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, June 20, 2011

Love Your Loved Ones’ Bodies

My mom has always had great legs. She would deny it to her dying breath, but it’s true. Even now that she’s older than she’d care to admit. My sister has always had an amazing body… she’s carried three babies (two at the same time!) and eats triathlons for breakfast. And I love my dad’s chest… he gives the greatest hugs. Nothing feels as safe and steady. My family doesn’t look like a bevy of runway models. But I love their bodies.

As you learn to love your body, teach yourself to love the bodies of the people you love.

What do you love about your grandmother’s body? Your cousin? Your aunt? What do you love about your brother’s body?

Look for what’s good in the bodies of those you care about. Pick someone. First just look at your family member (or friend) remembering what you love about them. Notice if your tendency is to criticize their body. Soften around your judgments and just say “Hi” to their body. Remind yourself that their body is what makes it possible to love them, what allows them to be embodied and present in your life. What are you grateful for about their body? How does their body take care of and support them, allowing you to be in relationship with them?

Think of a time when they’ve been sick or injured. Thank their body for healing and for taking care of them so that they are around for you to love and enjoy their presence. What’s good and beautiful in their body? It might be that they have strong arms or soft cheeks, warm hands or a round, comforting belly. Maybe you’re grateful that their liver or kidneys have held up so well. Can you see the beauty and the good in their body? Can you find something about their body you admire, perhaps something you’d never realized you were fond of?

If your family is anything like mine, they’ve got real bodies, not airbrushed and not “perfect” in an abstract, idealized way. And yet they are lovable. When you can see the beauty in Great Aunt Mary’s arms, it’s so much easier to soften and see the beauty in your own arms. When you remember how fond you are of your grandfather’s belly, it’s less of a stretch to embrace what’s good about your own. Get out of the habit of criticizing others’ bodies and… you get the idea.

Learn to love all bodies and you’ll have less trouble loving your own!

Love Your Body Blog Part 52

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Die Bad Photo! Die!

No one should be allowed to take pictures during Twister. Seriously.

Have you ever had your picture taken while your right foot is on blue, left hand on red, ass in the sky? Imagine the photographic possibilities… emphasis on “graphic” intended.

Years ago at a Twister party at my house, a friend snapped some shots, and months later the pictures ended up in my lap. (Remember the pre-Facebook lag time of our ancient past?) The party was a blast; I remember laughing til I nearly peed my pants. Which is always a good sign.

Yet holding those photos in my hand I wanted to erase that night from my memory forever.

At least two of the pictures prominently featured my butt sticking high up in the air… dwarfing everything else in its vicinity. OMG. Kill me now. Is that really what my butt looks like? The Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in yoga pants?

Horrified doesn’t begin to touch my reaction.

It was as if someone had taken my happy memory of the evening and spray-painted “Fat Ugly Bitch” across it in drippy red letters. Placing the pictures upside down on the coffee table, I huddled in a ball on the couch and resolved to go on a diet the very next day. I wouldn’t stop until I’d starved myself to oblivion. How could my friends stand to look at me? How could anyone stand to look at me?

A lump formed in my throat.

The party had been so much fun. Until that moment, I’d felt great about the party, pretty good about my body, and satisfied with my life. What changed to make me wish the party had never happened? Did those pictures have enough power not only to make me hate that night, but to hate my body and throw myself into the arms of some harmful diet for months or years to come? Who gave these pictures that much power?


My friend didn’t intend mischief by sharing the pictures. She quite sensibly assumed I’d be thrilled to have photos of our evening of laughter-induced incontinence. Everyone had a great time, and no one complained about the size or prominence of my butt. No one told me I needed to go on a diet. The photos themselves were just pieces of paper with ink on them. I was the one who gave them the power to change how I felt about a night that happened months ago, and to undermine how I felt about my body and my life.

I’d given all my power away to two 4X6 pieces of glossy paper.

This sudden realization jolted me from the corner of the couch into which I’d burrowed. I sat up and turned the pictures over. I didn’t have to give them that much power. I didn’t have to give them any power. My life is good, my body is good. I glanced at the butt shots and decided that, most likely, no one’s butt looks good in Twister shots. These were just pictures of me having a good time with my friends. I didn’t have to fix them or fix myself.

Photos can be weirdly powerful. Have you ever given your power away to a particular photo? Can you take it back?

Let’s not give our power away to inanimate objects and the stories we tell ourselves about what they mean. Trust your body. Does it feel good? Is it happy? Is it getting the fuel and fun it needs? No photo can tell the truth about your body. Only your body knows the truth about you. Pause now and listen.

Love Your Body Blog Part 51

Friday, June 10, 2011

Holy Sacred Body!

What is sacred to you? The image of Notre Dame’s massive stained glass windows arises first in my mind, and then a cathedral formed by enormous trees sheltering the forest floor. The first moment I held my baby son in my arms felt deeply sacred. In fact, the occasional hug in which my ear is placed near his chest and I hear his heart’s steady beat still fills me with relief and quiet wonder.

What do I mean by sacred? That which fills you with a sense of awe, that effortlessly draws your attention so that you can’t help but pause, take it in, and remember for a moment how brief and miraculous life is.

We call certain places sacred—a temple, a holy marker, a cemetery, a river—and approach them with respect and dignity. When I visited Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu (a gorgeous Buddhist monument surrounded by monkey-filled trees), upon arriving at the base of the dome on top of the hill I immediately felt drawn to its powerful energy. Looking up at the golden eyes of Buddha against the blue sky, and watching the pilgrims circling the base spinning the prayer wheels and murmuring their mantras, my heart wavered and expanded and my eyes filled with tears. Sacred. Any place that thousands, perhaps even millions of people approach as sacred gathers palpable energy that can resonate in your body and soul whether or not you ascribe to the accompanying beliefs.

But we don’t have to travel far to find (or make) something sacred. A home altar provides a sacred place where we arrange objects that help us focus our attention on what is important to us and what we want our lives to be about. The objects themselves and even the IKEA coffee table they live on become sacred. We get disgruntled if an oblivious guest abandons their crumpled cup or gum wrapper there. If the forest or the beach feels like sacred space to you, the idea of leaving broken plastic wine glasses and crumpled paper napkins from your picnic to blow around in the grass and rocks is sacrilegious. You wouldn’t dream of it.

Why do we treat our bodies like they are less worthy than a temple or the forest? Is your body any less a miracle than the beach? Your human body is a work of evolutionary art, vastly more amazing in its complexity and mystery than the most elaborately constructed Gothic cathedral.

In the words of Walt Whitman:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,

…And the running blackberry would adorn the parlours of heaven,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,

And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,

And a mouse is a miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels

You’ve heard, “Your body is a temple.” So how is your temple? Do you treat your temple like the sacred space it is? Or do you disrespect it? You wouldn’t dream of breaking into someone’s church or synagogue or mosque and spraying hateful graffiti on the walls. Yet many of us have no self-restraint when it comes to insulting ourselves, criticizing and abusing our bodies, and coming back for more. This is the equivalent of vandalizing our own church; using the altar cloths to wipe our feet, getting piss-drunk on the holy wine, and melting the sacred objects down to buy heavy weapons and, of course, more spray paint.

Six steps to treat your body like a temple:

1. Recognize its beauty. See how extraordinary your body truly is.

2. Approach your body with respect and awe. “Oh Nobly Born,” (as the Buddha says), be gentle with and dignified toward your body. Offer your body loving rituals of cleansing.

3. Treat your body the way you would any other sacred space. Don’t throw mental, emotional, and psychological “garbage” on it. Be kind and responsible.

4. Honor it. Listen to what food, movement, rest, and attention it needs and meet those needs appropriately. Dress your body with attention to the comfort and beauty that allows its beauty to shine fully.

5. Protect it. Avoid people who don’t treat your body with the respect it deserves, and situations which endanger its well-being.

6. Pause and enjoy it. Experience and appreciate your own aliveness. Slow down and savor your life.

Your body is sacred space. Meet it with reverence and delight.

Encourage others to treat their bodies as sacred space as well. Yoga master Richard Freeman says that once we’ve drawn the circle to show “everything inside this line is sacred,” we must to remember to erase the line as well. The circle helps us focus our attention, and then we recognize how the sacred lives within us and everywhere else.

Be the temple. Love your body, love your yoga, love the world.

I’d love to hear your ideas about other ways you can treat your body like a temple….

Love Your Body Blog Part 50

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dear Body, A Love Letter

Have you ever written a love letter to your body? No? Why not? Tell your body how you feel about it. Be honest, be authentic. Share with it your disappointments, fears, longings, and dreams. Snuggle up and write your best friend/body a love letter. Here’s mine:

Dear Body,

It’s taken me a long time to get up the nerve to write you this letter. You deserve so much more than just a few pixels typed out on the computer. Think of this letter as warm socks, showers of rose petals, and an afternoon playing in the beach surf all rolled up into one. It’s a love letter of sorts… though it begins with an apology.

You’ve been incredibly dependable my whole life, taking care of me, hiking with me through the forest, dancing and making music, helping me expand into life in every possible way. And what did I do? I was mad at you for longer than I care to admit. I hid you out of shame. I made fun of you in front of other people. I starved you and mistreated you. I overfed you and then blamed you for existing. I invested time, energy, and money in developing my brain (which you tolerated for years without complaint) and then resented you when you rebelled with pain. My humblest apologies don’t nearly begin to touch the depth of what I put you through. I would never treat anyone else the way I’ve treated you. I am so sorry.

Don’t you find it annoying when someone apologizes but doesn’t add the oh-so-important corollary: “…and I’ll make sure it never happens again.”? So… from now on I promise to do my very best to treat you with the love and respect you deserve. I might make mistakes, I might not love you perfectly at every moment, but know that I’ve resolved that nothing will stand in the way of me loving you ever again. No one’s opinion, no bad mirrors, no ugly photos: I won’t let anything convince me that you aren’t worth loving just the way you are.

You have been a best friend to me all this time, unconditionally supporting everything I love to do and create. I want to do the same for you. I want to listen to you and nurture you, see the beauty in you and support all the changes and adventures you have yet to experience. I want to be your best friend.

Teach me how to love you. Teach me how to listen. Remind me that your beauty is incomparable and inherent in what you are, a magnificent human body. Here are just a few things to remind us both of what I love about you:

You are strong, flexible, amazingly responsive and adventurous.

Your hands reflect back to me my mother, my grandmother, and beyond even that… through you I see a long line of women’s hands that have raised families, learned, loved, and shaped the world.

You are tall, yet steady. Solid, yet graceful. You are soft, but firm.

You are easily delighted: by rain on your face, by the softness of an animal’s fur, by the rustle of leaves, by the sparkle of sunlight.

You are quiet and secretly wild. Other times you are loud and secretly in awe.

I love you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for loving me despite everything. I’m here for you. We’re in this together. May I learn how to love you better every day.

Yours truly, Kimber

Love Your Body Blog Part 49

Friday, June 3, 2011

You Have the Perfect Body

Have you ever seen a perfectly straight, infinitely long line? Me neither. How about a perfectly mathematically round sphere? Nope, never seen one. Perfectly straight lines and perfectly round spheres exist only in one place: your mind. Nature doesn’t make mathematically perfect objects, and yet who could say that a tree isn’t perfect?

Idealized perfection exists only in our minds. You will never be mathematically perfect. Your body will never be mathematically perfect. Even the people we think are perfect aren’t perfect. After seeing an airbrushed photo of herself, Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”

Who wants to look at a mathematically perfect tree? Have you ever seen those radio towers disguised with xmas tree needles to look like trees? They are weirdly symmetrical and unnatural looking. We love the imperfection in nature; the uneven crags and knolls are what draw us to a gorgeous landscape.

Yet often we expect our bodies to be perfect: for women, cellulite-free, hairless, toned but not muscley, tanned, free of pimples, scars, veins, and of course wrinkles. Perfection in humans is entirely limited to the class of human beings who live their flat lives on billboards and in magazines. All their imperfections have been wiped clean by technology’s magical brush. Whose body is perfect? No one’s. No one’s real body is perfect.

Our idealized definition of perfect is a soul-crushing steam-roller that flattens many girls (and some boys as well) starting at age ten or younger. We learn our bodies can never measure up and we go to wild extremes to reach for a perfection that, like a desert mirage, lures us on until we find ourselves face down in the sand and dying of thirst. For years I tried to shape my body into an unattainable perfection that left me hating myself and hating life and isolated from the people who loved me most.

It’s time to redefine “perfect” and throw out our habit of holding up outer perfection as a desirable goal. We don’t have to go too far to find a new meaning… in yoga, perfect is purna. Purna means not abstract perfection, but wholeness, completeness, fullness; perfect as a real experience of life… everything is perfect by being fully itself. Purna/perfect is natural, vibrant, asymmetrical, and dynamic. It changes, but is always perfect nonetheless. Perfect is no longer about comparing ourselves to something outside of us, but is our own experience, our own lives, our own bodies. You are already yourself, you are already perfect. There is nothing to attain.

Perfect is a way to see yourself. It’s not something we buy from a cosmetics company or a plastic surgeon. You are incomparable. To be perfect you need only to step fully into being yourself, and no one else. No one can show you your perfection… it’s like asking the fish to see the water or inside its own bones. Perfect is simply who you are.

Even the parts of ourselves we most dislike are perfect. Years ago after I'd lamented the stretch marks on my thighs, my partner responded, “I love your stretch marks. I love your thighs. Your stretch marks tell me you are a living, breathing woman who’s had many life experiences, all of which I value because they make you who you are: the person I love.”

To practice redefining perfect for yourself, walk down the sidewalk and observe the trees (even the stunted ones) and flowers (even the wilted ones) and say, “This is perfect. That is perfect. This thing is perfectly itself, perfectly alive, perfect in its experience.” See how things are perfect in their imperfection. Then look in the mirror and say to your flaws and your assymetries: “You are perfect. You are perfectly yourself.” Start to open your eyes to how you are perfect in your own imperfection.

Love Your Body Blog Part 48