This post is difficult to share. My yoga practice and healthcare journey are a significant part of my heart and soul. As much as I hear that my yoga/physical/dietary/spiritual practice is an inspiration and motivation for others (for which I am immensely grateful), I hear comments in the negative. I am often told I am too skinny. That I need to be more lenient with my diet. That I go too hard or do too much. Those comments wouldn't bother me if it didn't give me pause to consider if there is truth there. However, the fact that I will question myself and re-examine my approach to these things doesn't mean that the path I am on is the wrong one and that the comments about my body or my discipline are warranted without there being compassion attached to them. And, honestly, unless you want to confront me about my weight because you're concerned I am not healthy and you want to offer me help or hear me out, you have no business commenting on the size of my body. Unless you are willing to hear about why I am so disciplined and what I see in my patterns in regards to my physical practice, including the risks I'm willing to take to achieve certain goals (including why those are goals I want to reach), there's no need for you to comment there either. So, I do welcome compassionate observation, relaying of experiences, advice, and research sharing in regards to this post. However, comments about my body or practice without compassion and only judgment are not necessary.
My current and slower, more deliberate practice. I'm finally feeling stronger again. I am working on not repeating old patterns in different ways.
I was going all out. I was going to push to the point of dripping sweat, shaking muscles, the feeling of my entire body turning to jello. That, in and of itself can be a great workout goal, but for me, it was a way to punish the anxiety beast. It didn't matter that I was already tired. I hadn't slept well for days. Waking up nightly with adrenaline rushes was common. It didn't matter that my body ached or that I was sore from my Buti Yoga practice the day before. Chronic polyarthropathy means my body always hurts to some degree. To find my capacity for strength and endurance in middle age would obviously be to do the work regardless. I had even asked about fatigue and working with shaking muscles and was advised that both were goals to achieve when strength building from both yoga teachers, trainers, and online yoga groups. They weren't wrong. Pushing was not giving in or up. It was refusing to let my rebellious body get beyond my ability to control.
I rolled out my mat. I was already out of breath. My heart was pounding. I had the cliche overwhelming sense of dread that those of us who live with anxiety either choose to give in to or actively ignore. I was practicing a familiar sequence. I was practicing in my living room. What the hell was wrong with me? I was having a panic attack. It felt like I was turning inside out. I didn't understand. Yoga is my passion. It saves my life. I tell my yoga clients all the time that if they are not with the breath that they are not doing yoga. It was hard to breathe. I ignored my own advice and went on with it anyway. Yoga couldn't be the trigger. Yoga was the tool.
I decided that what I was feeling was related to something I wasn't conscious of and I just needed to move. I completed the practice. My legs didn't want to lift, but I made them go. Every time I felt I was about to reach my limit, I pushed harder. Mind over matter. If I didn't land a movement on beat or my balance was off on one side, I fought the urge to go back and repeat. I tell my yoga classes that our bodies are different every time we get on our mats. I took this advice, working on meeting myself there. Except was I?
but it didn't burn off the fog in my brain (another symptom I have grown accustomed to with Hashimoto's). My muscles ached more and I couldn't initiate movements without wincing and stiffness. Normal aging? I had been told. I looked forward to bedtime. I was glad to know I had worked hard.
If you follow me on social media, I've recently posted about being injured and having to come to terms with changing my practice from high intensity intervals mixed with yoga to a more "traditional" vinyasa practice that is little to no impact. My injury was with my SI joint and piriformis, but has been nagging as many muscles around them began to spasm to compensate for moving through the pain without pause. I don't know if I'll be able to return to the strenuous schedule of training I kept before, or if I will desire it. With functional strength movement, pelvic floor and core training, and bodyweight movements, I am adding the slower is stronger approach to my practice. Floating and flying. What I am doing now is equally as challenging, but in a different and more grounded way.
I've learned a lot since the original injury this past August about the ungrounded and unconscious patterns that brought me to injury. About a month ago, I realized that those panic attacks I had started having before my sacred practice was my body's way of resisting the abuse I was inflicting upon it. I have been angry at my body. I sometimes still am. Self love is not known to me. As glorious, cherished, and sacred as my yoga practice is, I had begun to use it as a way to work against my body instead of with it. I was a bully. A dictator. I had allowed self loathing to masquerade as self care.
