Inspiration, Personal, Yoga, Yoga Practice

Yoga and Body Image – Part 1

*** I wrote this short article to start a conversation about yoga and its effects on body image. This is simply an introduction to the topic.  There will be more! When I muster the courage, I will share my own journey through body image issues with you. 🙂 Stay tuned, yogis!***

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The beginning of the year is a time for setting new goals and making significant changes. Getting fit and losing weight are probably the most common New Year’s resolutions. Being surrounded by media images of seemingly perfect bodies makes a lot of us feel inadequate, and we feel the need to improve our appearance in some way. Why then, do we fail to sustain this healthy lifestyle that we embark on with much enthusiasm every January? It’s because we set our goals from a place of lack, insecurity, and negativity. When most of us look in the mirror, we are discouraged by what we perceive as physical imperfections. We feel we need to look a certain way in order to be happy and confident. Instead of focusing on moving towards true health and wellness, we pay attention to only the most superficial aspects of ourselves.

What we must do, if we truly want lasting change, is to come from a place of self-care and compassion. This is where a yoga practice can become the perfect complement to your exercise regimen and nutrition plan. Yoga is healing to a lot of people with body image issues because your internal experience is more important than your outward appearance when you’re on your mat. When practicing, you are encouraged to attend to your body’s real needs instead of forcing yourself to look good doing poses that might not be right for you. Every pose is done with the intention of being kind to your body instead of rejecting it or wishing for it to be different. A consistent and skillful yoga practice teaches us to truly love ourselves, no matter what we look like.

There’s another reason yoga is helpful when dealing with physical insecurities. It is a very welcoming and inclusive practice. Your age, looks, race, background, and experience level do not matter. Yoga is not exclusive to certain body types; even though social media might give off that impression. The reality is there are many styles of yoga to accommodate anyone who is willing to try it. Even in a group yoga class, there are ways to modify the poses to suit individual needs.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look better. It becomes a problem when we prioritize appearance at the expense of our physical health and emotional well-being. Only when we are acting out of true love and acceptance of ourselves can we make sustainable changes in our lifestyle that are actually beneficial for our health in the long run. Yoga will provide you with the tools you need to care for yourself while working towards your goals.

Note: I wrote this article for the Front Door Fitness website where it was first published. FDF is a wonderful personal training company in Kansas City; and I am proud to be part of the team. Check out the FDF blog for more free articles on fitness, nutrition, and healthy living.

Yoga, Yoga Practice, Yoga Tips

How to Relieve Stress and Relax Deeply

We live in a time when frenetic activity is the norm. We jump out of bed and immediately check our phone, take a shower while mentally running through our to-do list, and rush through our day to get things done. Some of us do physically demanding work, while others have jobs that are mentally and emotionally draining. We rarely take the time to rest, enjoy a meal or connect with loved ones. At the end of the day, we’re exhausted but unable to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

This way of living can negatively impact our health in a myriad of ways. Chronic stress is associated with heart disease, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain and many other issues. Now more than ever, it’s important to be proactive in managing stress and preventing disease. Integrating a regular yoga practice into our daily life can help us move towards true relaxation of the body and the mind.

Restorative Yoga is a unique yoga style designed to aid us in dealing with the stresses of modern life. “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to relax. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to rest deeply and completely,” says Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., PT, world-renowned yoga master and author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. In a restorative yoga class, all poses are fully supported using various props to encourage deep relaxation. Poses are held for a few minutes to still the body and the mind. The emphasis is not on achieving the pose but on being comfortable and allowing yourself to surrender.

Here are 3 Restorative Yoga Poses you can do for stress relief. Use a timer and hold each pose for 3-5 minutes. If you don’t have a yoga bolster, use a stack of blankets. Find some wall space for support. Set up in a quiet room with a comfortable temperature where you will be undisturbed during your practice. Make sure you unplug all your devices and eliminate distractions. While you’re in the pose, focus your wandering mind by paying attention to your breathing. To help you calm down, lengthen your exhales more and soften your face. Keep your eyes closed and use an eye pillow or small towel over your eyes.

 

1) Legs Up the Wall Pose

Lie on your side and move your hips towards the wall. When your hips touch the wall, bring your legs up. If your hamstrings feel too tight simply bend your knees a little bit. Experiment with placing a blanket or stack of blankets under your hips to test which version feels better.

Legs-Up-the-Wall

2) Supported Child’s Pose

From an all-fours position, place your bolster (or stack of blankets) in front of you between your knees. Sit your hips back towards your feet then rest your belly, chest and face on your bolster. Add more blankets if you need more height. Notice your hips, knees and ankles. Relax your arms on the floor. If it’s more comfortable for you, rest one cheek on your bolster then switch sides halfway through the pose.

Supported-Childs-Pose

3) Corpse Pose or Savasana

This is the most important and sometimes most difficult yoga pose. Lie on your back with your feet more than hip distance apart, arms relaxed by your sides and palms facing up. If you feel discomfort in your lower back, slide your bolster under your knees to bring your lower back closer to the mat. Keep your forehead slightly higher than your chin by sliding a pillow or blanket under your head if needed. Relax your tongue and let it fall away from the roof of your mouth. Let go of controlling the breath and allow it to flow naturally. Feel every part of your body softening and melting into your mat. Be as still as possible.

