Honing our language as yoga teachers: trauma-sensitive verbal cues

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” –Cornel West

A few days ago, I posted the following picture and caption on my Body Positive Yoga Facebook page:

Upward-facing dog with a chair
Want to work on upward-facing dog? If you’re still building the strength to balance on just the hands & tops of feet, or if you have limited ankle mobility, try this version of updog with a chair. Brace your abdominals (like someone was going to punch you in the gut – front and back). Pull your hip points up toward your navel to keep your pelvis in good alignment and to keep the low back from hammocking. Straighten the arms, keep the shoulders away from the ears (don’t sink into the shoulders) and squeeze a block between your thighs or calves for extra resistance and to teach your body how to fire up your legs and core.

I got lots of great feedback on this backbend variation, but the most valuable comments (to me) were from two yoga teachers who gently encouraged me to examine my language. They drew attention to the “punch in the gut” cue and suggested that I find non-violent imagery to use instead.

I’m always grateful for a chance to hone my language. I want my yoga classes to be not only body positive, but trauma-sensitive as well, and I have a ton to learn when it comes to creating safer spaces for everyone.

Wisdom of the crowd

I asked a bunch of smart yoga teachers in the Beyond Duality: Yoga and Social Justice Facebook group for another way to cue this energetic action in the body and they had so many good ideas!

The standard cue that we hear in a lot of classes is “pull the navel toward the spine.” This sometimes does a good job of activating the transverse abdominals, but the “punch in the gut” cue that I used creates an abdominal brace which includes the obliques and the back and the legs even, rather than just sucking in the stomach which navel toward the spine often does.

I wanted to share the wisdom from that thread so we can hone our language together.

From Tiina Veer of Yoga For Round Bodies:

Hug your (inner) muscles in to the bones, all the way around — front, sides, back… of mid, upper and lower torso, including buttocks and pelvic floor. Include the inner line of your legs, hug your inner leg muscles in and up. Wrap yourself powerfully but softly. See if over time you can find that hugging-in action versus a clenching-in action.

From Aaron Friesen of Brave Sparrow:

I get folks imagining strings that connect from the iliac crest, diagonally across the belly to the low ribs, and then continuing around back to the shoulder above the hip. I tell them to imagine that when you pull on the string, everything attached to it will draw in slightly. Then I ask them to pull the string. Incidentally, I also find it help people with drawing their shoulders down and in into a more supportive position.

From Charlotte Easterling:

One of my teachers describes it as “zipping up your hoodie,” which I like.

Several folks mentioned a corset, or girdle, or Spanx, and there was a big discussion about those also being a different kind of triggering imagery. Onward…

From Tara Lazanis:

I’ve used corset before but not in the sense of changing shape more in the sensation of drawing inward. What I like to do is think of other places I can cue the body to gain the same shape or sensation, like draw your pelvis and lower ribs towards each other while keeping your shoulders blades moving back and down.

From Teo Drake:

So far in this list, I would feel most able to stay present and follow Tiina Veer’s language. Any reference to the types of gendered clothing mentioned is a struggle for many cisgender men and for transfolks like me.

The concept of wrapping muscles supportively is much more in line with what I am trying to help my body learn to do. “Bracing” for any onslaught isn’t going to help me stay present as easily.

From Lisa Vaughan-Meer of Brute Yogi

It’s the same sensation as sneezing, coughing, or bearing down to poop!

From Hala Khouri:

Lately this is what I do. First I break it down – I have folks connect to the transverse muscles by putting their hands on their hips and feeling the feedback in their fingers inside the front hip bones, then I cue belly to spine, and front ribs soften. Then I connect it with grounding the legs and expanding the collarbones. After the breakdown, I then just say, SUPERHERO POWERS ACTIVATE!

There are so many great cues in here. I’m grateful to my community for all the help on this one.

Now, I know there are a few of you out there who are probably thinking, “these people are overreacting or being too sensitive.” or “Why do we need trauma-sensitive yoga, anyway?”

I wanted to take a moment to share some of my reflections from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition event in Toronto, where I presented a few weeks ago. My biggest takeaway was from Jamilah, founder of Brown Girls Yoga.

Love harder.

The best answer to these questions about why we do social justice work is, we do this stuff so we can love harder. Love more. Lessen suffering.

