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Addressing The ‘Thin Ideal’: An Open Letter To Yoga Teacher Tiffany Cruikshank On ‘Yes, You Can Think Yourself Thin’

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ybic-meditationby Nikki Cook

Dear Tiffany Cruikshank,

Your article “Yes You CAN Think Yourself Thin: From resisting that biscuit to learning to love the gym, a life-changing book reveals the new way to hit your perfect weight” not only saddened and disheartened me but, as an eating disorder survivor, deeply triggered me.

As a yoga teacher I was angry and frustrated to see yet another teacher, a colleague of mine, profiting off of the “Thin Ideal” perpetuated in our society; the same ideal that I see so many of my students compelled to strive for. As I read on, I noticed the thin = happy and healthy theme that the diet industry utilizes to prey on people’s insecurities. In this article, you claim that meditation “is the queen of all good weight-loss habits.” I most definitely was not taught this in my 200 and 500 hour yoga training programs. I resonate more with this definition of meditation by Pia Guerrero, founder of Adios Barbie, “The true nature of meditation (and yoga) is for one to develop an experience of wholeness, compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness.”  From your article one would believe that you see meditation as a weight loss tool, and a slim body the key to happiness.

I am curious, which definition of meditation resonates most with you?

In the “Meditate To Watch Weight” section of your article, key points are highlighted such as: “Picture yourself slimmer – going through every aspect of a full day. Really visualize all the detail and make a point of noticing everything that feels different…Then turn your mind towards creating this image of yourself at a healthy weight. What does it feel like? …Can you picture yourself slim? What do you look like? How does it feel? Try to notice all of the sensations in this new, healthy body.”

Based on all of the above, it would be easy for me to assume the worst, that you are simply preying on people’s lack of self-love, self-worth, and false belief in the “Thin Ideal” to make a profit.  However,  I have read social media comments from you in your exchanges with Dianne Bondy and passages from your book, that make me think differently;  that you do not see the disconnect with what you are stating in your articles (which are all listed as either written by or endorsed by you), and how you are promoting “Meditate Your Weight”  as a weight-loss book. It appears you acknowledged early on that your book was written to represent meditation as a weight-loss tool based on a review you have on your website by Well and Good. This review states: “We generally skip weight-loss books, but this one is super interesting for its unique approach to the topic.” In comments on Dianne Bondy Yoga’s Instagram page, you say you want to provide people with tools for a positive body image: “My book is about creating a healthy body image and relationship to your body as a source of life long health & happiness…”

When I read that I think YES, yoga and meditation can be used for exactly this! In fact, that is what myself, Dianne, and the other members of The Yoga and Body Image Coalition are working for too. You are openly targeting and marketing to people who are struggling with body image issues and self-acceptance. Which would be fine if you were marketing your book just as that, “Meditate your Self-Acceptance” vs “Mediate Your Weight.”

There is a disconnect and contradiction in your message. You cannot be body positive and support diet culture at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive. Diet culture and the diet industry are not body positive, no matter what spin is put on it or how much justification is given as a means to a self-loving end. Being body positive, embracing health at every size, and believing in self-love as a path to health means you stand up and stand against the diet culture and diet industry every step of the way. As Pia Guerrero states, “Dieting cultivates a deep sense of lack and rejection of how one is right here, right now—the antithesis of any meditation practice.”

The intention of this letter is to call you up, not out. In doing so, the YBIC and I are calling you into embracing and taking on a true leadership role in the Body Positive Movement where you never compromise the movement for profit. As a public role model and founder of “Yoga Medicine,” you have the power to influence others, your words matter. And if you make a misstep, as we all do at some point, you acknowledge it, learn from it and do better next time.

