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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Teach Your Children [to Love Their Bodies] Well

Do you teach your child to treat her body like a scapegoat, or like a treasured friend?

In the first post of this blog, I shared the story of Emily, the little girl who said, “My body is my best friend!” Emily’s relationship with her body inspired me to break open the vault of my self-hatred and turn the lead into gold. Kids can teach us a lot about loving our bodies… how to roll down grassy hills, cannonball into a lake, jump for joy, and spin until we fall over. How to have fun in our bodies for the grass-stained, muddy-kneed delight of it.

Most kids are already experts at how to enjoy and love their kid bodies. What they learn from us is how adults relate to their bodies. Here are the top five things kids learn about bodies from the adults in their lives:

1. Never compliment your own body. In fact, put your body down every time you look at it. Never miss an opportunity to criticize your body in front of other people.

2. If an item of clothing looks bad on you, it’s your body’s fault. If you’re in a bad mood, it’s probably your body’s fault too. If you didn’t get a date last week, or the job you wanted, you guessed it, it’s your body’s fault. Any time you’re pissed off about anything, it’s probably because your body is sabotaging you.

3. It’s okay to make fun of fat people, because it’s not okay to be fat.

4. It’s fine to talk about how your friend needs to go on a diet behind their back, or even to their face.

5. Exercise should be difficult, painful, and hard to force yourself to do. You should force yourself to do it anyway, and feel bad about yourself if you don’t.

I know, a lot of these are cringe-worthy, and you could swear you’ve never done any of them in front of a child. But you know how kids are; they’re sponges. They soak up every comment muttered under your breath in front of a mirror, every overheard conversation about someone’s “weight problem,” every time we smile and nod at a fat joke instead of calling people on it. Kids are natural imitators. Every gesture, movement, and facial expression you make in their presence gets filed away in their brains under the heading, “This Is How Adults Act.” They will try out everything in that file at least once on their way to figuring out what kind of adult they’re going to be. You don’t even have to write these rules up and post them on the fridge: almost every girl knows these rules by heart by the time she’s twelve (if not much earlier), and every boy by at least fourteen.

The good news is you can change the rules.

Here’s what you do:

1. Compliment yourself out loud in front of the mirror everyday. Some days your kid will overhear you and think you’re nuts. But slowly the message will sink in… it’s okay to appreciate your body.

2. Compliment your child’s body, physical ability, appearance. Your hair looks great today. Your handstand is amazing. Your body is so strong!

3. Never-ever-ever criticize your body in front of anyone else, especially not your child. In fact, get out of the habit of criticizing your body, even in your own head. Your body is not a scapegoat for whatever is wrong today. If a swimsuit looks crappy on you, it’s the swimsuit’s fault… not your body’s. Address the true causes of feeling bad instead of blaming it on your weight or size.

4. Don’t make fat jokes. Don’t laugh at fat jokes. You probably don’t tell racist or homophobic jokes and you sure don’t teach your kids to laugh at them. Being fat is a natural part of human diversity. Read nutritionist Linda Bacon’s book, Health At Every Size to understand the function and myths about fat in our lives.

5. Respect other people’s bodies. Don’t make weight and dieting a topic of conversation. Aren’t there more important things to talk about? World peace? Organ donation? How to survive the impending zombie apocalypse? (By the way, it’s fine to make fun of zombies.)

6. Have fun exercising! Let your child see you having fun exercising. Do exercise you love, and while it’s fine to complain (a little) about aches and pains, emphasize how much you enjoy dancing, swimming, biking, skiing, hiking, skating, surfing, hula-hooping, whatever your body loves to do.

7. You don’t have to tell your child, “I love my body and you should love yours too.” Instead, live it! Let your whole life reflect the love and appreciation you have for your body and your child will soak it up like a sponge in a bubble bath.

Live in your body the way you want your child to live in theirs. Treat your body with love and your child will learn… this is how adults treat their bodies.

Love Your Body Blog Part 63

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Universe Loves Your Body

Have you heard of Pronoia? Apparently my spell-checker hasn’t… the almighty Microsoft dictionary in the sky underlines it in squiggly red.

According to Rob Brezsny (who literally wrote the book on it), Pronoia is “the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.”

What if, instead of believing everyone is out to get us, we believed that everyone is out there to help us? Can we be pronoic in loving our bodies? Everything in the world is there to remind us to love and care for and be a better friend to our bodies.

“All of creation is conspiring to shower us with blessings. Life is crazily in love with us—brazenly and innocently in love with us. The universe always gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.” Rob Brezsny, Pronoia is the Antidote to Paranoia.

What if today you treated everything life offers you as a reminder to love your body?

You turn on warm water in the shower: love your body

You sip your favorite tea… mmm, your body savors it

The toast is burned. You throw it in the compost and make another piece: your body thanks you.

You get into the car without slamming your fingers in the door: yay, body!

You pass a billboard for liposuction: instead of imagining winning the lottery and spending goola-moola to look like Heidi Montag, you put your hand on your belly and tell it you don’t need surgery to love it.

You get a text message from a friend about your fun weekend plans and you’re excited to take your body on a new adventure.

You get the idea…

Last week I blogged about how important it is to have a daily practice of loving your body… this practice is a few steps further down the radiant love your body road. Let everything remind you to be a good friend to your body.

What about when you catch a glimpse in the mirror and trip the wire of self- criticism? When you see that wave of poison arrows coming at you, pause and breathe a moment, then imagine your best friend pushing you out of the way, and watch all of the arrows bounce harmlessly on the concrete floor. Say to your body, “Hello there. Sorry about that. We’re in this together.” Turn it into a moment of friendly reassurance between you and your body.

When your co-worker complains that her thighs are too fat? Stand up for your body (and hers!). Say, “I don’t believe in putting my body down in front of other people. You wouldn’t say something mean like that to your friend. Or would you?” Hooray! You transformed something painful into a magical seed that might very well take root and start to grow. You didn’t engage with her body trash talk. She starts to wonder, “If my co-worker can be friendly towards her body, could I do that too?” You’re a Love Your Body hero!

Think of the world as a conspiracy devoted to reminding you to love your body in every way possible, intent on challenging you to be friendly where you’re judgmental, and ecstatically loving when you never imagined it possible. The universe loves your body and wants you to love it too.

Take everything life throws at you and throw it back with a kiss.

Love Your Body Blog Part 62

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feed Your Body, Love Your Body

This week, my student and friend Laura shares her journey toward learning how to love her body. Laura is currently studying medicine and is excited to bring her insight into loving her body to how she treats her patients. Read on for further inspiration!

1) What brought you to the realization that you needed/wanted to change your relationship with your body?

I had three phases of realization.

One came when I joined the crew team in college. Though I worked just as hard as the rest of the women on the team, I wasn’t improving. When I asked my coach about it, she politely pointed out that I had an eating disorder and should get help. I wasn’t feeding myself enough to make up for the energy I exerted. I first had to emerge from the denial that everything was fine.

After getting help for the eating disorder I wound up seeing a therapist because I discovered that the eating disorder was only a symptom of a larger issue - anxiety. The therapist, who later became a dear friend, started out by telling me that what I really needed was to love myself, all of myself, even my anxiety. This was the second phase: learning to love myself.

When my therapist moved out of the area, she recommended above all that I should do some sort of body work. Tai Chi. Kung Fu. Yoga. Something to connect my mind with my body. Eventually I found my way to Anusara Yoga and Kimber’s classes. Through the practice of yoga and working with Kimber’s teachings, I discovered that to love myself, I also needed to love my body.

2) What practice or concept from the Love Your Body Workshop has most helped you change your relationship with your body?

“My body is my best friend.” I come back to this quote and continue a conversation with myself. Do I feel this way? How so? What would it take for me to really feel this way?

I need to be around people that appreciate my body and appreciate their own bodies. I need to notice what comes up for me (rather than react) when I hear others complain about their bodies.

I need to listen to what my body loves, and serve it those things. Food. Water. Massage. Yoga. Sun. Vegging out on the couch. Cream cheese frosting. Fresh air. Shower. Hiking. Sex. Sleep.

It’s still helpful for me to practice looking at myself in the mirror, like you would look at a friend, and say, maybe even out loud, “Hi, how are you?”

3) Aside from what you learned in the Love Your Body Workshop, what helps you love your body?

· I’ve stopped looking at popular magazines. I mean, I’ll still peruse National Geographic. But I stay away from “photoshopped” images. Even though I know that the images are not real, there is a part of my brain that attaches to them and strives towards them. It’s like an addiction. So I choose not look at them. And instead, I try to find the beauty in every natural body I encounter.

· I find that my body (and mind) gets very agitated and irritated if I don’t go to at least one, preferably two yoga classes per week. I also practice at home when I can. The physical aspect of yoga helps my body to relax, and the teachings help me to pause and let my mind relax as well.

· My body also needs a good night’s rest, and in order to have that, it needs to wind down before bed. A hot shower or bath followed by a few restorative poses helps. I also force myself not to use the internet (check my email, facebook, etc) once I’m in bed.

· When I get hungry, I get grouchy. When I get grouchy, my negative tape starts rolling. Sometimes it says things like, “you really shouldn’t eat that.” Of course, this only adds to the hungry, grouchy, self-deprecating loop. So instead, I feed myself, enjoy my food, and that helps me to stay positive.

· I love the line: “My body is a living temple of love. My body is the body of the goddess.” It’s from a kirtan session, but I forget the name of the singer.

· One of my favorite quotes that reminds me how to love my body: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek & find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

4) For women who are just starting out on the path of learning to love their bodies, do you have words of wisdom for them? Somewhere in you, you love your body already. It just takes patience and hope to rekindle that fire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wake Up and Love Your Body

On Monday I shared how to love your body on a radio show hosted by Elizabeth Sampson. (To listen to the show, click here.) She’s a holistic healer and encourages her clients to undertake daily practices of healing and health. Daily practice makes a huge difference.

If you want to love your body, you can’t just do nice things for your body every once in a while.

Think of it like brushing your teeth. How would it feel if you only brushed your teeth once a week? Once a month? No way. All that yellow fuzzy stuff and bits of food just sitting there… need I go on?

When we don’t take the time to love our bodies everyday, the airbrushed images on billboards and magazines start to get stuck in our brains, a creeping sense of dissatisfaction sneaks under our skin, and the old tapes of self-criticism and negativity play in the background like the noise of a street party through an open window.

Think of loving your body every day as preventative… it cleans out the junk, the unneeded, the judgments, and leaves you with a healthy, clean feeling that nine of out of ten dentists recommend. OK, just kidding about that last part.

What do we expect? Just like you eat and use your teeth everyday, unless you live in an off-grid yurt, you get bombarded from the moment you wake up in the morning until your eyes close at night with the message that you’re not fit enough, not attractive enough, not enough enough.

Until last week, when I finally figured out how to manage ads on Yahoo, every time I opened up my email, I’d get some side bar ad inviting me to join Jenny Craig or promising me the secret to losing belly fat. I finally lost it when a Special K ad popped up challenging me to lose ten pounds in ten days. Dude, I need those ten pounds! You can’t have them! (I suppose all my internet searches for “body-image,” “eating disorder,” and “weight-loss” haven’t gone unnoticed by marketers. I wish I could reciprocate by sending them a nice, warm love-your-body message, like, “My body's not your business!”)

So here’s what you do… the love-your-body equivalent of brushing your teeth in the morning, The Good Morning Body:

1. As you wake up, let yourself stretch like a cat. Before you even get out of bed, reach your arms up, stretch your legs out, and wiggle your toes.

2. Curl up into a ball for a moment and thank your body for everything it did during the night, letting your mind rest and reset, digesting, relaxing, healing.

3. Relax back into the bed for a moment and gently touch your feet and legs, touch your belly and hips, touch your shoulders, arms, and chest, touch your neck and face and head. As you touch each part of your body, and say Good morning to each part of your body in turn.

4. To finish, bring one hand to your belly and one hand to your heart, and make a love your body aspiration for today… May I be kind to you today, May we have a great day together, May I treat you as a friend.

Then slowly sit up and enjoy the rest of your day!

You can print out these four steps and set them on your bedside table as a reminder to do them as you get up in the morning. Try it everyday for a week and see how it goes… may you find more ease within and love toward your body everyday.

Love Your Body Blog Part 61

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Fat Yogi

Can yogis be fat? Can you be fat and practice yoga and live a healthy life? The answer is another question… does Ganesha have a big belly? Of course. Ganesha, the round-bellied elephant-headed god and mythological author of the sacred epic text that defines the ancient practice of yoga, would undoubtedly have some choice words to share with anyone who thinks proficient yogis can’t be fat.

Yet why do most yoga classes seem to be full of thin- to average-sized bodies? I’ve seen fat students do amazing armbalances, handstands, and poses my body has never quite figured out. So I know that it’s not a matter of flexibility or strength. I suspect that it’s related to the reason some fat people don’t feel comfortable at the gym… a subtle (and sometime not so subtle) sense of not feeling welcome or included.

We can start with the clothes. Long gone are the days when people showed up for yoga in their sweats and ripped up t-shirts. Nowadays (for women anyway) tank tops and fancy yoga pants seem de rigueur. Try finding a pair of yoga pants in anything larger than a size twelve and a tank top actually meant for something other than decoration. In most mainstream stores, the yoga clothing search is more frustrating than looking for a duck egg at a chicken farm.

The poses don’t help either. Some poses feel great, others feel… is there some word that means screamingly awkward? Some teachers aren’t sure how to modify poses for larger bodies or may make assumptions about a student’s ability based on their weight. Or teachers might give up too soon when assisting a fat student, thinking that their weight is the obstacle. Some poses may be genuinely more difficult… but not any more so than for an average weight student whose body has its own quirks and challenges. Yoga poses feel awkward to everyone… at least at first.

But the worst are the underlying assumptions (by other students and sometimes the teacher or the studio as a whole) that a fat person in a yoga class is unhappy with their body or is trying to lose weight. Feeling accepted as a fat person in yoga is complicated by the prevalence of classes like “Yoga for Weight Loss” that the desk staff might direct you to. You’d be understandably confused… isn’t part of yoga learning to love and accept yourself and your body just as it is, just as you are? Can I just enjoy a yoga class in my bigger body without feeling judged or excluded? Yes, you can. Yoga is an amazing way to connect with and listen to your body, and is not and has never been, as Ganesha reminds us, the exclusive dominion of the youthful and thin.

Yoga instructors (myself included) can do more to be welcoming to fat students. First, if you find that you’re carrying around a lot of judgments about weight, like the popular fat=unhealthy trope, read nutritionist and researcher Linda Bacon’s book, Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Most yoga teachers I know enjoy having their assumptions challenged… you’ll find no shortage of mind-blowing insights in Bacon’s book.

Second, if you have a fat student in your class, here’s what you should do differently: nothing. That’s right. Treat them with exactly the same level of respect and attention that you would give any other student. Don’t make assumptions about their level or ability, or god forbid, that they are practicing yoga to lose weight. They might be there to lengthen their hamstrings, or to commune with the gods of bliss, or to relax after a hellish commute, or for some other reason that has nothing to do with their size. At the same time, just like with any other student, if you think they look like they could benefit from a prop or some other individual assistance, go right ahead and offer away. Like any other student, they might welcome your help, or they might tell you they’re fine and don’t need to go deeper into Ardha Matsendrasana, thank you very much.

If you’re a fat yoga student (or wanna be yoga student), do a little research on Ganesha, the long-trunked, full-bellied master wisdom jester of yoga. Keep a little picture of Ganesha in your mind and heart while you’re practicing… he welcomes you and helps you clear whatever internal and external obstacles lie on your path to yoga and self-discovery. Look around for a yoga teacher and studio that feel welcoming. Talk to the teacher and find out if they know about the Health At Every Size movement, and if they don’t, encourage them to read the book. Ask them for help when (and if) you need it, and feel free to show them what modifications work best for you and your body. Most yoga instructors are happy (dare I say eager?) to learn new assists. And be patient with yourself and your body. Let your body teach you.

If you’re brand new to yoga and want some help learning the poses before you show up in class, try some videos at home…the heavyweight yoga DVD series at is a good place to start.

If you are someone who struggles with feeling accepted (whatever size you are), write across the top of your yoga mat, “I am welcome here,” as a reminder to welcome yourself wherever you are.

It’s a beautiful reminder to anyone who sees your mat to welcome you as well. Welcoming is a lesson so many of us need… to welcome ourselves into our own body, our own practice, and to welcome each other, wherever and however we find ourselves. Welcome to yoga, my friend. Yoga welcomes you, your belly, your hips, your thighs… every part of your whole self.

Love Your Body Blog Part 60

Friday, September 2, 2011

From Body Shame to Body Love

Today my dear friend Marissa shares her powerful and moving journey toward loving her body. Marissa was a participant in the very first Love Your Body workshop back in 2009, and in addition to pursuing her degree in counseling at CIIS, is training with me to assist in upcoming LYB workshops. Read on to hear about her love of dance that finally burst free of blame and shame, and more…

Kimber: What brought you to the realization that you needed/wanted to change your relationship with your body?

Marissa: I’ve blamed my body for as long as I can remember. In my mind, the fact that my body wasn’t thin and beautiful was the reason why good things didn’t happen to me. Those cool girls don’t want to be my friend because I’m not pretty enough. That boy would like me if I looked like her. That part would have gone to me if I were thinner/shorter/prettier. It’s easy to fall into that trap.

On top of the blame, I felt intense shame that I disliked my body. I shouldn’t have negative feelings towards my body. I should love myself as I am. Only silly, insecure girls have body image issues. I couldn’t open up to the possibility of change until I acknowledged I had a problem.

When I was seven years old my mom signed me up for ballet. I was so excited; I couldn’t wait to try it. From the first moment of class, I fell in love with dance. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I was the tallest, chubbiest kid in the class. Everyone is looking at me and thinking I’m fat and stupid and that I don’t belong there. And part of me thought they were right. After class I told my mom I hated it. She asked me if anything was wrong, and I lied, incapable of forming the words to admit I was already one of those insecure girls with body image issues. I told my mom I didn’t want to go back to ballet and spent the next 11-12 years of my life wishing I hadn’t.

I didn’t take another formal dance class until I was in college. I realized my hangup over my body was keeping me from doing something I really wanted to do. So I signed up and did it. And it was hard. I felt intensely judgmental toward myself while dancing. I felt clumsy. But I had so much fun. I think that was the first clear moment when I realized I had a lot of work to do: there were so many wonderful things I was missing out on because of shame around my body.

