This is an incredibly important component to understand when even daring to speak about power. What kind of power are we interested in creating here? How do we do that safely?
Here is a brief description of the four kinds of power courtesy of Brene Brown who has dedicated her entire career to studying human behavior, emotion and thought, especially surrounding leadership:
Here’s where it gets really tricky - we can have the intention of having power with/within/to leadership but use the tactics of Power Over leadership, both intentionally and unintentionally. Often this is done through gaslighting and not understanding that in order to cultivate power within, to or with there must be a clear set of boundaries established right off the bat and an honest clarity around what we are actually seeking and who we are seeking it for. It can be very easy to say that we are for someone but then only take on the actions that are motivated solely from our own best interest. The reality is that power over is the most common kind of leadership because it’s what has been in existence for the majority of human history. The human condition is very much attracted to finding this kind of power because it helps to support feelings of importance while alleviating feelings of insecurity, doubt and fear. Our egos are well versed at seeking out this kind of power because it is what serves to keep them alive and thriving despite the harm it causes others. So because this is so ingrained in how our society has functioned for so long, the only way to truly change it is to seriously go to work on our own dismantling of it, within ourselves.
I believe this is why we are seeing what we are seeing in the ways of social and racial justice, gender equality and the dismantling of a white supremist and patriarchal culture in all of our institutions...because enough people are ready to do the work of their own dismantling of power over structures. On a personal level, this is what I am seeing play out in the world of yoga, specifically the Baptiste community at this moment. There is a reckoning and realization that this kind of power is inherently destructive for our emotional and psychological well-being. That it is unsustainable and that while we had the privilege of not paying attention, the cost has been incredibly high for other human beings who have long been stripped of any kind of power. The last straw has been broken and there has been just enough fatigue that has set in to say enough is enough for a larger and growing amount of people. And this is ultimately great news.
But here’s the thing, not everyone has arrived yet. Especially anyone who has benefitted or is benefitting from the old power over model because it would mean that they would have to give up a great deal and break down old structures that have been serving them for a long time. I’m not saying this to excuse this kind of resistance. I simply think that coming from this place of understanding will actually help benefit those of us who are ready to and already are moving forward to do the work of dismantling and create real and lasting change.
In the spirit of promoting power with, to and within I will share that we can only be effective when we stop trying to convince the people who are doing wrong to see it, and instead go to work with one another on what we have direct agency on; which is ourselves and the relationships that would support a kind of learning that isn’t about who is right, but how we can all get it right, together. The kind that hold equal and equitable space for one another. To be clear, it doesn't mean that we don't hold people accountable. But part of that accountability relies on our willingness to recognize where our agency begins and ends, so as not to burn ourselves out with a constant pushing which could ultimately lead us down the road of practicing "power over", ourselves. Accountability is imperative for change, but shame is not a worthy tool in any direction it is aimed. Brene does have an amazing episode on her podcast about exactly this that I would encourage a listen.
I’ve experienced power over relationships my entire life. I’ve felt and seen the harm caused by their wake first hand, truly. And I have learned how to navigate this in a way that allows me to release the anger and frustration that is only really harming myself and move forward in a much more productive and healthy way. It’s easy to be drawn down into the depths of despair, shame and guilt that come from the realization that you have been at the mercy of this kind of power. But I promise you, it’s not where you need to stay.
If I can impart anything through this post, it’s to encourage you to take some time to consider how you seek and exert your own power. This is both over/with/to/within ourselves and one another. We desperately need to examine this before we even dare to consider how we continue onward to re-build and re-structure. This is the real work of inquiry and when done mindfully, respectfully and with compassion, it can be what changes the world in the ways that we who get it, know it can and should be. To your very best ability, don’t be discouraged by those who won’t listen right now. We don’t need to be right. Instead, let’s get to work on being the ones who get it right and actually learn how to foster power with, to and within for one another, ourselves and most especially anyone who has been harmed at the hand of power over.
When recently packing for our trip down to Florida, I tried on some of my clothes from last summer and noticed how they fit differently aka my body was carrying more weight than it had been the last time I wore them. In the past, this would have thrown me into a shame spiral that had me obsessing over everything I ate and feelings of deep self-loathing.
