Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley are doing some of the most important work in the yoga community. Both women are committed to writing about the complicated relationship between yoga, body image and feminism. So it’s natural that they should team up and co-edit a collection of essays exploring this tricky territory. Yoga + Body Image will be ready for the world in 2014. Melanie has all the details below – read on!
It is with great pleasure that Anna Guest-Jelley and I officially announce our anthology on Yoga + Body Image forthcoming in 2014.
I first met Anna almost three years ago. I was introduced to her work through her blog post “Welcoming the Curvy Yogini.” Not only did Anna’s words speak to me but I was taken by her brief bio at the bottom wherein she described herself as “an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night.” Given my work as a Sociology + Women’s Studies professor and my activist work, I felt I had stumbled upon a kindred spirit.
Anna and I had our first phone conversation in 2011 and the synergy was palpable. We immediately realized that we had to collaborate on a project. After a few months of percolating, we realized that it only made sense to collaborate on a book focusing on yoga and body image.
Why Body Image
We decided on this topic not only because it’s something we’re both passionate about, but because it’s one we don’t see discussed often enough in the yoga community. Because for something that is often so focused on the body, yoga classes and conversations rarely include the topic of how we feel about our body and how yoga affects our body image and vice versa.
And to us, that is a major gap in the conversation — not only how individuals’ body image can benefit from yoga, but also how yoga has a complicated place in the conversation about body image, both contributing to negative perceptions via media stereotypes of the “yoga body” and contributing to positive change when the practice is focused on connection with one’s body, exactly as it is today.
While Anna and I could have written a book on yoga and body image on our own based on our own transformative experiences, we were and are fiercely committed to bringing together a diverse collection of voices that span across race/ethnicity, sexuality and sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, sex, class, age and size.
Yoga practitioners and those plagued by distorted body image issues do not come in a uniform mold. We wanted to reach readers of different backgrounds, casting a wide net and allowing people to draw inspiration from at least one contributor’s body image journey and how their yoga practice facilitated that transformation.
We closed a publication deal in January 2013. We’re so very excited and honored to be working with the fine folks of Llewellyn to bring this book to fruition.
And we are thrilled to announce our fabulous contributors, a group of people from the United States, Canada, Australia & New Zealand, who reflect the diversity of experiences we intended to showcase from the inception of the project. We invited each of these thoughtful and inspiring yogis because of their unique perspective and ability to contribute to the critical conversation we wish to create — a wide one about how yoga affects body image. We want this to pique the interest of people who never thought yoga was for them, as well as deepen the conversation among people who are already part of the yoga community.
Without further ado, here are our contributors:
Vytas Baskauskas: Yoga teacher at Yoga Works + Bryan Kest’s Santa Power Yoga, Professor of Mathematics at Santa Monica College
Dr. Audrey Bilger: Professor of Literature & Faculty Director of the Center for Writing & Public Discourse at Claremont McKenna College; Co-editor of Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage; Author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen
Dianne Bondy: Yoga teacher, writer about yoga & diversity and founder of Eastside Yoga in Windsor, Ontario
Seane Corn: Internationally celebrated yoga teacher, activist and co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World
Claire Mysko: Speaker, consultant and author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby and You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self
Nita Rubio: Priestess of the Tantric Dance of Feminine Power
Linda Sparrowe: Editor of Yoga International and author of A Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness (with Patricia Walden); Yoga for Healthy Bones; Yoga for Healthy Menstruation; and Yoga: A Yoga Journal Book
Joni Yung: Executive producer and host at Yoga Chat with the Accidental Yogist and Associate Editor at LA Yoga Magazine
We are honored to have such a fine collection of intellectuals, educators, activists, yoga practitioners and yoga teachers. We are sending each of these people our gratitude for being part of this dialogue. Big thanks to our agents, Elyse Tanzillo & Frank Weimann of The Literary Group International, too.
Finally, we’re extending our thanks to you, too — for supporting us along the way, and for being part of this conversation as it unfolds.
We’ll keep you updated as we go! To stay connected:
Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, is a holistic system that addresses the whole person- physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Ultimately, the intention of yoga is to unify body and mind. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition that values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body. The result is what is referred to as the mind-body split. Susan Bordo describes this duality in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body,p. 144:
I will begin with the most general and attenuated axis of continuity, the one that begins with Plato, winds its way to its most lurid expression in Augustine, and finally becomes metaphysically solidified and scientized by Descartes. I am referring, of course, to our dualistic heritage: the view that human existence is bifurcated into two realms of substances: the bodily or material, on the one hand; the mental or spiritual, on the other.
Not only has our total being been split into the mind, or intellect and the body, or material, but they’ve been ranked in a hierarchy. Of these two planes, the mind has been, and continues to be, more highly valued than the body, a realm deemed synonymous with the “unpredictable” and “dangerous” realm of nature and the feminine. In addition to the devalue of the physical body, the intellect has been placed in charge of controlling the body. In essence, enforcing the will of the intellect and trampling over the body’s innate ability to communicate.
How does the body communicate? Through feeling or sensation, of course.
According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who studies teenage girl’s desire,”They respond to questions about how their bodies feel-questions about sexuality or arousal-by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.
As I pointed out in How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part I, according to veteran yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, everyone wants to look pretty, or look good according to a culturally constructed and myopic standard, in order to feel good. But as Orenstein and Tolman detail, pretty is not a feeling. Pretty is an outward aesthetic based on an elusive and ephemeral ideal.
The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power with Nita Rubio.
Watching Nita dance is watching poetry in motion.
Witnessing Nita is witnessing the Goddess.
Nita has long been a secret treasure for women in Los Angeles and Orange County,whose reach and influence is growing. Flowing with grace, wisdom and strength, Nita empowers women by “aligning them with their internal compass.” In a female-only space, women have the opportunity to turn inward, identify beauty devoid of the male gaze and dance spirit into being.
For over a decade, Nita has been passing on the ancient wisdom of the divine feminine, a sacred element contained in every woman waiting to be accessed. Through this work, Nita guides women as they access that wisdom. In doing so, women come in contact with the knowing of the body and are able to enliven, heal, create community and recognize the Goddess as they stand before the mirror and behold themselves. Tapping into these gifts is made possible by the energetic container that Nita facilitates, a container marked by female solidarity and support.
Whatever your stance on goddesses is, as a woman, you can’t deny the power of that statement.
“The cervix is the seat of the goddess.”
I’ve been practicing what is known as The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power with my teacher, Nita Rubio, for 5 years and I’ve had more than a handful of powerful moments in the sacred, female-centered space she facilitates (one of the few spaces in which the “male gaze” is not present). Revisiting my battle with my body after giving birth has been rough to say the least. Instead of basking in my body’s ability to create, sustain and give life, I’ve resorted to full blown body bashing and self-loathing. To hear Nita state, “the cervix is the seat of the goddess,” as I moved into a full body meditation immediately shifted my perspective on my body and my relationship to my body (at least for a few moments) and gave me something to ponder long after class was over that Tuesday night.
In that moment and for several following, my anger, disappointment and frustration was mixed with a sense of gratitude, reverence and respect. Too often we view our bodies as an object to manipulate and control. When our body doesn’t live up to some of our wildly unrealistic expectations, we engage in negative self-talk and equally destructive body practices. The internal critical dialouge and punishing rituals we engage in to force our body to do as it is told is nothing short of an abusive relationship with ourselves.
How would we and how can we treat our bodies differently by shifting our perspective on, our image of, and our relationship to our bodies, bodies that carry us through the world, allowing us to experience life in all its good and bad?
Whether or not you abide with goddess worship, or have a clear understanding of feminist spirituality and the place of the goddess in that tradition, the idea that the cervix is the seat of the goddess, establishes (or re-establishes) a sense of wonder about our physical forms. Instead of seeing our bodies as taken-for-granted physical vehicles, our bodies become a source of magic and beauty.
When I look at my son’s body, see it work, watch it develop, I am in awe. It is pure perfection, beauty, a miracle. I don’t remember the last time I felt that way about on my body. Is my body any less miraculous because of my scar and the extra pounds I’m currently carrying? According to images and messages in the dominant culture the answer is an unequivocal, yes.
Listen, I haven’t reached total body enlightenment. I’m still grappling with the negative fat talk in my head. But, Nita and my son reminded me of the beauty that is me and when I believe it again whole-heatedly, I will truly be whole, truly at peace.
So often we women are quick to judge other women and I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone given the suspicion and competition that is encouraged between girls and women in the media and the culture at large.
Skinny bitch. Slut. Ho.
Those are just some of the names we hurl at other women that we don’t think we have anything in common with. We judge other women on their hair, clothing, color, size and relationship status. We assume that we won’t like one another and don’t bother to take a chance. Now, I am not saying we’ll have commonalities and connections with every women we may come across but we certainly have the potential for connection and solidarity with a more diverse group of women than we imagine.
I wrote about this in September 2008 after I returned from one of the many women-centered retreats I have helped organize and attended with my teacher, Nita Rubio, and the women I have circled with over the years. But, since that last retreat, I entered my second trimester, had a beautiful baby boy and lost my sense of self and sisterhood in the process.
It’s easy to do when you’re recovering from a c-section and adjusting to the needs of new baby. Somewhere in the process my individual identity got mixed up with the dirty diapers and pumping.
This past weekend was my first weekend away from my boy since he was born last February. It was my first weekend immersed with a group of women that gathered with intention in a sacred female space in over a year.
I forgot how much I needed this despite my clear sense of longing and isolation as I nurtured my newborn babe.
Even so, I found myself with the same tendency to judge. We were 13 women among the Joshua Trees of the desert, away from partners, children, and careers. I have known many of the women for years in circle, many I had never met. Despite teaching Women’s Studies and lecturing on the division that is encouraged among women and despite the enriching experiences I have had with my community of women, I still find myself quick to stereotype and judge.
As always, I was confronted with my judgements and the walls I erected hastily were smashed and I was able to meet a plethora of amazing women of various walks of life. I am grateful for the ability to move past these superficial boundaries more quickly than I was able to as a young woman but the fact that these judgements still arise is noteworthy and troubling.
By the end of our 4 days communing together in the desert over delicious food, in the hot tub, in the sacred dance, late night wine, laughter and deep conversation I felt deep gratitude for the lessons I was offered and the reminder that we women have a lot to offer one another if we can move beyond our culturally embedded assumptions and suspicions.
Sisterhood is still powerful.
To read Nita Rubio’s post on this past weekend, click here.
Picture taken by Nita Rubio. Joshua Tree Highlands, 2010.
Nita Rubio was born and raised in Southern California in a liberal household. Nonetheless, women’s rights, women’s studies, and female empowerment were not things inherently included in this liberalism. Luckily, spirituality and creativity were highly regarded and served as the pathway for self-discovery and deep personal inquiry. At the age of 18, Nita began to read authors such as Carol Christ, Luisah Tesh, Riane Eisler and more. This impacted her deeply and it was incredibly exciting to know of these women who viewed the personal as political and that even the paradigm of patriarchy needed to be extracted from our spiritual beliefs. Following this new way of perceiving her walk in the world, Nita was formally ordained as a Priestess through Woman Mysteries of the Ancient-Future Sisterhood. Although this mystery school teaches many
spiritual arts, its rare inclusion is that of the need for its Priestess’s to fully explore the extent of misogyny held deeply in the feminine body. Nita has been teaching the core work of the lineage, The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power for the last 13 years. At this time, Nita is passionate about learning and teaching the matriarchal and tribal roots of Tantra and helping women to explore the depths of power viscerally held in their bodies.
My “click” moment: At the age of 17 or 18 I was in a deeply rebellious mode and was down in Mexico with friends and boyfriend. Lots of partying, fun and frolicking. A girlfriend and I had walked to the car to get more beers and were approached by two other guys asking for some beer (but, of course, really looking to pick us up.) Our response of “no” was repeatedly ignored again and again. It got tiresome and irritating as the intensity of the requests increased. Finally I blurted out “We have boyfriends” and those seemed to be the magic words for those guys to leave us in peace. We returned to the party but I couldn’t engage. I felt uneasy and disturbed by the interaction. About 15 minutes later the answer to my uneasiness came in like a lightning bolt. We had to belong to other men to be left alone. Our simple “no” had not been good enough. I felt sick. And awake all of a sudden. Just after that I read The Women’s Room by Marilyn French which profoundly affected me.
Personal role model: All women who have taken the risk of personal loss to no longer compromise the calling of their Spirit.
My issues/concerns: That women don’t know what they don’t know. I am concerned that women’s studies (at least when I went to school) are an elective. I am concerned about the height and frenzy of the media and celebrity that contributes to the disassociation of our bodies and our own internal desires. I am concerned that women are still slaves all over the world and that this seems to be acceptable.