Now, I dance every chance I get. I have a whole group of friends who support me in dancing. They tell me how much fun it is to dance with me and that I’m beautiful when I dance. I’m in a place now where that feels really good to hear. And my head doesn’t argue with them. I can still recognize the old judgments though. Sometimes strangers ask if I used to be a dancer, or tell me I move like a dancer. I notice that my inner critic wants to jump in and say, “Oh no…I don’t have the body of a dancer.” But I don’t say that out loud. I usually just say, “I took dance classes in college and I love to dance.” The last time this happened, as I walked away I heard the girl who had asked me say to her friend “See, I knew it. Once you’ve been a dancer, your body never forgets.” I had a clear thought then that she was right. My body never forgot. It just took me a really long time before I could listen and let myself have a dancing body…no matter what it looks like on the outside.

Kimber: What practice or concept from the Love Your Body Workshop has most helped you change your relationship with your body?

Marissa: Sitting down and examining my judgments about my body: the “shoulds” and the rules [the unconscious rules we carry around about how we’re supposed to feel about our bodies]. I spent a long time with a big “should” about the fact that I really didn’t love my body. I felt like I should and so I wore a mask to hide the truth that I really wasn’t comfortable in my skin. You know in programs for addicts, they say the first step in conquering addiction is admitting you have a problem. By taking a good hard look at all the judgments I held around my body, I could finally say, “Whoa, this is a problem. I don’t want to feel or think these things about myself. And I DO.”

I had to admit that I feel all these negative things. It’s so easy to be blind and sweep everything under the big carpet of denial, “Oh, yeah I’m fine with my body.” Or to clump everything together into one non-specific lump, “I hate my body.” Taking a look at the rules I believed about my body helped me sift through what hating my body really meant. And after the rules we looked at wishes, hopes for the way we want to feel about our bodies. Articulating a specific wish for my relationship with my body helped me focus on where I was and where I wanted to be and how I might get there.

Kimber: Aside from what you learned in the Love Your Body Workshop, what helps you love your body?

Marissa: One thing that I really became aware of as I started to examine my relationship with my body was that I never listened to it, to its likes and longings. I deprived my body of things that made it happy, like dance, for a really long time. I think anything that puts you in touch with the way your body likes to move is helpful: yoga, dance, massage. When I lived in Japan I used to roll around on the cool tatami straw mats just like a kid, rolling around on the ground, feeling the way my body wanted to move. Playing in water…the cool water of a river is another thing my body loves. It was a really long time before I ever went skinny dipping, but the feeling of cool water all over your body is the most incredible feeling…it connects you to you. Those are the experiences that have helped me most.

I remember the first time I heard the opening lines from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.” It seemed to articulate my experience… that maybe we can stop trying to be what we think we need to be and start tuning in to what we are already.

You do not have to be good

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Kimber: Mmm. I love those lines, too. So, to finish up, imagine women who are just starting out on the path of learning to love their bodies. Do you have any words of wisdom for them?

Marissa: Try new things. I used to say no a lot when people asked me if I wanted to go to a salsa class or kayaking or rock climbing. My first response was always, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not strong enough/fit enough to do that. Or I’m too tall/heavy, blah blah blah. There won’t be a harness to fit me, there won’t be a person who can lift me.” Six million reasons why not. I’m proud to say that now I’m pretty much an “I’ll try anything twice” kind of girl. Give it at least two tries before you decide you don’t like it. I learned to snowboard in Japan. I even tried wakeboarding… not terribly successfully, but it was fun. I’ve been rafting and flying on the trapeze. And all of those experiences were amazing and taught me something new I could do with my body. I’m not always good at it…which is challenging; it’s hard to do things I can’t do well already. But I’ve gained confidence along the way because I’ve discovered amazing things my body can do that I never imagined possible. It’s like being a kid again. Just do it and see what happens. Either way, it will be fun.

Kimber: Thank you for sharing your story and wisdom, Marissa! The September Love Your Body workshop is full, but two are open in October... a four Tuesday series at 7th Heaven starting Oct 18 (go to 7th Heaven's website/events to sign up), and a six-hour Love Your Body workshop on Sunday Oct 23 at Cosmic Dog yoga in Livermore (call 925-456-YOGA). Don't wait to sign up... they sell out quick.