Sprout Yoga

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.

  1. hello,

    thanks for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

    • Thank you so much for your compliment. I’m always amazed that I kept myself from writing on these issues for so long thinking I wasn’t a “writer”.

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