Fearing Fullness by Lauren Minear

We live in a society that discourages fullness. We are conditioned to be hungry – for food, for a particular body shape, for certain accomplishments, or for products. Rarely are we encouraged to feel satisfied, to be content just as we are in the present moment.

In my personal and professional experience, women in particular (though not exclusively) feel ambivalent about physical and emotional sensations of fullness. Though as infants, we have an intuitive sense of when to eat, and when to stop eating, we live in a culture that interferes. A baby cries when she is hungry and turns her head away from her mother’s breast when she is full. She has a bodily sense of what she needs to feel satisfied. It is instinctive and non-verbal, grounded in awareness that the body is trustworthy and resilient. As she develops, she takes in her environment. She hears messaging from the media, from peers, and sometimes from her family, that tell her to eat less, eat more, or to eat particular things for optimal health. She learns how she should dress, what she should say, and how often she should exercise. She learns to take care of others, and to swallow her own needs. Somewhere along the way, feeling full can become a bad thing, an indication of having taken in too much. It can bring up anxiety around themes of body image, vulnerability, entitlement, and control.

What would it be like to reconnect with hunger and to enjoy feeling full? Try the sequence below to experiment using breath. Notice what feelings come up. Where in the sequence do you feel peaceful? Where do you feel anxious? Any surprises?

Note: Do not do this exercise if you have asthma, trouble breathing, or if you are pregnant. Stop if you feel dizzy or light-headed and take several long deep breaths to recover.

Find a comfortable seat. Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, or sit up on a folded blanket, yoga block, or any other support that allows your shoulders to stack over your hips and your knees to drop comfortably. Let your hands rest on your thighs with your palms facing up.

Begin by taking several long, deep inhales and exhales through the nose. Pay close attention to where your body holds tension, and focus your breathing in those places for a moment at a time.

On your next inhale, fill yourself up all the way. Expand your rib cage, allow the belly to inflate, and root down through your seat. When you think you are entirely full of breath or have the impulse to release it, suck a few more breaths of air in through your nose. Subtly draw your chin toward your chest. Hold for two counts.

Release slowly. Try to take up a full five counts before finding empty. Release your chin to neutral. Stay there. When you have the impulse to suck air in again, push just a little bit more out through the nose. Hold for two counts.

To release, take breath in slowly, and resume long, deep inhales and exhales.

Try this exercise several times, with at least three recovery breaths in between. If you would like, you can increase the number of counts that you hold the breath in and out to four, and then five. Do not practice retention on concurrent breaths.

Why Losing Body Image Stress is Healthier than Losing Weight by Lauren Minear

I am forever culling the internet for body-positive allies - for my clients and for my sanity. Imagine my delight when I found this article, written by an actual doctor, on how to make peace with your body and why it's critical to your health. 

Dr. Lewis lists 7 recommendations for healing body image. She even cites some of my favorite statistics: In spite of what the media says, weight is not a predictor of longevity and stressing about weight (no matter what size you are) creates negative health outcomes. In fact, people who are overweight live longer than those who are not, and it is far more life threatening to be underweight than to be overweight. The stigma and discrimination associated with being obese in this culture causes stress, psychological distress, and weight gain. Long story short, fighting fat helps no one.

I presented the same information in my first "Yoga for Better Body Image Workshop", as reported here by The Feminist Yogi. The next one is coming up on September 10th in NYC. In my personal and clinical experience, the skills learned through yoga (self-regulation, frustration tolerance, body acceptance, body responsiveness, limit-setting) support the monumental task that Dr. Lewis puts forth - developing a healthy relationship with one's body in an appearance-obsessed culture. Check out my blog post on this topic here. There is also a ton of research out there to support this. For starters, check out the Yoga Body Image Coalition or this study in the September 2016 volume of Body Image.

If you are going to be in the New York City Area on September 10th, you can sign up for my next Body Image Intensive Yoga workshop here! If not, feel free to reach out and let me know what I can do to help you on your journey. 

Photo source: Getty Images.

 

Therapeutic Yoga Classes in NYC by Lauren Minear

One of my students asked me for a round-up of therapeutic yoga classes in NYC. Here is what I can up with!

