Does holiday indulgence come with an extra helping of anxiety and shame? In response to fat speak in relation to food and exercise, and yes yoga, one yoga teacher wishes to send a different message of nourishment holiday season. Read her open letter to the yoga community below.
Dear Students, Teachers, and Friends!
This season, I have one wish for all of us: Nourishment. For too long, I have heard (and even been a part of) a rhetoric of unhealthy reciprocal speak about exercise and eating behaviors during the holiday season. Do we really need to do more asana to “burn off” those holidays? I think not! I’ve privately struggled to see how this type of communication serves anyone. At best, I feel that these commentaries are cheap motivators. Sadly, I fear that perpetuating a dialogue like this is actually a type of passive violence that is antithetical to our code of yamas and niyamas. For the health and happiness of our spirits, we can and need to make a change. This is why I am bringing this conversation to our beautiful community.
I know that yoga is not infallible. Nothing is. Yoga is a living practice and we are all a part of it. I also know that not all of us speak like this. And, surely, few of us speak like this intentionally. But still, we CAN listen and improve! As teachers and students, we CAN raise a consciousness around how we speak about food, exercise, and nourishment. And, I’m certain that it’s time we did.
Every time we speak in terms that portray food, exercise, reward, even love(!) as part of an economy of exchange, we are latently affirming a message of, “you are not good enough as you are.” Every time we permit this language of hierarchical conditionality, we allow for the continuation of the belief, “you are not enough.” Every time we employ a rhetoric of action-consequence we effectively say, “you are not enough.” Simply, this is not yoga. We must be mindful of this. We are SO much more than conditional thinking.
On a more personal note, as a recovered anorexic/bulimic and eating disorder (ED) recovery advocate, I feel that this language is not only maladaptive, but that it also reinforces a dangerous ideal. Both from my personal practices and my work in the ED recovery field, I’ve encountered how the negative conditioning an exercise-exchange economy adversely affects people. It is often tantamount to verbal abuse. This is ironic, because as yogis, we are committed to ahimsa.
So, this season, I am committing to nourishment. I am committing to nourishment not just through physical food, but through language and
action. I and my studio (The Grinning Yogi) promise to offer a message of acceptance and nourishment starting NOW. We are pledging the
- We will NOT teach from a voice rooted in an exchange economy of food, guilt, calories, indulgence, or anything related to not “being enough” as you are.
- We will create a safe-haven for our friends to feel empowered so they can take effective steps in promoting their own self-care and overall wellness.
- We will open a dialogue about what real nourishment is.
- We will remind our friends that food is food, love is love, and yoga… yoga is a GIFT!
Please join us in this commitment…
We are sharing this letter with friends, students, teachers and studios. We are posting our commitment publicly in the studio and on social media as well. We will be honored if you join us in making this a powerful, communal statement, grounded in love and health. Please share this message of nourishment with us.
We can do this, together!!!
I leave you with gratitude, and Hafiz…
“And love says: I will. I will take care. To everything that is
Jamie Silverstein and The Grinning Yogi
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I have been waiting years for someone to say this. <3
As a yoga student and a person struggling with a chronic ED, hearing you voice these words soothes my soul and wraps a hug around my heart. I knew this all along, I think, but it was buried under mountains of ED talk and these negative societal messages of hierarchical conditionality as you say. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me this truth. <3
Love this! Especially the part about seeing “food, exercise, reward, even love(!) as part of an economy of exchange.” Great post for the holidays!
Thank you thank you thank you for this post. I have left MULTIPLE notes at the yoga studio I go to about teachers doing fat-shaming speak, restrictive eating talking, and all sorts of stuff that is so triggering and completely inappropriate. I’m all for humor in class, but humor does not have to be at the expense of students’ body image/self-worth.
I had the week of thanksgiving off and got to attend more classes, which was great, but I kept having to block off/out the talking that was going on…I found myself getting SO angry/triggered/frustrated and I’m several years into stable recovery with 10+ years of being on a recovery path.
So thank you for this post.
I love this!
