I want to begin this week by saying that all of this is a process. Each week I am sharing with you a different principle of Intuitive Eating and beyond, but the expectation is not that you read these words and then you immediately go and do it. That would be yet another issue with diet culture mindset, this idea that if we follow these simple “rules” we will find our way to our most ideal, most happy self. There is a gross oversimplification that it nurtures for the often very complex relationships that we have with ourselves, with our bodies, with food and our emotions. Our human brains love the idea of a 12 step process that will lead us to whatever our idea of a promiseland looks and feels like, but unfortunately (and fortunately depending on how you look at it), life is so much more complex than that. It is, in many ways, what makes the human experience so beautiful and profound and I wholeheartedly believe that is something we can acknowledge and honor more for it will bring a deeper kind of appreciation and love for ourselves.
I say all of this because this week’s title “Make Peace With Food” is a very easy thing to read and say and roll off the tongue, but is not a simple and easy process all the time. And when I say this next thing, you might squirm inside, but I am preemptively saying that there is more to it than it may initially sound...and that is that in order to make peace with food you have to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Now, most people when they hear this feel all kinds of conflicted. I did too at first. What this often gets taken as is “eat whatever you want, how much ever you want, whenever you want”. And that’s true. And it’s not. Let me explain.
First let’s go back to last week, Honor Your Hunger. Remember that is vital because when your body is clearly cueing you that it’s hungry, it’s because it needs some energy in order to work well. So we begin there and when you feel those pangs, you eat. Now, what you eat is also completely up to you and your body. But here is the most important part of this step in the process: nothing is off limits (unless you have a medical reason such as a food allergy). And I know now that I just said that, you are completely confused because if you say that nothing is off limits, obviously you are going to go for the ice cream or nearest “junk” food right? And if you have unconditional permission to eat, you would never again choose to eat the fruits and vegetables we are always being told to eat right? If those are some of the thoughts you are thinking, I want to remind you of the title of this series which is learning to trust ourselves. It’s totally ok and normal that we would have this initial reaction, but this reaction is also a very clear sign that we have totally lost trust in ourselves. And that’s good information to have and know because it means that you are in the right place.
Here is the thing, you can’t learn to trust yourself if you are constantly restricting yourself. There is something that happens in our brains when we forbid ourselves from having something...we want it more and more and more. And then when we finally allow ourselves to have it, guess what happens? We gorge on it because we know it’s only a matter of time until we don’t allow ourselves to have it again. In intuitive eating this is called “Last Supper Eating”. You know right before you go on that diet, the night before you eat and eat and eat because you are about to embark on a journey of hyper restriction in order to get your body to look the way you want it to? This only serves the mindset that food is scarce or that certain foods are bad and it continues to keep the conditions that are ripe for binge eating when the gates finally open again.
To get very personal for a moment, I remember a big part of my binge eating would happen when no one was around. I could, in secret, keep going back to the fridge or cupboard without anyone noticing because in the times when I was around people, I wasn’t giving myself unconditional permission to eat the food that tasted good and until I was satisfied. Instead, I spent a lot of energy focusing on what the “appropriate” and socially acceptable amount of food was, along with the more impressive and healthier choices. My conditions were that I could only eat the bad and forbidden foods when no one was looking, which led to binge after binge when I was standing alone in the kitchen and no one would notice. It wasn’t until I started giving myself unconditional permission to eat, whether I was around others or not, that I was able to slowly let go of this behavior. It took time, believe me, which is why I began this chapter talking about process. But over the course of time I got better at allowing myself to honor my hunger as well as make peace with food.
I want to take a pause from talking about food for just a moment and bring this into another area, our emotions. We have been told for quite some time that there are positive and negative emotions. This often leads to wanting to work towards feeling only positive emotions and when things get uncomfortable, we tend to think something is wrong. In fact, that very phrase “what’s wrong?” is often asked when we see someone is sad, or angry and upset. In his book, Permission to Feel, Dr. Mark Brackett talks about how it’s not that any emotion is negative, but simply that we don’t allow ample space and time to actually feel what we are feeling with unconditional acceptance. Essentially, all emotions are valid and necessary and serve a purpose and when we give ourselves unconditional acceptance of all of them, we are much healthier of mind. Dr. Susan David who wrote Emotional Agility also talks a lot about the negative effects of toxic positivity on us as individuals and as a culture.
In my own teaching, I talk a lot about wholeness over wellness. Wellness culture has been so drastically co-opted by the same toxic positivity and diet culture mindset that I am often speaking about. This idea that we should be all “love and light” often leaves very little room for the moments when things feel dark and difficult. We are constantly perpetuating the narrative that the only satisfying moments of being alive are when we are happy and content, when so much of life is much more complex and nuanced than that. Rather than trying to “be well”, since we have now created such a narrow definition of what well actually is, I say what if we tried to embrace the wholeness of our humanity? When we are down and out, it’s not because something is wrong, but rather because we are human and it’s natural to struggle. And at the same time, when we are joyful and happy, may we not feel as if we have arrived to a permanent state of being but rather, acknowledge the impermanence so that we may appreciate them more.
I know this may not seem as if it is directly connected to food and eating, but I do believe that it all co-mingles together. As much of a bad wrap as emotional eating gets, the reality is that eating and emotions often go hand in hand. We will talk much more about this in week 7 and I will give more practical advice on how to navigate the two of these together. For now, I wanted to simply lay the groundwork and draw the parallels between our emotions, food and the detriments of restriction all around.
It’s like Glennon Doyle says in Untamed “being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, being human is hard because you’re doing it right”. This idea that we could give ourselves unconditional permission to eat for the sake of making peace with food and our bodies may seem counter to the current cultural narrative, but I promise that it is an incredibly important step in the process of making peace with yourself as a whole, awake and alive human being. It will take time, it will be hard and that will be ok because this is a process of learning to live in wholehearted trust with yourself. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have come up with all of these ways to try to avoid doing the work in the first place. And I do believe that dieting and restriction is essentially the easy button we came up with to not cope with our wholeness. But also as Glennon says, we can do hard things and learning to be unconditional and peaceful with all the ways you are human is oh so worth it.
