News: New column over at the Daily Muse!

  • I am taking over Molly Donovan’s weekly column at the Daily Muse. It’s called “What to Read on the Subway This Week.” Check out my first week of suggestions here.
  • I’m so stretched out from yoga last night. Pigeon pose totally kicked my {always-tight} right hip around, especially since I’ve been avoiding that pose lately. Gotta keep at it.
  • I’ve been painting a lot lately and was accepted into a local art show. I’m trying to decide whether or not to say yes. In the words of Brene Brown, this is one of my vulnerability moments. Manning a booth in front of the public is a scary proposition. Here is one of my new paintings. If I get brave, I’ll probably try to sell this one:


21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice

I received my copy of 21st Century Yoga in the mail this week. Edited by Rosanne Harvey of the blog, It’s All Yoga, Baby, and academic writer/professor Carol Horton, I found it first via Melanie Klein’s essay on yoga & body image at AdiosBarbie. Here’s Horton in the introduction, talking about their approach to the essays:

“Asking big questions while remaining open to a variety of answers supports creative thought and exchange by holding space for wondering, exploring, and not knowing.”

Looking forward to reading more! You can discover more about the book here. 

Outtakes With Mandy

Recently, I interviewed  Mandy Ingber, creator of the Yogalosophy DVD and personal yoga teacher to Jennifer Aniston, for a Daily Muse article about how yoga can help your career; Kathryn Budig of Aim True Yoga was also generous enough to be interviewed.  We talked about yoga’s role in shaping your self-esteem, making you feel more confident in life, and giving your career a boost. It’s true: yoga really is a whole-life practice! You can find that Daily Muse article here.  But I didn’t get to use all of Mandy’s responses in the Daily Muse piece, because of our length limitations. I was a little sad not to be able to talk about Mandy’s thoughts on vision boards. I think vision boards are fantastic.

A little backstory: I’ve been a fan of Mandy’s Yogalosophy DVD since its debut. I reviewed it on my website back in April.  The workout is great—you’ll feel like you’ve worked your muscles—but Mandy is really down to earth & fun, too. So, I was totally stoked to ask Mandy about why she uses vision boards, which she mentions on the DVD and at her website. Here’s what she had to say:

“Visualizing, being inspired, and having reminders around us help trigger our emotions, which are the motivating force behind what we create. It is important to know where you are going and to declare what you want. The eye likes to have a visual image, like a finish line. I find that just having the images in front of me while I am exercising gets into my DNA. The dreams are getting in there subliminally.” She believes that vision boards are a great tool for anyone looking to change their mindset.   “Having that visual experience in front of us during exercise is awesome because we become very receptive in that state. I have been experimenting more and more with the most efficient ways to create the life I dream of, and the vision board is certainly one of them,” she says. “Just about everything I put on there comes to fruition.”

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t it make you want to go out and craft your own vision board?

Celebrating Fall: A List

The weather has been beautiful this week. The semester has started in earnest, so I’m back on-campus in the sunshine. I feel a little wistful because I’m not taking any classes–if money were no object, I’d take more art history, honestly. The department offers Egyptian art now!–but I’m using the free time to do more freelance work, paint, and read. Some fun things worth mentioning:

  • I got very brave and entered a local artists exhibition on campus. Very casual stuff, but I’m hoping I’ll be accepted. Fingers crossed!
  • Tutoring is off to a fantastic start this semester–my new tutoring coworkers are wonderful.
  • YD has a great post on meditation.
  • I really recommend Keri Smith’s How to Be An Explorer of the World. I caved & bought it, after talking about it a few posts ago. It has dozens of wonderful exercises for art and writing projects. In Smith’s words, “Anything can be a starting place. Begin where you are.” Yogic, right?
  • Also fun: Vivian Swift’s When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I received it as a Christmas gift and just started reading it recently. Swift, an artist & writer, traveled the world in her youth with the Peace Corps & has now settled down on Long Island Sound. Part memoir, part graphic novel, When Wanders Cease to Roam is organized by month and contains Swift’s memories of interesting things in her life and quirky daily observations. She does fantastic watercolor and line drawings. You can see an excerpt here on NPR’s website.
  • In a similar vein, this review over at Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour has me tempted to–what else?–buy more books! Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life sounds like an interesting project. {I’m diagnosing myself with “Sudden-Onset Book Lemming Disorder,” ladies & gentlemen.} Actually, I think Smith, Rosenthal, & Swift’s books could form the reading for a really fun elective on writing and craft–the intersections of memoir, everyday life, and craft projects. How cool would that be? I could envision students making their own art/memoir journals.
  • Just saw this post on Mason Jar Cakes from Niki Lowry at The Daily Muse. I’m a little klutzy at baking, but these are SO adorable. Mason jars are nifty; I saw a DIY project that repurposed them as  painted pendant lights recently too. My inner southern girl hearts mason jars.

Yoga Miscellanea

Miscellanea is a word, right? It’s one of those that seems made-up, I think. Some things I’ve been doing lately that fall under the general category of yogic hodge-podge:

    • I’ve just finished reading Lucy O’Brien’s Madonna: Like An Icon. That might not sound overly-yogic, but O’Brien looks at Madonna’s self-invention and influences, including yoga and eastern culture. It’s a solid biography because O’Brien, while sympathetic, isn’t afraid to reveal the inconsistencies in Madonna’s behavior. What’s interesting to me is how much Madonna typifies “complex personhood,” Avery F. Gordon’s description of how human beings will do things that contradict their stated intentions or seem counter-initutive. In Madonna’s case that means embracing yoga and mysticism, but also marrying the ultra-macho Guy Ritchie and subsequently taking on the very un-mystical and un-yogic persona of an English aristocrat and remaining a competitive businesswoman (among many other examples). But Madonna’s reasons for taking up yoga—at least according to O’Brien—leading to her  Ray of Light album are actually fairly relatable. O’Brien describes her as frazzled, frustrated by the reception of her previous work, tired of her current lifestyle, and looking for something settled and meaningful. Those are the same reason many women (and men) are drawn to yoga, even if they aren’t pop icons. The difference between Madonna and the rest of us seems to be the degree to  which she revamps her life in response to her frustrations–like Jane Fonda, another Hollywood icon of transformation–she seems deeply mutable. O’Brien pegs this as a sign of Madonna’s deep-seated insecurity stemming from her childhood, claims that are hard to dispute.
    • I’ve also been reading Christina Sell’s My Body is a Temple, which acts as a kind of meditation-slash-workbook for questions of wholeness, body image, and goals. While I’m not really a guru-oriented person like Sell seems to be {read: I don’t have a spiritual advisor or guru}, I think the questions she raises at the end of each section are fantastic what-if exercises that can help you, if you’re trying to figure out where you are in your beliefs, practices, and goals. Sell talks about her own struggles with body image, eating disorder, and how difficult it can be to remain consistent with your goals. She argues that sometimes you just aren’t ready until you’re ready–seeing it as a spiritual process–and that willpower alone sometimes isn’t enough, if you’re struggling with addiction. I haven’t finished the book yet, and will probably write more about the exercises later.
    • Rosie Molinary is doing a series of free exercises in August for her Shine program and Mara Glatzel (of Medicinal Marzipan fame) has retooled her website.
    • In my free time, I’ve been thinking about crafts, jewelry, and adornment. I have a PBS documentary from the library on body art that I want to watch this weekend that talks about tattoos on a spectrum of bodily art and adornment. I’m not quite brave enough for a tattoo {yet–maybe one day!}, but I do love jewelry. I made this little craft bracelet myself: 
    • I’ve also been writing a lot this month and listening to Krishna Das on Pandora. I’m particularly drawn to Om Namah Shivaya. I don’t know why it appeals to me more than other kirtan songs and mantras, but it does.

Dinner & a Movie–Wait, Miniseries: Nigella Lawson’s Spaghetti Carbonara & As Time Goes By

I’m loving yesterday’s post from The Bliss Project on positive motivation for eating and exercise, as opposed to some of the unhealthy images we see in the media and online. She writes:

Yesterday I came across some very disturbing pictures and messages online. I’d heard of thinspo, short for thinspiration, but I had no idea how awful it really was. Girls are posting and liking pictures of emaciated young women as their inspiration. This is what they aim to look like. I refuse to post any of the pictures I saw, but some of them had messages like “I only feel beautiful when I’m hungry”, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and “Your stomach is not growling, it’s applauding”.

When I started this blog, I decided it would be my happy place. I could go on about how horrible and dangerous these thinspo photos are, and how damaging they are to young and not so young girls everywhere, but I won’t. Instead of adding to the negativity, I decided to create my own form of inspiration. Let’s call it Blisspo. I know that word makes no sense. That’s not the point.

What is the point? I think it’s about balance. I try to eat right and exercise, but I also like brownies and watching tv. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a little slimmer, usually when I wear a bathing suit, but I work out to be healthy, not to be skinny.

So here is the first ever collection of Blisspo photos I created just for you. Enjoy and don’t take it too seriously!

She includes some great photographs of herself and others doing fun, inspirational things. I totally agree with her attitude towards health and fitness in moderation.  It’s nice to imagine a world where everyone has similar resources–role models, activities, media–that inspire them.

For example, I’ve been watching a lot of the 90s-era British television comedy As Time Goes By. It stars Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as a separated lovers who reunite in their fifties. It’s a really funny, sweet show, but the most unusual thing (for Americans, anyway) is that the entire cast looks so normal. Attractive, yes, but not crazily glamourous. Nothing like the size two, spray-tanned, and hair extension’d norm of today’s soap operas and dramas. And the cast has wrinkles! Shocker!  {Also, I want Judi Dench’s cute little haircut.}

Tonight, as I settled in to watch more of Series 3, I decided to make Nigella Lawson’s Spaghetti Carbonara. Nigella is one of my favorite cooks, too. I love how she obviously enjoys food and has a sense of humor about life. For my dinner, I subbed-in my favorite pasta, orecchiette, a oval pasta shape named for its resemblance to ears. It’s the perfect reservoir for creamy and rich sauces.

Here’s Nigella, making the standard recipe with a very smitten Matt Lauer:

Spiritually & Physically Hungry, Part 2

I was a little delayed in writing this, mostly because I didn’t know how aggressively I wanted to approach discussing someone else’s book. Ultimately, I’ve decided not to mention the name of the book, both because I think this a more widespread issue than any one individual or work, and because I’m not even sure the author is conscious of the tone of her work. To explain: Last year I read multiple yoga memoirs, many of which I’ve reviewed on this site. But there was one that I ultimately gave up on and never reviewed. I suppose I was lured in by the promise of yoga in the title, the cute cartoon yogini on the front, etc. It looked like a fun book. But I didn’t find it particularly fun reading. The narrator was very hard on her family, her body, and her initial diet, which she dismissed as bad, lazy, too commercial, etc.  In fact, the primary focus of the book seemed to be diet, not yoga. The author kept talking about restricting her diet and restricting and restricting, but didn’t seem any happier with her life.

I’m perfectly comfortable hearing about how people have revived their energy or reclaimed their self-esteem with diet and exercise–that can be inspiring and interesting–but there was just so much shame in this book. Shame is a terrible thing to do to your body. At some point in my reading, I realized that the narrator’s shaming was bringing me down, too. It was a little bit mysterious. I wasn’t like I thought, ‘oh, shaming!’ as much as I found myself slightly disconcerted and had to think about why parts of the book bothered me.  I realized that, despite the fact that I’m a healthy person, I was still prone to empathizing with an author when I’m following them for a whole book. I even wondered if I’d read the book in a bad mood that had clouded my judgment, but then stumbled across another reviewer’s take:

“I may not go as far as she does in her low-fat diet (I’m lucky not to have weight issues), but she makes me think twice about the ice cream in my freezer, or at least consider serving myself a much smaller scoop….Later in the same chapter, she writes, “If you eat healthy and low-fat most of the time, you can splurge on the occasional more-indulgent foods.” I perked up, wondering what would count as indulgent for someone who bemoans her previously unenlightened nightly snack of Cheerios and chocolate chips (please! My indulgent snack is a bowl of melted peanut butter, topped with vanilla ice cream, granola, and chocolate syrup.) So she continues, “On a weekend—not every weekend, but on the occasional Sunday—Neil and I will go out for whole wheat organic pizza made with hormone-free cheese (I know, I live on the edge).” If she’s living on the edge, even my decent diet puts me over the cliff, but that’s fine.

If an author can make readers without weight issues feel slightly bad about ice cream in the freezer, imagine how those struggling with their weight or eating disorders would respond to this book. That’s why I’d encourage anyone who feels themselves being brought low by a book just to stop reading. Especially when you could read Curvy Yoga’s “Curvy Voices personal essay collection instead.

Spiritually & Physically Hungry: A Dangerous Side of Yoga? (Part One)

I’m not usually controversial on this blog, but I wanted to talk about an issue that has been on my mind for the past few days. For me, yoga is a very healthy practice, but I recognize that some parts of yoga culture can be limiting and even dangerous. One of those potential dangers is falling into the trap of thinking that a good yoga practitioner is a very thin person who looks and eats a certain way.

If you follow the websites Yoga Dork or Elephant Journal, you will have seen the articles surrounding the death of Ian Thorson, after he and his wife Christy McNally were asked to leave Arizona’s Diamond Mountain Retreat. Thorson–whose body was rumored to weigh only 100 lbs.–later died of exposure while the couple camped in the desert surrounding the retreat. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this story, but what stood out to me was a first-hand account of Thorson’s thinness:

“I remember Ian Thorson from perhaps two hundred classes and lectures across America, Europe, and India between 1998 and 2000. He was thin and wispy, underfed and protein deficient, perhaps anemic, with impeccable lotus posture, and distant, unfocussed, entranced eyes. He’d sit right up at the front of any teaching, his eyes rolled back, clothes unwashed, hair tousled, by turns elated and catatonic in his trance. I ate rice and dal with him at the same table at Sera Mey monastery in Bylakuppe for a month in 1999. We talked philosophy and the esoteric for the short spurts in which he could hold conversational attention.”

The author of the article, Matthew Remski, originally described Thorson as “probably vegan,” but ultimately deleted this phrase “from the description of Thorson, as one commenter found it offensive.” I am not sure, however, if the intertwined yoga issues of spiritual hunger, popular ideals of slenderness, and strict vegetarian or vegan dieting, as embodied by devotees like Thorson, don’t deserve more serious consideration. This is not to slander veganism or vegetarianism; I know many people who are healthy vegans and vegetarians. However, I do wonder if people who take up yoga because they are insecure about their bodies or who are spiritual seekers looking for a life-changing experience are potentially at-risk for falling into dangerously restrictive diets that harm their health. The catch-22 of such diets is that they seem healthy and virtuous.

Today, I was reading a Daily Beast article by Danielle Friedman, “When Veganism is an Eating Disorder,”  and it struck me as significant that one of the interviewees was a yoga teacher:

“When Jill Miller reflects on her long, painful dance with veganism, anorexia, and bulimia, she remembers standing alone in her kitchen, binge-eating a tofu-cream pie. These episodes of stuffing herself with whipped soy—when what she really wanted was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s—stand out in her mind as a sign that her commitment to veganism was a cover for something darker. As do the many times that she turned down food with the seemingly innocent, even noble excuse that no one could argue with: Oh, sorry. I can’t eat that—I’m vegan.

“No prime rib and Yorkshire pudding at New Year’s with Grandpa,” says Miller. “This happened at every family event. I seized on the food theory of veganism to justify my desire to restrict. It was a convenient way to eliminate fat and calories,” she says. The shame, discomfort, and self-loathing represented by her eating habits defined much of her early life. When she was just 13, Miller became a vegetarian, in part for philosophical reasons, but mainly as an excuse to avoid her mom’s New Orleans-style chicken-fried steak and jambalaya. As she forged a career in yoga instruction, she further restricted her diet by going vegan, all the while struggling with an eating disorder that she kept under wraps.”

Marketing continually touts intense yoga, fasting, and detoxing as healthy, despite the dangers of such extreme practices. As the Daily Beast article describes, even a concern for health can become an obsession: “Recently, reports of “orthorexia” have captured headlines. Those who suffer from the controversial new disorder compulsively avoid foods thought to be unhealthy or unnatural, including products with trans fats, artificial colors, or flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. Often, orthorexics opt for a strict vegan diet. Some say orthorexia represents this dangerous slide from health to pathology.”

Here are some self-assessment questions from Dr. Steven Bratman, who devised the term orthorexia, originally from the website SheKnows:

1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about healthy food (for four hours, give yourself 2 points)?
2. Are you already planning tomorrow’s healthy menu today?*
3. Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
4. Has the quality of your life decreased since the quality of your diet has increased?
5. Do you keep getting stricter with yourself?
6. Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem when you are eating “right” and look down on others whose diets are not, in your eyes, healthy?
7. Do you skip foods you enjoy just to eat the “right” foods?**
8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat away from home?
9. Are you becoming socially isolated?
10. Do you feel guilty or hate yourself when you stray from your diet?
11. When you eat the “good” foods, do you feel a peaceful sense of total control?

Give yourself one point for each YES answer.
2-3 Points
: You may have a mild case of orthorexia. Be aware of your behavior.
4+ Points: You may have a modest case of orthorexia. You may need to relax your diet standards.
10 Points: You are obsessed with your healthy diet. You may need to seek professional help.”

*This does not mean planning a week’s menus so that you can shop for food once a week. Many people who work full-time must do this to make time for other activities. 
** This means compulsively, whether there is a good reason or not. Obviously someone who is trying to lose 20 pounds of body fat will need to use some self-control.


Is this the end result of the pressure to be thin and the popular associations between yoga, thinness, and virtuous eating?

Watch this video clip with BBC presenter Dawn Porter and American host Debbie Matenopoulous for the television special Super Slim Me, which critiques the drive to be a Hollywood-influenced size 0. Porter, a charmingly normal woman, attempts various Hollywood diets and explores many of the issues associated with extreme dieting. Yoga comes up in her trip from England to California.

At about minute 4:58, Debbie describes how she once went on an 18-day cleanse and fast, centered on doing yoga and not eating, before her friends staged an intervention. Putting on a dazed voice &  a meditation posture she mocks her then-attitude:

 “Food is just a distraction from what is really going on.” {Warning: may be triggering}

More thoughts tomorrow, including my concerns about one yoga memoir that I fear promotes dangerous dieting in the guise of healthy lifestyles and spiritual improvement.

“For God’s Sake, Woman, Sort Yourself Out!”

It’s been a busy week. I have been working on some articles planned to run at The Daily Muse–an interview with the delightful Susan Cain about introverts in the workplace and another on what yoga can teach you about career success. I interviewed Mandy Ingber and Kathryn Budig via email for the yoga piece, which was really exciting. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, featured this clip from the UK comedy show, “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” It’s The Triple Bind in sketch form: