Never is self-care more important than when we feel like we don't have time to take care of ourselves.
Let me repeat that.
NEVER is self-care more important than when we feel like we don't have time to take care of ourselves. (click to tweet)
Life happens. Hard times come. Things start to unravel around you. Sometimes, you lose something or someone important to you. Sometimes, someone you love is sick or needs your help or is going through a crisis. And when these hard times come, times of loss or grief or crisis, that is when it's hardest to prioritize ourselves at all.
I know. I've been there.
But if I've learned anything through all these times when it's easiest to prioritize anyone and everyone but myself, it's that the times when I've MADE the time to take care of me, even if for a few minutes or an hour, have been the times I've had the most to offer others. Those have been the times I've come through with flying colours of one shade or another. Those have been the times I've healed the best.
It's EXACTLY like the oxygen mask analogy you hear all the time - part of the standard safety speech when you're on an airplane. In the event of an emergency where the cabin has been breached, in that crisis, when the oxygen masks drop - ALWAYS secure your own mask before helping someone else with theirs.
We have to take care of ourselves in order to be the best we can be for others - and also for ourselves. It may sound cheesy, but it's absolutely critical!
It seems, recently, several of my regular students have been faced with hard times. Sudden loss, sometimes multiple losses, illness of a friend or family member, of a mother or a brother, trouble at work, financial difficulty, and many other crises. And yet, the only reason I know about these things - is because these students are still coming to class. They're still showing up, unrolling their mat, and making time for self-care. And that is completely and totally inspiring to me.
While I strive to lead by example when it comes to self-care, I still fall down on the job. When hard times hit, it's all too easy to forget to take care of myself. But when I see these students showing up for themselves in spite of hard times, I am reminded of how important the work of self-care really is - and I am touched.
I always end each Yoga class that I teach the same way:
"We close this class with gratitude first, for ourselves, for making the time for self-care, gratitude for this Yoga practice... and for each other."
P.S. It all makes sense, doesn't it? :) And always, it comes back to love.
It took me a long time to decide to write this blog post, because I tend to prefer to focus on the positive and I have always believed the saying.... "If you don't have anything nice to say..."
But, frankly, hot yoga's popularity pisses me off. It pisses me off because people who have never done Yoga before see these hot yoga studios everywhere and assume that since it's so prolific, it must be a good place to start practicing. And then, in many cases, they either have a terrible experience and write off Yoga forever (which makes me so sad) or they get hurt. Or both. And I am so not okay with that.
I don't generally like to be hot.
So this is obviously a personal preference thing, but it's an excellent place to start. If you generally don't like to be super hot, or if hanging out in a steam room or sauna isn't your idea of a good time and especially if said steam room or sauna makes you feel either claustrophobic or anxious, then hot yoga is a terrible idea for you. Too much heat and humidity does that to me, personally. So if I'm looking to get my bliss on, a hot, humid room is not my idea of a good time.
Your body has natural limits - and they're meant to be respected.
The first reason that I always give for advising people to give hot yoga a pass is simply anatomical.
Heat makes your muscles stretchier. So, in the moment, you'll go deeper and further in every pose than you ever have before - and sure, that feels pretty good while you're in it. But when the heat is gone and you go back to your life, it's common to discover that you've way, WAY overdone it.
Heat makes it harder to tell where your natural limit is in a stretch or in a pose. Because the external influence of heat makes muscles more elastic, you miss those internal cues that tell you when you're too far and need to back off. The natural consequence of this is that you can overdo it - the entire class - and not know it until you're feeling it the next day.
There are a lot of reasons that's a bad idea. But let's stick with one: Yoga is supposed to teach you how to feel your body from the inside out - how to tune in. But the heat makes it easier to tune-out, defeating the purpose. Oh, and have I mentioned the nausea, dizziness, or fainting that some people report (all of which are symptoms of heat exhaustion)?
With articles like this one and this one cautioning one against exercising in hot conditions, why do we pay for the privilege of putting ourselves at risk??
If you have to have a sign up in your studio explaining that "for liability reasons", students are not allowed to take two consecutive classes, then you are in the business of pushing people way past healthy limits and let's not pretend otherwise.
Hot Yoga is turning Yoga into a superficial fitness craze.
Just do a google image search of "hot yoga" and you'll see what I mean.