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Since last week was about rejecting something, I am thrilled to move into this second step of learning to trust ourselves by honoring something. I am well aware that much of what I am writing about here on my blog, and over on social media seems very counterculture and dissonant to societal standards. I know that it may not be easy for everyone to hear or even accept right off the bat. And like any real change, while there must be a disruption and ruffling of the feathers of the old ways, there must also be something to do in its place.
This week we are talking about honoring our hunger and while I will certainly break it down specifically in terms of Intuitive Eating, I will also break it down in other ways we can honor our more metaphorical hunger for a more trusting relationship with ourselves.
Hunger has become somewhat of an enemy in many ways. Even though it is a natural, biological signal from our bodies to refuel it with the nutrients and things it needs to do its job, hunger has become hyper associated with its connection to how it makes us look if we indulge it too much. In some cases, hunger has become a burdensome whine that we are constantly looking to either negate, ignore, numb, or eradicate it so in its place a more slender and toned body will appear. This false idea gets glorified in certain diets such as intermittent fasting or hyper scheduled eating where we think we can actually trick our own biology into burning fat by having our hunger eat away at it.
This is where I have to take a moment and ask a very important question, how often when one chooses to diet or follow a new food fad do we actually take the time to check the facts of what really happens to our bodies biologically when put into periods of starvation? How deeply do we really research the information we are getting and how these ideas work on a cellular level? I can tell you from my personal experience, that I rarely did more in depth looking and simply trusted the “expert” of the moment from which the diet was derived. And if the expert had letters after their name, I barely did any questioning at all since letters are supposed to mean they know everything, right? This is a very big misunderstanding we have in commercialized health and wellness. We celebrate the ideas of an individual or popularity of a craze, rather than really looking to real, scientific research, study and knowledge. In truth, if diets had to face the same scrutiny that prescription meditation faced, they would fail miserably. I necessarily digress because I think it’s an important question to be asking ourselves.
Moving on, here is what happens when you put your body into starvation of any kind (because in truth, the body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and a global famine)...
When your body is starving and biological hunger is not being honored, your body slows down its metabolism in order to preserve energy since it can’t possibly know when its next meal is coming. And because hunger is a cue that your body needs fuel, specifically for your brain, red blood cells and nervous system, it begins to fuel itself using your muscle mass. It’s as if your body was a house that needed fuel for the fire in the furnace and when it doesn’t get it, it begins burning away the actual structure of the house. Yes, it may work to make things look more aesthetically pleasing for a time being, because from the outside we can’t really tell what it is that is actually being consumed by the cells in our body. Our kidneys, our liver, our brains and every cell in our body is so dependent on food energy that when it doesn’t get it, it will naturally compensate with powerful biological and psychological mechanisms. But if you think about the mere stress this puts our bodies under, to have to, in a way, hunt and gather from its own stores, that is going to take a toll in the long run. It is a miracle actually that our bodies know how to do this and it is what has kept humans alive in times of famine and food insecurities. But to voluntarily do this to our bodies is so incredibly unnecessary when the very best way we biologically function is through food and the beautifully built in mechanism we already have in place, called hunger, is bordering on inhumane. Not to mention that after a period of starvation and food becomes available to it again, it will click into primal hunger. You know the kind when it feels as if your brain is completely disconnected from your body and you can’t stop consuming food? The body will naturally take in as much food as it possibly can to try and counter that period of starvation, because now that it knows it can’t rely on its own hunger cues to get what it needs, it will compensate in the even a future starvation is coming again...and when we are in the diet cycle, it most likely is.
This is also why often when diets end or when you let yourself go too long without food, you tend to binge. And again, the body does not know the difference between a diet induced starvation period and an actual moment when food is scarce, so it simply does what it does as a natural coping mechanism. It is both biological and psychological. In fact, a 2000 study showed that a disproportionate number of concentration camp survivors suffer from binge eating disorders. Essentially, food scarcity is a form of trauma that triggers other trauma responses in the body and so when we don’t honor our hunger and keep our biology waiting on fuel, we may also unnecessarily be creating some psychological trauma because as much as we may try, we cannot outthink or even outsmart our biology.
I also want to share with you a fascinating study that was done on the effects of dieting and overexercising on The Biggest Loser contestants and how that period of time of fast and intense weight loss actually impacted their metabolism long term. Again, your body will find ways to adapt to how we treat it for sure, but there are other, unseen factors that are often at play and rarely considered.
Eating food and honoring our hunger is the ultimate mind body connection. When we really learn to listen to and honor our biological hunger, we in turn begin to honor all of the other ways in which we hunger in life. Passion and desire are hungers that oftentimes when we don’t think we are worthy, whether because of our physical body or not, we tend to stifle and dismiss. Desire is a natural human need and yet another cue that there is something we are craving. I hesitate to use that word because craving has, like hunger, become synonymous with negative connotation, but is not an inherently bad thing. As humans, we crave attention, love, and purpose in the world. When we can’t meet the basic need of our own hunger, it's likely that we are also struggling to meet some of these other more soul fulfilling needs that we have as well. When we connect our worthiness to our bodies and then ignore our body’s natural cues, one could say that there is a pretty major cognitive dissonance. It is very similar to having a dream of one day fulfilling something in your life or your work and yet every thought you have around it says it isn’t possible. This isn’t an uncommon thing unfortunately, and perhaps you find yourself relating to that. I know that I definitely do and have at many points in my life. It is as common as the diet culture mindset that is present in today’s world. And so this practice of honoring one of our most basic needs and naturally occurring biological cues that is our hunger, may also perhaps be a gateway in to really helping our minds and bodies know that we are worthy of getting our needs met, of being listened to and of experiencing pleasure, joy, energy and satisfaction in both our bodies and our minds.
On a final and even much deeper note, I want to share this with you: One of the final and most natural stages of a dying person is to lose their appetite. Dehydration and starvation are how the body most naturally wants to die in instances of old age and illness. Your hunger is actually an incredibly vital sign that you are in fact alive and that your body still wants to do what it was put here to do. That your cells want to continue to go on providing you with energy so that all of the systems of your body can function well, so that you, the human being who is living in your body, can go out into the world and live their life with purpose. To diminish this, ignore this or treat it as a burden, is to suppress our very own life force. Being hungry, both physically and in all the metaphorical ways it shows up in this life, is sacred. We must honor it if we truly wish to honor our life while we are still here to do so. Your hunger is your body's signal to you that it’s ready for a new day, a new moment and to move forward into what is possible for you. Let’s befriend it, acknowledge it and most importantly, honor it.
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The subtitle to this first chapter should really read: Rejecting diet mentality and any other cultural normalizing that has you measure yourself by a standard that isn’t personal to you. But alas, that is a little too long.
Let me really begin here by saying welcome to the first of a series that will appear each week called Learning How to Trust Ourselves. Over the next 10 weeks I will share a weekly blog post that centers around the principles of Intuitive Eating, but will most assuredly speak to so much more. The entire point of this series is to encourage, motivate and inspire you to really consider that the number one most important thing you can actually work on when it comes to loving yourself and all that encompasses you more, is learning to trust yourself more.
The reality is that all of us want to love ourselves more, but very few of us actually know how to trust ourselves. And trust is imperative for two major reasons: one, when we trust ourselves, like really trust ourselves we are no longer trying to control ourselves. Control is one of the most common reasons for things like disordered eating, movement and obsession. Because life itself is so wildly unpredictable, our human brains really love it when it can latch onto something that can take the sting out of the unknown and give us the illusion that we are in control. And the reality is that you cannot be trying to control something and simultaneously trust it, so when we really go to work on learning how to trust, we ultimately have to also face the fact that we must give up control at the same time.
The second reason that trust is imperative is because while we may have the ultimate goal to love ourselves more and therefore love our lives more, wholehearted love cannot exist without at least a large percentage of trust being present. I do not want to walk us down the road of absolutism and say that it must be 100% trust all the time, because the reality is that even the healthiest relationships can waiver in trust. I do not wish to create unrealistic expectations here, nor do I want to promote perfectionism. However, I do want to plant the seed that what we can work towards is a more trusting relationship with ourselves which will therefore lead us down the path of a more wholehearted self love.
And so we address the first “how” of all of this which is to Reject Diet Mentality. What is Diet Mentality? It is the constant narrative that gets thrown at us and perhaps we have taken on that our bodies need to be improved in aesthetic. It is the mentality and narrative that in order to be healthy, you have to be a certain size, shape, BMI and weight. It is the magical thinking that keeps us picking up specific diet after diet and keeps us in the belief that "this time it's gonna work".
As I said in the very first paragraph, diet mentality is essentially only one area of focus here. Feel free to substitute any other mentality that is more personal to you from here on out, but also, honing in on diet mentality is so helpful because it really reflects so much of our culture narrative that keeps us in the belief that we need to be more and better than we are. It is a breeding ground for anti-trust within ourselves.
Here are some of the ways that you may have been affected by diet mentality:
So the first thing we need to do in reject diet mentality is recognizing that we have it and it is affecting our daily lives. We have to recognize that we are dieting. And this is where I share the unfortunate truth that there is no such thing as a healthy diet. Here me on this, please. I am not saying that there is no such thing as healthy eating, or healthy and nutrient dense food. Of course there is. But when it comes to restrictions and rules around food, unless there is a good medical reason for not eating it, there is no such thing as a healthy diet. I don’t care if you are talking about Keto, DASH, Weight Watchers and even Whole30 (this one was even admittedly hard for me). I don’t care if it is made popular by a celebrity or directed by a wellness influencer on instagram. A diet is a diet is a diet is a diet and the entire point of it all is to make yourself submissive to rules and regulations that keep you listening and adhering to strict rules as created by someone else, rather than your own internal desires and personal physiological cues.
I know this is going to be controversial for many many people. I know that it may be hard to hear. Please know that I am not trying to be divisive at all and I am certainly not telling you to reject the foods that you love to eat themselves. Quite the opposite actually. What I am talking about is the actual mentality that these diets generate within ourselves and the disconnection they create with our bodies, our bellies and our minds and hearts. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t like eating meat and you love to cook vegan meals that you should stop doing that. The entire point is to actually do what you love and recognize that nourishment in terms of food comes in many different ways, including the pleasure we get from eating. If you love veganism but every once in a while find yourself craving real ice cream, or cheese, why would you not eat it? Really think about it. Perhaps you think that if you do partake, you will all of a sudden fall off the invisible wagon you created for yourself. If that is the case then I would say with the utmost love, that is a disordered eating and diet culture mindset and the veganism is perhaps masking it. And we want to dismantle that because when we are living in a rabbit hole of constantly dwelling on our food and our bodies, or creating stress around what we eat and don't eat, we end up spending a ton of our energy and life force that could be used for so many other, more interesting things. As Glennon Doyle said in one of her recent podcasts, there is an opportunity cost that comes with this kind of thinking because you are spending your one precious life obsessing over food and body when it could be used for so many more wildly creative and fantastic things. And it’s not that your body isn’t wildly fantastic, but YOU are so much more than a body.
So this first step is imperative. It is vital. And it is hard. It is hard because it is insidious in our culture and it is almost everywhere we look. And it’s ok for it to take time and to be imperfect at it for as long as you need to be. The good news is that you do not have to get it down perfectly in order to move forward, you simply have to begin to do the work of recognizing when diet mentality is living within you and gently and lovingly tell yourself you aren’t doing that anymore. You get to be kind to yourself while you take it apart. And if you have to do it 100 times in a day, it’s ok. I believe in you and I know that when you really begin this first step, you are on your way to really learning to trust yourself.
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I’m not exactly sure why this is, but the human brain loves quantifiable, measurable, comparison. Anything that we can slap labels on and use to identify so that it’s a little less murky for our brains, we do it.
Yesterday I took an amazing webinar with Dr Lisa Orbe Austin all about imposter syndrome. It was specifically for coaches and how we help our clients move past it, hosted by the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Med at which I am a fellow. One of the moments that thrilled me the most was when she talked about using self-care and mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing. But even more importantly she spoke about auditing those practices so that we aren’t putting the same kinds of labels and measurements on them the same way that we do when we struggle with imposter syndrome.
If we are allowing things like perfectionism and rigidity to be the foundation of our practices, then I have to wonder if they in fact stop ceasing to be self-care at all?
If when you go to your yoga mat you measure the success of the practice by how well you were able to push through a challenging moment, or if you were able to finally get that handstand, without paying any attention at all to what you were feeling emotionally or energetically during the practice, I would challenge you and ask how is this helping your overall being exist in the world? I would even take it a step further and say that if the priority of the emotional connection isn’t at the forefront, perhaps it isn’t serving a real purpose in your life other than to give you one more thing to fixate your anxiety and perfectionism on. And I don’t say that solely for the sake of keeping the actual intention of yoga in tact, I say it because the entire point of our self-care and emotional coping practices are to help us release all of the stuff that keeps us unwell and shows up in the daily minutiae of living life.
Right now I am studying Intuitive Eating as the next level of working towards Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching. What hit me so hard yesterday is that even the daily, simple and necessary self-care that is nourishing our bodies, has become fraught with this kind of comparative, rigid and obsessive analysis. Food has become yet another way for us to pick and obsess over rules that keep us swirling down the rabbit hole of trying to prove our worthiness, rather than the form of fuel and nourishment that it actually is. We have commodified diets and structures around food based on biases for what a body should look like and arbitrary measurements such as clothing size, weight, BMI and calories that have nothing to do with a person’s emotional or whole state of being. We have more or less “othered” mental health and completely disassociated from our own intuitive listening and trust. For example, rather than listening to ourselves when we are hungry, or stopping when we are full, we often instead favor adhering to diets and regimigns as dictated from a source outside of ourselves. It is quite tragic when you really consider it, that something as personal and at the same time basic as eating has become so commodified that we actually are rarely doing it from a place of real connection with ourselves.
One of the things I am committed to doing as a coach, whether my client is struggling with body image issues or is in recovery from disordered behaviours, is to help them reconnect with themselves again so that the choices they are making every single day are not actually coming from an outside pressure or costing them trust with their bodies. Instead, when we put weight aside and instead focus on what our actual relationship is with our body, our food and our practices, we can then begin to live much more authentically based on our internal gauge, rather than external measurements. This is also exactly what I try to create for anyone when they come to an eMOTION class, except rather than food being the subject, it’s movement.
What really struck me yesterday as Dr. Orbe Austin spoke on imposter syndrome was the thought that of course so many of us are struggling with it because so many of us are walking around completely disconnected from ourselves. Here we are, these beautiful and complex beings walking around in bodies that were made exactly for us, and yet the overriding tendency in our society and culture is to “make it fit” more generalized measurements and labels.
Just for fun, I looked up what some of the synonyms and antonyms of imposter are. The synonym search came up with words like: charlatan, fake, fraud, hoaxer, phony and pretender. When I look at today’s climate of influencer, diet, fitness and wellness culture, I can’t help but completely feel that all of these words fit in some way or another. What was fascinating however was that when trying to find the antonyms for Imposter, it was a more difficult search. Mirriam-Webster came up with ace, adept, authority, crackerjack, expert, maestro, master, professional, virtuoso, whiz and wizard, but only referred to these words as near antonyms. It makes me wonder if we really actually know how to cope or exist in the world without Imposter syndrome because while not having words for something doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist, it is still rather telling.
Over the next several weeks, I plan on sharing a series called Learning to Trust Yourself that will focus specifically around the principles of Intuitive Eating. However, as I said before, food and eating is just one medium in which Imposter Syndrome exists and many of these same steps can be applied to so many areas of life. I hope that you will continue to stay tuned and subscribe to the blog so you can receive updates.
And if you are ready to explore what the opposite of being an Imposter is in your own life may feel like for you, I am a coaching call away!
First let me acknowledge that this post comes entirely inspired by this morning’s Anti-Racism Daily email. If you don’t already subscribe to their Patreon, I highly recommend doing so. This morning’s email is all about advocating for critical race theory to be taught in schools. Something I strongly support.
What is Critical Race Theory? is an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice. If you have yet to learn about or read the 1619 project, I suggest starting there.
What struck me the most about reading today’s email is the fact that what those who oppose most about teaching critical race theory espouse is that by teaching by it, it would in fact promote racism.
Haven’t we been here before? I can remember growing up in the 90’s and hearing the grownups debate safe sex education. Having a mom who was a nurse and worked with young moms and growing up going to Catholic Church and Sunday school, I heard both sides. My mom always advocated that talking about sex was an important and key component to actually practicing it safely. It is how we empower young adults to make smarter and more educated choices, including abstinence. On the other hand, I would also hear the whispers around me about how teaching sex education could potentially empower young adults to actually then go and have sex. And even though the statistics showed that talking about sex actually did lead to safer practices and less unwanted teen pregnancies and lower STD infection rates, still they carried on. Even at that young age I recognized that it wasn’t actually that they didn’t want safer sex, but it was their own discomfort around even having the conversation that led the movement. It was the patriarchal and puritan culture at work.
So here we are today, facing the exact same argument but in a different subject, though most of the motives remain the same. Those of us who advocate for talking about race with our children, specifically how it relates to our country’s mindset, know that this is vital if we are going to actually dismantle racism and white supremacy in America. Talking about race does not make one racist (spoiler alert: we likely already are if we grew up in America, even without talking about it). It provides our children (and ourselves) with an educated point of view that will lead them down the path of empathy and actual progression. This old and tired argument that not talking about something in order to “keep the peace” is a tool for suppression. It also tends to have the exact opposite effect. A study at the University of Washington found that adolescents who received comprehensive sex education are significantly less likely to become pregnant than adolescent who recieved abstinence only or no formal sex education. A similar outcome can occur when choosing to deliberately not talk to our children about race. This article from National Geographic perfectly highlights the benefits of talking to our children about race and gives some excellent insight from generous leaders such as Ibram X. Kendi author of How to be an Anti-Racist and executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington, D.C.
I do think it’s incredibly important however to highlight one crucial difference here however: no one is losing their life because of the refusal to talk about sex. New lives may be coming into the world, but that is not the same as the violence, hate and death that Black people are facing in this country. I want to make sure that I make that distinction because it is what makes talking about race and offering critical race theory education in our schools even more vital. And I want to say something that may offend some, but a cold hard truth is that not wanting to educate our children on race, does make you racist. I recently saw a video where a woman was crying to a school board saying “just because I do not want critical race theory taught to my children in school, does not mean that I am a racist damnit”. I am sorry to tell you this, but it does. If you are not racist then you wouldn’t be bothered one bit by this crucial and very real part of our history being taught to our children. You certainly wouldn’t be drawn to tears. And I do not say this to demonize or ostracize, but only to point out that when we staunchly oppose education that would progress a movement that likely has little to no effect on us personally, we are coming from a place of internal reckoning and fear with something that is deeply unresolved. Racism is deeply unresolved in many of us because we haven’t been given the time, space and light of day to actually deal with it. Hence why education on the subject for our children would not only benefit them, but subsequently the generations that follow. And perhaps, should we be the kind of parents to dare to learn from our children, we may even learn something ourselves in the process.
Yesterday in the car, Audrey and I were listening to Hamilton and this line jumped out at me and hit me in the face.
I will be honest with you (always) the last week I have been in a bit of a personal struggle. The only way I can describe it is a kind of identity crisis in my work and how I want to move forward.
Here are the facts:
* I love my practices of yoga, meditation and wellness and what they have done for me over the years. The tools that they have offered have been life changing in many ways.
* I love teaching and take my responsibility of people giving me their time, attention and money very seriously.
* Much of what I have learned, where I have learned it and who I have learned from has been problematic. Perhaps not in the microcosm of the space itself, but if we zoom out and really take a look at the bigger picture. There has been a great deal of perpetuating harmful ideology that is rooted in white supremacy, prosperity culture and inequality.
* Now that I’ve zoomed out, I can’t (and refuse) to zoom back in. Even though it would be the easier thing to do...for me. There is a lot of unpacking to do.
The main thing I am fighting with is the desire to be loud and vocal and decisive and the old narrative of middle ground neutrality. Neutrality has been so valued in wellness culture. It’s part of old ancient texts, to a degree, but it is also part of the capitalism of it all, making sure that no one is cut off from wanting to spend their money in the yoga studio or on certain products. We can say it’s for accessibility and the desire to create safe spaces for all, but in the current context of things, this has the exact opposite effect. To be blunt, I call bullshit.
The second part of this line is “drop the niceties”. Nice can be brutally toxic and dangerous, even when good intentioned. Nice is what upholds systems. Nice is not the same as kind. So when I heard this line, I knew it was exactly how I felt and exactly how I will move forward. If it creates divisiveness, I am ok with that. I know, I know, shouldn’t I as a yogi be looking to walk the middle path and seek out alignment, even with those I disagree with?
And my answer is: no. That isn’t actually my job in a world where the very foundation of the middle ground isn’t actually middle at all but much more skewed in the direction of those who benefit from it. The middle ground, in today’s context isn’t actually bringing anything together, but rather working to keep as little disruption to business as usual in place. If history teaches us anything it’s that revolutions and change doesn’t actually happen on the middle ground. It happens when disruptors walk a different ground all together. Or burn it all to the ground. And so no, my job is not to maintain stasis and status quo. I would rather be divisive than indecisive and being the nice white yoga teacher is no longer of interest to me and quite honestly, shouldn’t be an option anymore, for any of us.
If it means turning people off or away from me, so be it. I’m ok with that. But the reality is that for those who disagree, this is not a shutting of the door but rather an open invitation to engage. I’m very clear on where I stand and comfortable with disagreeing. I am less bothered by a person who staunchly disagrees with me than those who would continue to perpetuate harm through indecision and silence. And I can simultaneously know where I stand and know that I am not always going to be right. I’m not here to be right, I’m here to get it right as Brene Brown says. Mostly I am here to be an activist for things to actually change because that is actually what is at the heart of all of these practices that we cling to. It is incredibly hypocritical to look to these practices to constantly seek change within ourselves, yet not ever do any of the necessary work to change the landscape that causes immense harm.
And in case you need to know where I stand so you can decide whether you stay or go in my spaces, I want to create a clear manifesto so that there is absolutely no confusion. This is the perspective from which I view things and live my life. It will absolutely show up in my teaching, coaching and practices because I do not believe that we can or should separate our work from ourselves.
Here is what I believe:
Finally, I want to end this by turning the page away from my own personal beliefs, feelings and story and highlight some resources for you to connect with other than this space. All of the below are people or organizations who are making it their mission to also create change for social and racial justice, body and gender equality and emotional well-being that doesn’t depend on keeping harmful oppressive structures in place. They are also people who I personally support and patronize as well as learn from. I encourage you to follow them on social media, read their work and listen to their voices and if you have the means to support them through Patreon or otherwise, please do so.
Anti-Racism Daily - Daily newsletter that comes to your inbox to give you actionable practices to help dismantle racism and white supremacy
Susanna Barkataki - Yoga teacher and author whose work is about embracing the roots of yoga
Trans Yoga Project - amplifying the voices and teaching of Trans yoga teachers
Project HEAL - Organization helping to bring equity and equality to eating disorder recovery
Jeffrey Marsh - Transgender and nonbinary beautiful human, author and educator
Rebeckah Boruki - Meditation teacher and publisher
Courtney Napier - blogger who uses her voices to blur the line between personal and political
Sonya Renee Taylor - Award winning poet, author and activist - The Body is not an apology
Finally, how I am choosing to move forward is imperfectly, but loudly. I have been a yoga teacher for the last 13 years of my life and I have admittedly not always done my part. I have gotten caught up in the glamorization and colonization of yoga. I may have always been well intentioned but as I said earlier, that no longer flies. This is not a shame story. This is about how we move forward and do better so we can all be better. I used to think that yogi activism was obnoxious because I believed the line I was being fed that yoga is about calm and peace and neutrality. I call bullshit. If we aren’t doing this work within our practices, our practices themselves become obsolete. And yoga, meditation and wellness do not need to be quiet right now. They can’t be. I invite you to be decisive and see the opportunity that really exists within your own practices. Yes, let’s nurture ourselves with our own breath and let's also make sure that we are using that breath to speak out about what is incredibly harmful for others.
Spaces where deep personal sharing is happening and yet psychological safety hasn’t been created are dangerous spaces.
I just got off a call with some of my fellow coaching fellows at the Institute of Coaching where we talked about what it means to create psychological safety in spaces where we ask people to be vulnerable. This is an important and ongoing discussion, but I immediately reflected upon my personal experiences in the yoga world and times when myself and others have been asked to share deeply personal truths, and yet no one set up the room for it to be a psychologically safe space.
This is an unfortunately common practice in yoga, specifically in teacher training programs. Students are asked to journal and write about very personal experiences and then asked to share in front of the group, ranging in sizes from very small to very large. It would be one thing if the share was as simple as that, a stand and share where everyone holds a kind of loving space for everyone. However what has often happened and I have witnessed is a kind of poking and prodding along that one of the leaders of the training takes on as a way to integrate the particular yoga methodology and practice. This is where it gets incredibly dangerous. More often than not, the teacher leading the training is not actually qualified to be doing such a thing. While yoga offers a beautiful healing practice, it does not often address the trauma that gets brought up when we are so vulnerable with our bodies.
For anyone who has been through some kind of therapy or program for healing physical and mental trauma, yoga feels like a very excellent compliment to healing the psychological wounds. However, when the line gets blurred from being a complimentary practice to a kind of inquiry that stirs up emotional trauma, facilitated by people who themselves aren’t capable of speaking to trauma informed work, it goes from a healing practice to a practice in creating more trauma.
Here is a general rule: If you can’t pack it back up again, skillfully, intelligently and responsibly, don’t unpack it in the first place.
Yoga isn’t therapy. It is an ideology and potential path that offers a lot of really great ideas by which to consider living your life. But it isn’t a substitute for real and good therapy and certainly not an appropriate space for trauma to be brought up. The real tragedy too is that just like all other spaces, the yoga room can also create new trauma when the leaders of the room refuse to hold themselves accountable for being the keepers of physical, mental, emotional and psychological safety. Yes, there is autonomy in each and every student. But when we invite a group of people into a space, at our profit no less, we have an obligation to be as certain as we can be that we are creating safe spaces, not doing more harm. To keep it yogic, it is the absolute epitome of ahimsa and unfortunately too often gets pushed aside for the feeling of personal power.
There are amazing trauma informed yoga therapists out there. There are responsible and ethical yoga teachers out there who know where the boundaries are of where their work ends and trauma informed specialists begin. But if you find yourself in a room where you are being asked to share vulnerably and personally and the psychological safety has not been spoken about or created, please my friend, walk out of that room. It’s no longer a space for you or for anyone who is interested in actually learning about yoga safely.
On a personal note, being a keeper of safe spaces as a yoga teacher, a coach and even a writer is something I am committed to and always looking to improve upon. It helps that I have gone through therapy as well as supported a partner in therapy, but all the same, improvements can always be made. I share this openly and honestly because I think it is a key component to de-stigmatizing as well as normalizing talking about how many of us who came to yoga, both as a practice and a profession, are attracted to the healing feelings it brings. At the same time, if we choose to take on a leadership role, we must know where our boundaries are. I can coach people and teach in the vulnerable space of yoga, but the moment trauma is involved, I must defer to a more qualified colleague. It doesn't take away from my own qualifications and ability and in truth, there have been many days in the last year when the consideration of going back to school has been brought up. But for now I would like to encourage us, teachers, may we humbly acknowledge our limits, not because they make us less than, but because the acknowledgement itself is what will ensure that the spaces in which we invite others into, are actually safe. And to every single student out there, if your safety is not put at the forefront, then you deserve a better teacher and safer space. Yoga isn't therapy. Let's stop trying to make it so.
Radical Honesty: I am a recovering wannabe “Yogalebrity”
It’s true. In the beginning of my yoga teaching career I dreamed about being one of those yoga teachers who graced the cover of magazines, taught packed and sold out classes at Wanderlust and wrote book after book on how to be amazing.
I simultaneously hate admitting it and love getting that off my chest.
I hate it because it makes me reflect on my own narcissistic tendencies that once drove me to harm my body through practices that would have me looking the part, ie bulimia and intense yoga practices. This focus in the early years of my teaching allowed me to remain on the surface of yoga, comfortable with the completely watered down and westernized practice of using the asana to push my students beyond their comfort zone in hot rooms that would have us sweating off the calories and feeling like rockstars for being able to make the sixth wheel pose happen through physical and mental exhaustion. Even when espousing beautiful, life affirming sayings, stories and quotes, let’s be real that the emphasis was still primarily on the physical body. It was an outcome based practice based entirely around what you could or could not do physically, wrapped in the illusion of spiritual mindfulness. And if I am being really, super honest, being able to get an entire room of people to do something that seemed incredibly hard or impossible, made me feel powerful. I would get high off of that feeling and if someone over in the corner wasn’t adhering to my class, my way, I would get incredibly annoyed or even hurt.
I hate sharing this because it isn’t at all how I am as a teacher now or how I view yoga, but I think it’s vitally important that I speak to it so that others who have fallen into this same trap, may find their way out. And I can be objective enough to know that even though I pretended for all those years to be that kind of teacher, at my core it isn’t who I am. It never really fit, no matter how hard I tried to make it so. Perhaps that is why I never reached full yogalebrity status, thankfully.
It wasn’t until I became a mom and my body changed so much that my practice had to as well that I woke up. After years of trying to shape myself, often quite literally, into the kind of teacher who would also be the most popular teacher, I came to a stunning realization that not only was I harming myself, I was complicit in upholding the self-harm of others. Even though I have always come to any space with compassion, I still continued to believe that hard was the cool and badass way, while soft and gentle was for the birds. And my teaching at times reflected that. As my personal practice changed and softened, so did my understanding of what being a good teacher actually meant. I started practicing with teachers whose goal was not to set a bar that I had to meet and rise up to, but teachers whose purpose was to allow for the students' bar to be exactly enough, regardless of personal agenda. It felt so good and right to me all of a sudden and a kind of inner resistance that I had been harboring for years began to unwind.
I essentially took two years off from teaching to become a mom, aside from doing a class a week via Facebook live. When I came back to the studio to teach two years later I would be asked “where did your fire go?”. I still had some of it and could quickly utilize it after years and years of practice, but authentically it wasn’t my teaching tool of choice any longer. In fact, the emphasis of my teaching stopped being about me at all and became about asking myself how I could be for the generosity of my students. It’s not a popularity maker, at least not in the section of the yoga world I was a part of. But it felt so much better to actually be for others rather than only be for others bolstering my own ego. The latter way is manipulative and perpetuating a deeply insidious problem in the yoga world, the idea that the person standing at the front of the room is some kind of otherworldly being in all their glorified coolness. That if you do that sixth wheel even though you are physically and mentally exhausted, you will somehow be just like them, or the distorted perception of who we think they are. It’s power at its worst and most addictive stage.
When I say beware of the Yogalebrity, I do mean in those we learn from, but also within ourselves as yoga teachers. If our aim is to be the most popular, gain the most likes and make the most money, we have to ask ourselves, are we really in it for the yoga, or are we there because it just seems like a really good business plan? (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
The tricky thing about yoga in the modern world is that it can make narcissists of us all. With all the emphasis and talk about the “self”, especially in rooms that are dripping with privilege, it is easy to quickly forget that the real practice of yoga is not to have it live within the walls of a studio or even ourselves for the purpose of personal power and revolution. The real purpose and heart of yoga is to live in a way that is generous to ourselves and one another and to become consistently aware of how we do harm in the world, take from others and live ethically and with integrity knowing that our actions affect more than just us.
So I say beware the yogalebrity, for it is very possible that they have used these practices to their own twisted advantage and forgotten, or perhaps never really known, what yoga is really about. And may we continue to check in and check that within ourselves.
Each week I am now going to do a Moving Forward segment on my blog. This is where I discuss solution based possibilities towards making certain spaces in the world of wellness, yoga and mediation better in terms of equity, equality, inclusion and in true alignment with what these practices actually are, at their heart.
In this week’s Moving Forward I focus on two things that would greatly benefit the yoga, meditation and wellness world better:
I just got done having a conversation with someone at Insight Timer that I think is important to share and a prime example of what I am talking about.
I am a teacher on the app and a regular user. I love it and yet, I have been hesitant of late to schedule any more live sessions and upload any more of my own meditations.
As a teacher, you sign up, create a profile and can upload content that you have created until your heart’s content. You can also schedule live sessions, where people can join you for a meditation, talk or yoga class via their live stream portal. During the session, people are welcome to donate at any time and click a bell like feature to subscribe to your profile so they are alerted when new content is uploaded.
Here is what I love: there are literally thousands of amazing teachers on this app who have offerings of all kinds, much of it for free. You also have the option to purchase a Member Plus subscription within the app to have an all access pass to any of the classes and content that are more in depth. I currently have one myself (more on that in a moment). That being said, you could certainly never purchase a subscription and still have plenty of content available to you, at any time of the day or night. I am completely for making practices more accessible. I think it’s important that there are generous offerings all over the place to help navigate mental and emotional health through practices like mediation. I am a big fan of that and in truth, I love being able to offer it as an option in the midst of my own paid offerings. I would love to put myself on the Insight Timer app schedule regularly so anyone who can’t do my own subscription services, could drop in and donate if they can that day, but no worries if they cannot. I also am a huge believer in having access to more than one teacher because one huge problem in spiritual practices these days is that we tend to adhere to one person’s perspective, get wrapped up in it and quickly forget that there are so many other rich and valuable practices and teachers out there to explore. Diversifying who we learn from, matters.
However. One of the rules of their community guidelines is that you are not allowed to promote or speak about anything outside of the content that you have on the Insight Timer app. Meaning that I cannot share my website or any of the many other classes, workshops or programs that I am charging for, for anyone who may be interested to purchase. I also have free services, such as this blog that I also cannot promote. Now if I were an employee, or possibly (maybe) even being paid a fee to teach that class in the first place, I might understand this to a degree. Again, maybe. But the mere fact that I am taking my time (remember that’s a resource), energy and content and placing it on their app for their direct benefit, yet whether or not I make any money, depending on how much people donate is completely up in the air. To date I have made a total of $31.29 and I have 10 meditations available and done about six live sessions. I have no idea how many of those people have an actual subscription simply because none of that actually gets put in the pockets of the teacher, or at least a teacher of my level. It’s very possible that there are a lot of teachers who put a lot of time, effort and energy in and do see a big return on their investment. But that is actually an even bigger problem.
When I shared this concern with Insight Timer, the first response was to say that it was based on my performance, sharing content and then increasing the number of followers I have. They suggested that I upload more meditations (more work) and share them on my different social media accounts (more time) to gain more followers and attract more people to use their platform. So I want to be clear about something, when they say it’s based on performance...what they actually mean is my performance of how good I am at social media. Not at my performance as a meditation teacher. One thing I know is that I am a damn good teacher and I think it’s highly unfair to lump the two of those factors in as if they are not two very different things.
I want to be very clear that I am not anti-Insight Timer and my intention is not to take them down. This is not a practice that is unique to them. I can’t tell you how many free classes I have taught for big chain stores or trainings I have attended at studios for entire days worth of time under the guise of getting more “knowledge”. This has been a big and overriding problem in the yoga and wellness world for a very long time where teachers are asked to give of their time and effort generously for some kind of promised promotion or gain that can’t actually be guaranteed.
I want to create a solution. A first step in that is creating awareness specifically around Insight Timer and anyone who uses this app, which I know are a lot of people. It is important that you know that most teachers do not get paid by the app itself, but rather make only what gets donated. To not be able to promote oneself as an independent contractor and teacher, who works insanely hard at making her livelihood feels incredibly wrong. To be asked to work harder to bring people to the app itself and bring in new content for them, with absolutely no guarantee of income and a complete inability to share what other offerings we do have, also feels wrong.
Here are some other solution based things to consider:
I am grateful to She who had the conversation with me today and told me that my concerns will be brought up to the development team. But I am also going to make sure that this truly happens and that a change is considered because I want to be part of a solution that keeps practices accessible for the students and equitable for every teacher who pours their heart and soul into creating good and valuable content because without us, Insight Timer wouldn't be the #1 free app for sleep, anxiety and stress.
For now, I am remaining on the app because this isn't a boycott. I am hoping that the powers that be will simply consider an allowance for more autonomous promotion, transparency and sustainability that will benefit everyone involved. There is more than enough to go around and I believe that if we work together instead of only being out for ourselves, everyone will actually be better off.
Making yoga, meditation and wellness more accessible for all is a must. So is making it sustainable for the teachers who shoulder the bulk of the effort put forth at the benefit of the studio, company and spaces that profit off our work.
Have a thought about this? I welcome your comments below!
For full transparency, I am sharing the conversation I had with She today:
My plan was to post this on the year anniversary of writing it, which is May 30th. It can’t wait. I should probably think about posting it every single day, until one day it actually lands in the hearts and minds of every single white person in America.
I have personally spent this last year doing so much learning and unlearning around my own racism and white supremacy. I still have a long way to go. In fact, I started a website called wedotheworkhere.com a year ago and realized very quickly that I was not yet ready and capable of leading this conversation.
I still have a lot of work to do and I'm not perfect at this. But I am ready to share and speak to this again and I am very clear on in who it is I am speaking to: white yoga teachers and wellness influencers.
Our industry is riddled with racism and problematic power structures. For years now we have been able to walk into rooms and spout off lovely ideas and sayings that feel really really good to hear and to say. And we have been able to do that because we have a kind of privilege that allows us to be in that room in the first place and take on that kind of belief system that would have us believe that we can be up to bigger and better things. Because we can, because the systems were built for that to remain true for us.
Meanwhile, Black men are being gunned down and kneeled upon for no reason at all. Black women are experiencing higher maternal mortality rates than anyone else in the country. The Black community is dying of COVID at higher rates than any other community. And Black voters are being suppressed by new laws being established to make it easier to keep the old systems healthy and continuing.
But here we are talking about getting to choose our reality, being in love with our lives, staying positive, doing the work, holding the line or talking about the injustice of not being to just sit in a bar and order a glass of wine. This is racism. I know, I know, none of this is a direct target at people of color. We aren’t saying openly racist things. But here is the thing: the absence of talking about what is happening in the world to other people who don’t have to luxury of walking into these spaces of wellness, ignoring the need to speak to any of it in the space where we are aiming to live up to a “higher version of ourselves”, is racist. And classist. And oppressive.
I took a break from social media a little while ago. I am not going to lie, it was glorious. I got to focus all of my time and attention on me, growing my business and my family. These are wonderful things. But a few months ago I also realized that I was also ignoring what was going on in the rest of the world, specifically in the arena of social change and justice. Yes, I was reading articles and the news. I continued to donate money and sign petitions and have direct conversations with people. But I wasn’t really active in my activism the same way. Because I didn’t have to be. Because that is my privilege.
I chose to come back because somewhere I read how the Black Lives Matter movement couldn’t have happened without social media. I read about how those little black squares that we all posted a year ago actually wiped out an entire library of resources and work that had been beneficial to the Black community and raising awareness. On one hand, you could make the argument that getting off of social media as white people would be a hell of a good thing. We tend to meddle and try to “fix” and make things way worse at times (listen to Nice White Parents for proof of that). And yet, it also alerted me to how important it is as a white woman in wellness and yoga to speak up and make statements in conjunction with the action I was doing outside of this space.
A friend of mine and incredible musician, Celisse Henderson recently shared the following on her Instagram Story, speaking to her white, cis gendered colleagues in the music industry:
“Something to consider…
If you are a white person who is incredibly active on social media when it comes to the promotion of your music/art/brand/ideas etc. but are completely and utterly silent in the face ot the constant harassment, degradation, and death of Black, Brown, Trans, Queer and LGBTQ+ people, I would ask you to not only consider why that is, but how you think it makes these groups of people feel to experience your deliberate silence?
A special note to my many white, cis gendered colleagues- what does it mean to have a career centered around playing pop, soul, roots, blues, R&B, rock country music, (the list can go on and on) created on the back of Black people but choose to be more concerned with losing followers/your brand perception than the actual lives of the people, whom without your career would not exist?
Any of you that know me on any level, know that I say this lovingly, as a real perspective I would implore you to ponder. I am not here to shame you, but to tell you that your apathy is seen, felt and devastating to experience.
Before you post another video of your own content and nothing else, I will leave you with a word that constantly stays at the forefront of my thoughts.
‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?’”
Friends and colleagues in the wellness and yoga world. I ask us all the same question. You may think that yoga is neutral, that social media isn’t the space for speaking up, but I am going to lovingly tell you, you are wrong. The music we play in our classes to accompany our teaching, how much of it is by musicians of color? The pretty little phrases we are able to roll trippingly off our tongues, we are only able to say them because our privilege to even be able to be in those spaces was built on oppressive systems that allow us to have the money, time and access to even being in those spaces. Neutrality and silence are not only dangerous, but they are our complicity.
I have been most recently and closely associated with the Baptiste yoga community in the last few decades of my career. It is currently and thankfully in the midst of going through its own very necessary reckoning around social justice, sexual misconduct and power. There is this phrase that is constantly bandied about: “Do the work”. I have to ask, what is this work that we are talking about? If it is only getting more closely acquainted with a methodology and kind of personal empowerment that leaves us feeling good in our own skin, but isn’t interested in examining how that skin has been a free pass to even be able to consider a “personal revolution” in the first place, then I am so out and calling it: The continued silence and lack of words, yes even and especially on social media, is violent. And it’s not wellness or yoga. It’s racism.
And for my friends and colleagues in yoga and wellness who are interested in making changes and being radically honest with how our own racism continues to perpetuate and uphold problematic systems, most especially in wellness, begin with this article from The Cut and listen to these stories from Black women in wellness. Follow and donate to Anti-Racism Daily and SHARE their social templates that they freaking create for you! In time, you will become more and more comfortable with finding your own words, but you have to begin somewhere.
Please hear me friends, I am not here to shame anyone. Shame is not a tool for social justice and I know that. But another Black man died at the hands of a white police officer. A woman no less. We have work to do and we cannot actually get to it until we honestly acknowledge our own racism. Again. A year later after we watched one of the most horrible lynchings of our time in broad daylight, on tv, with an entire world watching. What you have to say about it, matters and will be the difference between continuing business as usual, or actually disrupting it.
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.