I gave in to fears that I conjured to sidestep the real work that I needed to be doing which was embodiment and learning to love myself. I had begun to fear gaining weight because I had developed an association between that and my thyroid hormones being sup par. I was angry that I can't sleep at night without pain, so I sleep propped on a loveseat where my cats and street lights keep me awake. I was/am scared that one day I'll wake up and this body that I currently have... this strong and useful body... will be gone and I'll once again feel like I inhabit an alien body that looks nothing like the me inside of it. I've worked hard to bring my body to represent the temple in its physical expression. Always more work to do. I have vowed to be as healthy as I can. This, I often feel is akin to holding water in cupped hands.
In this fear, I held myself to standards that were not sustainable. Rest has become lazy and unproductive. I used the fact that I had a lower income to criticize myself for all the things I've failed to accomplish because of this mission I've had to heal myself and help anyone who asks. I let fear of rejection keep me small. The unknown controlled by my experiences of lack. I hated chronic illness. I hated my self sabotage. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed. As long as I could "succeed" at reaching my yoga goals, I could feel ok about something. There was no compassion in this scenario - only loathing.
I have trained myself to override intuition and bodily cues in favor of a prescribed plan that I didn't develop for myself, but adopted from another's idea of fitness and health. A rigid formula, an overly analyzed schematic. I took literally the instructor's cues to "push, push," "dig deep," and "keep up." I had become a slave to the idea that I cannot trust myself or my body. That where I am is not enough. In ignoring my body's signals and in my own self disgust, I have gained another opportunity to learn. I'm not a quitter when I am passionate. I want to break these harmful cycles/patterns. I want true healing, or at least contentment rather than an identity as someone on the healing path. I am being diligent to opening my eyes to the shadow side of me, and to use it to transform to truth. To acknowledge that I created this scenario for myself in order that I remove my own blinders. My basketball coach always said, "You have to make Hansel mad to get her to play ball." Do I step forward in freedom? I am stepping back to yoga.
Buti (Marathi Indian) – the cure to something hidden or kept secret
After a few times seeing clips of Bizzie Gold and the Dynamic Flow DVD, I was intrigued. I recognized elements from my vinyasa and kundalini practice, but there was an undogmatic freedom and power I had yet to experience. I wanted to know what it was that I was witnessing as I watched Bizzie move. So, on March 19, 2017, I did the 30-minute Dynamic Flow practice in my bedroom. It kicked my ass and I fell in love. I had found the missing elixir to aid my healing.
Despite being what I had thought was pretty fit, as I continued to practice, I found Buti a challenge. My joints would swell. My doctor told me that my body just didn’t like the intensity, and if I were to continue, I should do so mindfully. He, knowing me and my determination, said, “I’ll see you back when you have an injury.” I love a good challenge, especially when my success is up to me and only me. I knew my body should be and would be capable if I listened and supported my effort properly. I kept up, mindfully. My joints stopped swelling.
Within a few months, I had all the DVDs available. I live in a very rural community with poor internet access, so I waited to subscribe to the Tones. The closest, in person, class was over two hours away. No one in my town was doing Buti. Buti, alone, was motivating me to keep up. Before too long, I was following the three days on and one day off schedule recommended by the DVD inserts.
The change was subtle at first. I didn’t know if I’d stay enthusiastic. I had no clue that I was committing to the practice that would lift me out of the dark pit. Oh, but I had. I connected with the tribe of butisattvas on Facebook and was floored by the beauty and loving kindness there. No cat fights. No body shaming. Personal answers to questions from Bizzie herself and all the other master trainers. This practice was not created to leave you in the deep waters to sink or swim. It was created as a tool for thriving. Never before had I been in a group of women that actually felt like a genuine sisterhood.
Soon, I stopped getting on the scale every week. I stopped using the tape measure I bought to measure inches to avoid weighing on the scale. I no longer felt the need to monitor my intake of macros. I just kept up with my autoimmune protocol paleo diet and started supplementing collagen and turmeric. Then, I found Golden Ratio Nutrition and used the protein powder to support my new level of activity in a way that brought vitality.
By July 2017, my community had crowd funded my Buti certification in Nashville, TN with Talen Lane. Experiencing the Buti sisterhood in person gave me a new level of understanding in my practice and friendships that are still ongoing. While I haven’t had the opportunity to teach Buti much in my community (my Buti class will start at Evolation Yoga Kentucky in just a few short weeks), I already use the principles I was taught to enhance the beginning vinyasa classes I do teach. I know that one day I will share Buti with a tribe of Appalachian Kentucky butisattvas, and we’ll be badass.
