How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 12: What spells are you casting?

Words are powerful. A positive word has the power to set you sailing into the sky, feeling amazing, light, brilliant. A negative word has the power to shoot you down just as quickly, sending you headlong into a painful, dirt-packed faceplant.

And yet we use our words so carelessly. Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, likens our words to spells we cast on each other and ourselves, too often for ill. You know which spells I’m talking about… “I can’t,” and “You can’t,” are two of the most familiar, predicting failure for ourselves or someone else before we’ve even tried our first tentative pirouette on the skating rink of life.

Then the positive thinking movement comes in with its well-intentioned Stuart Smiley approach: “I’m good enough… I’m smart enough… and gosh darn it, people like me!” Sure, it’s better than “I’m not good enough,” but when you’re spitting out affirmations between gritted teeth trying to convince yourself of something you don’t really believe, what’s the point?

If we know to not constantly repeat bad mantras to ourselves, but we also know our affirmations only work if we already believe they’re true, what do we do? The in-between step, according to Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, is offering aspirations, good spells that we can cast on ourselves. Instead of the perky shout of an affirmation: “I am happy and loved!”, an aspiration whispers: “May I feel happy, may I feel loved.” Where affirmations are strident, aspirations are hopeful and spacious. Instead of a billboard: “I love my body, my body is great!”, the aspiration poses an invitation: “May I learn to love my body, may I come to enjoy living in this body as it is.”

When I first decided to learn how to love my body, the idea of looking at myself in the mirror and saying “I love you, Body!” gave me the heebie-jeebies. I might as well tell myself that I’m Cleopatra or a giant space monkey if we’re going to just start making stuff up. Knowing I wouldn’t be satisfied by mouthing words I didn’t really believe, I wanted something more, something that would help me evoke not just the words, but the feelings behind them. In the lovingkindness practice taught by Pema Chodron, you repeat a blessing (or aspiration) towards someone you love, and then towards yourself, then eventually towards the whole world. I found that repeating to myself, “May I treat my body as a friend, may all beings treat their bodies as friends,” was something I could really get behind. Instead of the harsh, empty feeling of trying to con myself, I felt a softening, a tiny crack in my heart that a little bit of love towards my body could start to trickle through.

My little aspiration became a balm I could apply anytime my mind reached out with a mean-girl scratch. If I caught myself feeling badly about some late-night donuts or getting freaked out by a bloated reflection, I could pause and whisper my aspiration to myself, a soothing blessing to myself and all beings. Finally I had a good spell, powerful words that I wanted to cast over my life. At home, on the subway, driving, anywhere, I could remind myself of my aspiration to feel love towards my body instead of frustration. And slowly, from that trickle of genuine feeling, actual affection started to grow.

Choose an aspiration that resonates for you. Turn an affirmation you wished you believed into a blessing you can aspire to. For really hard stuff, Pema suggests putting the words “May I someday feel this way,” in front. As in, “May I someday be able to wish myself well. May I someday feel my body deserves love.” Start with a single drop of authentic feeling and let it gradually grow into a river that carries you where you want to go.

Here are some more sample aspirations to try out:

May I soften towards my body.

May I come to appreciate my body.

May I treat my body with the respect it deserves.

May I be a better friend to my body.

Next post: Do you and your body live in the same zip code?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 11: The Inner Best Friend’s Most Powerful Secret Weapon is You.

Have you ever thought of the perfect comeback… hours later? The masterful retort that demonstrates your succinct wisdom and humor… days too late? As frustrating as these delayed reactions are, they are a good sign that your inner best friend is on the job. The more you pay attention to her (or him), and appreciate their efforts, you’ll gradually start receiving that inner support before the moment is lost.

A great way to help your inner best friend grow stronger is to let them go head to head with your inner demons. Choreograph mud wrestling events, paintball battles, magic wand contests a la Harry Potter, whatever your tickles your imagination. Be playful. And the secret is… always let your best friend get the last headlock, the wicked backhand, the spell to obliterate all spells. It’s your arena, your mind, you get to decide who wins. Then when your inner demons pop up, your inner best friend knows what to do, and is confident in her ability to meet with equal creativity whatever the inner demons throw at her. Work with whatever triggers your inner demons most… for me it’s often that most powerful of meaningless numbers… my weight.

As a recovered anorexic, I have a long standing policy of not looking at my weight when I’m at the doctor’s office. I turn away from the scale’s face and politely ask the nurse not say the amount aloud. One day not long ago, in my overconfidence about the “recovered” part of being anorexic, I decided I was strong enough to know my weight, and brazenly watched while the nurse noted the number on the scale into my chart.

Oh. My. God. I weighed ten pounds more than the weight listed on my driver’s license! When did that happen? Did I gain weight during the holidays? Was I not exercising enough? I scoured my mind for some explanation. Suddenly I wasn’t so worried about whatever the health concern was I’d gone to the doctor for in the first place. All I could think about was how much I weighed and what I’d done wrong. And worst of all, my inner best friend was out like, getting her nails done or something! Where the hell was she when I needed her?

Finally, as I drove home, she showed up. My inner anorexic was already taking swings at me, with a tennis racket and a basket of balls. You need to go on a diet, now, she said, thwacking the ball hard at me. I imagined myself backing off the side of the court, watching as my inner best friend lined her toes on the other side of the net, ready to volley.

