Sprout Yoga

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Continuing Ahimsa: Why Yoga Teachers Need to Heal Themselves First

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 2:46 am

This is our first guest post, and I’m thrilled to have it. Sprout Yoga is an organization dedicated to inspiring, supporting and training yoga teachers that want to work with people overcoming eating disorders and/or trauma. We can help match people in recovery with teachers, as well, but we are focused on getting those teachers trained. Here’s an anonymous post on a key issue for teachers and ahimsa, the body, and the relationship between the two.

please enjoy! ————————————————————————————————————-

One of the first things yoga teachers in training learn is that it is important to offer modifications to your students.  Allowing students to do Vasisthasana with the lower leg down on the mat is reminding them to find a practice that fits their bodies.  Use of straps can allow less flexible students to reach places that otherwise would be inaccessible.  Yoga teachers should encourage students to take a break in Balasana when they are tired because they need to take care of themselves.  In addition, yoga teachers need to follow these same practices on their own mat to show their students that such modifications are acceptable and good. Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence extends to ourselves and as yogis we need to remember to put our bodies over our minds on the mat.  Our teachers should be the first people to show new and old students how to apply this principle in their practices, because they are yoga role models for those in the class.

I was reminded of these things the other night when I went to a workshop at a locally well known yoga studio by a “famous” yoga teacher.  This studio often holds workshops in eating disorder management and incorporates healthy eating in their teacher trainings.  I assumed that the environment there would thus be evocative of wellness and a supportive lifestyle.  To say this was the opposite is an understatement.  Both the teachers and many of the students appeared to be extremely thin, almost dangerously so.  The conversation during the talk was largely focused on appearances and addictions.  True the visiting yogi speaking was emphasizing not to feed these obsessions, but the audience clearly had not heard this before, or at least had not listened.

What struck me about the attitude at this studio was that the teachers in particular did not appear healthy.  Yet, as yoga students/teachers we participate in a lifestyle that encourages the opposite.  Yoga for all its spiritual history and basis still remains an activity with a strong physical aspect.  Yoga teachers have an obligation to remind their students not only to modify their practices on the mat, but off as well.  Students should be encouraged to eat well, to sleep and to not participate in behavior that causes violence to them.  Ahimsa in the form of self-care and not self-violence should be paramount in a yoga class.  Any teacher who presents things otherwise should be avoided because their words are decidedly un-yogic.

My home studio (which has also been around for nine years) could be called “Ahimsa yoga” because the teachers there constantly are reminding students to make the practice on and off the mat safe.  We are reminded to take it easy on ourselves even in vigorous power classes.   Props are readily available and teachers often use them when they practice as well.  But the most amazingly wonderful aspect of this studio is that all the teachers look like regular people.  They look healthy, and happy and well.  They practice in life what they teach in class and so their words are meaningful to their students.  The studio mentioned above would be wise to look at my studio to learn about how best to teach their students about a healthy lifestyle.  Having teachers that appear to be suffering from an eating or other disorder does not encourage the students to eat well.  Let’s face it, many students look up to their yoga teachers as models of what we aspire to be whether that is with strong arms in Vrschikasana or balance in Garudasana or even as merely a body type worth attaining. It is imperative for them to be healthy to spread such a message to their classes.

Ahimsa is a principle that should be present in everyone’s practice in life and on the mat.  For a teacher to preach of its benefits they too must prescribe to its practice.  Yoga teachers as leaders in a healthy lifestyle industry have an obligation to their students to tackle their own issues before stepping onto a mat in the front of a room.  To do otherwise is to jeopardize the health and well-being of their students, and to make the practice of yoga harmful.


Mental Ahimsa: Why Its So Vital to Support Fat Talk Free Week

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I am overjoyed that the tri-delts are at it again. Fat Talk Free Week is a fantastic program that generated from the sororiety Delta Delta Delta as a way of addressing body image and disordered eating. And its freaking fantastic. To see how its spreading across the country, see their webpage here:  http://endfattalk.org/  follow them on twitter at @endfattalk and sign up for more info here: http://endfattalk.org/getinvolved.html.

Why am I so overjoyed? and what on earth does this have to do with Yoga? I’ll tell you straight and simple. Last month, the International Association of Yoga Therapists published an article I wrote about how images of overly slim women doing yoga keeps people who could benefit from yoga as a therapy (such as those with Eating Disorders/Disordered Eating and trauma survivors) from attending class. http://www.iayt.org/site_Vx2/publications/journal/2009/IJYT-2009%20(contents).pdf  But there is more to it than that.

I’ve described the concept of ahimsa before – the idea that nonviolence (or avoiding of violence)  is the first and primary duty or goal of a yogi.  For those that follow yoga as an eight fold path, ahimsa is the first step – before the asana or postures, before the pranayama or breathing, before even meditation.  Ahimsa is part of the yamas – or ways of being that assist a yogi in calming the whirlpools of the mind so that the benefits of breathing, movement and mediation can take hold. In fact, some sources say that Ahimsa is THE yama, and the rest (truthfulness, non-stealing, divine conduct,  patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty, moderate appetite,  and avoidance of impurity in body) merely support the practice of nonviolence.

As yogis, our primary goal is to quiet our own minds first, and to create peace in our own selves, so that we can then find our unique way of creating and spreading peace in our communities.  “Your ultimate goal is to be happy. Where is that happiness? Within you. If you want to have permanent happiness, it will never come from outside,” said Sri Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga and all around great yogi. 

My favorite yoga teacher, Sandi Angotti (http://www.sandibeachyoga.com/) once described ahimsa as more than nonviolence, but as nonpushing.  The idea of nonpushing being that you refrain from using force, mental, physical or spiritual, to make some thing happen or create some sort of result.  If you couple the idea that ahimsa is nonpushing and nonviolence, with the idea that your first job or ultimate goal is to be happy or content, then doing nonviolence to yourself becomes a primary goal. 

So how do you practice this ahimsa to the self? It should seem easy, right? First do not harm yourself. But we aren’t trained to love ourselves any more. In fact, 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet. We are trained to be on a diet, to be constantly evaluating ourselves and others to see if we are “OK.” The most extreme form of this is body dismorphia, where a person has anxiety (near panic levels of it) about the size or shape of their body so much so that they are unable to accurately gauge how they look. When we constantly evaluate how we look or what shape we are in and more importantly, when we constantly judge ourselves and berate ourselves for the results of that evaluation not measuring up, then we are constantly pushing ourselves towards a result. We are disturbing the peace of our minds to attain a goal our bodies can’t quite get to. In other words, we are doing violence to ourselves through these thoughts. But at the same time, how do you conquer these thoughts and judgements when everyone around you engages in them?

This is why I so love and support Fat Talk Free Week and the work of End Fat Talk. Their mission, as they explain it: 

Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce the thin ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. Examples of Fat Talk include: “I’m so fat,” “Do I look fat in this?”, “I need to lose 10 pounds” and “She’s too fat to be wearing that swimsuit.” Statements that are considered Fat Talk don’t necessarily have to be negative; they can seem positive yet reinforce the need to be thin — “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

We believe that by eliminating Fat Talk, we can begin to change the way women think about their bodies.

So by signing their pledge, and forwarding it to a friend, you commit to engaging in ahimsa towards yourself. And you act compassionately towards your friend by saying that they too deserve to have a little more peace in their minds, a little less pushing of themselves.

Ahimsa is the very root of yoga, and stilling the chatter of the mind is the heart of yoga. By turning that ahimsa to the chatter of the mind ABOUT the body, you can achieve so much more in yoga than if you constantly push yourself to be the ideal, be the body you are supposed to have.  Still the chatter, sign the pledge.