The most important thing in all this is the fact that I’m ok with my body for the first time in my life. I appreciate its strength and its intrinsic healing powers. I see beauty in its flaws. Even those, like my stretched tummy, that still gives me pause when looking in the mirror. I’m in the best physical shape, at age 39, of my entire active life. I’ve taken my yoga practice to places I could not have without the aid of Buti. I know what it feels like to stand in my worth and know I work hard. I trust that I am strong enough to make it now. I questioned that before.
Yoga means – “union” or “to yoke.” It is the connection of mind, body, and spirit through breath. It is learning to be fully in the body in order to spiritually transcend its limitations. I have practiced yoga for fifteen years now. I taught yoga before Buti, but Buti taught me yoga. This year has brought me away from a daily desire to not exist. I’ve reached a degree of healing that I had given up on finding. I’m pursuing dreams, taking risks, finding inner confidence, learning to be grounded, and showing my daughters what it means to live life out loud. There’s still so much room for growth that I get scared sometimes. How much more wondrously real can it get? What I know now, because I found Buti, is that I have what I need to move forward with grace, supportive sisterhood does exist, and my body is not to be a shamed object. I know that I am fierce. I am strong. I am awakened. I am Buti.
It's 11pm on a Thursday and my little gals are sleeping. My head is so full of things I want to write about. I write for weeks in my head sometimes before I get a chance to put it down somewhere. It's hard, at times, to retrieve the right words as my multitasking mind likes to store things in broad ideas. The house is quiet and while watching sappy, chick TV, I realized I had to get this down before I forget. I cannot forget this. I CANNOT forget this. I'm putting it here. My journal is public. My heart laid bare.
Many months ago a friend and mentor suggested I explore the spiritual principle of Joy. What is joy? Have I ever felt it? If so, when? What brings me joy? I thought on it for awhile and I gave up. It is hard to know if you've experienced something you can't define. The closest I got was when my girls were born. Yet, it wasn't quite what I would call joy. It was blissful satisfaction. It was sacred beyond words. Joy seems too simple a word for those complex moments post birth. I gave up thinking about it.
Then, I began doing a yoga DVD from my favorite teachers, Ana Brett and Ravi Singh.
I've been having pain in my arms, neck, and shoulders. This just so happens to be where the heart chakra is located. Mushy love stuff always has been kind of cheesy for me. Not much into Kum Ba Yah or hippie dippy make love all around the world. I am too cynical for it. I've felt too much. Hurt too much. It just doesn't seem realistic. Except, as much as I'd hate to admit, there's part of me that wants to believe it. A part that wants the possibility.
So, to address the physical pain, I began doing the yoga once a week to address the heart center. Green Energy is a part of a weekly rotation of 6 practices/DVDs that I have set out for myself. Green Energy comes on Thursdays. Each time I do it, my heart center opens a little more. I can feel it being physically freed. As woo-hoo as it may sound to some, I've also experienced spiritual and emotional release as a part of this practice. I've come to understand in a deeper way some of the things that hurt me so as a child and as an adult. I've come to understand what I thought I could never.
Then, this Thursday, I felt something strange during my practice. A realization came to me as clear as the full moon in the dark of night. My happiness doesn't depend upon anyone else nor does my happiness depend upon another's being happy. It doesn't depend upon the value someone places upon me in their life. Happiness is boundlessness. It is freedom. It is self worth. It is the space you give yourself to love others within the boundaries of loving yourself. I am born free. I am born boundless. It is by choice if I feel tied down. To listen, know, and follow my own heart is the key to giving myself the space to find joy.
Where my path crosses another's there will be effect. However, the effect is the responsibility of the one whose path I cross if I am going forth in love and truth. We share each other in moments. Some moments so brief can impact a lifetime so profoundly. It is when we act from our truth, that our presence can lead another to their own. Happiness doesn't come from responsibility and obligation. Responsibility and obligation can be chosen to inform happiness.
I told a friend the other night that I have always been a results oriented person. The student, the pleaser, has always wanted to hear that I'm all right. I've needed that reassurance my whole life - the kudos, the reward, the A+, the feeling of being wanted. My happiness has hinged on what I could do for others to make them ask for my presence. My happiness has been determined by my feeling of security in bonds among people. That kind of happiness isn't real. It is lonely. It is fleeting. It is panicking. It is finite.
I'm still not sure what joy feels like, but I think I will know when I feel it. I think I owe it to myself and everyone in my life to be free enough to be happy. To acknowledge my truth, set my own goals, and work in love toward them. I just had to get it down before I forget.
Here's my yoga body.
Here's its backside - in leggings!
Let's review some stats on this yoga body.
Oh, and despite doing yoga 6 days every week, being strong and toned, and being within its normal weight for its height and frame, this body isn't America's ideal for beauty - far from it. Using your body to grow and birth beautiful and big baby girls can cause some modifications. Here is all of the flattest, most awesome abs this yoga body has ever had.
Imagine the reaction if this body donned a bikini on the beach this summer at its pinnacle of health and physical fitness. Scandalous!
The truth is that this is the first time I have ever exposed my midriff in public in my whole life. I'm extremely modest. Also, the truth is that I have never worn these pants without an over-sized t-shirt in public. I hate feeling exposed. However, recently, I heard about a Montana legislator introducing a bill that would ban the wearing of yoga pants. I wear yoga pants in public all the time. Half my life, if it weren't for yoga pants, I wouldn't have any clothes to wear at all. I thought it had to be a joke. It wasn't. It was an indecent exposure proposition. I knew there wasn't any way it could possibly pass, so I thought not another thing of it. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, one of the yoga teachers I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article titledThe Politics of Yoga Pants: Dignity, Spandex, and Dysmorphia - What a Load of Goods are Being Sold?. The article refers to the bill proposal briefly and then begins to discuss the issues of yoga as a corrupt, western, billion dollar industry, how it has morphed from its origination in India, and how yoga pants are causing self esteem problems in women. The yoga teacher who posted it called yoga pants - "yoga porn".
For yoga clothing manufacturers specifically, it’s about cradling that cute ass in spandex. And it's not just legislators who are up in arms. Consumers are arguing right, left, and everywhere in between about our cultural love of exhibiting the back bump.
The author, Susan Stringfellow, goes on to discuss how the big business of yoga in the United States caters to women of a certain income and body type with well known companies like Lululemon not carrying plus sizes and hiding their size 10s and 12s in the back of the store. Then, Stringfellow goes on to write:
Keep in mind that the myth of Narcissus predates American culture, which proves that the conundrum of our self-amazement has been around since antiquity, probably before. Yet, what can be argued is that the fashion designs sold by the yoga clothes companies are playing on human vanities and insecurities. And, as Klein contends, these repetitive presentations of "health" and "beauty" are capable of warping our sense of realistic expectations about who we should be.
And, all this means that yoga pants are really something to get our panties in a wad over? Yoga pants objectify women's bodies? Tasteless advertising makes us fantasize about a body we'll never have and therefore we are pressured to wear yoga pants that don't fit or accentuate our perfect for us bodies?
I'm not buying it. I've seen people of all sizes and shapes wear yoga pants and leggings. I've seen them worn in all kinds of beautiful and bizarre ways. One thing I have never been is shocked by the body wearing them. I'm a mother, and I have to say that I'm not speaking for myself when I say that when we are out running errands, feeding chickens, or taking the little gals to dance class, yoga pants are the most comfortable attire. Even the Yoga Body Image Coalition highlighted by the article has people doing yoga in yoga pants with all body types on their website. I have seen an upsurge in more realistic advertising on yoga sites I frequent and have for several years. I also recall seeing an ad of a completely nude athletic woman and not thinking twice about it. What's the deal?
I think reactions like this bring up great questions, but can tend toward the illogically radical like the Montana bill proposal to ban yoga pants. After reading this article, it was obvious what problems in American culture we should be addressing, and it isn't yoga pants. Yoga pants aren't causing a whole slue of people to feel poorly about their bodies. No, the problem is a huge one and multifaceted.
We've went from one extreme to another in this country in terms of our display of the human form and sexuality and our ways of living and economy. Our cultural norms formed in a way that was heavily influenced by prudish Puritanism. Now, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum where every day from the time we are born we are inundated by hyper-sexualized images of the human body that aren't even representative of reality. Those of us who exist in the in between are confused and silent.
The article also highlighted the conundrum of, Veronica Partridge, who vowed to not wear yoga pants or leggings in public again. Her husband honestly revealed to her that sometimes he couldn't help but to look at women when they wear yoga pants. I feel for her and her husband and the realities of this issue. I feel for women who have felt those less than respectful eyes on their bodies. The issue is not the woman's clothes. It is our culture's portrayal of the female form not as something to be admired for its beauty, but for something to lust for. There is a huge difference in admiring beauty and lusting. I can see someone and their beauty and enjoy looking at them without wanting to be with them sexually. In a culture where that cannot be separated, the problem is not in form fitting clothes enticing looks. The problem is in perversion. I would bet that in a culture where women regularly go topless don't have this issue in this same form.
The other issue is with unethical corporations and mass consumerism. To discuss these topics would take more writing than I want to do here. My main concern in this is the issue of the female body image. I have three daughters who I hope to raise with confidence and respect for their bodies. I have a husband who is an artist and has drawn nude women from life. He also tattoos people of all walks of life five days a week. So, the issue of body image speaks to me profoundly. If we cannot look upon another person's body without making a value judgment or it producing lustful thoughts, the issue isn't theirs. It is ours.
Yoga pants aren't shaming women. Our society is shaming women through airbrushed advertising, hyper-sexualizing, hiding tasteful representation of the human form, and all but forbidding self expression through means of dress, hairstyle, and body modification. Our society has a double standard. No issue with putting a 10 year old in booty shorts and bikinis in such a sexual climate, but takes issue with a fully covered body in yoga pants. Beauty, health, and fitness come in all shapes and sizes. I have spent my life learning to be separate from my body because of low self esteem. Yoga has connected me with this temple that is my body in wonderful ways. I'm not ashamed of it. That's why I can post these pictures in this context. My body was created to serve my essence in this life, and it is doing a fine job of it. Through yoga, I can worship Creator with my body while making it strong and healing it where the doctors cannot reach. If America has a bastardized form of yoga and yoga pants are nothing but yoga porn, that speaks to our priorities as Americans being VERY skewed. Nothing more.
Wear those yoga pants. They're comfortable for crying out loud. Oh, and one last thing. I typically don't wear yoga pants to do yoga any way. Here's the head of that yoga body saying farewell for now. Yes, it's that serious.
I practice yoga 6-7 days a week as much as possible, which is most of the time. I wake up early to get in an hour to an hour and a half of practice before the rest of the house rises and I become mother and wife. My practice has become as essential to my well being as eating and I know without it, I would not be the person I am or nearly as healthy and mobile.
It's kind of interesting how a mountain gal who didn't live close to a yoga community got into yoga. Technology links us all. Yoga has been part of my life since college off and on. Back then, I was introduced to a basic sun salutation practice through a Jane Fonda VHS tape when my goal was basically be skinny and tough. Now, yoga is way more than a workout to me. It is the foundation of my spiritual practice. It is my time with God. As cliche as it might sound, it is true that my yoga mat has been a place of profound transformation for me in body and soul. I have a hard time describing what takes place there to those who don't have a practice because it is so ingrained in feeling. Yoga means union. Through yoga, even on the hardest days, I connect my body, mind, and spirit to the Divine.
The branch of yoga I practice the majority of the time is Kundalini yoga. It is said that Kundalini yoga is the oldest form of yoga and was kept a secret from the general public for centuries. Kundalini yoga was brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan and is considered a yogic path that is designed for the householder or those who participate in society as opposed to those who choose a spiritual path that separates them from society. If you Google Kundalini yoga, you'll get all kinds of interesting hits, most of which are sensationalism. Kundalini yoga is a very powerful natural technology, but taken under normal circumstances it is a practice that is safe and accessible to people from all walks of life and belief systems. The experience I have had with it is so special that I practice this style almost exclusively. It provides me with a physical workout and what I call "real" church - a physical/emotional experience of the presence of God.
There are no yoga studios anywhere near where I live, so I practice using DVDs and YouTube. In 2010, I became certified to teach prenatal yoga through the Asheville Yoga Center in North Carolina, but the interest for yoga in my community has always been too small to have classes. My home practice feeds me pretty well. Ravi Singh and Ana Brett are my go to teachers. They have somewhere near 24 DVDs and an upcoming book. Their website offers extensive resources and they have an online presence on Facebook to guide their students learning from a distance. Another teacher I appreciate very much is Maya Fiennes. She has an comprehensive video library and I find her practice very doable. One day, I'd love to share Kundalini yoga with others. We'll see where it leads me.
I feel amazingly blessed by sustaining a yoga practice. It has been worth prioritizing. Yoga is the only exercise I have found I need other than normal daily activities. Because of my need to keep my blood pressure low and the medication that helps me with that, other more cardio intensive exercise has become too much for me. Yet, through yoga and techniques like "the breath of fire" I do things that are "more aerobic than aerobics." I believe anyone who wants to can take up a yoga practice. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Yoga changes lives. Yoga supports my body and my body supports my life. I cannot ask for a better exchange. Yoga is a practice that sustains me.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide
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