The #Cleaneating Dilemma

No, I'm not a vegan - please stop asking.

Honestly, I’m having a moment today. It’s sort of insane that I’m even writing this right now.

I understand that social media can be confusing. That its all green smoothies and zucchini noodles and raw cookies and I get it. Hell, I’m certainly a part of it. I’ll admit I shy away from posting birds eye views of meals that include animal products mostly due to the backlash in the yoga community and the all caps comments of “AHIMSA YOU SHOULD TRY IT” that are inevitable. I once posted a recipe for bone broth and just about had to break out the UFC gloves and rear naked choke holds to wrangle in the chaos.

So yeah, I understand that I have many vegan or 100% plant based followers and I end up tiptoeing around your feeds to keep the comments at bay.

We all love to categorize. boxes and compartmentalization make us comfortable. So c’mon Carling, what are you? what ‘diet’ do you follow? It’s one of the most common questions both Patrick and myself get, and the one we try to avoid the most.

Because there is no buzzword for “I eat stuff that is from as close to my house as possible and doesn’t make me feel like shit” I stopped eating grains (rice/corn/oats) whenever possible because finally, after 28 years, I realized that pooping once a week was not normal (to be fair, I wasn’t exactly asking around) and that being constantly constipated makes you feel like shit (pun intended). I’m sure I just made you uncomfortable by mentioning poop, but remember, you asked. And no I don’t drink milk because it aggravates my asthma. So yeah. breathing and pooping, that's my category I guess. Should I start hashtaging that? #breatheandpoop

Do I eat mostly fruits and vegetables? yes I most certainly do. am I a vegan? no, I am not. I was vegan for many years in the past but have not been 100% plant based for quite some time now. Then why do you eat at so many vegan restaurants and share so many plant based recipes? Because they're delicious! There are unbelievably amazing vegan restaurants all around the world (probably even in your town too, wink wink nudge nudge) that everyone should be eating at! I’ve always gravitated sharing the more interesting recipes which often involve food groups other than meat. It’s easy to get meat. Most of us know how to cook chicken breasts or make spaghetti bolognese. Have you been on the internet lately? There are more viral Tasty videos for cheesy stuffed meatballs than there are prank videos of dudes getting hit in the balls on Youtube.  I wholeheartedly believe the more helpful thing I can do is work to inspire people to incorporate more of all the rest into their meals. Finding a more balanced eating experience and rearranging our plates from their usual meat-centric focus to a new ratio of mostly plants, some meat.

In complete honesty, my past eating disorder has left a food shaped hole in my brain - and in my teeth, and my skin, and my stomach lining. These days, I often try to fill it with knowledge. I’ve always loved learning and over the last few years I’ve moved my need to exercise obsessive control from my body to my brain. I’ve taken courses in Nutritional Therapy, trained as a raw food chef, was a vegan for years past, and most everything in between. In my (not a doctor) experience, there’s really no such thing as recovered, we’re always in recovery. Just like an addict, most addicts don’t ever stop being addicts, they tend to just transfer the addiction to something healthier or more positive. Cigarettes turn into marathons and alcoholism turns into spirituality. Its a very effective tactic and one that I’ve certainly employed for better or worse.

I don’t say this as an insult to anyone in currently in recovery, or to minimize anyone else’s experience. However, I say this as a nod to the fact that recovery is an ongoing process. We may be able to quiet the destructive narratives, but its unlikely that the whispers of our experiences and actions will ever fully silence.

I may not be doing the math anymore, but I can certainly still tell you the calorie content and make up of nearly any food on the planet. calories in the average slice of cheese pizza? macro content of an apple? no problem. and if I’ve got a hidden super power its probably that I can eyeball 200 calories of almonds (or basically any food) like a ninja. After years of obsession and control, nothing short of hypnotism or shock therapy is going to pry this “vital” information from my brain. Do I know my caloric baseline? Yes, its stuck back there in nether regions of my brain along with the lyrics to Brian Mcknight’s “Back to One”.  Just like I know the 50 states or my childhood phone number by heart, my brain seems to have a whole separate set of rather distinct folds dedicated to this knowledge. We may or may not have recouped the damage we did to our bodies (in my case, to the tone of a few thousand dollars worth of dental work and irreparable skin damage) but the experiences we have drilled into our psyches are now unequivocally a permanent part of us.

Eating disorders are relevant here because eating is a deeply important part of the human experience. Food is inextricably interwoven into every part of our lives. Hunger strikes are political tactics, not buying factory farmed meat is a moral and political statement (for those of us privileged enough to have the choice). Breaking bread and sharing communal meals are an integral parts of our sense of belonging and community. Even breastfeeding is controversial. these days conversations surrounding how to feed your child from day 1 are contentious to say the least. Guilt and shame, bad and good, its all now part of the usual food narrative. Should we feel guilt on the larger plane for the way we have destroyed the planet and our precious topsoil with industrial agriculture? Yes, we probably should because we’re nearly fucked. but do we need “guilt free” cookie recipes? no. because cookies are cookies and do not inherently require guilt or shame to be baked or consumed. The categories of “to feel guilt or not” are man-made constructions. Guilt is not listed in the ingredients and is not inherently in the nature of warm delicious gooey cookies.

I truly do wish there was more definitive research on what the hell is in our food, and how it effects our unique and ever changing bodies. but easier said than done and until profiting corporations stop funding research and the wealth of propaganda slows (coming from ALL sides, not just the terrible meat & dairy industry. I’m talking to you vegans. if you tell me to check out the extremely biased nutritionfacts.org or watch Cowspiracy - which of course I already have - then I’m gonna have to whip out those UFC gloves again to whoop all the bad science outta ya) we simply have to do the best we can with what our lives and situations afford us.

So, here are my ‘rules’:

Eat food that gives you energy. Eat enough of it, calories (not just kale) are your life source. Eat food grown and raised from as close to your house as possible. Unless you live in a food desert, (which many many American’s do and thus obviously have significantly less opportunity and access) go to farmers markets, support your local farmers! Eat foods that keep your gut bacteria in balance.  Eat foods that make your mind and your physical body happy (chocolate makes me happy, therefore I continue to eat chocolate)  And please please, don’t let it consume your life. One of the perks of being out of the food chain is the privilege of not having to worry about hunting or being hunted 24/7, so stop. If the way you are eating means your are spending the entirety of your day, time, and energy thinking about food, stop.

Because if you’re you're expending all of your energy focusing on food, on whats good or bad or how “well” you did today, or how you’ll “burn it all off tomorrow” or already ate one doughnut, might as well just eat the whole box. or meticulously filling 37 Tupperware containers. or eating overpriced french fries and an iceberg lettuce salad because its the only vegan* thing on the menu then I encourage you to take a step back. THIS IS DISORDERED EATING. Call it what you want, #hashtag that shit #healthy and sell your meal plans but I’m calling a spade a spade. and #cleaneating is a fucking spade.

*To be clear, this is of course not intended as commentary on the whole of the vegan community but ishowever an example used to say that one can eat & view food in a very disordered way for a very noble cause - the two are not mutually exclusive.

No one cares what you call yourself except you. seriously, no one cares.

I’ve come to realize that by categorizing my influence with notes like #raw or #healthy, #plantbased or #whateverelse I’m very much a cog in the same machine I’m arguing against here. So I’m done. I’m not done sharing and exploring the wide world of food and health and wellness, but I’m done misleading you to think that you must be one thing or the other to be happy, healthy, and well.

Whether I’m #paleo (I’m not) or #vegan (I’m not) or #raw (I’m not) or #whole30 (I’m not) I’m not hashtaging anything anymore. Its such a silly thing, no more hashtags.  but starting today, I’m not. You wanna know what’s in the food? read the recipe, use your noodle. From now on, I’m eating, sharing and experiencing the nourishment that feeds my body and soul rather than my ego or my follower count.

 

when yoga doesn't help

Yoga can cure anything. That’s a thing right? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on the internet, maybe even at Barnes & Nobles. Somebody shared an article about it on Facebook and it had tons of likes. It's definitely real. I’m sure of it.

If you’ve read the infamous Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar (you’ve probably at least skimmed it) then you know that by the glory of yoga and say, by doing inversions for example, you can cure your anemia, your infertility, persistent headaches, annoying insomnia, and I can’t quite remember what else is on the list, but I know it’s very long. Headstands will solve my Iron deficiency? Hallelujah, because eating spinach, or red meat, or cooking with cast iron certainly aren’t reliable enough sources.

I’m not here to burst your yoga bubble, clearly I subscribe to a similar lifestyle, but I am here because of a pinterest-esque image I saw shared on my Facebook feed recently. It read: “Meditate Don’t Medicate” and I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. To be fair, “Yoga” shoulders a great burden. Many of us come to the practice with expectations that we will be transformed. (and in only 40 days!? whaaaat, that sounds awesome!) We hear about the contentment, the peace, the bodily ease, and then we see the current Yoga sphere which has quite a nice sheen to it. It’s just a bit glossy, shiny and bouncy, and it wants to tell you that everything will be okay if you just unroll your mat. If you just breathe. If you just handstand. or just think happy thoughts. or just buy these pants. I like pants. I like happy. Okay, yeah this sounds good lets do it!

We ask a lot of this practice.

help me calm down. make me stronger. help me focus. clear up my acne. cure my IBS. help me lose 10 pounds. fix my marriage. get me a promotion. help me have a baby. make me comfortable in my own skin. make me a better person. please. pretty please.  

Some of it is marketing, some of it is stress relief, some of it is the inevitable positive effects of simply moving your body on a regular basis. Yes, some of it is certainly real. But we often show up to the practice with the expectation that it will just do it’s work. Practice and all is coming right?  With the exception of a few specific practices - Forrest Yoga’s work with trauma is a great example - most current practices aren’t very good at actually addressing anything in particular. There is a lot of Kumbaya and chakra cleansing but what happens when that doesn’t work? When a strong meditation and pranayama practice don’t bring balance? Or when the issues are chemical? When it’s simply not enough? What about when yoga doesn’t, can’t, or simply shouldn’t, cure?

There is a distinct stigma that comes with mental illness. There is a layer of shame that often accompanies grieving. As if we should just be happy or that we should just get over it. That anything less than ideal doesn’t deserve our headspace, or any space for that matter. Why exactly is it that we think that we should be able to cure everything anyways? What is it about yoga that makes us believe that we are somehow supposed to be able to rise above it all? How have we gotten to a place where it is acceptable to posit that a simple sequence of 5 yoga poses will rid your body of cellulite (mostly genetic by the way) or that practicing twisting postures will detox (also, not a thing by the way) our bodies of mysterious toxins. Teachers instruct their students, and because this is a truly impactful practice, they subsequently inform their students lives with spiritual bypass rhetoric about trusting the universe, relinquishing control, or being exactly where you were meant to be.

The problem with this yoga cure-all/let it go/positive thinking rhetoric is that phrases like “Meditate Don’t Medicate”, or “Everything Happens for a Reason” are minimizing. Telling someone who just miscarried that “God/The Universe has a plan” or that “at least they know they can get pregnant” is to gravely minimize their loss. It takes away their permission to grieve. Similarly, proselytizing about meditation to someone who suffers from clinical depression is not only disrespectful to their reality, it is downright dangerous. Sure, deep breathing techniques may have a profound effect on managing asthma attacks, but I’m not going to recommend that you toss your steroid inhaler out the window. because that would be irresponsible. and stupid. and I’M NOT A DOCTOR.

Of course, this kind of prescription isn’t just limited to yogis. Most of us don’t know how to explore the vulnerable tough stuff so we relinquish the responsibility of dealing with it, or actually being present to help someone through it, with empty language like this. Whether we realize it or not, we are attempting to comfort and rationalize without actually acknowledging someones deeply personal experience.

But here’s the thing, we are not going to somehow infect each other with misfortune just by talking about struggle or loss. Acknowledging injustices, injuries, or mental illnesses will not jinx us. Hardships are not contagious, yet we treat them as if they are something to be quarantined and sprinkled with magical-thinking fairy dust until (hopefully) one day they disappear.  It’s this same sort of superstitious rationale that makes us believe if we always sit in the same lay-z boy recliner each Sunday that our favorite football team will finally win the Superbowl. Employing this illogical and magical thinking has convinced us that talking about something will finally make it real or somehow change the outcome.

My plea is to wholeheartedly give ourselves, and others, permission to be less than happy. less than healthy, and less than perfect. permission to be angry. or sad. to be depressed or anxious. permission to feel shattered. permission to be diagnosed and be open about what that means. everyone deserves permission to experience a full range of feelings. and permission to deal with what needs dealing with, to find the right solution for each individual. Working through the mud and muck usually requires a bit of help. Whether it be pharmaceutical aids, therapists, or modalities outside of ourselves and our all-mighty yoga practice.

Of course the practice can help, there is no disputing that, but this exclusionary view of it can also hurt. Yoga rightly deserves some credit, but it is certainly not a one-size fits all replacement for open dialogue, clinical healthcare, or psychotherapy.

It seems essential, maybe now more than ever in the world of internet-experts, to check the boundaries of our expertise and our capacity as influencers.  It requires us to take a calculated look at the expectations we’ve put on this practice versus the very real limits of its reach. Yoga may be one piece of a larger wellness pie, but without the whole we risk starving ourselves and our communities of the very real support required.  Let’s remove the idea that yoga is purely prescriptive, or that it even needs to be.

you are not your thoughts.

You are not your thoughts.

I repeat.

You are not your thoughts.

We’ve got billions of neurons, interconnected by trillions of synapses in our brains. Billions. Trillions. That’s what is happening in there. Ordered chaos that somehow produces our thoughts.

We aren’t even truly aware of whats happening, or when its happening, mostly life just seems to happen. Our thoughts simply seem to show up. And often times it feels like they are happening to us, rather than being created by us.

I find it easy to crumble under the weight of my own thoughts some days. I understand that may sound a bit melodramatic, but some days, ‘crumble’ really is the most appropriate descriptor.

I’ve had a few recent crumbles. A few disintegrations. Heaps and piles of Carling shaped puddles and thoughts strew about various hotel rooms and airport terminals.

Anxiety is a bitch. Self-doubt blows. And self-love can be hard. Really hard.

Our thoughts run our worlds. And sometimes they can ruin our worlds.

Swirling around, dive bombing us with ‘not good enoughs’, with comparisons, with past memories, grievances, or future yet-to-happen woes. You know, the kind I’m talking about, the ones we latch on to even as we try desperately to shoot them away.

But what if we understood, and what if for once we actually accepted, that we are not our thoughts. That we have the choice, the opportunity, to simply say no thank you. To rearrange our association with our consciousness.

We talk a lot about observation in yoga. About stilling the mind. Ceasing the rampant thoughts. Discerning.

Discernment. Now that’s the stuff of gold. That’s the winner-winner-chicken-(or tempeh)-dinner kinda stuff I’m talking about.

What do I need. What can I let go. Why do I keep circling around the same mess over and over again. Why won’t my brain just give me a break.

It took me a long time, forever, still working on it, to see that I needed to be the one to give myself a break.

Nope. We’re not doing that today random brain synapse. I see whats happening here and I’m not sure I’m interested. I see that you’ve been busy. That there is a lot going on up there. You’ve thrown about a billion (trillion) thoughts my way and I simply don’t need them all.

Not every pitch is going to be a strike. We have to choose when to swing and when to let that bottom corner curve ball zoom right past. Discerning the balls from the strikes. Finding the mindfulness, non-attachment, and ultimately the self-love and awareness to let some of that chitter chatter go. Just let it float on by. Resisting the urge to latch on. To let it drag us down an unnecessary, and quite frankly, often random and detrimental path.

It’s easy to latch on. To give every thought acknowledgement and credence. Our brain thought them, so they must matter right?! There must be a reason! A deeper meaning. A freudian slip, a subconscious underlying motive for our brain to send us this message. Our thoughts must matter. They simply must.

I’ve got news for you, they don’t. Certainly not all of them at least. They don’t necessarily mean anything. Our practice becomes discerning what is worth a closer look, and what is nothing more than a fly on the wall.  When we sit and observe, when we watch our thoughts float in, observe the patterns (if there even are any), we begin to notice which ones we can go ahead and let float right back out just as simply as they came in. With no story. No narrative. No drama.

My brain tends to flit those thoughts away quicker these days than it used to but it can be hard to shake them altogether. Practicing it helps. Practicing tends to do that. It's a crazy thing, practice. So once I hear that nonsense, that monkey mind, creeping in, that's when I practice.

It’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts. Because it’s not so much about getting rid of them or about hoping you’ll never have those thoughts again (spoiler-alert: you will.) It’s about what you allow them to mean to you. Your chitta vritti does not define you.

I repeat.

You are not your thoughts.

We’ve got billions of neurons, interconnected by trillions of synapses in our brains. Billions. Trillions. That’s what is happening in there. Ordered chaos that somehow produces our thoughts.

We aren’t even truly aware of whats happening, or when its happening, mostly life just seems to happen. Our thoughts simply seem to show up. And often times it feels like they are happening to us, rather than being created by us.

I find it easy to crumble under the weight of my own thoughts some days. I understand that may sound a bit melodramatic, but some days, ‘crumble’ really is the most appropriate descriptor.

I’ve had a few recent crumbles. A few disintegrations. Heaps and piles of Carling shaped puddles and thoughts strew about various hotel rooms and airport terminals.

Anxiety is a bitch. Self-doubt blows. And self-love can be hard. Really hard.

Our thoughts run our worlds. And sometimes they can ruin our worlds.

Swirling around, dive bombing us with ‘not good enoughs’, with comparisons, with past memories, grievances, or future yet-to-happen woes. You know, the kind I’m talking about, the ones we latch on to even as we try desperately to shoot them away.

But what if we understood, and what if for once we actually accepted, that we are not our thoughts. That we have the choice, the opportunity, to simply say no thank you. To rearrange our association with our consciousness.

We talk a lot about observation in yoga. About stilling the mind. Ceasing the rampant thoughts. Discerning.

Discernment. Now that’s the stuff of gold. That’s the winner-winner-chicken-(or tempeh)-dinner kinda stuff I’m talking about.

What do I need. What can I let go. Why do I keep circling around the same mess over and over again. Why won’t my brain just give me a break.

It took me a long time, forever, still working on it, to see that I needed to be the one to give myself a break.

Nope. We’re not doing that today random brain synapse. I see whats happening here and I’m not sure I’m interested. I see that you’ve been busy. That there is a lot going on up there. You’ve thrown about a billion (trillion) thoughts my way and I simply don’t need them all.

Not every pitch is going to be a strike. We have to choose when to swing and when to let that bottom corner curve ball zoom right past. Discerning the balls from the strikes. Finding the mindfulness, non-attachment, and ultimately the self-love and awareness to let some of that chitter chatter go. Just let it float on by. Resisting the urge to latch on. To let it drag us down an unnecessary, and quite frankly, often random and detrimental path.

It’s easy to latch on. To give every thought acknowledgement and credence. Our brain thought them, so they must matter right?! There must be a reason! A deeper meaning. A freudian slip, a subconscious underlying motive for our brain to send us this message. Our thoughts must matter. They simply must.

I’ve got news for you, they don’t. Certainly not all of them at least. They don’t necessarily mean anything. Our practice becomes discerning what is worth a closer look, and what is nothing more than a fly on the wall.  When we sit and observe, when we watch our thoughts float in, observe the patterns (if there even are any), we begin to notice which ones we can go ahead and let float right back out just as simply as they came in. With no story. No narrative. No drama.

My brain tends to flit those thoughts away quicker these days than it used to but it can be hard to shake them altogether. Practicing it helps. Practicing tends to do that. It's a crazy thing, practice. So once I hear that nonsense, that monkey mind, creeping in, that's when I practice.

It’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts. Because it’s not so much about getting rid of them or about hoping you’ll never have those thoughts again (spoiler-alert: you will.) It’s about what you allow them to mean to you. Your chitta vritti does not define you.

can i give you some advice

The 6 most feared words in the English language.

“Can I give you some advice?”

oh no. please, it would be great if you didn’t. nope. actually not interested. I’ve heard the horror stories from pregnant students, clients, and friends. I’m sure I’ll fall victim myself one day. unsolicited baby advice might be the most terrifying breed. unsolicited marriage advice might not be far behind. Diet advice in a not so distant third. “let me just tell you one thing…”

Its not that input from others isn’t important. its often pretty crucial. and that unsolicited, dreaded, eye-roll inducing advice can actually sometimes be pretty helpful. but its the idea that we need advice, thats what gets usually gets us.

Some people are really good at asking for help. at reaching out. I’m not one of them. Priding myself on a Can-Do attitude, asking for advice doesn’t really fall under the umbrella of independence and fuck-off-I-can-handle-it that I usually carry around with me. Its an ego thing. I see that now. Countless hours on my mat, an unbelievably supportive partner, and a lot of Brené Brown books have made that clear. but somehow I still find myself wanting to muscle through it all. for better or worse, it was me responsible. I suppose its a control thing too. ego and control.

Those are big words. ego. control. kind of big scary words. and yet I have a feeling I’m not the only one who is affiliated with them. they seem to have a fairly big following, lots of influence. If they were on instagram they’d be posting 5 times a day and collecting followers like Kylie Jenner’s tiny new puppy.

Allowing someone else to jump into our lives with their own insights, however ludicrous (or grounded) feels unwelcome. it can feel like an assault on our own authority. its easy to take personally. but have you ever been the advice giver? oh c’mon, you have. I have. I’m a doula and a prenatal yoga teacher, I’ve caught shit coming out of my mouth to students, however knowledgeable or prudent, and immediately realized – nobody asked for that.

for the advice giver though, those 6 little words are nothing more than words. little words. soft words. well-intentioned words. words meant to make your life easier. they don’t always. of course. but isn’t it supposed to be the thought that counts? no matter how much we grit our teeth, we can’t go it alone. advice, help, its necessary. its crucial. without it we’ll crumble into a fist pumping heap of ‘I’m-fine-I-swear’ and then still wonder why things didn’t work.

So I’m gonna be that asshole.

Can I give you some advice?

Take the advice. maybe take it with a grain of salt, but take it. stop deflecting. soak up the well intentioned and sometimes ill-advised advice of your peers and coworkers, your in-laws, the random stranger in the checkout line. keep what you need, toss the rest. You might just find that what you end up keeping can’t hurt, and what you toss is a just a teeny tiny bit of that ego.

expanding the introvert's toolbox in an extrovert's world

You know those times when your computer starts running so slow you think it must be 1998 and you downloaded one too many songs from KaZaA or your brother picked up the phone and booted you from AOL? You've got 16 million tabs open, 12 pinterest recipes/hair colors/light fixtures for an imaginary house open, Spotify running in the background and then all of the sudden one last cat video sends your computer into no-thank-you land. In the midst of the chaos that was my desktop, I stared closing out things that I wasn't using (and mostly didn't even know were open) and came across a lonely single page document with 3 quotes on it.

I can't remember when I saved them or what precisely I was going to use them for, but there they were nonetheless, staring at me, feeling comfortingly familiar.

“I don't hate people. I just feel better when they aren't around.”
― Charles Bukowski
“I often carry things to read so that I will not have to look at the people.”
― Charles Bukowski,
“People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”
― Charles Bukowski

Now, say what you will about Charles Bukowski, but he was the master of real talk. And real talk, these snippets make me feel oddly at ease that I'm not the only one (I know, of course I'm not the only one) who sometimes has these types of feelings. Hello everyone, I'm Carling and I'm an introvert with a light dusting of social anxiety. (Hi Carling)

It's an funny thing, being introverted in such an extroverted profession. Its quite clear that most yoga teachers are probably a bit of control freaks (tell me more about how exactly you like the room set up and how long it takes you to make a playlist...). And no matter how well intentioned, the ability to stand up in front of students and command a room, it requires ego (how very ironic).

Looking back, I have run into this impasse quite a few times throughout my life.

During my freshman year of high school I tried out for the cheer squad in solidarity with a friend who was too nervous to do it on her own. Then I accidentally made it and my life of learning to "Fake it till you Make it" officially began. To be fair, faking it till you make it can be quite a blessing for someone like me. Sometimes, faking it brings you to something wonderful you might not have discovered or engaged in otherwise. Sometimes, its allows you to get over your own shit. and sometimes we need that. But if you're a person who thrives more so off of quiet and independence, then, well, faking it can also be pretty exhausting.

Getting lost in routines, in performing and in dancing that was what I loved, but I can't exactly say that team building exercises were ever my strong suit. Big group activities? nope no thanks. Team sleepover? absolutely not, I'm going home, see you guys at practice. In and out. That has always been my approach. The master of the quick exit at a party. When you lean toward the introvert side of the scale in a world that celebrates and caters toward extroverts, you have to have tactics. you gotta have a plan.

plans are important.

 

#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Lie.

To get around the inevitable well-intentioned friendship guilt trip that came with choosing not to go out some nights in college, I often employed tactic #2. I'd even sometimes pretend that I did in fact end up going out and saw some of my friends but they totally don't remember seeing me, how rude, they must have been so drunk (sorry guys) or oh no, I fell asleep and just woke up and now its so late what's the point in coming out, I'm so sorry! Was I doing anything more important? Not necessarily. Was I employing very selfish tactics because I just wanted to hang with myself for no discernible reason in particular? Most certainly.

Even my yoga practice has followed a similar path. If you want to find me in a public class, you should look in one of the corners, in the back row, next to a wall, or directly in front of a wall so that I won't have to interact as much, I won't have to be small talking.  So I can just be in my little bubble and practice. I never went to class or the gym to be social or to feed off other peoples energy.  For me, its always been for the exact opposite reason. to shut out the rest. put on the headphones, slip away the same way you might slip into a good book or a warm nap.

So how do you reconcile an innate desire for solitude, with a life such as ours that puts you in front of and surrounded by people on a daily basis? Well, I'm not totally sure I've got it figured out quite yet, or that I ever completely will. There's a balance in there somewhere and finding a practice like yoga has allowed me walk that line much more effectively.

There's a push and a pull, and to be quite honest, the push of getting out there and teaching classes, making YouTube videos, or meeting new people all the time is part of that good balance. Even when sometimes (read: a lot of times) we would rather turn down the invitation, instead just practicing yoga at home and then binge watching House of Cards. If I had my way, I'd likely walk around with headphones on listening to music or podcasts everywhere I went when I'm on my own. I like being in my head. its familiar, and its pretty nice and cozy most of the time.

When teaching, I'm often talking to one person in particular, maybe just more loudly so it serves the class at large. I often teach from the back of the room, Observing and reacting, teaching to what I see. feeling more free and expressive, more authentic and at home without so many eyes on me. I find it difficult to teach and practice at the same time, its too much stimulation. What allows me to move past some of the bits of social anxieties that crop up when its class time is the ability to focus is on the particulars. your toes. your arches. the breath. asking questions, looking for patterns. and then asking students to do the same. what happened to your breath? what is that pinky finger doing? notice. check in. How can you be here now?

I love to learn. I love school and since I was young have always spent hours/days/weeks/years(?!) researching the many random things that peaked my curiosity. I am a veritable bucket full of 27ish years of (semi)useless knowledge. Teaching yoga feels like one way to move into that space. To embrace that side of me that I didn't always show. Its a comfortable way to not only share what I've spent so much time devoted to, but also continually learn from each person I see and teacher I take from. It's a balance.

From my practice, my introvert toolbox has grown. My plan has evolved and my tactics along with it.

 

#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Learning how to say No

#3 Honor yourself and your comfort zone.

 

Sure, yes, I am still faking it till I make it. I suppose it has actually become a very real part of me over the years and continues to allow me to pendulum between the two polarities when this life requires.

Embracing how you function best shouldn't make you feel guilty. It shouldn't make you feel weird or embarrassed or nerdy or insecure. It should make you feel like you. and likely, the best version of you. Honoring your strengths and preferences doesn't have to be selfish and it's taken me a very long time to learn that. When I crave a world with a little less stimulation, I work hard to try to be honest with myself and honest with those it impacts. I step back, I build up some courage and I say "no thanks" or I get real brave and say "great, lets do it!" and then I make sure I have the time/space/love/support I need to make it happen wholeheartedly.

Which brings me to my last strategy, although its less of a strategy and more of a gift you can give yourself.

 

#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Learning how to say No

#3 Honor yourself and your comfort zone.

#4 Practice (something)

 

It is the magic of this yoga practice that has truly been my best implement in finding some sort of union.

Through pranayama and meditation we learn to sit with our selves, something that if you're an introvert like me is probably already quite familiar, although still certainly not easy. Through asana we can find external expression, without ever having to leave our bubble. Expression and creativity aren't always loud. they aren't always big and they aren't always public. Sure sometimes they might be, but extroverts don't have the monopoly on self expression. It can be as quiet as the brush strokes on canvas or as subtle as the whirl of inhales and exhales on a mat.

When I feel myself teetering and needing to recoil, my yoga practice is there for me. All I have to do is unroll my mat. tune into the particulars. immerse myself in my body and my breath, and all of the sudden the rest seems much less daunting.

"Go inside" the teacher says, "gladly" I respond.



practice what you preach: the yoga teacher as an example for self-love

*This article originally appeared on YogaInternational.com


We seem to be in the midst of a revolution. Well, at least I hope we are. My usual social media feed has been infiltrated with more and more posts proclaiming self-love, diverse bodies, and positive motivational exclamations. It's encouraging. It's exciting. But it's also not enough.

With the yoga world looking more and more like the fitness industry each day, it should be no surprise that we are where we are. The Western yoga world is a confusing, conflicting, and often duplicitous mess of lovely, powerful, potentially life-altering ideals that tend to come with a side order of more chaturangas and a sprinkle of body shaming. I know that I should be ecstatic about the increasing conversation calling out the bullshit we’ve been (and are still being) served up. We are making progress. It’s a conversation, and that's huge. But I want more.

I want more than a proclamation of “Love yourself!” I want more than “Stop being so mean to yourself. You're great! Think positive!” I want more than super-sweaty vinyasa classes to detox from Thanksgiving. And I want more than photos of sunsets with inspirational Rumi quotes. I want us to practice what we preach. As teachers, as mothers, husbands, friends—hell, as general people in life—we can’t just talk about it, we need to be about it.

As yoga instructors, we wield more power than we probably realize (or probably want). And as Uncle Ben tells us, with great power comes great responsibility. Telling me to see the beauty in my body with a #selflove hashtag and a size 2 handstand on the beach may make you feel better, but it probably doesn't do too much for me. Speaking of taking breaks when you need them and honoring your body during a class that is labeled “Calorie Scorching Yoga” isn’t necessarily helpful—it's confusing. Good intentions are, well, they're good, and they’re a start, but if we truly want to make an impact then there is still much more to be done.

As yoga instructors, we wield more power than we probably realize (or probably want). How can we give our students (and ourselves) the tools and support to cultivate deeper self-love rather than just telling them to do it? We all need help, and even if you are struggling yourself (I sure am), there are little, and big, ways to lead by example to instigate change.

Be picky about what kinds of classes you choose to teach.
Classes can be hard to come by in this currently saturated profession, but that doesn't mean you have to sell your soul for a 12 p.m. Hour of Power. If you don’t agree with the expectations of the studio (hotter, faster, harder) or the class title sends up a red flag, then set your boundaries. I would love to teach Vinyasa 2, but I won’t teach Booty Lift Yoga Burn with dubstep and disco lights. Just because you love to teach doesn't mean you have to love to teach everything and anything.

Find mindful, inclusive language and descriptors to use in class, and then actually use them.
It’s oh so easy to regurgitate the same language we’ve heard over and over. Creating a safer space for all students to feel supported and seen can be achieved with our language choices and speaking to inclusivity, out loud. As a larger-chested lady, I would have loved to hear a teacher mention that it was normal to find halasana and shoulderstand constricting, a.k.a., that my boobs were going to try to suffocate me. Early in my practice I had no idea there were alternatives, all I knew was that I was embarrassed that I seemed to be simply too big for the posture.

The same goes for fitness, goal-oriented speech.
Holding chair longer to get ready for summer shorts season? Nope, not okay. One extra wheel for every drink you plan to have on Friday night? How about 10 more navasanas for every piece of candy you chomp on Halloween? We are all better teachers than that, and motivating our students with shame or guilt is frankly unacceptable. And, as students, we absolutely should not accept it.

For students to feel that their bodies are included, we need to actually speak to the physical bodies in the room, in front of us, at that very moment.

Like everything, staying aware of the crap that comes out of our mouths during a long day of teaching takes practice. It also takes actually talking to individual students throughout each class. It means seeing them, and their bodies, and tailoring our instructions to match our real-live students. It means that sometimes that awesome cue you heard in class the other day or read in a blog won’t work for this group. As teachers we are tasked with taking complicated concepts and making them simple for our students to understand and interpret in their own bodies. For students to feel that their bodies are included, we need to actually speak to the physical bodies in the room, in front of us, at that very moment.

The compliments we give.
Believe it or not, there are other compliments out there besides “You look great! Did you lose weight?” or “You look so pretty!” Little boys are more than tough. Little girls are more than sweet, or adorable, or cute. Most of us have been conditioned from day one to tie our self-worth to our physical bodies. And it’s a connection that is not easily severed. At the risk of being overly cautious, it's simply impossible to know what someone might be struggling with. At the height of my struggle with bulimia and Adderall abuse during and after college, the unknowing compliments on my weight changes, while well-intentioned, only served to fuel the fire that what I was doing was working. That three hours at the gym per day while on stimulants, plus binging and purging, was making me look “great.” I looked "so skinny! What had I been doing to get so healthy?” Well, I developed an eating disorder and, based on the comments of my peers and family, it seemed to be working quite well.

If we mean to tell someone that they look blissful and happier than ever, then our work is to tell them just that. If we are captivated by a student's grace or by a teacher's wit, a daughter's energy or a man's compassion, then why not be specific, intentional, and truly impactful with our chosen words?

Don’t bash yourself out loud.
This should really read "Don’t bash yourself. Period." But that's another one of those easier-said-than-done examples. Most of us have some sort of loop playing in our head that hammers on our self-worth in some way. We’ve all got our somethings and there's no good in berating ourselves. However, we can make very real strides by not letting these narratives become part of our everyday conversations. This may include finding a different way to respond to a compliment on your new leggings that doesn’t include, “I ate so much last night, I can’t believe these even fit!” Generally, “Thanks!” works pretty well instead. There is a difference between quirky self-deprecating humor and creating common ground with your students (“I hate this pose too. Its very hard for me. You’re not alone.”), and just plain self-deprecating for no reason.

The images we choose to share with the world. 
The fact of the matter is that we all need to pay rent. We have mortgages, and kids, and sick parents, and organic grapes to be bought. For many yoga teachers in today’s world that means getting people into our classes and booking our privates. And having people generally interested in us and what we teach is paramount. Whether we like it or not, if we want to make a living teaching yoga, if we pay taxes teaching yoga, then yoga is very much a business for us. Marketing ourselves and our services is part of the job. And it can make a difference. But with all the tools at our disposal now, we have the ability to carefully craft our images for better or for worse. How do teachers find the fine line between impressive and unapproachable when sharing the physical practice? The difference between honesty and exaggeration, or even desperation, in our 140 characters? When do our yoga selfies stop being authentic expressions of ourselves and our love for asana and start turning into overly crafted cries for more likes. Our students and our communities are not blind. It’s not just about not posting what you want, it's about taking a moment to consider what the impact you’re actually looking for is.

With the work of our yoga practices, meditation, mindfulness, and healthy relationships, we can make progress, and we can help others make progress too. Wading through the messy world of body dysmorphia and the media that pushes it is tricky business, which is why it requires more than just good intentions. It requires awareness. It requires empathy. And it requires action. Stop telling me what to do and start helping me do it.