Savasana-or-Corpse-Pose

 

As with any skill we learn, relaxation takes practice. We all start out with tense bodies and chattering minds. That’s okay! Be patient with yourself and be consistent in your yoga practice. Soon you will reap the benefits of restorative yoga and you will know how to truly nourish your body, mind and spirit.

 

*I wrote this article for the Front Door Fitness website where it was first published. FDF is a wonderful personal training company in Kansas City; and I am proud to be part of the team. Check out the FDF blog for more free articles on fitness, nutrition, and healthy living.

Inspiration, Personal, Yoga, Yoga Practice

How Yoga Taught Me the Importance of Self Care

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

It sounds simple enough. It’s like what the flight attendant says while waiting for the plane to take off: In case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. In daily life and intimate relationships however, this is easier said than done. If you’re like me and you have the “Giver” or “Helper” personality, then you probably put the needs of others before your own. Your default mode in most situations is to ask yourself, “What do I need to do for them?” and not “What do I need to do for me?”

I was in denial when two very close and extremely insightful friends pointed out to me that I was a TYPE 2 or Giver/Helper on the Enneagram (a personality typing system I will talk about in another post). Here’s an overview of the type from The Enneagram Institute website: “Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs.” Yikes. It was hard for my ego to accept the truth behind these statements. When reading about a certain type makes you emotionally uncomfortable and brings up a lot of resistance, then you know there’s something there you need to investigate.

And investigate I did. I started noticing my pattern of “overgiving” to my family and to whomever I was currently involved with. There was a time in my life when I was the main breadwinner of the family and I played that role very seriously. I would give and sacrifice to the point of exhaustion and depletion; then somewhere down the line I would explode in anger and reveal my true feelings. My constant helping and giving, which perpetuated my self-image as a good person, almost always led to resentment. This was how I behaved in intimate relationships too. I wanted to be seen as “the good one” and my boyfriend as the one who is taking advantage of my niceness and therefore needs to change. In my social circle, I was “everybody’s friend” who was always there for them. I enjoyed being liked and I was good at morphing myself into what I thought other people needed me to be. Even in my career as a performer and teacher, these tendencies were present. It didn’t matter what I wanted or needed. It didn’t matter what was authentic for me. I was able to present myself to the world in a way that won me the approval I didn’t realize I was always angling for. Being honest with myself and others about what I really thought, felt, and needed was low on my priorities.

Something obviously needed to change. There was too much drama in my relationships. I had financial problems because I didn’t know how to say no to my family and how to manage my money well. My acting and voice-over career was going well but I felt depleted by almost every job and professional interaction because I wasn’t being authentic. I realized I had no problems with giving but I had issues with receiving. I knew I had to start taking care of myself. I had to learn how to be vulnerable, how to admit weakness, and how to ask for help.

Enter yoga. Along with the personal growth work I did (self-study of the enneagram and psychology in general) and lifestyle changes I made (quit smoking, better diet, and exercise), starting a yoga practice was a major factor in my transformation. With regular practice, I started to learn how to be truly in the present moment. We need to be present enough to notice our habitual thoughts, emotional patterns, and reactive tendencies. What I realized was I was always outer-directed and rarely inner-directed. 

This realization had profound effects on my work and relationships. As an actress, I was always performing and I was used to being watched, judged, and critiqued. I was my own worst critic, of course. On my yoga mat however, it was the complete opposite. For the first time, I wasn’t performing or competing. I didn’t need to achieve the pose. I didn’t need to accomplish anything. My time on the mat was for me and me alone. It was time to slow down and tune in to what I truly needed in the moment. Did I need to push and try? Did I need to hold a pose? Did I need to steady my breath? Or did I need to rest and drop into child’s pose? There was absolutely no need to impress anyone. It was such a relief to really listen to myself for the first time and honor my own needs. It was such a relief I found myself crying in yoga class! I can’t count how many times I’ve cried on my mat. I didn’t cry from physical pain (that would not be good!) but mostly from the relief that comes with surrendering. I surrendered and set aside my expectations, my tendency to please others, and my desire to control outcomes. Before then, I didnt realize the extent of my self-neglect. I’ve ignored my own wants and needs for so long it took a while for me to find out how to take care of myself. These changes spilled over into my personal life as I transitioned out of toxic relationships. Slowly, I spent more time and energy reflecting on my authentic needs and desires. I became less preoccuppied with what I think I need to do for other people or how to gain their approval. Yoga was a well that replenished me and enabled me to give more authentically and to receive more graciously.

Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress. I’m married to a wonderful guy who still needs to remind me to look after myself. As a yoga teacher, I know I need to take my own advice! I’ve been through stages where I was teaching so much yoga (15-18 classes a week) that I began to resent it and I started neglecting my own practice.  Year 2017 is going to be particularly challenging with our first baby coming (I’m 37 weeks pregnant as I write this!) and the need for self-care is more important than ever. As a mom, I know I will be tempted to focus all my attention on my family and not attend to my own needs. That’s why I’m glad my yoga mat is always waiting for me. It’s there when I need to unplug and unwind. It’s there when I need some quiet time. It’s there when I want to have some fun! Most importantly, it’s there when I need to nurture myself. It is my hope that you find what you need on your mat as well.