. It’s something that has become part of my daily consciousness and one of the lenses with which I see the world. I am constantly learning to challenge my position in the world and understand the power imbalances that I am a part of. As an example, to write this blog post, I recognize the many ways that I am privileged (white, highly educated, employed, heterosexual ...) and the ways that I am oppressed (a fat woman, from divorced parents, with an invisible disability, who took out a student loan for University, who has lived below the poverty line ...). My privilege is the platform with which I stand to write this blog. In doing so, I uplift the voice of the oppressed as a privileged person, while, at the same time, it is my oppression that contributes to my sense of empathy.
When someone is brave enough to share their experiences of oppression with you, there is really only one appropriate reaction: LISTEN! Instead of responding defensively or with anger, the best thing you can do from your place of privilege, is open your ears and your heart. Your activism and alliance is incomplete if it leaves even one single person out. You don't get to tell someone they aren't oppressed. Their feeling of subjugation is enough to warrant the oppression. You can't understand privilege for some identities and discount the experiences of other oppressed people. And you can't just claim yourself to be an ally. To be an ally is a lifelong, active process. Participating bravely in these discussions means you know you are never going to be perfect and the only tool we really have, as individuals, is our ability and willingness to listen when someone is generous enough to educate you about their lived experience, Listen with trust, accountability, and consistency.
Yoga teaches us to hold space for discomfort. To create change, it's important that we don't just think about privilege or read about it. We need to intentionally set-aside time to uncover our privilege through the voices of those who feel marginalized and then work to align our values with our actions. In the example that led me down this winding road, - the one of a yoga teacher striving to create an environment of body positivity - you could educate yourself on ways that you can make your marketing, language, choice of asana, and communities with which you practice accessible to and a celebration of all body types. You don't have to identify as someone living in a marginalized body in order to be an ally to those who do; however, as a thin person, your solidarity is incomplete without the recognition of your privilege. By recognizing this inherent head start in the world, you can hold space for people to share with you how their historical experiences in a yoga studio (and the world) made them feel as though this wasn't a space for them. Without this perspective, your class may take for granted that all bodies walk into the room with a certain amount of flexibility, stamina, strength, and a particular relationship to their body that aligns with your perspectives and experiences of the world. As a result, people in bodies that aren't like yours, who don't share your experiences, get left behind. While it is vital that we seek out and acknowledge the lived experiences of those who feel marginalized, we then need to take this new knowledge and actually DO better. Align your actions with your values.
Challenge yourself everyday to get uncomfortable. Read, watch, and interact with people and experiences that threaten to shake up what you think is true about the world. Only by seeing and hearing as many things as possible can you really have any understanding at all about what's going on in the world. Just like our yoga practice, aim for imperfection because with each new level of understanding comes a new and challenging perspective. It's never comfortable and this is the intention.
This is the practice.
Size acceptance. Fat activism. Positive body image. Self-esteem. Self-love. Self-acceptance. Body positivity. I live here now. It's taken me a long time, but I have citizenship now in the Nation of Bopo and I catch myself taking it for granted that not everyone lives here. For some, they're just visiting. For others, they're shipwrecked, but maybe they can see our welcoming shores. Some people are at war with this Nation, but we're a feisty bunch and we hold as steadfast to our beliefs as we do to one another. Some people don't have a clue that Bopo even exists. Today, let me name myself Ambassador and take you on a brief tour of this diverse and magical place ...
Here's an example of what I mean when I say that I take my body positivity for granted: a friend came over today and was trying on some clothes of mine to borrow before leaving for vacation tomorrow. Running from room to room in my house, becoming increasingly frustrated, she finally asked, "Don't you have any effective mirrors in this house!?". Funny, eh? I really don't. There's a little vanity mirror in the bathroom, one on the medicine cabinet, and then this sliver of a full-length mirror on this sliver of a wall in my bedroom. The sliver mirror is especially useless though. It's a wavy design and, because of the door and the slant in the roof, you really can't see yourself well in it at all. Why haven't I noticed this mirror deficit? She wanted to know. "I guess I just go with how I feel instead of how I look", I answered honestly. We blinked at each other in the silence then. She in her boat, one foot tentatively on my island. Me standing proudly in Bopo Nation, but without any judgement or superiority. Then, we just went about sorting through clothes and chatting about life; she from her boat and me from my island. In moments like these I am grateful for my practice because what was once hard work through avoidance, comparison, assumptions, acceptance, and back again, has become so comfortable. That's what it feels like in the Nation of Bopo: comfort. Comfort to just be. Comfort to allow others to be as well, even if their being looks, sounds, or feels much different than yours.
Here's why this blog is entitled "Let's start at the very beginning ...": your self-image is the lens with which you define yourself and see the world around you. Deeper than "body positivity" - a term, unfortunately, being coopted by the very powers that be that this movement was created to rebel AGAINST! - a positive self-image isn't necessarily about being positive about your body all the time. It's about weeding out external imagery and rhetoric defining what a "good body" is (and, by default, what a "bad body" is) to discover what you believe about yourself. You don't have to always feel positive about your body to be body positive. Body positivity began as an inclusive movement to promote the right to exist and participate regardless of the body you're in. That includes the right to have a full spectrum of feelings about your body. In fact, I might argue, that this exploration is necessary to start to unpack what you REALLY believe. Positive or negative, how have you come to integrate these feelings about yourself with the messages you're getting from others in your life and from the wider world around you? What do you like about your body? Can you start to notice those thing more? Can you waive the white flag when it comes to you vs. your body? Your body is made up of tissues that respond to stimulus ... it's not out to get you. What lies at the heart of your body issues? (Psssst ... the answer is not your body)! Can you root out the emotion that is at the heart of this symptom? Who can you rely on for support down the rabbit hole? Can you define for yourself what beauty is? Can you start to see beauty in all its forms - in nature, in art, in architecture? Can you recognize the diversity of all of the things that you define as "beautiful? Can you start to practice gratitude to your body for what it can do and what you do have?
As an internal practice, body positivity is a reclamation of our right to define ourselves.
Slowly, gradually, on the long and winding personal journey towards body positivity, we start to see ourselves differently and, as a result, start to see the world differently. In Bopo Nation, we can all eat, watch, wear, date, say, and do whatever we'd like bravely and unapologetically. Here, we understand that all bodies are worthy of love, of expression, and of taking up space. There are no "after" bodies. All bodies are valued, just as they are, as people. As a result, we all get to live life to its fullest. We each have equal potential and the possibilities are endless.
Like I said, it's a pretty magical place.
Now what do we self-loving, body accepting humans do with all this possibility? You've made it to Bopo Nation and you want to see the sights! Here's the map: you START within, at the very beginning, with your personal work towards body neutrality and, eventually, maybe, most days, body positivity. Give yourself permission to shift your mindset gradually with dedication, patience, and persistent practice. Then, like most practices, expect to cycle back to the same old shit over and over again each time your lens becomes clearer. From this place of body positivity, we find ourselves making room in our hearts for the individual experiences of those around us. Start to blur the lines between inner self-love and just love.
Now, you'll see what the locals know: Bopo Nation isn't really about body acceptance or body love at all. Well, it is, but that's only half of the journey. Fuck the idea that "all bodies are good bodies" and embrace the PEOPLE - the individual right of every single human being to exist and participate in the world and be seen as equal to every other other human being. THAT'S BODY POSITIVITY!!! Not my fat body as valuable as your skinny body. Body positivity isn't measured by my waistline, but my whole body (physical form, mind, heart, and actions) as valuable as your whole body. The body positivity movement has laid the foundation for pushing back against the oppression by rebelling against the claims that certain bodies have more value than others and look at how far we've come. Now, we can use those same pathways and push back against racism, ablism, discrimination, societal gendering, sexism, and all the other oppressive hierarchies designed to benefit few on the backs of many.
That's the magic of body positivity. That's radical change. That's our birthright and that will be our legacy.