She doesn’t need a diet, silly. She’s fine. (Poomf!)

She needs to stop eating so much. (Whack!)

What you need is to chill out. It’s a few pounds, no big deal. (Thock!)

What has she already eaten today? (Swack!)

Geez, give her a break, she felt great until you showed up. (Whoomp!)

That’s it, she’s skipping lunch entirely. And only a salad for dinner. (Poomf!)

Oh, that’s original. Starving yourself is the solution to every problem. (Whock!)

But she’s fat! (Shoof! She lobs the ball into the air.)

She’s not fat, and even if she were, so what? She’s beautiful. She’s enjoying life. She has so much to be grateful for. Get real. (Smash! Her diet-obsessed opponent extends her racket across the court to reach the ball but misses. We have a winner!)

Today my inner best friend stands up for me whenever and wherever I need her. I just have to remember she’s there. The practice of invoking the inner best friend to help you work with your inner demons uses your imagination to cultivate a positive angle of mind that doesn’t let you get mired in old negative stories about yourself.

But remember, you’re not actually exterminating your demons. Only let your best friend use enough force to weaken them and let them know their negative energy isn’t welcome. Once you feel strong enough, you can actually start to harness the strength of your inner demons and channel it to support what you want to create in your life… something to look forward to later!

Next post: Casting good spells on yourself, the Buddhist way.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 10: Manifest your inner demon slayer! (Or at least someone who throws banana peels on the floor in front of them.)

Sure, you might be thinking, negotiating with my inner demon is all well and good, but to successfully deal with my inner demon in the long run, I need more than just tea parties. Demons don’t play fair. You’re right, you need someone who’s got your back. You need an inner best friend. Perhaps you already have one… but whether or not your inner best friend is already lurking somewhere in the back of your mind, the exercise here will bring her (or him!) center stage.

Let me be clear. You need an inner best friend who is really a best friend. Someone who will watch your back, not stab it. Not Leona Helmsey, or Phyllis Schlafly, or some mean girl best friend who’s going to trip you in front of your whole family on the way up to the wedding altar. Not a frenemy. We have enough of those in our real lives, we don’t need to make them up inside our heads. Your real life best friend may or may not be a good example to base your inner best friend on. Don’t worry, connecting to your inner best friend shouldn’t threaten your actual relationships. In fact, it’s likely to make them stronger and more resilient.

My inner best friend is a diva. Glamorous, ageless, voluptuous, jaded but kind. Compassionate and hilarious. She thinks I’m gorgeous, and knows exactly when to remind me of it. She thinks anyone who disagrees with her on this point is an idiot and will proudly tell them where their head is stuck. She’s an endless source of richocheting zingers, (never directed against me, always designed to amuse or wake up) and prefers to be referred to as Goddess. She loves cupcakes with pink frosting and iridescent sprinkles. She is shameless, unafraid to draw attention to herself, and me, when she’s got some wild observation to share, and will get me choking with laughter in no time flat.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself, is Kimber seriously suggesting I come up with an adult imaginary friend? My response is: if you have an inner critic, an inner demon, an inner judge, even an inner Greek chorus echoing a constant refrain of your mistakes and your inadequacies, then yes, you need an inner best friend. Use your imaginative powers for good, not (just) evil. Why the hell not? You need some back up.

Time to get out your journal. Close your eyes and imagine your inner best friend. What do they look like? Where are you seeing them, in your mind’s eye? How do they greet you, with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a squeal and a spin? This best friend already knows your secrets, wouldn’t dream of betraying them, but would listen to you, nodding and comforting, for hours. She sees the beauty and strength in you always, and is ready to remind you of your best self whenever you forget. She remembers your secret triumphs and your deepest wounds, and is ready to cheer or console as your mood requires. She’ll tell you your detractors are long-tongued, babbling gossips, and also assure you there’s no reason you should take it personally.

Your inner best friend also doesn’t put up with self-pity. She’s compassionate, but won’t let you wallow in negativity. She can also be piercingly honest, clearing away the bullshit, and letting you know she loves you the whole time. Trust her to know your heart. Trust her to defend you against inner and outer insults and injuries. She knows the pen is mightier than the sword, and that to laugh and walk away is sometimes the most powerful stance of all.

Imagine all of your most idealized best friend qualities, embodied in one being who lives in your own head. She’s with you all the time, everywhere, you have only to remember her to invoke her uplifting presence. When your inner demon acts up, breaks the rules, smashes the china, introduce them to your best friend, and let her set the boundaries and wave her magic wand. You might be surprised: she may have tricks for dealing with your inner demon you never dreamed of. Get to know her, and vow to be BFF-blood-sisters-pinky-swear-hope-to-die. Make up a secret handshake. Then, when your inner demon isn’t satisfied to wait outside the door, ask, what would my inner best friend do? And proceed knowing she’s got your back.

Next post: Your growing arsenal against the inner demons. Beyond tea and cookies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 9: Schmooze your inner demon.

Sit down and get to know your inner demons. How do they like their tea? What’s their favorite: muffins, scones, or doughnuts? Svetlana, my inner demon/gymnastics coach, loves a strong Russian tea, and has a particular weakness for those little packaged madelines you can buy at the counter at Starbucks. Give her a four pack of those, and she’s perfectly happy to settle in and chat for a while. Get out your journal and write about your inner demon. What do they look like? What motivates them? What is stuck up their butt?

Set the stage. Where are you meeting? At a sunny park, a bustling café, or a peaceful living room? You’re welcome to use my cozy little cottage [from the previous post!]. Let your imagination go, and be surprised at what you find out. Once you and your inner demon have taken a comfortable seat, just listen to them for a while, pay attention and write. Ask them probing questions, like you’re interviewing them for the Rolling Stone magazine cover article of the year. Be objective and interested. This is your unconscious you’re talking to; you can mine some really juicy stuff out of it.

Then it’s your turn. Take a deep breath and tell your inner demon what you need from it. I need you to chill out. I need you to be nicer to me. I need you to turn down the volume, and the drama. Dude! Tell them why. Even enlist their help. I need your help in treating my body with more respect. I want to be better friends with my body, and I need your support. Address any concerns they might have. Reassure them, you’re not ditching them, you just need them to tone it down.

Suggest a getaway in an exotic locale… where do demons like to go on vacation? Depending on how long you’ve struggled with your inner demon, they probably haven’t had a vacation in years, possibly decades. They have a lot of vacation days saved up. And no, you won’t change the locks while they’re gone, but they will have to live by a few ground rules when they get back. No more put downs, no more undermining, no more punching bag. Set good boundaries. Explain to them they are entitled to their opinion about things, but that you won’t be taking their advice so much. If they look at you skeptically, assure them that while it might take some time for you to tune them out, you’re set on your path of transformation.

Call a truce. No more war on the body, no more war on your self-esteem, no more war on your well being. By the time you’ve listened carefully to your inner demon, they feel acknowledged and validated; you might be amazed at how reasonable they can be. Tell them you’re glad to have met them, have a good trip, and show them graciously to the door.

Congratulations, you’ve met your inner demon face to face, and lived to tell the tale. But this is just the beginning. Perhaps after this initial meeting you’ll find your internal radio picks up the inner critic station less and less, as if you’re driving out of range of the transmission tower. Some days the station might come in loud and clear, and some days it might be full of static. Be patient. Our old habits of self-criticism don’t dissolve easily. Let them dissolve one drop at a time.

Next post: The anti-demon---your inner best friend

Monday, February 21, 2011

Love Your Body Part 8: Inner Demon Fashion Mistakes

When I first started doing lots of yoga, I pushed myself hard. I shamelessly (but subtly of course) competed with whomever was on the mat next to me, pulling myself harder into each forward bend as if the enlightenment trophy was going to be awarded to the most hard-working yogi at the end of class. If that didn’t take me past my edge, I competed with myself, all to the inner chorus of “Come on, Kimber, don’t be such a wuss. Sure it hurts, but change hurts, baby! Suck it up.” You can imagine the inevitable results. I injured myself. Not just once, not twice, but over and over again. For a while I convinced myself it was the teacher. “That teacher was bad,” I’d say to myself, groaning over my strained knees. “I’m never going back to that class!” Eventually, I ran out of teachers to blame my pain on, and had the late-arriving epiphany… I was hurting myself.

Hearing the story of Buddha and Mara (see Part 7 above), I started to get curious about my inner pushy voice. Whose voice was it? Where did it come from? Immediately I suspected my stern Marine colonel grandfather whose approval I never earned. Or my middle school softball coach who pretended he was a Marine colonel. Or, even more likely, my inner anorexic, in her full glory, skinny as a rail, anxious with hunger, tanned to raw hide perfection, cheeks gaunt, lipstick perfect, glaring at me in utter distaste down her too-narrow nose.

Rolling out my yoga mat, I lay down, closed my eyes, and contemplated. For the first time ever, I called to my inner demon, “Come out, come out, wherever you are….” Never before had I asked the voice to come to me, it had always arrived unbidden, unwelcomed; right at the moment I needed to back off, it would tell me to push harder. I imagined myself at the table of a cozy little cottage, a tea setting with thick mugs and cookies in the center. The faint sound of footsteps crunched on the pathway outside, and I nervously rose to answer the door. I took ahold of the doorknob and pulled the door wide. For a moment, I thought I’d made a mistake. This was not my inner anorexic, or my grandfather, or any character from my past. This woman was tall and thick, dressed in an ill-fitting seventies-style blue sweatsuit tugging at the seams. She didn't look like a gymnast... more powerful, like a hammer thrower. Her hair was pulled back severely from her face into a tight blonde-gray ponytail, her soft cheeks reddened from the cold, and perhaps too much tipple. She barely glanced at me as she strode through the door, intent on warming herself around the cup of tea and sampling the cookies.

I sat down and watched her as she settled into her repast, amazed. Her name, it turns out, was Svetlana, and she was a Russian gymnastics coach. I’d never done much gymnastics as a kid, and as a Russian history major in college, had a deep love for all things Russian. How had she had emerged, fully formed from my unconscious? But there she was.

Slow understanding dawned on me. She wasn’t trying to make me look like her, or be her. Pushing me was her job, that was all. She’d much rather be here enjoying cookies and tea by the fire than standing in a drafty gymnasium yelling at me and furtively taking swigs of vodka from her flask. She had her own weaknesses, failings, and resentments, having nothing to do with me. For all these years I’d taken her voice as the voice of authority in my life, and in my yoga practice, and why?

“Svetlana, thanks for coming to tea,” I said. “Can you please use a quieter tone of voice from now on? And by the way, I’m not going to listen to you as much anymore.” Raising a pale eyebrow, she shrugged her shoulders and nodded her thanks, grabbing one more cookie on her way out the door.

The next time I found myself in yoga class, I felt the familiar urge to pull myself into a deep forward bend using excessive force and insufficient respect for my back. Briefly, the interior of the cottage flickered in my mind, and I heard Svetlana’s sneakers crunching up the path. Her hand rattled the doorknob for a moment. Taking a deep breath, I waved the image away. Letting go of the pose, I settled back into it with a sense of clarity. I would practice alone on my mat tonight. Svetlana could have the night off.

Next post: Calling a truce with your own demons

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 7: Inner Demons? Invite Them to Tea.

Do you have an inner Simon Cowell? An inner voice you recognize by its slicing put-downs? I.e., “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.” I had one… her favorite thing was comparing my body to grain silos or suggesting I try out for the role of Mount Olympus in the next play. Mean didn’t begin to touch the maliciousness underlying her words. And I had manufactured her entirely out of my own head.

Sure, you might say, self-acceptance and letting go of stupid myths about bodies are great ideas, but what about the voice in my head that won’t shut up about what I eat, what I wear, what my thighs look like, and whether everybody hates my hair? Here's a radical suggestion on how to deal with the inner judge. Get to know her.

There’s a story about how Buddha spent several days, weeks perhaps, in a cave, meditating, while the demon Mara and all his nightmare minions harassed and taunted him from the mouth of the cave. “You’re nothing but a lump of camel poop,” they shouted at him [I’m totally quoting]. “What makes you think you’ll ever become enlightened? You’re a worthless good-for-nothing, more ear wax than brains, wasting your life away for naught. A pathetic failure as a prince AND a monk. If only your father could see you now.” Their eerie laughter twined around the Buddha’s limbs and set doubt working in his heart. Their unseen faces unnerved him, but he hated to leave the cave and venture into the darkness. If he gave up his efforts, he would only be rewarding the demons for theirs. He sat in the dim light of the fire and watched as the smoke curled up in tendrils, drifting out of the cave opening. Stirring the coals with a stick, he saw steam rising from his tea pot and was struck by a sudden inspiration.

“What foolish ignorance makes you think you will succeed where all others have failed?” Mara’s haunting voice echoed across the cave walls.

Buddha took a deep breath. “Mara, is that you?” He waited a moment, hearing only silence. “Mara, the tea is ready. Won’t you come in here out of the cold and warm yourself by the fire? Come enjoy a cup of tea with me.”

Now the versions of the story diverge. In one variation, Mara, shocked by Buddha’s friendliness and lack of fear, flees with his minions in his wake, his power to terrify gone. In another version, Mara comes in, settles next to Buddha by the fire, and they converse. Buddha, seeing Mara in the flesh, realizes that to Mara, taunting Buddha is just a job, nothing personal. And Mara by the fire, holding a cup of tea, isn’t so scary after all.

Invite your demons in for tea. Seriously. How often have we cowered in fear from the judgments of the inner critic? You’re feeling just fine, having a perfectly nice day, about to stop in at your favorite café for a coffee, and you catch a glimpse of your butt in the window of the store next door. Before you know it, you feel like crap, your inner critic has gone into overdrive, demanding drastic diets and self-flagellating exercise, and you find yourself sitting down at a table, miserable, in front of an artificially sweetened black coffee instead of the whipped cream topped caramel coffee milkshake you’d been dreaming of all day. Why do our inner critics have such power over us?

Get curious about your inner critic/demon. Get to know her. What’s her favorite color... have you ever asked her? What does she look like? Whose voice does she speak with? And why is she so freaking pushy!? No, actually don’t ask that… yet. But set up an imaginary meeting with her, ask her some neutral questions, be a little friendly. Stay curious, even if she doesn’t know how to be anything but mean at first. You might be surprised what she looks like when she comes out of the dark. Find out her name.

Next post… coming face to face with my own inner critic. She wasn't what I thought was standing behind door number one!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 6: Letting Go of the Myths

Sometimes the myths and stories we tell ourselves about our bodies cling to us for dear life. They pop up again even after we’ve tried to let them go, like a bad prom dress we keep finding at the bottom of the closet. Didn’t I get rid of that years ago?

There are three steps to deal with this: elucidation, education, and eradication. Elucidation means shining the light on them. Make a master list of all the myths you hold about your body… bellies aren’t sexy, fat women aren’t lovable, if I eat bad food then I’m a bad person, all fat people wish they were thinner, blah, blah, blah. When you think of another one, add it on to the list, and keep adding, even the absurd ones: fat people are jolly. Yup, take every ugly stereotype, every hurtful insult, every unsaid thought about your body, other people’s bodies, all bodies; bring them up from the dredges of your mind and lay them pen to paper. This process can be painful, but think of it as an exorcism. The unknown, the unconscious is often more powerful in our lives than the conscious. Bringing the unconscious assumptions to the surface and seeing the whites of their eyes, makes them less scary, more known, more familiar. They start to lose their power over us.

Then disprove each one of them, through your own experience and education. One of my myths was that big butts weren’t sexy. I had always secretly longed to have one of those butts that looks just like a tiny bulge at the top of the legs, practically invisible. Over many years I’ve collected experiences that have helped me disprove that myth. In the movie “Beauty Shop”, there’s a scene in which Queen Latifah asks her daughter if her jeans make her butt look big. Her daughter says, “Yes.” Queen Latifah looks over her shoulder at her butt in the mirror and says, “Mmm. Perfect!” In Brazil I’ve heard that women value having a big butt (wanting a different body than you have raises its own problems—more about that later), and they believe big butts are inherently sexy! Finally just a few months ago while buying dental floss at the Walgreen’s I saw a display full of an item called the “Booty Pop.” Yeah, seriously. It’s a pad you put under your jeans to make your butt look bigger. If it wasn’t dead in my mind already, that myth is cremated and blown to the four winds now. Just because I don’t see them on fashion runways doesn’t mean big butts aren’t sexy.

Some myths are more challenging to disprove, because we don’t trust ourselves. Even though we know (or are) fat people who exercise and eat well, we still might hold onto the idea that fat equals unhealthy. Nutrition researcher Linda Bacon’s book, Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth About Your Weight, helped disabuse me of my beliefs that obesity causes poor health. I know, we’ve all drunk the kool aid, it’s hard to even entertain the possibility that fat doesn’t mean sick. I’ll let her speak for herself:

“That ‘obesity kills’ has been the backbone of the federal public health campaign. Yet that is not supported by evidence examined by federal employees. Their research found that ‘even severe obesity failed to show up as a statistically significant mortality risk’ and suggested that overweight may actually be protective.” (p 125)

The point is to look at our own beliefs and be willing to challenge them, to read things that upset the ideas we cling to, and start to see a different way to look at the world and our bodies. “Change the way you see, not the way you look,” reads one of my favorite bumper stickers.

Go through each one of your myths and systematically disprove them to your own satisfaction. Some may take longer than others. Be patient.

Take a good look at your list, however long it is. If your list is anything like mine, there’s a lot of negativity there for the body to overcome. Poor body! It’s not just carrying baggage, it’s carrying a truckload of crap. Maybe mountains. No wonder it gets so tired out.

The great secret to all of this is: your body never believed any of this crap for a minute. Think about it. Your mind tells itself stories about what your body means in the world, about what makes it attractive or painful, sexy or gross. Your mind believes these stories and imposes them on the body; my hips are bad, my breasts are too small, my feet are yucky. Your body doesn’t care about all that. Your body knows its value. Your body is happy to wake up in the morning, to be alive to live another day, to feel the sunshine on your skin and the smell of warm grass. Your body doesn’t believe anything anyone else says about it or anyone else’s judgment. Your body doesn’t even believe your own opinion about it. Your body knows it’s good. Trust it.

The final step in letting go of these old beliefs is eradication. Create a ritual in which you symbolically (or literally) throw these beliefs away.

1. Find a rock along the beach, and write some of the myths you want to let go of on it. Throw it (not near surfers, please!) as far into the water as you can. When these beliefs pop up again, remind yourself that you’ve already thrown them away.

2. Create a (safe) bonfire, write the myths on a piece of paper (obviously not the one you’re still adding to), and burn them. Watch the smoke curl up toward the sky, and when you catch yourself believing one of them, remind yourself that they are every bit as insubstantial as the smoke they turned into.

3. Compost your list of myths, tear it up, mix it with chicken manure, feed it to your plants. Chop it and mix it up with water in the blender, and pour it down the drain. Use it as bedding for your rabbit or bird.

Be creative. The more meaningful you make the discarding of your myths, the more you’ll remember that you’ve let go of them for good.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 5: Body Stories

Our bodies carry our clothes, our bag, and sometimes our yoga mat, or a heavy box of books, or a squirmy child on our hip. Our bodies also carry less tangible things: our enjoyment, our worries, our injuries, as well as the stories about who we are and what our bodies mean in the world. What stories does your body carry? What stories do you tell yourself about your body?

My body used to carry the story that it was unlovable, that it would never be good enough. It was a story I wore around myself like an old tattered shirt I never took off, not even to sleep or shower. No matter how beautiful I might have looked to anyone else, no matter how happy I appeared for the moment, that gross shirt lay underneath it all, closer to my heart than even my skin.

Sometimes the stories about our bodies come from our parents’ or family members’ well- intentioned or thoughtless comments, from our friends’ comparisons, from bullies’ taunts, or from the media; all the massive billboards and glossy magazine covers showing impossibly perfect bodies. “You’ll never measure up,” these voices whisper. “There’s something wrong with you.” Eventually, we don’t need anyone to tell us how to feel about our bodies. We internalize the voices to the point that we whisper the same words to ourselves, alone in front of our own mirrors, comparing ourselves to the images stored in our minds. We forget that those stories are myths, opinions, and untruths, and in no way reflect who we truly are. How do we unlearn these stories? First, drag them out into the light.

In my workshops, I ask my students, “What are the myths we tell ourselves about our bodies?” It’s amazing; no matter how different the groups are from each other, every group comes up with a disturbingly similar list of myths. Only thin people are sexy and lovable. Fat people are ugly and unlovable. If you want to be skinny, all you need is willpower. Fat people are weak. Fat of any sort, anywhere on the body, is not okay. Growing older is also not okay. Etc, etc. You can fill in your own stories, the conscious ones and the unconscious ones.

Once you’ve got them out in the open, you can take a look at them. They don’t hold up so well in the light… shrinking and shriveling like drying blobs of jellyfish on a sunny beach. Each one of them is a small lie, but together they are powerful. You have to tease them apart, and they show their weakness: You undoubtedly know some skinny people who are not lovable at all, and fat people who are. You undoubtedly know skinny people who are not beautiful and fat people who are. You know fat people who have enormous willpower, but whose genetic makeup defies all diets. You know strong fat people and weak skinny people. You know fat is natural, that it’s normal (even skinny people have cellulite!), that it’s not inherently attractive or unattractive, good or bad. It’s just fat. And you know that growing older is simply part of life. None of these myths hold up to even the barest examination.

So what now? Replace the myths. Give your body a different story to believe about itself. What stories would you like to hold about your body? If you could make up the rules (guidelines, call them whatever you want) about bodies, what would your rules be? What stories do you want to carry around? Take a sheet of paper, and some colored markers, and make a list of the new rules you want to believe about bodies. Make up rules that resonate for you. That you actually want to live with. Here are some students have suggested:

Love a new body every day. Celebrate all bodies.

Touch and be touched.

All bodies are worthy.

Beauty comes in all sizes.

Don’t skip lunch. Bodies need lunch.

And mine is: Love your body no matter what. Whether or not you love your body doesn’t have to have anything to do with how it looks.

Make your own list. Put it in your wallet, or hang it up on your mirror, and when you find yourself telling yourself one of those old shriveled myths, pull your new rules out and remind yourself you and your body don’t live by those old, false rules anymore. You make the rules now.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 4: Just Say “Hi.”

Be your body’s best friend. It sounds pretty simple. But if you’ve ever scraped the bottom of a half gallon of ice cream with the self-loathing that could peel lead paint off the walls, or sworn to yourself that you would jog every last pound off your body, “as God is my witness!” with a vehemence that would make Scarlett O’Hara wince, then you know that being best friends with your body is a lot harder than just admitting it sounds like a cool idea.

When I first contemplated the possibility of being my body’s best friend, I realized that not only was my body not my friend, but it was barely an acquaintance, and not someone I would voluntarily hang out with. My body felt like a vaguely hostile stranger who was probably stalking me, my mind frequently snarling rude remarks at it to keep its distance. I didn’t need to be friendly. I needed a restraining order. At the best times, my body felt like the unwelcome relative you find sprawled out across your couch and halfway over the coffee table every morning. When will they just leave me in peace?

Shifting this dynamic takes time, much like getting to know someone. First, just say “Hi.” For some of us, looking into the mirror and just saying “Hi” without any other words, judgments, or commentary, is weirdly difficult. We suddenly notice that we have an automatic commentary that starts up the minute we get a glimpse of our reflection. “Looking like those prunes you ate this morning, huh?” Or, “Didn’t take long for that birthday cake to find your thighs, did it, Fatty?” Criticisms arise instantly about our weight, our size, our age, the details, and the whole of our appearance.

“Hi” is where you start letting go of the critique. You wouldn’t see a stranger for the first time and tell them they look like hell. Or would you? Let’s assume you have a certain modicum of restraint and politeness towards other people. Let’s assume you don’t scold the neighbor across the hall every time you see them, and that you greet the mail carrier with a bare minimum of civil enthusiasm. “Hi.” You can do at least that much for the person who looks back at you over the bathroom sink.

Practice just saying “Hi” in the mirror. To your face, to your body, to the pimple under your nose. Just say hi to it. Be friendly, perhaps in a guarded way at first, knowing trust grows slowly. When you catch yourself saying more than just “Hi,” stop, turn away from the mirror, take a deep breath, and then turn back and try again. Keep trying, even if it doesn’t work at first. In fact, if no matter how hard you try, you can’t simply say “Hi” to yourself in the mirror, be patient with yourself. Turn the “Hi” into an aspiration. Say to yourself, “I wish to someday be able to just say ‘Hi’ to myself in the mirror.” That’s enough. Gently aspire to it.

The “Hi” practice does two things: it starts to turn the tendency of your judgments about your body from negative to more neutral, and helps you to notice your own negative thoughts and feelings towards your body. Just as a neutral greeting in life sets the stage for a later friendship, you’re putting into place a foundation of tentative trust and friendliness you can start to build upon. In addition, just saying “Hi” to yourself when you see your reflection gives your mind something else to do other than torture yourself with negativity about your body. It’s like handing a toddler a colorful plastic rattle to trade for the pen knife. A good idea, and keeps down the blood spillage. Win-win all around. With this as our starting place, in later chapters I’ll introduce more practices to help move you in the direction of increasing friendliness toward your body, one step at a time.

Try out the “Hi” practice, and let me know how it goes!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 3: Shift Yourself, Shift the World

For some of us, “using our power for good and not for evil,” to quote the kindly adult mentor of junior superheroes everywhere, is motivation enough to learn how to relate to our bodies in a healthier way. We recognize how we’ve been misusing our energy to hurt ourselves and are ready to channel that energy into supporting our dreams instead of tearing ourselves down. For others, we need to connect it to the big picture… it’s not enough to do something for ourselves, we have to feel like our efforts around loving our bodies are going to make the world a better place, and miring us in navel-gazing or self-indulgence. For you, I have four words: “Do it for Emily.”

Here you have a single six year old girl, with perfect confidence and joy in her body just as she is. How long do you think that’s going to last? Until her first injury, a broken wrist or sprained ankle? Until the first jealous middle school mean girl comment, “You’re fat.”? Until her first period, or when her hips grow and her breasts start showing? Until she starts to internalize the billboards and magazine covers and starts thinking she should look like an air-brushed model? You can see it coming, like a storm approaching over the horizon, with few places to huddle in safety, and no sense of when it might pass. Emily hears her friends talking about whatever the latest fad diet is. She tries it, but gains weight instead. In college, she joins her friends in criticizing their bodies at the gym and forgets she ever loved her body like a best friend. In a handful of years, a decade on the outside, she’s experiencing the same agony, the same disgust, the same frustration and alienation from her body that so many of us have suffered through.

Now imagine that same girl, same circumstances. Except that her mom, her teachers at school, her karate instructor, the sassy woman at the salon who cuts her hair, her teenage babysitter, even the women she sees walking down the street, clearly love their bodies, feel confident in whatever size they are, never compare themselves to other women, and encourage her to treat her body with the dignity, respect, and friendliness it deserves.

Do you see?

Every woman who transforms her own relationship with her body from one of struggle to one of ease makes it easier for Emily to love her body for her entire life. Each woman who does this inner work helps to shift the culture as a whole, from one where our bodies are battlegrounds, to one where our bodies are the source of inspiration and support for everything we want to create in life.

Your transformation matters. Your ability to shift how you feel about your body can change the world.

Think about it. When you criticize your body, who hears your critique? Your friends? Your daughter or niece? Your partner? How do they feel when they hear you say, “My body is so ugly.”? One student said her boyfriend responded, “Don’t talk that way about my girlfriend.” Another student’s boyfriend explained, “When you say that about your body, it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me for loving you.” Even worse, children think that’s the way they should feel about their bodies as well. They can end up thinking (often not incorrectly, unfortunately), that being an adult means disliking your body. When we get into a group of friends, if one person starts to criticize her hips, another goes off about her thighs, and the next about her belly, and suddenly everyone feels like they have to prove they have the most disgusting body that ever walked on two feet. What’s the opposite of one-upmanship? One-down-woman-ship?

The good news is that the opposite happens as well. When you love your body, when how you treat your body reflects a sense of friendliness, when you say respectful and loving things about your body, the people around you respond to that as well. Your confidence and sense of being at home in your body can put others at ease, and turns you into a wonderful role model for the kids around you, as well as for the adults. Embodying friendliness towards your own body gives others permission to relate to their own with more respect and kindness.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Love Your Body Blog 2 The Power

How much time in your life have you spent worrying about your body? How much money have you spent on fashion magazines, looking at air-brushed models, feeling a creeping sense of inadequacy sneaking up on you? How many minutes, hours, days, obsessing about not having an ideal body? How much time have you wasted comparing yourself to another woman’s body and not measuring up? I’ve literally given up years of my life to this agonizing pursuit, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing. In fact, each moment I spent hating myself and wishing my body was different is a moment I could have spent laughing with friends, watching a sunset with my sweetie, rubbing my dog’s belly with my toes, writing a letter to my congressperson, or watering my parched houseplants. My poor houseplants have been through some rather difficult periods.

What would I do with all that time if I could get it back? Become a championship sky diver... write the sequel to Casablanca… end world hunger? It’s hard to even let my mind go there… too many regrets. What I can do is say, “Never again.” Never again will I let my valuable life energy get sucked up by the endless vacuum of body-hatred. Barring the sudden invention of cheap wormhole travel, I can’t do anything about the time already lost. But the time in front of me is wide open: a chance to transform the energy I once used to criticize and demean myself into energy that supports my dreams and fuels the life I really want to live.

Imagine it. Take all the energy you spend doubting yourself, disliking your body, punishing your body, comparing yourself to abstract ideals of perfection and never measuring up, and pour it into a barrel. Wring out every last dribble. Fill it to the top. Maybe a barrel isn’t big enough. Maybe you need a grain silo. Or an airplane hangar. Or a steep valley-- or an ocean. Stand back and have a look at that energy. Maybe it has lightning bolts crackling over it. Perhaps it glows like a supernova, or maybe lava bubbles burst and spew molten fire. Maybe Kali, the goddess of eternal change, is dancing over it, her tongue lolling out, and her necklace of skulls thrashing wildly. Whatever you picture in your mind’s eye, recognize that energy as raw energy, powerful energy, potentially destructive, but also immensely creative. It’s your power-- the power you formerly used against yourself. Wow.

Now you have an awesome choice. You’re not using this power against yourself anymore, so what are you going to do with it? How are you going to direct and channel it? What dream have you held back from that you can now step into with this huge reservoir of power at your fingertips? What are you going to do now?

This is the vision the Love Your Body book holds for you. How to transform your relationship with your body into something that fuels you rather than depletes you. That energizes and supports your dreams rather than undermines you. You can access a vast supply of energy to manifest your dreams, power that is already within you… simply by redirecting the energy you’ve misused against yourself and directing it into the world. For too long we’ve been like kids burning up ants with a magnifying glass. It’s time to turn the power of the magnifying glass to our journey of self-discovery.

The Love Your Body book is meant to be a guidebook, offering you the tools and practices my students and I have successfully used to transform our own relationship to our bodies, and to inspire your own journey. “Start from the highest,” my teacher Carlos Pomeda always says. Hold the highest vision of yourself able to transform negative energy around your body into energy that supports love and creativity in your life as you step onto this path with me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Love Your Body Blog

I wrote a book called Finding Fullness. Three hundred pages on how yoga miraculously transformed my relationship with my body from one of disgust and shame to one of friendship and love. “Where might I find this book?” you may ask. Sadly, at the moment it exists only on my hard drive, and as a thoroughly stained, crumpled, well-marked stack of pages printed at the copy-shop-formerly-known-as-Kinko’s a couple months ago, which I’ve been editing as the mood strikes me. But don’t despair. Hopefully some eager literary agent, a fantastic publisher, and a brilliant editor will pick it up and decide to hurry it along to a bookstore near you. Cross your fingers, but don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, I’ve started to write the next book, The Love Your Body Book. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s the how-to version of Finding Fullness. In fact, this is the start of it, here on the blog, right here and right now. At every yoga class lately, a student asks me… “How’s the book coming?” I’m fairly certain that they’re wishing I would pull a copy out from behind my back and say, “Here it is, could I sign it for you?” I wish that too. Instead they end up hearing a couple of broken sentences containing vague words like… book proposal… query letters… hopefully… agent… publisher…soon. Underlying that question is often another that folks are afraid to ask: “Kimber, do you know your baby’s daddy?” No. Wait. Sorry, not that question. The question is: “I know perhaps it’s unlikely, but is there anything I could do to help?” The answer to that question is yes! Read the blog, subscribe to it, pass it on to friends, recommend it to anyone and everyone. Get the word out! Something you can easily do sitting in front of your own electronic hearth. And as an added bonus… you might find yourself loving your body more.

I’ve found two reactions to the title of the book/workshop: Love Your Body. The first is… “I don’t need to read this book/go to this workshop. I already love my body just fine.” The second is… “What, are you kidding? Love my body? Not in a million years. Or at least not until I’ve had $150,000 worth of liposuction!” To the first group, I’ll let my student Stephanie tell you her experience:

I didn't think I 'needed' this workshop. I thought I had a decent relationship with my body, yet over the course of the workshop I became aware of the myriad ways in which I internalize negativity and undermine my body (and therefore myself) on a daily basis. It was powerful to realize that transforming negativity could have such a profoundly beneficial effect on me (and those around me), daily, lastingly.

To the second group, what if I told you about a woman who hated her body every day for more than twenty-five years, who tried to kill herself because she hated her body so desperately, who binge-ate, starved herself, over-exercised, and under-exercised, who was certain she would never end the war she waged on her body with her mind, in fact, who wasn’t even sure she wanted to end the war… that this woman, by following the path outlined in the book, came to radically change her relationship with her body to one where she truly loves her body now? That woman is me. I did it. You can too.

It didn’t happen overnight. Nothing worthwhile does. It takes a long time to create a thing of beauty, or a satisfying and meaningful relationship. One drop at a time fills the bucket. The first drop for me happened quite unexpectedly.

One day, while picking up my son Cooper from preschool, the dad of one of his little friends told me, “You won’t believe what Emily said to me last night.” Cooper and Emily had been skating together at the local rink, and Emily’s skills on the ice were quite amazing for such a tiny girl. “She said, ‘My body is my best friend.’” He must have been quite satisfied by the look on my face, because if my lower jaw hadn’t been attached to the rest of my face, it would have clattered to the floor. “That’s awesome,” I murmured. A wash of hope flowed over me as I imagined Emily growing up feeling that way about her body all the time, throughout adolescence, and womanhood. A bitter wistfulness flashed by: could her body remain her best friend through fashion magazines, and eating disorders, and skinny jeans? But she felt that way now, that’s something, right? “How wonderful for her, and for you,” I smiled at her dad. “I hope she always feels that way.”

Kissing Cooper on his head, and tucking him into his car seat, I wondered, “Why don’t I feel like my body is my best friend?” Could I change the way I feel about my body? Could I be friendly, and supportive, and loving towards my body? My body felt like the annoying cousin you always have to invite to your birthday parties, who tells embarrassing stories about the time you peed your pants at a wedding, who brings stupid presents like day of the week underwear, and who makes sure all your friends know how totally uncool you are. My body should be my best friend, really? Couldn’t we just settle for college roommates who tolerate each other but don’t hang out? Sigh. Yet, just asking the open question, “Can I be my body’s best friend?” opened up a subtle but profound shift in my awareness around how I treated my body. To be continued….