I can’t stand people referring to yoga like it’s an aerobics class. I don’t do chair pose because I want nice looking thighs!
Thank you 🙂
Loved this! Posted it along with the following comment on my FB wall: Just did some quick stat math: 17% or about 1-2 people out of every 10 that show up in your yoga class have had or do have some kind of disordered eating. To make this a little more real, I am one of those people. As we move through this season of eating and exercise, please watch your words (in class and out) because, as you know, the mind is fragile and very powerful. If you’re tagged, it’s because you are connected to a community that might find this article helpful, too.
@ Erin, me too … I eventually left that particular studio and never came back.
What the commercialized yoga world needs is the Health At Every Size version of what Richard Simmons had been to the aerobics world. Funny, accepting, willing to coffee klatsch (or chai-klatsch) with the gals–but who has a PhD in feminist studies and Linda Bacon’s works …
Since that’s not going to happen, to the commercialized yoga world I say, “Thank you for what you DID teach me. Good bye, Good Luck, and have a nice life. Ultimately, it’s YOUR loss …”
Actually, it remains to be seen. Former Master Teacher of the studio had gone Kripalu on himself. Now, there IS a varying, highly publicized, unlimited army of gravitationally enhanced Kripalu students who are into Health at Every Size …
I’m not too hopeful, though, the teacher can teach Kripalu-infused vinyasa yoga, but they have to permanently straitjacket their asana teaching style greatly in order to pull this off …
But, chances are good that Kripalu may birth the next teacher I am talking about …
Has Kripalu adopted the Health at Every Size paradigm and promotes it in their teaching?
If they have I hope they’re aware that their weight loss/management programs completely oppose that message.
If you’re aware of them, can you post any links where Kripalu references HAES? Thanks!
A respected senior yoga instructor insisted to me that not being rail thin was a sure sign of eating for emotional reasons, and that weight must be lost to reflect a strong yoga practice. Wow. What a refreshing and healthy re-take on yoga and food!
That was so much what I needed to hear tonight…
Sadie Nardini is talking about her coming out of the Meat-Eating Closet, despite being a Yogi and all.
Looks like 15-years down the Yoga-road, Sadie suddenly developed meat-cravings, and she’s now trying to rationalize the eating of meat, while still holding on to the Yogini-title.
Well, Sadie, the truth is this : The Principle of Ahimsa, enshrined within the Hindu Science of Yoga, specifically proscribes any and all violence, towards any living-creature. Therefore, a Yogi is prohibited from killing animals, or causing their death, and meat is therefore, clearly, off-limits for a Yogi.
A Yogi must, of needs, be Vegetarian. No wriggle-room on that one !
The folks that do Yogasanas, and then eat meat when they step off the Yoga-mat, are merely Carnivorous-Bendy-People ( CBP ).
1) You can’t have your Mat and your Meat !
2) Once you go Yogi, you can never go Pepperoni !
3) There’s no Crying in Baseball, and there’s no Meat in Yoga !
In my Tantric practice we seek to challenge what is acceptable, good and “pure”, seeing that there is sacredness in all forms of human behavior and all states (that’s why there’s a Goddess of Small Pox and a Goddess of Brokenness). So we eat meat at times to defy the very dogma that you state. Thus I consider myself a yogi, even if you don’t.
One must be careful of dogma. It traps and entrains. The challenge is to believe our beliefs and also to keep exploring and questioning our beliefs, so there is always a sense of flow.
There is no perfection. There is only Spirit on its journey.
As per the Hindu Philosophy of Punar-Janam (Re-Birth), the Atma ( Soul) undergoes multiple cycles of Birth, Life, Death, Rebirth. In each rebirth, the Atma takes on a different physical-body during its stay on Earth. Depending on the Cumulative-Karma earned by an Atma over all of its rebirths up to that point, the Atma may be reborn as a higher-being or a lower-being in its next rebirth. Properly guided, the Atma ascends to a higher-state-of-Awareness in each of its successive rebirths, until it eventually becomes Self-Realized and Sinless, and attains Moksha ( Liberation from the Endless Cycle of Birth, Life, Death, Rebirth).
Thus, any Atma that is actually present on Earth is therefore at some intermediate point on its Journey to attaining Moksha, and is therefore, not without some Sin, some Imperfection.
In other words, on this earth, no Atma is Perfect. Therefore, every Atma on Earth ends up committing some degree of sin.
However, there are differences in degree of sin.
Thus, the Vegetarian-way is LESS SINFUL than the Meat-Way.
Do plants feel pain ? Perhaps. But, in the case of animals, we know for damn sure that they do feel pain.
Pluck an apple from its tree, the tree thrives. Pluck a goat’s head from its body, the goat dies.
Thus, while our very presence on earth is tied-up with some level of imperfection and sin, the Vegetarian-Way treads more Lightly on Mother Earth than does the Meat-Way.
Thus, Vegetarianism is not Perfect, but it is certainly less Imperfect than the Meat-Way.
As Yogis, we are greatly privileged to be exposed to the Higher-Way-of-Living via the Yamas and Niyamas, laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras. Having received this privilege, it makes no sense to say that every Yogi must occasionally eat meat, so as to not become trapped in Dogma.
Hindus do not own yoga. Hinduism is a religion – yoga is a practice. A personal practice. You have no authority to judge anyone else’s yoga. ‘Cause their yoga is not your religion.
Hey Dale :
Yoga is born of the Hindu religion. Yoga is inextricably entwined with the Hindu religion.
Yoga is Hinduism’s Gift to Mankind.
Anybody who even samples any aspect of Yoga is, in fact, dipping his / her toes in the vast, sublime, beautiful pool of Hinduism, whether or not he / she is aware of it.
And, as we continue to derive immense physical, mental and spiritual benefits from Yoga, it behooves us to give Props to the wonderful ancient Hindu religion that gave us this invaluable gift.
Chris – Yoga does not belong to Hinduism, and hasn’t since TKS Krishmacharia mixed Danish Primitive Gymnastics with the few seated postures of ancient 8-limb yoga to give us modern postural yoga, whose purpose it was to combat the British empire.
Nobody – or perhaps a few – people in the West practice yoga as a Vedic method of escaping the great wheel of life. The vast majority of folks in the West practice yoga for other reasons.
So the religious origin of sitting is no longer relevant to us, and the actual yoga that we practice was intended to turn effete prince into warriors. Your religion is irrelevant to our practice.
And warriors do not care what you think of their practices.
Thankfully, almost nobody in US-Yogadom thinks the way that you do. Thankfully, almost nobody in US-Yogadom is an ungrateful ass.
Most followers of Yoga in the US are enlightened enough to be aware of the origins of the Yoga that they practise so ardently – Dale, why do you think the names of the Asanas are in Sanskrit ? Exactly !! Please take a few minutes to ponder over that one.
Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to Mankind.
Most Yogis in the US joyously acknowledge this, and are indeed delighted to embrace and partake of at least this one aspect of an ancient, 5000-year-old, sublime Eastern-Wisdom.
And meanwhile, what Danish Primitive Gymnastics are you babbling about ?
Hinduism and Yoga are 5000 years old – they hark back from an age, when Denmark did not exist, let along Danish Gymnastics, primitive or otherwise ! Patanjali’s Yogasutras, and not Danish Gymnastics, are the guiding source for all of today’s Yogasanas.
Sheesh, Dale, grab a clue or three, please !
Yoga as a way to enlightenment is practiced by almost nobody in this country. Hinduism is practiced by perhaps less than 0.4% of the population, & few of them practice the 8-limb path to enlightenment. So there may be a few people who practice the ancient yoga. That yoga includes maybe half a dozen ways of sitting as asanas, & bears no resemblence to the asana practice that we have in the West, where we practice asana in various flavors and styles.
Yoga as a vague new-agey spiritual practice is not an expressions of Hinduisn, at least not Vedic Hinduism.
Yoga as asana is what we do in the US, and it is not an 8-limb practice. It is asana practice, as invented by Krishnamacharia, Iyengar, Jois, &company. It is a mashup of previous postural practice, the wild fakirs and dung-ash bandits, and exercise practice in the West. It’s purpose was to get the weak princes in the palace at Mysore to man up & fight the British Empire. This is pretty well documented.
There is also a meditation community, but these are also not 8-limb people.
So, yoga in the West originated in India as a mashup of Western exercise & Eastern forms. And that is Western yoga. It is not Hindu.
What I find very curious is that Chris proclaims the principle of Ahimsa, yet responds to Dale’s comments with such disrespect.
Who is anyone to judge another’s practice?
All those health-reasons that People claim requires them to eat meat ?
Consider this. There are 1 Billion vegetarians of Indian-ethnicity, and they seem to be doing OK.
Um… Not everyone in India is a vegetarian
The 1 Billion people of Indian-ethnicity includes those residing in India, and the Indian diaspora.
According to various surveys, the percentage of Indians who are vegetarian is somewhere between 20% and 40%. There are ~1.2 billion Indians in India right now, so that puts the IN India vegetarian population at a liberal 480 Million. To put it another way, for there to be 1 billion Indian ethnicity vegetarians, there would need to be 2.5 billion Indians on the earth, about half living outside of India.
More to your point, it is overly simplistic to state that Indians are doing fine health wise because of vegetarianism. Average life expectancy in India is 70, with infant mortality at 30 deaths/1000 live births. In Japan (which is primarily NOT vegetarian) life expectancy is 83 years while infant mortality is 9 deaths/1000 births. Therefore to be healthy we should all eat sushi right? Correlation is not causation.
I’ve visited India several times, and have enjoyed extended stays in India. Fully 60 % of the Population of India ( 1.3 B ) is vegetarian =0.78 B. The diaspora are approximately 3 M strong, of which a good 50% are vegetarian. This adds up to approximately 0.8 B. Vegetarians of Indian-ethnicity worldwide.
Give us a call when the Scientists have invented ” Cruelty-Free-Meat “.
Until then, Veg-On, Yogis, !
Seems to me your judgmental attitude is just as violent as eating meat. What’s that saying about glass houses and throwing stones?
Why be merely a Carnivorous-Bendy-Person ( CBP ),when you can, with some additional effort and discipline, rise higher and become a Yogi ?
Hi Abby and Karen,
Don’t waste your time with Chris. He has a history on this site of dogmatism and Hindu fundamentalism. He is not capable of hearing anything but his own voice.
There are fat vegans and vegetarians, so who is to use “figure control” as an excuse to either: be cruel to fellow vegans/vegetarians, or to go veg in the first place, whether they practice yoga, pilates, fusion, movement-with-breath-awareness; or a combination thereof–with or without Sanskrit or scripture study?
So, a non-Catholic-Pope, a Unicorn and a Carnivorous-Yogi walk into a bar, and tell the bartender, ” A round of Beer, my good man !” The bartender turns to them apologetically and says, ” I’m sorry guys, but I’m not allowed to serve beer to Mythical-Creatures ! “
“How do you know someone is a vegetarian? Don’t worry, they will tell you…”
Of course, the clear-complexion, the bright-eyes, the fresh-smelling breath and the pleasant demeanor of the Vegetarians would all also be dead-giveaways, thus obviating the need to ask the obvious !
This is Veggie-Chris here.
Can’t you find another Yoga-handle for Yourself, other than “Chris” ? “Chris” is already kinda taken, as you can see. Coming-up with another handle for yourself would be the mature thing to do.
Thank you for speaking to this aspect of yoga. I find too many classes filled eith people there for just a good workout. I am a yoga teacher myself and I don’t think I imagine the judgements coming from some students. Since they have come to what they see as an exercise class and the teacher is very overweight. Being committed to my practice can be a lonely endeaver when walking into class feels embarressing. When certain asanas are near impossible.I strive to rise above all this. I desperately want to lose weight agsin. But perhaps this is my lesson in self-acceptance and self-love. Perhaps this is the message I am here to teach.
I applaud you for your honesty and courage. I believe yoga teachers come in many different sizes, ages, and colors. You have something unique to teach us. Keep up the beautiful work!
Since my age is obvious–to get my Senior Discount, I did not have to be asked for my ID in a store–I endorse this message.
Yoga teachers should also come in all different physical strengths. By then, I will know that I am totally home!
You would benefit from a paradigm shift. The benefit of an asana does not lie in making shapes with the body. The shapes are merely tools that we use to do internal work. The person who fights to open and straighten in trikonasana is the winner, not the person who flops right into the “full expression” of the pose & does no work. There is no magic, and putting your body in a particular shape is worthless. But doing the work offered by a shape is the point.
So the next time you find yourself be kept out of the Pashi that you used to do, consider – “what is the actual work of this pose?” You might find that exploring the you that really exists right now is the goal, or understanding the challenges faced by other folks with your body shape, or breathing with all that belly being compressed, or avoiding injuring yourself from squeezing soft tissue that should not be squished.
Making shapes with the body is worthless – using whatever pose works for you to do work that improves & matures your mind/body/spirit is where the worth/benefit/value of the pose is realized.
You are not less or more of a yogi because of your weight, but you will be more of a yogi if you accept your real shape with clarity, and find the work that the poses offer with dedication, ahimsa, and joy.
Jamie, thank you so much for this letter. You are an amazing, accepting and spiritual person. I have learned much from you and you have given me a love of yoga when before exercise and its benefits were primarily measured in calories burned for me.
As for vegetarianism. You’re missing the point. The point is about self-acceptance and self-love. When you have a life-threatening eating disorder both of these are lost. Unless you have suffered ED, you just have no idea what kind of devastation this kind of self punishment can bring. If being vegetarian works for you, great. If it’s a way of restricting calories, it can be deadly for an anorexic like myself….
I also wish someone wood address the growing phenomena of the marketing of “HOT HOT” yoga to lose weight-I have heard studios, teachers etc claim it is a way to “detox” (which has never been scientifically proven) but really it seems to me to be about a new wave of sweataorexia!
I also wish someone would address the growing phenomena of the marketing of “HOT HOT” yoga to lose weight-I have heard studios, teachers etc claim it is a way to “detox” (which has never been scientifically proven) but really it seems to me to be about a new wave of sweataorexia!
Is there some purpose of yoga other than to awaken us from delusion?
Delusion has thoroughly captured the hearts and minds of yogis. Look at these comments and this very message on the top. They are completely indoctrinated, enslaved by yoga orthodoxy.
Look at yoga teachers. Are they not sitting with their eyes closed, trying to quiet their minds and stop their thoughts? Are they not promoting peace and tranquility and silence as spiritual ideals? Are they not practicing a heart-centric, emotion-based spirituality?
Spiritually-inclined yogis, from all styles and disciplines, at all stages, are really doing nothing more than maintaining or deepening their ignorance. None of them are divesting themselves of their egoic bonds and undergoing the death/rebirth process necessary to make the awakening. There is no interest in freedom. It’s all been channeled safely into non-threatening, ego-gratifying avenues such as “living practice”, “yoga is a gift”, heart based spirituality, yama and nyama hobbies and addictions.
The yogis who want to explore life and freedom must harden their heart, sharpen their mind,
and strike out on their own. Yogis must face the facts, face death. Yogis must face their own mortality, their own meaninglessness. That’s where life begins.
Thanks so much for this. I am not even close to the kind of yoga teacher who will talk about toning, loosing weight, burning off Christmas cookies, and so on in a class. Not even close. But still, I think can be doing more in my classes to support students who struggle with body image issues and food issues to learn (or remember?) how to love their bodies. Actually, this has been on my mind lately so finding your post was somewhat serendipitous! These past few weeks, I’ve started giving more positive feedback to students in addition to adjustments, things like “Beautiful pose!” or “Yes! Your shoulders are nice and relaxed.” This comes from the heart. To me, my students are all incredibly beautiful and so is their yoga. I really do think a lot of teachers are giving their students this message: “You are deeply beautiful just as you are.” I really do think there is a lot of nurturing happening by teachers and a lot of great yoga being practiced out there. But we can become more aware as teachers and as we become more aware, we can be more effective. Thank you, Jamie, for making me more aware around this issue.
P.S. I deeply respect Sadie Nardini and her choice to eat meat. I also deeply respect His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his choice to eat meat. 🙂
As a scholar of yoga history and philosophy, I know that throughout the centuries there have been many variations on what counts as a “yogic lifestyle.” As former Director of Curriculum Development at The Natural Epicurean, a plant-based health-supportive cooking school, I have heard so many stories from ex-vegetarians who tried every trick in the book to stick with vegetarianism but ultimately had to resume eating meat for serious health reasons. In that position, I worked closely with mainstream and alternative health practitioners of different kinds and there is a clear consensus: there’s no one diet that is right for everyone. Even Ayurveda will sometimes recommend meat.
While it may take some time and effort for a carnivorous-person to acclimatize to the vegetarian-diet, they should be aware that it is indeed possible to stick with the vegetarian-diet, remain healthy, and avoid any serious health-issues.
One has to only look at the 1 Billion Vegetarians worldwide, of Indian-Ethnicity to realize that it can be done.
Your reasoning is not sound. Consider: at least one billion people in the world are not allergic to penicillin. This does not mean that no one is allergic to penicillin.
The issue is not one of allergies.
I’m countering the somewhat-specious argument made by some ( like Sadie Nardini and the Dalai Lama ) that their bodies “require” meat in order to remain healthy.
Humans don’t “require” meat to remain healthy, the living, statistical proof of which statement are the 1 Billion Vegetarians of Indian-Ethnicity.
Nice insights 🙂 Thanks!!!
As a long-time student and well-trained yoga teacher, I also think there is a broader topic here – I am really tired of all the bullshit new age vacuous philosophy coming out of the mouths of yoga instructors (with a couple of exceptions & you know who you are). I don’t give a crap about the teacher’s badly thought out philosophy.
Take me on an asana journey, tell me about alignment if you must, and point out what you don’t like about my alignment if you dare. And don’t touch me without permission.
Just offer me a sequence of poses that are expertly designed to some goal, that will challenge & strengthen me, and do not make me too sore to practice well tomorrow.
And maybe play some music that enhances the energy that you are seeking to create in the room during the various phases of the class.
We are ALL in recovery…from something. ED is epidemic. Fat talk. Skinny talk. We are enough talk, or there is ‘never enough’ talk. We crave ever ‘more, better, different.’ Slaves to our desires.
Let us desire at this time to be FREE from slavery and feed the hungry heart – Union. = Yoga. I bow to all here. Now.
Karen wrote to Chris: “So we eat meat at times to defy the very dogma that you state.”
The NINE BILLION sentient animals who are raised in horrific conditions and are brutally slaughtered every year in the USA alone don’t care about Chris’s dogma, or your rationalizations. They cannot argue with you, or ask you for your compassion and respect. All they can do is suffer. The taste of meat is the taste of their misery, fear and pain.
why even to bother about this? thats wast of time and enegie, even when i whright here is already to much of give attention to something that keeps you away from practice and the real live, all this internetyogaboga is just there to give you friends a hard time to enter into the depth of the subjekt, you think you can do yoga and at the same time in the net and “sharing” knowledge? true knowledge you can only get in reality, from beeing to beeing and in your own practice, because everything you got from the net (at least in the moment) is leveled to a 2 dimension way,
but yes i agree, its nice to waste a bit of our time at the screen by drinking a good cup of organic coffee… ; )
Great message, thanks!
Thank you so much for this! I need to be reminded of this not only as a teacher, but as an eternal student of yoga as a whole practice.
Too many times I hear in studios where I have practiced, while in a challenging asana practice: “Just think: Mashed potatoes! Sweet potato pie! Ham! Turkey!” during the holidays.
This is much needed and I have shared this letter.
An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been conducting a little research on this.
And he in fact ordered me breakfast due to the
fact that I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So
let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to
talk about this issue here on your blog.