In general, the key words to look for are "therapeutic", "restorative", "yin", and "yoga nidra". "Vinyasa", "flow", or "ashtanga" classes will be more exercise-focused. 

1. "Lounging Lotus" at Laughing Lotus, Fridays 7-8:30pm.

This is straight Restorative Yoga, or the use of props to fully support the body through the process of physiological relaxation. There might be some light movement at the beginning to put you in touch with your body, but mostly, this class is about chilling out and clearing mental clutter. I find that many people think Restorative Yoga will make them tired, but it's actually quite energizing. Also check out "Restorative Flow". 

Click here to learn a bit more about Restorative Yoga and learn my favorite stress-relieving poses.

2. "Yin Yoga", "Yoga Nidra", "Slow Flow Yoga", & "Restorative Yoga" at Pure Yoga, various times throughout the week

 

I haven't actually taken class here (too far uptown for me), but one of my longtime private clients recommends Pure. "Yoga Nidra", or "yogic sleep", is a lot like progressive muscle relaxation. I combine it with restorative yoga in my "Yoga for Better Body Image" workshop and it is BLISS. Prepare to be more relaxed than you ever thought possible. 

If you're not a member, you can use ClassPass.

3. "Yin Yoga", "Restorative Yoga", "Gentle Yoga", "Deep Relaxation" at Integral Yoga Institute, various times

Yin Yoga involves active stretching with long holds (versus Restorative Yoga, in which all poses are passive). Gentle Yoga is always a good bet if you are injured, tired, sad, or needing some extra love and attention. "Deep Relaxation" combines Yoga Nidra with Pranayama (breathwork), and meditation. Integral also offers great condition-specific classes and workshops (e.g. Yoga for Arthritis, Yoga for Labor and Delivery).

4. "Therapeutics" at YogaWorks, various times & locations

Combines Restorative Yoga, breathwork, and meditation. ClassPass works here as well.  

5. "Flow & Restore w/Yoga Nidra" at ISHTA Yoga

 

Let me know if I'm missing any great therapeutic classes in the area! If you are looking for some one-on-one instruction, I also offer yoga therapy sessions in my office in the financial district. 

Living Without Shame by Lauren Minear

A friend shared this TED talk with me recently. Whitney does such a great job of getting to the bottom of issues such as body insecurity and size discrimination. As a clinician, I work with the basic premise that fat is not the enemy. It's what fat represents to people that causes emotional suffering. It's the projection of our shame onto marginalized bodies and the fear of being exposed as vulnerable that drives sizeist behavior - and normalizes disordered eating.

What would happen if we all took up space without feeling shame? What would happen if we stopped apologizing for ourselves? Is it possible that there is room for all of us in the world to simply be? Watch and learn...

--

"How do we handle self-perception when our bodies don't match the ideal social image? The answer is to find a way to live without shame. Greensboro native and dancer, whose viral video, "A Fat Girl Dancing," sparked a national conversation about body image".

5 Ways Yoga Improves Body Image by Lauren Minear

Cultivating a yoga practice can help you heal your relationship with your body.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), body image is defined as "how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind". It includes beliefs about your appearance, feelings about your shape and size, and how you feel in your body when you move.

Those with negative body image describe having a distorted perception of their shape or size; feelings of shame, self-consciousness, or anxiety about their body; feelings of discomfort or awkwardness in their body; and body hatred, feeling that their body is unattractive and a sign of failure.

Positive body image involves having an accurate perception or your size, shape, and parts; an acceptance of your body's natural shape; an understanding and acceptance of the fact that a person's character is not defined by how they look; feelings of pride about your unique shape; a refusal to spend a lot of time worrying about food and weight; and a feeling of confidence and comfort in the body.

I find, and research supports, that practicing yoga helps to cultivate positive body image. It does so by teaching the skills necessary to have a neutral or enjoyable embodied experience. The objectification and sexualization of bodies by the media is undeniable and overwhelming. We cope by internalizing it, viewing our own bodies with the same critical, hyper-sexualized eye as does the media that we consume. The yoga practice brings us inside of ourselves and back in touch with our subjective awareness so that we are free to choose what we want based on how we feel rather than based on how we think we appear to others.

1. Relaxation

Complete physiological relaxation takes about ten minutes. I find that many people have never experienced it before practicing yoga. Simply feeling the release of control is can be ground breaking for anyone who spends energy scanning the environment for cues or wondering "how do I look?". One of my clients had a major breakthrough when she relaxed for the first time in a restorative yoga pose, tasting a moment of compassion for herself that enticed her to continue her work.

2. Body Awareness

Objectification takes us out of the body. It instructs us to look outside of ourselves for cues about when to eat, sleep, drink, and feel. Mindful movement through yoga poses asks the practitioner to observe physical sensations in the body without judgement, which increases attunement to and discernment between internal cues in daily life (e.g. hunger, fullness, fatigue, boredom).

3. Body Responsiveness

Noticing the body leads to responding to the body. The yoga practice invites practitioners to listen to their bodies, to respect painful sensations, neutral sensations, & pleasurable sensations. (I find that this concept feels vague to many people. Click here to watch a video discussion of me and Kathryn C. Holt addressing what it means to listen to the body, as well as how to do it).

4. Frustration Tolerance

Yoga asks people to challenge the physical body to hold postures that are at times uncomfortable, while soothing and regulating the emotions that come up during discomfort. The practice of sitting with discomfort with the knowledge that it will end is incredibly healing.

5. Boundary-setting

Practicing yoga is all about respecting personal boundaries - pushing oneself, but not to the point of breaking; opening one's heart, but not to the point of harm. Body image sufferers are more attuned to what others expect of them than they are to what they need. The yoga practice cultivates the practice of self care.

Subscribe to my email list to hear about my next Yoga for Better Body Image workshop! 

20-Minute Yoga Practice For Immediate Stress Relief by Lauren Minear

Peter Levine, who developed a psychobiological method for resolving trauma symptoms called Somatic Experiencing, writes that "when faced with threat, the body and mind mobilizes a vast amount of energy in preparation for the 'fight or flight' response. This preparedness is supported by an increase and diversion of blood flow and release of 'stress hormones' like adrenaline and cortisol (Nature's Lessons in Healing Trauma)". Biologically speaking, all of that energy must be released in order for the body to return to normal homeostatic functioning. This is called completion and resolution.

Restorative Yoga, the use of props to support the body and mind in comfort and ease to facilitate health and healing, is a remarkable tool for resolving the effects of chronic stress. The process of physiological relaxation, which takes about 15 minutes, results in a slowing of the heart rate, brain waves, and breath rate, as well as muscle release and the activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which inhibits the production of stress hormones.

This is the 20-minute restorative practice that I used on a morning when I felt stuck in "fight or flight" from the stresses of daily life and work. 20 minutes of restorative practice daily does wonderful things for sleep, anxiety, and peace of mind. It is well suited for anyone who is exposed to chronic stress. If, as my teacher, Jamie Lyn Skolnick says, "stress is like plaque", then Restorative Yoga is like brushing your teeth.

1. Supported Seated Angle Pose

Find a space where you can sit, uninterrupted for 20 minutes. Arrange three blocks as pictured, one at it's highest height, and two at middle height. Prop a bolster against the blocks and stack with blankets until comfortable. Support the knees with blanket rolls and the hands with blocks or more blankets. You can also do this pose with fewer props by simply folding over a bolster, stack of pillows, or stack of blankets. Just make sure that you are supported enough to completely relax. Spend 2-5 minutes with your head turned to the right. Gaze toward the right shoulder and then close your eyes. Spend 2-5 minutes with your head turned to the left. This pose is particularly good if you are feeling anxious or have menstrual cramps.

2. Basic Relaxation Pose

Lay on your back with a blanket under your head. Roll up the edge to support your neck. Support the knees with with a bolster or a thick roll of two blankets. Support the ankles with a blanket roll. Allow your arms to fall out to your sides. Cover your eyes with an eye pillow or towel, and weight your hands with small pillows. I am using blankets here to weight my lower body, which is very grounding. You can also draw an open blanket over your entire body. It's important that you are warm and feel held. Stay here for at least 10 minutes, more if you have time. Basic Relaxation Pose with the knees elevated reduces fatigue, stress, anxiety, and insomnia. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and enhances immune system function.

Peter uses the example of an impala being chased by a cheetah to illustrate the physiological stress response. The impala is flooded by stress hormones, freezes in fear to ward off his predator, and then literally shakes to discharge the energies it mobilized for survival. I used a visualization during this pose of myself as an animal frozen in fear, and imagined the stress seeping from my heart and stomach into my limbs and out through my fingers and toes.

If either of these poses is not accessible to you, please contact me for additional variations. I look forward to writing more about Restorative Yoga, and would love to know if you have any specific questions. I am also available for Skype sessions and consults if you need help getting set up.

How to Make Your Yoga Class More Inclusive by Lauren Minear

Teaching a body positive yoga class takes both self-examination and preparation. Many teachers come to this line of work because they enjoy their yoga practice and/or because they are good at it. Teaching from an advanced practice may serve similar people and teachers well, but it might also exclude those in non-stereotypical yoga bodies.

This random screenshot of recent Yoga Journal covers illustrates my point:

The majority of these bodies are female, thin, white, and athletic; which does not accurately represent the population of humans who are able to benefit from practicing yoga. 

For any teacher who is interested in developing body positive yoga teaching skills, I have compiled a list of suggestions and guidelines for teaching an inclusive, body positive yoga class.

Instruct and Demonstrate Pose Modifications.

Students who practice more advanced expressions will explore them on their own. You can also cue those verbally. However, I always instruct and demonstrate a modified pose for several reasons: 

  1. My students are looking to me to set limits. I can tell them verbally to listen to their bodies and modify poses as needed, but if I don't embody that, then I risk shaming those do. 
     
  2. I'm also modeling self-care and safe practice. It is not safe for me to stretch my body into an advanced posture when I am not warmed up. Many teachers get injured this way.
     
  3. My teaching is not about showing off my practice. It's about creating a safe healing space for students. The version of a pose that I can or cannot do is irrelevant.
     
  4. It discourages competition. Yoga philosophy teaches that yoga is not a competitive sport, but the reality is that we live in a competitive society. I find that people will compete with themselves and others and push their bodies past their limits unless I expressly give them permission not to.

Don't Assume That Transitions Are Simple or Easy.

Someone in a larger body, for example, may not be able to transition from sitting to standing quickly if given the cue to "stand up". For others, lunging forward is inaccessible. I would teach every phase of transitions - roll to one side, come to all fours, press into the hands, tuck the toes, etc...This not only increases access to your class, but it teaches non-violent movement to all bodies. With a short cue such as "come to stand", many people will jerk themselves up and reverse the benefits of previous work. For lunges, you can instruct a step back from a forward fold, rather than a step forward from downward-facing dog.

HINT: To figure out how to cue transitions that feel seamless in your body, break them down into small movements that oppose gravity.

Don't Use Competitive Language.

I promise you that most of your students have self-critical, competitive tapes on repeat already. They don't need another one.

Don't Make Body or Food-Related Comments

My single biggest pet-peeve when taking a yoga class (and a quick way to ensure that I never come back) is commentary about food & body. Yoga teaches non-violence and non-attachment. Neither are practiced through "burning off turkey" at Thanksgiving or "shaping your bikini muscles" in the summer. I understand why teachers do this, and believe that their intentions are good, but I cannot emphasize enough how exclusionary, traumatizing, and shaming food & body comments can be for students in larger bodies, students with different abilities, students with trauma, those in recovery from an eating disorder, student with negative body image, and of course, me.

Be Trauma-Sensitive

Yoga is incredibly healing. Parts of the practice can also be quite triggering (e.g. deep breathing, closing the eyes, unexpected touch). Don't physically adjust people you don't know, and always offer compassionate alternatives to breathwork and meditation. Rather than focusing on the breath, you can cue people to focus on a spot in the room or a beautiful, soothing memory. Rather than closing the eyes for meditation, you can cue people to soften their gaze. Make sure to explain what that means (soft smile, droopy eyes, fixed gaze). If you need help learning trauma-sensitive teaching techniques, please contact me for a consultation.

Be Kind to Your Self

Model what you teach. Allow for pauses and mistakes. Breathe, smile, and make eye contact. Compassion is contagious.

How To Buy Yoga Props Without Breaking the Bank by Lauren Minear

Yoga props are critical to any home yoga practice, but there is no need to spend a lot of money to buy them. You can get the basics for under $50. The rest, you can build over time. As a start, I recommend a 1/4 inch Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat by YogaAccessories. These mats cost about $20, and are extra thick and extra long to accommodate bodies of all shapes and sizes.

I also recommend purchasing at least two blocks, and one strap. These are my wallet-friendly favorites:

YogaAccessories 4-Inch Foam Block: $8.99

Once you have the basics taken care of, you can start to build on luxury items. Perhaps the single nicest thing you can do for yourself is to purchase a lavender-scented eye pillow. Seriously. I own three so that I can cover my eyes and also weight my hands in restorative poses. I recommend pillows with removable covers that you can throw in the washing machine. This guy is available for as little as $7.49.

One or two blankets are nice to have for support. If you have a Restorative Yoga practice, I recommend building a collection of six. I love these because they come in solid colors, but they are a bit pricey at $26-$39 each.

These traditional blankets are $16.49 each.

Bolsters are a splurge item, but it's worth buying a good quality one. If they are too bulky or have an awkward shape, they can feel difficult to maneuver. My favorite is this Hugger Mugger Standard Choice Bolster, which starts at $60.75. If you have a Restorative Practice, build up to a collection of two bolsters.

 

Please comment with any additional questions!

 

 

5 Tips for Starting a Home Yoga Practice by Lauren Minear

One of the questions that I hear most often from both clients and friends is: How do I start a home yoga practice? Many are concerned that they don't have time or space, which is pretty legitimate here in NYC. Others get on their mats and then don't know what to do, or can't let go enough to just move.

My home yoga practice is sacred. I truly treasure the time that I spend alone on my mat, making an effort to give my body and mind what they need. It didn't come easily, though, let me tell you. I would get on my mat and want directions. I couldn't let go. It literally took years to become attuned enough to myself to be able to really practice. Much of that came from observation. I noticed that during times of trauma or transition, I often couldn't move. I would find myself lying on the floor in savasana without any interest in getting up. During times of conflict, my practice fired up. It became more rigorous and physical. In times of anxiety, I needed repetition - breathwork, or a Kundalini kriya to quiet the mind before I could move. The work, for me, was in accepting these needs, and in releasing my expectations of what a yoga practice should be.

Looking back on my experience, I can offer some concrete suggestions for those looking to start a home practice.

1. Start Small

Make a commitment that you can stick to. I suggest 5-10 minutes of movement or a Headspace meditation. Just get in the habit of being alone on your yoga mat.

2. Make Space

Find a corner in your home or apartment and designate it as your home practice space. Store your mat and props close by, and make keeping the space neat a part of your practice. Folding blankets is a lovely meditation.

3. Use Structure

You have to learn the rules to break them. Find a sequence in a book or on a blog that you like. Start with gentle stretching and move on to sun salutations. Maybe that's all you do. Try some standing poses, twists, backbends, and forward bends. Always practice savasana. You might need to rest more than you need to move.

4. Let Go

Your practice is enough. You are enough. You don't have to move more or less that you do. I truly used to believe that I needed to take a rigorous Vinyasa class for my practice to "count". I was wrong, and in my experience, this mindset leads to injury.

5. Move your Spine

If nothing else. Honestly, this is sometimes all I need. Here are two simple, short home practice ideas that move the spine and settle the mind in under 5 minutes!

Kundalini Side Twists

Kundalini kriyas are repetitive actions that energize the body and clear the mind. Twists are particularly balancing, especially if you have a lot of fire in you (like me). Kundalini Side Twists are my favorite when I feel indecisive or overwhelmed. Sit on a block. Squeeze the inner thighs together to stabilize the pelvis. Take fingertips to your shoulders. Inhale to twist left left and exhale right. Start with 26 repetitions. Release the tongue to the top of your mouth behind your teeth to relax the jaw. Finish be inhaling deeply, retaining the breath briefly, and releasing

Cat/Cow Warmup

This is probably my go-to sequence when I need to move but don't have much time. Come to hands and knees, and measure right angles in the knees and wrists using a block. A mirror is also helpful (you'll see me using the camera to check my angles). I like to practice with my fingertips externally rotated by 180 degrees to face my knees. You can also keep your fingertips facing forward forward or externally rotate them 90 degrees to the left and right. You'll know that you have an external rotation if your inner elbows face forward. If the bony sides of the elbows are facing forward, then you need to rotate in the opposite direction.

Inhale to curl the spine and drop your head for cat pose. Press into the mat with your hands and the pinky-toe sides of your feet. Exhale to arch the spine for cow pose. Repeat 26 times. Speed up if you tend to move slowly and slow down if you tend to move quickly. Finish with a long inhale. Exhale to drop your hips to your heels for child's pose and sit up on your heals. Breathe here for a few seconds to recover.

Thank you for reading and watching. Please let me know what you think!

[Originally written and posted 2/2/15; edited and reposted 5/24/16]

Neck Health and The Practice of Not Doing by Lauren Minear

Let's talk about neck health...

Last weekend, I spent three days alternatively crouching over a notebook, practicing restorative yoga poses, and adjusting classmates. My neck muscles weren't strong enough for all of that sitting, and on Sunday evening, they froze. I literally couldn't lift my head off of the couch!

This week, I have been slowly working toward a near full-range of movement using therapeutic exercises. I've been thinking, though, about how much I take my ability to move for granted, and how connected it is to my mood. (I'm writing now from an apartment in disarray, as I haven't felt motivated to do much of anything all week). 

The upside was lots of time for restorative yoga practice. I swear, it's better than nap time.

It's ironic, really, to injure oneself in a restorative yoga teacher training. The weekend itself was a profoundly productive and healing experience for me, and Restorative Yoga is really the practice of not doing. As such, I've been thinking that perhaps I needed more rest than I thought. I'm reminded of a cue given to me by a professor in Social Work school: "Don't just say something, sit there".

I'll take it one step further: Don't just do something, be there.

Movement heals, but I'm starting to think that we need to do less of it. Early in my yoga practice, I would often take a rigorous Vinyasa class every day. These days, my practice is more of a restorative and therapeutic exploration with the occasional class thrown in, or the odd run when I need fresh air and freedom. If anything, my health has improved, and my sleep is better for it. I am injured less. This week, it has been interesting to observe myself in this place of not doing, without my usual "get up and go". If I detach myself from it a bit, it's actually quite peaceful.

For those of you who spend a lot of time sitting, it is important to strengthen your neck muscles so that they can hold up your head. Try these exercises, and let me know what you think. While you are practicing them, breathe in "rest" and breathe out "restore".


Take a seat in a chair or on a block. Make a fist with your right hand, cover it with your left, and lightly press your hands into one another (about 3-5 lbs of pressure) while also drawing your shoulder blades together on your back. Close your eyes and visualize holding a pencil between your shoulder blades. Hold for five long, complete breaths, and repeat on the other side.

Take your right hand to the right side of your head. Nestle the heal of your hand right under the ridge of the skull just in front of the ear. Lightly resist your head with your hand and your hand with your head. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the left side.

You're probably starting to get the idea here. Clasp your hands behind your head and resist your head with your hands, hands with your head. You're not actually moving anything, just holding the tension. Hold for five breaths - inhale "rest", exhale "restore".

Finish up by pressing your clasped hands into your forehead. Maintain the resistance and breathe deeply. You can experiment with the order of these six exercises and do what feels best, but try to take five or ten minutes out of the workday to strengthen your neck and restore your mind.

[This article was originally posted on February 2, 2015;edited and reposted on May 24, 2016]