If someone tells us that they were harmed by something – language we used, a barrier to entering a space (like stairs), a teaching style that didn’t adapt for their body, being touched without consent (a huge problem in yoga spaces perpetuated by teachers), not seeing themselves reflected in the population of a space – don’t we want to meet them halfway? Don’t you want to love harder? Don’t you want to love more? I know I do.

Lean into the discomfort

We can all examine our biases. They are there. I don’t care who you are or what you identify as. Biases and prejudice are baked into us from the time we come out of the womb.

Our job is to identify those biases, and when that uncomfortable feeling comes up, to lean into that discomfort. To poke at that. To be curious about it. To start to push it apart. This is the definition of compassionate self-study (svadhyaya if you want to use yoga-speak).

Our job is to catch it. As quick as we can. And every time I get called on my language or my privilege, if my reaction is to defend myself or roll my eyes (yep, still happens, all the time), I can catch it and challenge myself to love harder. We can all start to do that.

Once we discover those biases, we can lean boldly into them. We can use our privilege (however small it is) to raise up those on the margins. We can learn to allow for the possibility that someone else is having an experience different from our own. We can love harder. Love more. Listen more.

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Build your home yoga practice with these easy videos

Do you want the transformative power of yoga in your life?

Do you struggle to find time to practice at home?

Maybe you get on the mat and just have no idea what to do?

Perhaps you’re just bored with your normal asana routine and want to mix things up?

I created the Body Positive Yoga Home Practice Kit just for you.

SEE WHAT’S INSIDE & BUY NOW

Sara Seinberg on movement, the fallacy of willpower, and seeing the body as an opportunity

IMG_9791In today’s video interview, I’m pleased to introduce you to Sara Seinberg!

Sara is a Holistic Health Coach, a writer and an artist. Through a holistic approach she supports clients in their quests for health, wholeness, joy, and truth. Using nutrition as a starting point, clients team with Sara to tackle obstacles, face fears, and one day at a time, create new living patterns that topple years of blockage and hurdles.

In this interview, I talked with Sara about finding movement we love, the fallacy of willpower, seeing the body as an opportunity, and much more. Check it out:

Connect with Sara

You can find Sara around the internet at the following places:

Seinberg Health Coaching

Posts from Sara: Bad at Running: A Quiet Paradise | Willpower: The Big Bullshit Hoagie

The Lucky Devil Getaway – a retreat with Sara this fall!

Her custom seasonal restorations

Facebook

I hope you were inspired by this interview! If you have any questions for Sara, stick ’em in the comments below.

Body Positive Yoga Interview series

If folks are doing work around yoga, body image, or radical self-acceptance, I want to talk to them! If there’s someone you’d like for me to interview, let me know in the comments – who would you like to hear from? What should I ask them?

J. Brown: the time he almost quit yoga, how yoga has changed, and the Slow Yoga Revolution

In today’s video interview, I’m pleased to introduce you to a yoga teacher I truly respect and have learned much from, J. Brown!

For more than fifteen years, J. Brown has been developing techniques to teach people how to practice yoga in a deeper and more fulfilling way.  He is also a well known writer, having been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal, and Yogadork

J. Brown
From J. Brown’s Yoga Video

I was really thrilled to be able to chat with J. In this interview, I talked with J about his yoga story, the time he almost quit yoga, how yoga has changed in the West, the Slow Yoga Revolution, and much more. Check it out:

Connect with J. Brown

You can find J around the internet at the following places:

Posts from J: Slow yoga revolution | Gentle is the new advanced

I hope you were inspired by this interview! If you have any questions for J, stick ’em in the comments below.

Body Positive Yoga Interview series

If folks are doing work around yoga, body image, or radical self-acceptance, I want to talk to them! If there’s someone you’d like for me to interview, let me know in the comments – who would you like to hear from? What should I ask them?

 

Modifications for Garudasana (eagle pose) in a larger body

If you are in a larger body, perhaps you’ve groaned with frustration when your yoga teacher announces that the next pose is garudasana (eagle pose). The wrapping and tucking thighs and arms just doesn’t happen for those of us with bigger thighs, arms, or chests!

I’ve got options for you! Here are 4 variations for the legs and 4 variations for the arms – see what feels best in your body and create your own eagle combination!

Let me know how those variations worked for you or if you have any questions!

Tell your yoga teacher about my Body Positive Yoga online teacher training course!

Do you have a yoga teacher in your life who you wish knew a little bit more about how to work with YOUR body, or make their class more body positive and Health At Every Size-friendly?

Fellow yoga teacher Dianne Bondy and I have created an online teacher training to help yoga teachers do just that!

Yoga For All: Creating Body Positive Yoga Classes for All Shapes, Sizes & Abilities

 

Class starts June 15 – please share this link with your yoga teacher or studio owner! (And if you’re a teacher, we’d love to have you join us and learn to expand your student base, and make your classes more welcoming for all!

Visit yogaforalltraining.com for complete details and to register!

Enrollment is now open: Yoga For All online training

Today is the day!

Registration is now open for the online training course, Yoga For All: Creating Body Positive Yoga Classes for All Shapes, Sizes & Abilities.

Yoga For All: Creating Body Positive Yoga Classes for All Shapes, Sizes & Abilities

This course is geared toward yoga teachers who would like to make their classes more accessible to all bodies, as well as students in non-typical bodies who’d like to take their practice back into their own hands.

Dianne Bondy and I have poured our heart and soul into this course and we can’t wait to have you be part of the Yoga For All movement.

Visit yogaforalltraining.com for complete details and to sign up now.

This course launches June 15 and space is limited, so don’t wait! 
We are so excited you’re part of the body positive movement to make Yoga For All!

Let the world know you’re body positive (grab a t-shirt)

Make a statement. Be visible. Spread the body-positive love. Support Body Positive Yoga’s mission to bring accessible yoga to all.

Thank you :)Body Positive Yoga has an amazing online community, and it’s about time I got to actually meet y’all!

This summer and fall, and on into 2016, I am planning a road trip around the U.S. and Canada to teach, hang out, and spread body positive, accessible yoga to everyone who can stand me!

I’m launching a t-shirt campaign to fund my travel.

Proceeds from t-shirt sales will go to fund travel costs for my fall workshops in Auburn, Toronto and Chicago, as well as a 2016 road trip! Plus, you get a badass shirt to decorate that gorgeous body of yours!

There are four designs to choose from:

Click on the links above to see color and sizing information. Shirts will ship directly to you and should arrive around June 12.

Thank you so much for all the support! I can’t wait to see y’all sporting these awesome shirts!

Ragen Chastain on being a fat athlete, IRONMAN training, and using the body you have today

Ragen Chastain - Ragen is pictured in a dance pose against a white backdrop. She is caucasian, fat, with long dark wavy hair and a determined look on her face. She balances on her right foot, while she stretches her left foot high, up near her head, and holds it with her left hand. Her right hand is gracefully reaching up and away from her toward the right.In today’s video interview, I’m pleased to introduce you to Ragen Chastain! Ragen has been a huge inspiration to me for years and her activism work around size acceptance and fat discrimination are so impactful and absolutely necessary.

Ragen is a trained researcher, three-time National Champion dancer and marathoner who writes and speaks full-time about self-esteem, body image, and health. Ragen is the author of the blog DancesWithFat and the book Fat: The Owner’s Manual, and her writing has been published in forums including the Huffington Post, Calgary Herald, Jezebel.com and The Frisky.com. She has been a guest on programs including Fox News, Alberta Primetime, HuffPost Live, NPR, BBC, and NBC News, and has been featured as an expert in media including The Associated Press, Bloomberg Businessweek, FITNESS, and the Chicago Tribune. She is the editor of the multi-volume anthology The Politics of Size – Perspectives from the Fat Acceptance Movement, due out for Praeger in 2015.

In this interview, I talked with Ragen about being a fat athlete, IRONMAN training, using the body you have today, and much more. Check it out:

Connect with Ragen

You can find Ragen around the internet at the following places:

Dances With Fat – Ragen’s excellent blog, full of resources on size acceptance, fat activism, and Health At Every Size. You can also support Ragen’s activism and become a contributing member to her blog.

IronFat – where you can follow Ragen’s IRONMAN training

The Fit Fatties Forum and Fit Fatties Facebook page – where anyone, of any size can discuss fitness from a weight-neutral, Health at Every Size perspective

Buy Ragen’s book and dance DVDs

Join the Dances With Fat newsletter list

Facebook | Twitter

I hope you were inspired by this interview! If you have any questions for Ragen, stick ’em in the comments below.

Body Positive Yoga Interview series

If folks are doing work around yoga, body image, or radical self-acceptance, I want to talk to them! If there’s someone you’d like for me to interview, let me know in the comments – who would you like to hear from? What should I ask them?

Rachel Estapa on Health at Every Size®, learning to listen to yourself, and having fun in the process

In today’s video interview, I’m pleased to introduce you to Rachel Estapa!