As an Eating Disorder Advocate and someone in recovery, I feel compelled to address the impact that the message of your article also has on people who suffer from or are in recovery from an eating disorder (ED).  I was personally triggered by the “Yes, You CAN Think Yourself Thin” article. Yoga and meditation are powerful and effective tools of healing as an integral component of my own recovery as well as many others. Your article turns meditation into a potential weapon to be used against those suffering from an eating disorder, disordered eating and/or body dysmorphia as opposed to an ally in healing.  Those who have experienced an eating disorder, know someone affected by an ED, or are an eating disorder recovery professional would agree that some of the information shared in this article is triggering and potentially harmful to someone in recovery. The president of The Association for Size Diversity and Health, Carmen Cool, MA, LPC, sums up this point in stating, “Of all the benefits of meditation, let’s leave our bodies out of it. We can do better. We must do better if we want to live in a world where people can live peacefully inside of — and in the world with – their bodies as they are. Let’s use our practices to bolster us to work for a weight inclusive world.”

You see, people who suffer from an eating disorder have a difficult time differentiating between healthy and harmful thoughts. When someone is deep in their disorder it is often the voice of the eating disorder that speaks the loudest and the one that is followed the most. Eating Disorders love to find ways to convince you that you are making a healthy choice, when in reality (and obvious to people without an ED) that choice is damaging to your health.

Eating Disorders are so damaging to the health of the sufferer that it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. So when a yoga teacher, someone who considers themselves a “health expert,” and teaches “yoga as medicine” tells you that they have a way that you can become a slimmer, sexier, happier person, you pay attention. And when part of that solution is to “resist that biscuit and learn to love the gym” well, the ED loves that even more. “See,” says the eating disorder, “it’s healthy…I’m being healthy,” when all the while that meditation that helped you resist that biscuit and go to the gym, also helped you resist breakfast, lunch and dinner. That is when this advice goes from irresponsible to potentially deadly. What I have discovered through the process of writing this post (which entailed connecting with other yoga teachers, as well as people in the eating disorder recovery community) is that there is a great need for more education to be provided to yoga teachers with regard to eating disorders and eating disorder recovery. This is not something you are alone in needing education in. Jenny Copeland, PsyD, RYT200 offered this insight, “We are limited only by our capacity to be open, our willingness to see what we have been ignorant of for so long. So ask the question, anticipate how one action leads to the next, and shine the light on all that yoga has to offer to all bodies, just as they are.”

Tiffany, I said before that I was asking you to do better.  I think that is something that we all can take to heart. I am grateful that the platform provided by the Yoga and Body Image Coalition exists so we as a yoga community can continue to engage in much needed conversations; to learn and grow together as teachers and practitioners. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Let’s all hold each other accountable to know and do better.

In solidarity,

Nikki Cook

~

Nikki is a member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She is a 200 hour registered yoga teacher, 300 hour certified children’s yoga teacher, Unnata certified aerial yoga teacher and has a 500 hour certification in therapeutic yoga. Through her teaching and work with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, Nikki advocates for advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, including the use of yoga and meditation as an integral part of recovery from eating disorders, disordered eating and body dysmorphia. This article originally appeared on

The Yoga and Body Image Coalition website and has been republished with permission. Photo credit: Sarit Z. Rogers, courtesy of YBIC.

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24 comments… add one
  • deb waag

    Being in my sixties this is nothing new. Selling the possibility of of the ideal body is a great way to make money. People have been falling for it ever since the magazine covers started telling us we weren’t good enough. This is what it takes to sell yoga nowadays, because of the internet you can buy enlightenment, the perfect body, and almost any darn thing you can think of. It’s crazy!

  • It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again. Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

    Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”? At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

    How is this in any way empowering? I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

    No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel.

    • With Tara Stiles’ dreaded bra fat warning and now the saddle bag phenomenon, yoga women are doomed!

      http://www.amyippoliti.com/amy-ippoliti/2016/9/the-real-truth-about-saddle-bags

      • Hope

        I haven’t heard any mention of saddle bags since I was a self conscious (and completely lacking in the saddle bags I imagined I had) teenager reading 17 magazine in the ’90s. Hey Amy Ippoliti, thanks for bringing that body anxiety back with a vengeance (and a bad anatomy lesson).

        The marketing for Meditate Your Weight is objectively terrible, awful, fat-shaming bad. But her book is not – read it before you judge it.

      • S.

        Who is Amy Ippoliti? Never heard of her.

      • Northern Harrier

        Ew! I had a distant respect for Ippoliti but that just went down quite a bit. Especially when the answer is “just do more Anusara alignment!”

  • I am a yoga lover and am in no way skinny. I practice everyday but I in no way do it with the purpose to become skinny. I do it because I love how peaceful and energized it makes me.

  • dave

    Maybe if we took the money part out of yoga that would reduce some of the issues we have with others or the rest of the world. But I don’t see how that would do anything to help me better manage my own disorders. I think I will have to find a different approach.

  • I share yoga to help others in their recovery from pains. I love doing Yoga because it gives me happiness.
    one thing I don’t like is people wear tight leggings and shirts while doing yoga which is not correct. it’s just showing shape of the body parts. While doing yoga one should wear loose clothes. sorry no offence 🙂

    https://spinalcordyoga.wordpress.com/

  • Vera McDonnell

    Some people do it for the money and some people do it for the philosophy! That is true with almost everything in life. Calling someone out or up will not change them.

    • It may not change the perpetrator but it’s a great springboard for dialogue and gives anyone who reads it new or reinforcing knowledge and empowerment.

  • I think it’s cool to have a good mindset. But its also good to know that the foods we eat are also making us an undesirable weight. Yoga is definitely great for our mental state, but being informed is also good

  • Erica

    Surely this is supposed to apply to people who are overweight though. Isn’t the message that if you are kind to yourself (and so you don’t use food as a substitute for emotional emptiness or to punish yourself) that you will naturally be the healthy size that nature wants you to be?
    Maybe not. I haven’t read it. But far too many (most?) people who are obese are that way due to emotional issues. If meditation can help with that then what’s the problem?

    • This comment is soaked in weight stigma. What is it called when people make sweeping statements (completely u substantated ones no less) about a group of people who share a single characteristic? Stereotyping. You are falling in to the trap of believing stereotypes about fat people, and worse, you are spreading them with a comment like this. Where is your source material for making such a sweeping statement about fat people? Guess what, there is none. That’s just your opinion based on stereotypes.

  • VQ2

    When even your possible or putative acrobatic kick-butt yoga mentor, Kathryn Budig, is accepting size diversity—reluctantly or not … you should shame yourself, Tiffany Cruikshank!!!!!

    Go back to your yoga marketing cubbyhole!

    • Kathryn Budig and size diversity? I think not. She’s a yoga-for-weight-loss huckster herself. I get so annoyed when teachers who have no real idea what true body positivity means conveniently co-opt it for themselves because it’s the new buzzword. Blargh.

  • Christ. Just do the practice and eat real food. Effort combined with precision over a long period of time will yield “results.” Being physically healthy is part of yoga, but playing on people’s insecurities to sell a book is suspect. Conversely, it’s ok for people to use meditation to their own specific ends whether it’s getting fitter, finding the right job — or connecting to divinity. And yet also part of the practice is pattern recognition and subsequent steps towards resolution of those patterns and the thought of folks who are not happy with their bodies sitting in a room judging themselves for it in solitary silence is saddening. How about just practice with the attention to detail that activates the muscular and glandular systems that catalyze balance in the body? How about the traditional outlook that you establish a practice, do it for a long time, and good things come?

  • Jessie Wren

    Thank you for this Nikki. I feel like once a yoga instructor reaches a level of prestige it is harder to question their publications/ opinions. I am so glad you came out with this article and shed some light on the prejudices yoga instructors have with what our bodies “should” look like.
    Really appreciate your work here.

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