However, this is what I did this time around instead…
I looked in the mirror and said out loud, “ok, you’ve put on some weight. I don’t love that, but I still love you” I stood and looked at my body exactly as it is and took some deep breaths and placed my hands on myself. Then I smiled and felt a moment of great relief that it could be as simple as that. I continued with my packing, choosing the clothes that felt good on my body and put away the ones that were snug without any longing to see them again and moved on with my day. I didn't vow to "do better" or "be better". I didn't immediately jump into a crazy workout regimen or restricted eating diet. Instead I allowed for that simple moment of consciousness to be enough. Because I am not my body.
I know this may sound basic for anyone who may not struggle with intense feelings around their body, but this is a huge win for any of us who do. The ability to openly accept and acknowledge our bodies, not as good or bad when we go up or down on the scale, but as the ever evolving and fluctuating organisms that they are. To openly voice to ourselves honest reality and our feelings about it, separate from our feelings of self: “I don’t love that, but I still love you” has been a major game changer for me personally.
I wrote recently that I don’t really believe in “body positivity” but more in body neutrality or acceptance because the truth is, when we force ourselves to feel a specific way, even perceived positive ways, we are often negating the reality of what is. Body positivity would have me replace the truth of "I don't love that" with a more "positive" statement even though it may not be true. A kind of "fake it till you make it" mindset. As someone who teaches mindfulness and meditation, I believe that our strongest power for healing lives in what is, rather than some false forced perception or narrative of where we would rather be. It doesn’t mean that I don’t always think my body is beautiful. That’s the big misconception because beauty itself is neither positive or negative, it just is. There is beauty in all of our different forms and it does not need to be defined as only an experience with what we have deemed “positive”. Body positivity implies that in order to find it, we must continue to maintain a one sided conversation with ourselves, often manipulating our own minds into the submission of “positive”. As they say, you absolutely can have too much of a good thing and eventually that positivity becomes toxic. It’s the same kind of suppression that has told women for centuries to put a smile on their face and hide their innermost feelings because no one needs to see that, including ourselves. It's BS.
And to be clear, body acceptance does not mean anti-weightloss or anti-fit, the same way that it doesn’t mean anti-fat. I am not anti anything when it comes to the body because that is the entire point. All of the boxing off we have done through commercialism and social media around what makes a body good or not is causing a severe confusion when the time comes to really look at ourselves in the mirror and stand with what actually is. We think there is some kind of measurement that will give us the answer to whether or not we are doing it “right” or “being good”. Instead of that, try what is real. Allow yourself to stand confidently in the truth of what is for a moment and repeat these words: “I may not love that, but I still love you”, if that is in fact your truth. Or perhaps it is “I love it, and I love you”. I have had many of those moments too. It's ok to have an opinion on your body, but we don't need to be consumed by that opinion. Because YOU are not your body’s aesthetic. YOU are much more than that. And frankly, your body is much more than that. And you need not shame yourself into the submission of a complete and total overhaul, nor do you need to lie your way into positivity. What is, is enough because it’s what IS in this moment. You are enough. Only when we learn to trust that, can we truly find freedom within ourselves and the kind of radical self-love that doesn’t rely on what size you are.
I don’t love that I have gained some weight mostly because I don't feel as fluid as I do when I am carrying a bit less of myself. AND I still deeply and profoundly love myself today, right now as is. I will go put into action the things that I know support that love. I will move my body a bit more each day and more consciously consume my food without the side of guilt or shame, simply because I know what my body needs right now. I won’t obsess over any of it because I do not wish to spend that kind of mental energy when I have so many bigger and more important things to do. Because I am not my body. It is a part of me. And only a part of me.
Interested in learning how I am able to create such confident and loving boundaries with myself? Join me this Sunday for a Creating Boundaries workshop. I will give you the secret right off the bat: creating boundaries is not about others, it's about ourselves. And it's not about limitations, it's about expansion. And it extends into all areas of our life: relationships, money, self-love and worth, parenting and so on...
ALSO...here is what happens when we create boundaries...
Through honest and loving observation, I know it's time to commit to moving a bit more beyond just the classes I teach. I don't need to shame or guilt myself into it. I don't need to force anything at all. As I have shared before and through the creation of eMOTION, my history is to use movement as punishment. Thankfully I have learned from my own history and so instead, I'm committing to only do what brings me joy AND gets me moving and sweating with just some more consistency. This may be a long walk in nature while listening to a podcast, a bike ride with my daughter or my favorite thing in the whole wide world: DANCING!!!
HUGE shoutout to Mike Peele of Hip Hop Fit, my latest go-to!! My favorite thing about his channel: He features humans of ALL shapes, sizes and colors and is all about the JOY!!
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.