Rachel Estapa

Rachel Estapa, founder of More To Love, is a certified coach, writer and social entrepreneur who focuses on creating an accepting community for plus size women to explore health and wellness. Through writing, private coaching, online group-coaching programs and on-site workshops, she educates plus size women on how to redefine what positive body image and health can be, enabling them to lead happier, healthier and more empowered lives.

Rather than focus on a weight-loss centered approach to wellbeing, Rachel’s approach to body positive behaviors is grounded in principals of self-acceptance and Health At Every Size®. Through her dedicated programs, she helps women learn how to apply body-accepting practices to their daily lives.

In this interview, I talked with Rachel about Health at Every Size®, learning to listen to yourself, having fun with the process, and much more. Check it out:

More To Love Class

More To Love Class

Rachel’s MTLClass is a month-long online course to teach women like you how to love their body and make health and happiness work for your unique life. MTLClass women value personal growth and desire freedom from negative body image.

Students of the More To Love Class receive daily easy-to-follow activities comprised of exercises and assignments designed to teach an aspect of body confidence. Each student shares their work in a private and secure online social network, and receives encouragement and feedback from peers and from the instructor, Rachel Estapa. Rachel is a trained, certified, and fully accredited life coach whose writing and work on body acceptance has been featured in print and online publications worldwide.

Enrollment closes on Sunday, April 11, so don’t wait! Register here.

Connect with Rachel

You can find Rachel around the internet at the following places:

More To Love with Rachel | MTL Facebook Community | Twitter | Instagram

You should also check out Rachel’s article at The Huffington Post, I am happier, heavier.

I hope you were inspired by this interview! If you have any questions for Rachel, stick ’em in the comments below.

All photos by M. Davidson-Schapiro Photography.

Body Positive Yoga Interview series

If folks are doing work around yoga, body image, or radical self-acceptance, I want to talk to them! If there’s someone you’d like for me to interview, let me know in the comments – who would you like to hear from? What should I ask them?

Rosie Molinary on radical self-acceptance, living your purpose & the myth of effortless perfection

In today’s video interview, I’m pleased to introduce you to Rosie Molinary!

A photo of Rosie Molinary. In the picture, 3/4 of Rosie's face is in the picture, and she is grinning at the camera. Rosie is a Latina woman with curly, dark hair and brown eyes. She's wearing a blue, v-neck top.Rosie is an author, speaker, and teacher. She works with women to empower them to embrace their authentic selves so they can live their passion and purpose and give their gifts to the world. Rosie is the author of two books, Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance and Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up LatinaIn addition to writing, she teaches body image at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, offers workshops and retreats for women, and speaks on self-acceptance, body image, media literacy, the Latina experience, and social justice around the country.

In this interview, I talked with Rosie about radical self-acceptance, living on purpose, the myth of “effortless perfection”, and much more. Check it out:

Beautiful You: A Daily Guide To Radical Self-AcceptanceRosie’s books

I highly recommend both Rosie’s books if you’re interested in digging into the topics of self-acceptance and practical self-care.

Passion. Purpose. Peace Retreat

Rosie is throwing an amazing retreat in Davidson, NC, May 29-30! Here’s the scoop on thePassion. Purpose. Peace Retreat: At this one and a half-day retreat, we’ll spend our time together filtering out the excess noise while identifying and embracing what is most true for you in how to live authentically and create the life you want.

We will forge a deeper self-awareness, practice greater self-acceptance, and examine your self-care in a way that empowers you to be your greatest ally.  

We will discover what you want your legacy to be and how to live in a way that aligns with whom and how you most want to be in the world while allowing you to creatively express your passion and purpose in a personally crafted mission statement and manifesto.  

You will be guided in creating an action plan that guides your wants and needs at a pace and in a way that is just right for your life. 

Ultimately, you will leave Passion. Purpose. Peace invigorated, focused, and clear with a sense of confidence in what you uniquely offer the world and a vision for how to live on purpose in an authentic, whole-hearted way.

Get more details & register now!

Connect with Rosie

You can find Rosie around the internet at the following places:

RosieMolinary.com | Facebook | Twitter

I hope you were inspired by this interview! If you have any questions for Rosie, stick ’em in the comments below.

Body Positive Yoga Interview series

If folks are doing work around yoga, body image, or radical self-acceptance, I want to talk to them! If there’s someone you’d like for me to interview, let me know in the comments – who would you like to hear from? What should I ask them?