Hot yoga is like that popular but superficial and mean girl from high school that no one liked but everyone wished they were. I don't know about you but I'm a grown-up now (most of the time - hah!) and I don't have the time or energy to waste on superficial anything.
I'll take a room full of people of all ages, sizes and levels of ability whose primary goal is self-care over a room full of superficial pretzel people competing for the deepest best back-bend ANY DAY.
The teaching style is more boot camp than bliss.
It never ceases to amaze me why people subject themselves to, at best, being pushed to (and beyond) their edge in a yoga class (of all places!) and at worst, verbal abuse.
I've seen and heard references to hot yoga teachers saying things like "Do you feel nauseous? Good, that means it's working!" or "It's not time for a water break, you have to wait" or "Stretch further! Further!!" Are you flippin' kidding me?!
If you want to be yelled at and made to feel like crap about yourself, date a jerk. Been there, done that? Then, skip hot yoga and join a regular yoga class with a teacher who makes you feel like a rock star in every class.
The claim that hot yoga "is a good workout."
If you're practicing yoga in a hot room, sweating profusely, you feel like you're working out way harder than you actually are (which isn't to say you're not working out at all, but since when did self-deception become such a trend?)
If you're engaging properly and focused on your body in a non-heated, even gentle hatha practice, you will build internal heat. You will get stronger. Sweating is, in no way, a barometer of how fit you are going to be when the class comes to an end. It is (and only is) one of the ways our body regulates our temperature.
Yoga is an all body wellness practice and, frankly, reducing it to no more than a way to burn off calories, carbs, or fat just pisses me off.
That Bikram guy is a jerk and women giving him their money makes me mad.
If the allegations (of which there are many) are true, Bikram Choudhury is not a good guy, especially when it comes to North American women. And yet who makes up the vast majority of his empire's demographic? North American women. *sigh* But don't take my word for it...
Need I say more?
The term "sweating out your toxins" is total bullshit.
This is one of the most often mentioned reasons people claim to like hot yoga. They like the fact that they're sweating out all their toxins. This is absolute bullshit. There's no such thing as "sweating out your toxins". What you're sweating out - is sweat (made up of 99% water and small amounts of salt, proteins, carbohydrates and urea). Need proof? Read this. FYI, you also can't sweat out fat. Sorry.
Seems like half the time, it's not even Yoga!
It seems to me, that these days, the hot yoga studios popping up aren't even offering something that resembles a classical yoga practice. What they're offering is some "fusion" of Yoga, aerobics and pilates. Since when did marching in place, doing crunches or push ups become Yoga?
Hot Yoga promotes a competitive atmosphere.
Hot Yoga propagates that a deeper pose is a better pose. It breeds a competitive atmosphere. People brag about going to Hot Yoga twice a day as if withstanding hell-inspired temperatures for 90 minutes is, in itself, an accomplishment. The culture around hot yoga encourages people to always be reaching for that more "advanced" pose.
Well I have something to say about "advanced" yogis - Being able to do a handstand in the middle of the room, put your foot behind your head, or twist yourself into binds on every pose does not make you an advanced yogi.
So let's talk about what does.
You may be an advanced Yogi if...
Let's talk about "infrared", "gently heated" and other types of "warm" yoga
Infrared heat is still heat. The body still feels hot, but the air temperature doesn't heat up. The only thing that has changed is where the heat is coming from. Would you buy this if it said "Electric Hot Yoga" or "Fireplace Hot Yoga" or "Sauna Hot Yoga"? Does it really matter why or how it's hot? It's still hot.
As for warm or gently heated - what is this all about? What is wrong with room temperature? If you get cold easily - wear layers to your yoga practice. Problem solved!
Repetition is powerful. And you don't need to go to hot yoga to find it.
My answer to the Hot Yoga craze is refusing to offer hot yoga of any variety.
But after talking to many students, both those who have tried hot yoga and those who haven't, one thing has come up that people seem to think is neat about some hot yoga studios - the sequence of poses that never changes. Repetition.
Okay. cool. I can get behind that! Repetition is powerful. With repetition, you can watch your practice grow. You can start to sink in deeper, more meditatively. You can mark your progress. And you can maybe memorize a series of poses you could do at home. I can totally see the benefits of repetition!
But repetition doesn't only exist in Hot Yoga!
My solution to students looking for repetition in their practice? Or, as I like to call it, our ANTI-HOT YOGA? Our new BPY Set Sequence. :)
I put together a beautiful and fulfilling sequence of 22 poses, designed to be a complete practice that addresses all the beneficial spinal movements, stretches and strengthens all the major muscle groups of the body - and is entirely customized to your level of ability and flexibility. To make sure you are empowered with a practice that works for you, I'm offering a free workshop every month that you can attend as often as you like so you can continuously refine your experience.
In the BPY Set Sequence class, everyone in the room will always be doing the practice a bit differently.
Which is how it should be.
This week has represented a huge change. I've made a major shift from...
avoid. avoid. avoid. avoid.
For the past 18 months or more, I've been avoiding doing something that I actually really want to do - but has felt too scary, too vulnerable: video.
The reality is, that the very few video pieces I had out in the world have had a big impact on people near and far, and that's something I believe in. I believe in telling my story so that others can see themselves in it. Can relate. Can understand that we all have fear. We all wonder if we're good enough. We all go through the same things and if we shared our experiences more, maybe we'd all really believe that we're not alone.
But, I have been avoiding. I've had the camcorder, the tripod, the list of topics and the good intentions. At one point, somewhat under personal duress, I recorded around 10 videos... shortly after the hard drive on my laptop crashed and my un-backed-up videos were lost. The idea of starting over was too much. I couldn't bring myself to do it. So I put the camcorder away and avoided. And avoided. And avoided some more.
But recently I approached a turning point. I knew I had to decide.... was I going to do the YouTube/Video thing - or wasn't I? I made the decision and, the very next day, the camcorder went with me to the studio for my first attempt at filming myself.
And, surprisingly, something changed. This time, I felt ready.... terrified beyond belief, but ready.
I started out just playing with stuff that came to the top of my head. And in that process, my first video was borne - one talking about vulnerability.
Because, let's face it - those first couple videos are the most vulnerable points in my own life.
Putting myself on display has always been hard for me. I've gotten used to the idea of being "on display" as a Yoga teacher. It helps to be so very passionate about what I do and the message I offer. But allowing myself to be analyzed, watched, commented on, and picked apart by total strangers? It doesn't get any scarier. I'm already picturing hundreds of hateful comments in my head and wondering how I will react as strangers pass judgement on my physical body or on my work.
But in reality, those haters have always been there. And in between and around them, are people that need to see more representation in the world... people, young and old and everything in between who need to KNOW that they are good enough exactly as they are. People like me. People like you. People who want to see that it's okay to inhabit the space your physical and energetic self takes up in this world, proudly. People who can say out loud "I'm enough, as I am."
And in order to do that, I gotta be vulnerable. So, not to get all meta on you or anything - but my first video in my new Yoga Bytes series is about VULNERABILITY because I've decided I'm gonna ROCK my vulnerability. How about you rock yours, too? ;) If you're committed, click to tweet it out! <3
Yoga Bytes that follow will range from talking about that tricky Low Lunge transition or better alignment in Downward Facing Dog to opening up about why I call myself The Fat Yogini, and sharing my thoughts on fear and life and why I am so passionate about this work.
You can watch these videos in multiple places. If you want to comment on and interact with me about the video, then you'll want to watch the video on YouTube (shown below). If you click the YouTube button on the video itself, it will take you to YouTube where you can give the video a thumbs-up (please do!), leave a supportive comment or ask a question (I'll respond!), or subscribe to my YouTube channel.
I am also hosting these videos, called Yoga Bytes, on my studio website. So to watch them there, just click here. And I'll be sharing on Facebook as well if you follow me there.
And so now, without further adieu.....
Last night, after my last class wrapped up, I received an email from a major, national, Canadian news network asking to include me in a story they plan to run on Monday.
My first reaction was, "Oh my gosh. Excitement! Publicity for the studio! YAY!" and then I read the content of the email and had that immediate gut feeling that this story was most likely not one that would represent the values of my yoga studio. And I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the type of news article that would feature pictures of headless larger-bodied people. And somewhere within the context, Body Positivity Yoga would be included as an example of a great place for overweight or obese people to go to get moving and be "healthier". And maybe, some would say, that doesn't seem so bad...
But the thing is, articles like that are part of the larger issue of unrealistic body image promotion in mainstream media and I can't be a part, no matter how small, in the fear-mongering promoted by a five BILLION dollar a year (or more) diet and weight-loss industry that is more powerful than Big Tobacco.
The biggest part of the work that I do as The Fat Yogini and as the owner of Yoga studio that is diet and weight-loss talk free is promoting a body-positive agenda. Central to that agenda is this idea:
When I read the request, words popped out like big giant flaming red flags: "struggle with weight", "obesity", "new guidelines". And I just felt what my body was telling me, my gut. And I knew.
My response was polite, clear, and simple. And it went a little something like this:
"I am the owner of the studio - and I go by The Fat Yogini. But I wouldn't say I (or my clients) "struggle" with our weight. Rather, the idea behind my Yoga studio is self-acceptance and moving for the joy of it regardless of your size, age, or level of ability. Body Positivity Yoga is a diet and weight-loss talk free space.
Before I could participate, I would need to understand the point/message of the story. If you can provide me with some more details, I will let you know what we can help you with.
If the story is body-positive and promotes a message of self-acceptance, then I am sure we can work something out!"
As soon as I hit the send button, I was totally overwhelmed by this incredible feeling.
In the context of my life, I've always had a hard time with "authority figures", people I see as experts. And generally I have tended to feel like more of a follower than a leader. But I've spent a lot of years working on myself, on my sense of self, on confidence and self-esteem. And this was one of those moments where I realized, wow. I really have come a long way!
I felt like I'd just told a major news network to buzz off. Which, in my own way, I did. And instead of feeling scared. I felt GREAT! Strong. Awesome. Happy. Proud of myself. Feeling like a total grown-up (and let me tell you, that doesn't happen very often, the feeling 'grown-up' part, that is.)
Please bear with me as I'm about to give an example that probably only some of you might be able to relate to... but have you ever had that shoppers high?
You know, that feeling you get, when, say, you find that purse you've been lusting after (the one that usually costs way, way too much) in a thrift store for like eight bucks, in perfect condition? And then, after you've bought it, you walk away feeling like you just got away with something really naughty and you're just generally WINNING at life?
This feels like that... except multiplied like ten-fold.
Establishing and holding boundaries, not only for myself and my business but for the clients who see this studio as a safe space? It doesn't get any more bad-ass than that.
And as for that major, national, Canadian news network?
They are more than welcome to track me down when they're ready to tell a story about self-acceptance.
When this image first started going around the social media circles, a friend shared it with me. And I'll admit that my first reaction was...
...because, as anyone who knows me will attest, I really have always had a deep fondness for these single-horned mythological treasures.
But my next thought was... wait... what is the message here, really?
When you really look at this picture, you might think - ooh, inspiring. This rhino refuses to give up no matter what because he is determined to be a Unicorn.
And then, if you really take a step back, you can see that there is something deeply, deeply problematic with this image and what is wrong with IT is what is, at its core, what is wrong with the diet and weight-loss culture. When looked at with a critical eye, this image beautifully illustrates exactly why we should take a step back from all the messaging we get about how we should all be trying to be thinner.
That adorable animal on the treadmill is a rhino, and a darn cute rhino at that. And yet, somehow he hopes that if he works hard enough, he'll become a unicorn. A unicorn.
Think about that for a moment.
Not only is he trying to become something else entirely - which we all know can never be possible, no matter how hard he works, but in this example - the creature he's trying to become doesn't even actually exist.
If that isn't an excellent summary of the diet and weight-loss trap that so many of us end up in, I don't know what is.
There is nothing heartwarming about this image. Actually, everything about it is heartbreaking.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we try so hard to be something we aren't?
The answer, for so many of us, is because we think our happiness lies on the other side of that dream. We think that if we could only be or have whatever it is we think we're supposed to be or have, then everything would just get easier.
But the reality is, the hardest and best journey you can take, is the one to accepting and loving yourself as you are.
Where that gets confusing for people is we think that if we accept ourselves, somehow we're giving up on the idea that we could ever change or grow or be healthier or whatever it is we'd like to be more of. But is that really true?
I can tell you, from experience....
I think, the opposite is true - that accepting yourself makes it even more possible to improve your health and well-being.
I haven't stepped on a scale in years. I couldn't tell you how much I weigh right now. But I do know that, through practicing and teaching Yoga, I am stronger, healthier, more fit. I can take deeper breaths. I have more stamina. I sleep better. I feel that I have more vitality. My posture is better. My focus and balance are better. And none of those "results" have required that I give up on who I am.
So, what's the answer, when you're looking for an image to motivate you to go after what you want and still accept who you are?
How about this one: