fitspo: what is it, and why does it matter?

This month I’m going to be writing about toxic fitness culture – what I call fitspo. 

It’s important, and hopefully by the end of the post you’ll agree with me.

What is fitspo?

The moniker “fitspo” comes from the instagram tag for “fitness inspiration”. Another interchangeable phrase: toxic fitness culture.

“Fitness” and even “wellness” in America generally means:

  1. slim
  2. able-bodied (or “inspirationally” disabled)
  3. youthful
  4. athletic/strong
  5. white and/or light-skinned
  6. a “positive mindset”
  7. affluent or giving the appearance of wealth and ease

A simple “yoga” tag search for on Instagram, currently our largest social media platform, is illuminating (notice – even the illustrations are skinny!):

"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington
"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington

(also note the tag “yoga” yields almost all physical/asana work – no mention of ethics, social observances, pranayama, philosophy, or history. But those are topics for another day!)

Who is welcome, in the fitspo world?

Youthful, slim, athletic (strong), racially and socioeconomically statused individuals are seen as more worthy and more desirable than their counterparts.

Fitspo ties in with our race, our age, our body shape and size, our socioeconomic class. You can’t really separate fitspo from patriarchal and white supremacist constructs.

But perhaps more than anything else, fitspo incorporates and supports ableism.

What is ableism?

Ableism places “well” bodies, “healthy” bodies, and able-bodied individuals as morally, ethically, and pedagogically superior to sick, unhealthy, or disabled individuals.

I don’t need to be a disabilities scholar to spell this one out.

We all know ableism is real, if we are honest.

If we haven’t felt ableism’s sting – well, that is probably because we’ve been operating from our own little bubble. If we haven’t been excluded or maligned, that’s because we fit in, in some way or other.

For instance I’m white; most fitness influencers you see out there, certainly the ones who get acclaim and book deals et cetera – most of them are white. So my entire life, I’ve been in the “in crowd” – at least with regards to race – in the fitness and fitspo world.

I am also able-bodied (at this time in my life) – so again, experiences like mine are spotlighted and held up as the “norm”.

In other ways, I don’t fit in so much. I’m old (at least according to the fitness world) and I’m fat, so in that sense I’m definitely sidelined. (I happen to currently be very strong and bendy – but most people don’t expect that, just by looking at me). I’m nonbinary, and boy oh boy are we excluded from discourse – everywhere!

It should go without saying: we shouldn’t have to be young, fit, thin – any of those things – to be included, welcomed, and supported in the physical movements space.

Aren’t you making a big deal of nothing? Isn’t it a good thing, to want to be in shape?

Sure! Kinda.

There is nothing wrong with working to be stronger, more mobile, and have more energy reserves. There is nothing inherently wrong with a workout!

In fact for the vast majority of human bodies, movement practice is recommended. 

But be careful.

Fitspo can still sidetrack you – even if you have the best of intentions!

Because remember: fitspo is above all about hierarchy, and trying to scramble into a place of cultural acceptance.

Fitspo tells us: we aren’t good enough, unless we’re better than other people.

And if we aren’t worthy, we should be TRYING to get more worthy.

In the fitspo world it is okay to be old, or fat, or not-white, or poor – as long as you’re putting in work to “better yourself”.

So when I say “be careful” I really mean it – because to the extent you buy into fitspo culture, you will suffer. Unfortunately, when we seek to “better ourselves” from a place of loathing, self-hatred, or even a sense of “less than”, lots of crummy things happen:

1. We won’t experience true joy in the process – because we are more focussed on the ends than the means;

2. We have a low tolerance for failure, injury, mishaps or slow progress;

3. We may end up aspiring to something that may not actually be appropriate or even achievable for us;

4. We are hyper-sensitive to what our fitness instructor thinks and/or the sleights (real or imagined) from our fitness community; 

5. After suffering from all the above ^^^ we usually give up on our movement practice, and blame *ourselves* for failing. This perpetuates a cycle of shame, sadness, and even apathy.

***

Trends in fitspo come and go – a few years ago there was a huge emphasis on being STRONG (mostly through weight lifting and so-called “clean” eating) but I’m reliably told that “heroin chic” is going to come back again (particularly with the skyrocketing popularity of Ozempic and other weight loss modalities).

So this month I invite you to look around the yoga space. Who isn’t there? And why are they missing?

Are we doing all we can, to let them know they are welcome?

(My Code of Conduct addresses that, at least in large part!)

I want something better than fitspo for myself, for my yoga space – and for the world at large.

The rest of this month, I’ll talk more about some antidotes to toxic fitness culture – and some constructive action we can take.

Resources:

“yoga” tag search on Instagram

“Understanding toxic fitness culture”, Ninjathlete at Medium.com

“How to talk about disability sensibly and avoid ableist tropes” , Shruti Rajkumar, NPR.org

Jonny Landels, male body image and strength coach

“I’m too old / fat / out of shape for yoga”

This last week – for the first time in my life – my feet lifted off the floor in the very tricky arm balance bakasana (or crow pose).

I am almost half a century old and a couple weeks ago – for the first time in my life! – I conquered that fear of falling on my face, and I had patiently gained the strength and core integrity to balance on my hands.

This is more impressive than you might realize!

It is a lot harder as an adult to learn new physical skills or feats of strength – than it is to return to habits of childhood!

I didn’t grow up with any gymnastics, calisthenics, or attendant practice. When you see me doing what I can do – I had to earn that in adulthood, after decades of life, after giving birth to two children, and while living as a working class artist (meaning: life is hard!)

The hanumanasana (front splits) you see me chilling into, in class – well you are seeing me do something I’ve never done before.

I had to get there with these weathered bones and aged muscles! LOL

Another thing:

You also might have noticed I am fat. It’s true!

And –

It has to be said I don’t dress like a “yoga teacher”. I am not in fashionable leggings and a cute sports top. Half the time my hair gets in the way as we flow and I’m always trying to tie and push it back.

It’s not that I don’t take pride in how I dress, it’s that I have had to carefully allocate yoga funds to building the space. I’ve put retained yoga earnings into shelving, rent, security deposit, insurance, licensure etc etc. And that’s okay – because I made these priorities with intention.

Here’s what I mean, though:

It’s true I don’t look like a yoga teacher, or even a yoga practitioner.

But if I’d waited to start yoga until I “looked the part” –

I’d never have started.

***

Why am I sharing all this? Because:

I am trying to WREST the true nature of yoga away from the American fitspo culture chokehold.

If you scroll the Instagram “yoga” tag (Instagram is currently the largest social media platform out there) – you’ll see youthful, slim, mostly white, aspirationally-dressed and very athletic practitioners hitting difficult poses – usually showcased in elegant, pristine locations.

The truth is…

Yoga isn’t like that.

I mean SOME yoga will look like that – all tidy and slim and clean and wealthy or wealth-adjacent. And that’s just fine.

But…

If you wait to have all those ducks in a row, you’ll never start.

And precisely WHO is getting cheated if you skip yoga until you “look like” a yoga practitioner?

(Spoiler: YOU are getting cheated).

Yoga is messy and goofy. Yoga we’re practicing in a thousand-year old sports bra. Yoga we spy a hairball in the corner of the room as we’re moving to chill in our ardha kapotasana. Yoga is arriving almost-late to class and feeling cranky and annoyed. Yoga is getting a bitchy attitude that someone else in class can do a pose “better” than you. Yoga is accidentally farting in pavanmuktasana (hey, there’s a reason it’s called “wind-relieving pose”)!

Yoga isn’t about perfection.

It’s about daily intention – and the action to back our intensions up.

I’ve created the Little Switch Yoga space to be clean, reliable, and electric.

No hairballs! 🙂 I’ve created a peaceful space with good props, a lot of laughs and some music and tea to share!

I’ve carved out this space, right here in Grays Harbor.

There won’t be another space like it, if it goes.

Now is the PERFECT time for you to see if yoga can serve you –

The way it has served young and old, fat and thin, disabled and temporarily able-bodied, rich and poor.

You are worth going through this trouble.

You really are!

I’d love to see you on the mat!

We are now at the historic Vasa Hall!

Nothing ever is as hard as keeping good news to myself so when I tell you I have been BURSTING AT THE SEAMS trying to contain myself!

As of February, Little Switch Yoga will be operating at the historic Vasa Hall in Hoquiam.

Not to sound trite, but –

This is a dream come true for me!

I was very, very particular about the space I would take on.

The Vasa Hall is an incredible historic space in Hoquiam that has a long history – not just in regards to the original Swedish Vasa oganization, but in later iterations as a significant music venue.

It’s almost a hundred years old!

And yes, I went to high school dances there in its tenure as a Moose Hall! 

I am sad to say that so many historic buildings here are left to rot and die – not because we locals do not love our history but because we are an economically-depressed area, and it costs a lot of money to keep these buildings up.

Fortunately, a local construction group acquired the Vasa and has restored and upgraded it beautifully – absolutely beautifully! I am in good company next to the Red Cedar, Solid Coffee, and The Hive –  and we have another business taking up residence soon!

***

As for me?

My family goes deep, here in Hoquiam. My great grandparents settled here to start a family. Great-grandpa was an entrepreneur who lived and worked just a few blocks away from this very Hall. He was a titan of (tiny little) Hoquiam and flew the first mail plane to the Harbor!

I am a fourth-generation Hoquiam entrepreneur and I’m so proud of this.

I am also proud of the TYPE of enterprise I am bringing.

It’s different than anything we’ve previously had.

[gulp!]

My yoga space will prioritize constructive community effort, mental, emotional and physical strength-building, JOY, and the sacred space of interpersonal connection.

I will also host the only sliding-scale yoga business in the whole Harbor.

This is a big leap for me.

And I will be honest: I’m kind of nervous!

But it’s time for me to make a move!

Please keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked –

Because I’m canvasing the community (survey below)! –

And one of the best ways you can help, is to fill out that survey and check “yes” to staying on my email list!

***

A few more words.

Just last night after Sunday group I talked to two of my students. One of them said she almost started crying at the way I gave each student “permission” to stop pushing themselves in a certain pose.

We talked for a while – it felt so good to talk about something I love so much! – and I finally said:

“It takes time to overcome fitspo culture.”

I’ve talked about fitspo before. I’m not here to go on at length now.

But what I will say is this:

The reason people know yoga is good for them – but don’t make time to practice – is because we’ve been squeezed out of our own life.

We don’t deeply believe we deserve good things.

Maybe we know – IN THEORY – that we deserve good things.

But our actions show that we don’t make time for them.

Now – 

I can’t change someone’s mind, or someone’s priorities.

All I can do is offer up the absolutely best-engineered space possible for this wholesomeness, this blooming, this joy and electricity to flourish!

And that’s my commitment.

I hope I succeed.

I hope I can pay rent.

By the end of the year, I hope to pay myself even a little.

But.

I can only do my best.

Can I count on you for your support?

***

Another note: I simply cannot overstate my gratitude to Maija Nordin and Gayle Russell for letting Little Switch have a home in 2023. Without business owners helping me rent at a low price-point, I could not have built a practice that let me step into Big Boy rent.

As for Big Boy rent!

My expenses have gone UP, and within the next few weeks you’ll see my class offerings going up, as well.

I’ve been studying, crafting, and modeling several options AND I now have a survey!

Please trust I have worked very hard and put a lot of thought AND taken professional advice.

What I could use from YOU, is your feedback.

So please please, take time to fill out the survey!

You can do so, here!

This will help us all so much.

***

Finally:

I am so, so grateful for everyone who attended class in my studio in 2023! Each of you has a special surprise coming your way before the month is up! Make sure to stay on my email list and keep your eyes open!

I am so excited about this new move. It’s a BIG move and I know I’m bringing my best self. It’s time to let the community come together in a bigger way!

“yoga is for the willing, not the flexible”

Two of the biggest misconceptions I hear about yoga asana are:

1. Yoga is light stretching; and

2. Yoga is for peaceful, serene people

I’d like to address misconception #1 today – and get around to misconception #2 soon.

Yoga is not about “stretching” –

and you don’t need to be flexible to practice.

I heard it said a while back (and I’m not sure who to credit):

“Yoga is for the willing, not the flexible.”

I love that!

***

Listen – people associate yoga so much with “stretching” that they think the whole purpose is to be nice and bendy.

In fact we yoga teachers hear it all the time:

“I’d love to take yoga but I’m not flexible!”

So listen:

You get (more) flexible (and strong) by PRACTICING YOGA.

And even bendy people are often working hard in class, too!

I mean –

Do you really think that yoga practitioners are mostly just posing and showing off stuff that comes easily to us?

(Hint: not really!)

Yoga asana helps us GET strong, BECOME more flexible, and GAIN mobility.

To wit: I am forty-six years old and I can do things my body has never done before!

But I wouldn’t be here, if I hadn’t practiced.

Yoga GAINS you those things.

Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

And I encourage you not to compare yourself to others – ever.

Because there will always be someone stronger, more flexible, wearing more stylish yoga gear, someone younger – all that stuff.

I want to know if YOU want to feel better in your body, mind and spirit?

If so – 

Yoga may be just for you!

Remember:

You can practice yoga anywhere, anytime. Yoga doesn’t only “count” if you have a certain ability level, or if you practice a certain way, or for a certain duration.

ALL YOGA COUNTS.

My job as an instructor is to help YOU start to have fun in your practice!

Once you start enjoying yoga asana, you’ll come back.

And you’ll be on your way to reducing stress, feeling better, strengthening your body and your mind – 

and just chilling out a bit more!

It takes time, and it takes patience.

But time is passing anyway.

If you’re on my page, it’s probably because you want to make the most of our precious time on this green planet!

And I for one, am ready to practice WITH you!

See you soon!

– Agni

***

* A reminder!

“Yoga” means all eight limbs of yoga – a lot more than poses or a workout.

But for this particular post, I’m talking about yoga asana – the THIRD LIMB of yoga.

what if a yoga class is too hard?

If you are reading here you probably already know that not every yoga class is meant to be one of exertion: vigorous, sweaty, challenging, et cetera.

There are so many modalities of yoga – including Yin, Restorative, and Nidra for instance – that don’t really have what we might consider a “workout” type component.

However – many yoga classes – which are really asana classes, that is the Third Limb of Yoga, the poses – many yoga classes engage in these physical postures, whether moving slowly and holding asana or moving swiftly (sometimes called flow, vinyasa, or “power yoga” – more on why I don’t love that latter phrase, at a later date).

People who’ve gone to a yoga class or two, generally know that yoga is harder than it looks.

For example:

Last Monday’s class was a bit vigorous – to be honest, my go-to favorite style of class – and afterwards I noticed several students were sweating and saying – while SMILING, I might add – that the class was challenging. “I almost died!”  – followed by good-natured laughter.

Okay.

That’s fine. And fun!

But.

I think I want to touch on this because it’s kind of a personal thing and it’s worth saying.

***

Yoga can be hard or not-hard and YOU are the boss of that.

One of the goals with yoga, is to make yoga a regular thing that fits in with your life.

Maybe that means once a year you take a de-stressing workshop, using yoga pranayama.

Maybe that means three times a week you go to a sweaty hatha and vinyasa flow: building strength and mobility.

Or anything in between.

Remember: yoga is here for YOU. You don’t owe a dang thing to any particular teacher, studio, school, or yoga modality.

Yoga is here for YOU.

So when it comes to a class that’s “too hard” – or a class that stretches your limit –

that may, in fact, work for you.

It works for me!

Let me elaborate – again, speaking just for ME, personally:

I love classes that are a challenge, and I love watching my body become stronger, more mobile, more flexible, more open.

I love that I can lift my arms above my shoulders to reach things on high shelves.

I love how strong and open my back and neck feel, since practicing yoga.

And the truth is, I wouldn’t have these results if I wasn’t challenging myself in difficult classes.

But:

There is another – perhaps deeper – reason I love challenging classes.

When I take a difficult class, my mind is forced into the present moment.

I can’t possibly bring my mental baggage, my fears, my grievances, my upsets – 

Maybe they’re with me when I’m driving to class, or even while I roll out my mat. 

Maybe even while I’m trying to compose myself in our first restful pose.

But my mental preoccupations won’t last long in a challenging class.

In a challenging class, very soon I am focusing on my body, tuning into both my interoception and proprioception (those are real and scientific concepts), I am sweating a little or even shaking, I am feeling frustration and elation in turns, I am feeling SO amazed by my own body, I am feeling various emotions about the instructor 🙂 – 

In short, in a challenging class I am GUARANTEED to get “out of my head” and into my body, in a very big way.

The benefits I experience from this physical, mental and emotional reset cannot be overstated.

So while I do also love Yin, Restorative, Nidra – or just a good old fashioned gentle stretching class –

For me, strength-building classes, and especially those that involve creativity, mobility work and laughter – 

these are going to be CORE in my life for a long time to come.

***

But here’s the thing.

YOU are not ME.

YOU have your own needs.

Perhaps you are recovering from illness, surgery, or any kind of difficult situation – and you just aren’t ready to vigorously engage.

Maybe you’ve been traumatized by the world of fitspo, orthorexia, fatphobia and fitness worship.

Perhaps you live with chronic illness, or any kind of situation that means your resources are extra low – right now, or for a while.

And while maybe a vigorous class is JUST the right medicine for someone in those situations –

maybe it’s not right for YOU.

I encourage YOU to find a yoga class – in person, online, with a friend, from a book or a YouTube channel – 

that works for YOU and where you are today.

I encourage you – do not try to compare, or “keep up” with someone else, or any of that.

It can be scary to not only be honest about your needs – but to accept your needs, and move forward with self-compassion.

It can be scary sometimes because sometimes we don’t know what we want, or what we need.

But I’ll tell you something I know for sure:

You won’t know, until you try something new.

***

Now coming up here in November, I have a gratitude series.

If this is something you’d like to try – 

well, please sign up!

We’d love to see you.

And above all I’d like to to find whatever modality – yoga or otherwise – 

gives you that sense of play, that foundation of purpose.

I wish that for you, very much.

six ways to dismantle a fitspo mindset

One of the hardest things to dismantle when it comes to anything like physical exercise is a fitspo mindset.
 
That includes a sort of defensiveness and self-consciousness about one’s abilities (or lack thereof).
 
We have been indoctrinated to feel bad about ourselves.
 
Like if we eat two slices of cake (or three, or four, or the whole cake) we’re a bad person. If we sit and watch ours of mindless telly instead of doing the dishes or going for a wlak, we’re lazy. If we’re not as disciplined or as put-together as someone else (seems to be), then they’re a better person than us.
 
This all leads us to feel rather sorry for ourselves and, sadly, SHRINK into ourselves a bit more. 
 
Well I can’t fix ANY of this for you but I can tell you I’ve fixed – or improved – a lot of this within myself.
 
It took years.
 
In my case, I had to learn, deep-down learn that I was going to love and treasure myself, NO MATTER WHAT.
 
This is such hard work and also so much PATIENT and persistent work, I certainly don’t have time to write it all out now!
 
Here are six practices that might help you dismantle these kinds of fitspo attitudes.

1. Recognize fitspo is real.

It’s going to be a lot easier to change how we feel if we recognize how much we’re up against. Our entire culture and most of our familial culture values thinness, weight loss, youth, whiteness, those kinds of things. It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s everywhere. If we acknowledge this presence and power we may appreciate our successes – however small they may seem – all the more.

2. Ask yourself if you truly want to change.

When we actively reject fitspo, we actively reject the fantasies that come with it. We also dismantle the fitspo privileges we have – if we are thin, able-bodied, white, young, cisgender. We still BENEFIT from those privileges, but we actively work to dismantle them. This is a lot of work. So ask yourself if you’re ready!
 

3. Soften – and widen – your gaze.

Fitspo encourages us to make it all about US. We are jealous, defensive, we start this strange self-absorbed cycle where we ruminate on all the wrongs and unfairnesses against us, and we stop SEEING the beauty and hard work that other people show up with. Fitspo wants us in this place – it doesn’t want us to really LISTEN to and value others.
 

4. Mind your business!

So speaking specifically about yoga. I had a teacher that used to say, “Mind your mat!” In other words, pay attention to YOUR mat and your body. Don’t try to “copy” the instructor or other students, don’t strain, don’t compare.
 
I love looking at the other practitioners who can do amazing things. Some of the things they can do… well maybe one day I can do them too! But sometimes it’s pretty obvious I’ll never do what they can do! (For reference: check out my friend thetysonedwards on Instagram!)
 
I should not diminish other practitioners’ beauty, joy and practice by relentlessly comparing it to my own!
 

5. Commit to loving yourself – even if you’re faking it!

I had to act AS IF I loved myself, for a long time before I felt it.
 
And some days it’s a struggle!
 
But I’m so committed to myself and my love of feeling better, stronger, and feeling happier –
That I won’t give away my own joy by comparing, or (the twin cousin): getting defensive, making excuses, lapsing into self-pity.
 
It took me years to get to a better place. And I re-commit regularly.
 

6. Give yourself props!

Please remember fitspo is just another entrenchment of white supremacist capitalism. Fitspo actually isn’t personal, rather a system that wants you to feel despondent, disempowered – and wants you to SPEND MONEY out of your rut. Resist! In fact your very resistance is a loving commitment, and it is very brave work!
 
***
Okay peeps – thank you for reading and thank you for being a part of my community!
 
 

one month in as an online teacher

If you ask any yoga teacher whether they prefer online or in-person yoga class, most say in-person. 

Most human beings like being together to go good work. They like sharing space, and taking comfort with these kinds of connections.

This makes sense!

That said, there are so many benefits to an online class.

Online classes – whether teaching or participating – remove a lot of barriers to taking, or teaching, a yoga class. Online classes are generally lower overhead – you don’t need to drive anywhere. As s a student you can show up RIGHT when class starts, and (if you needed to) you could also leave early with minimal disruption.

For those who are housebound, or without easy access to travel, those living in rural or remote spaces, those with any form of social anxiety, and those wanting to minimize risk of illness – online live yoga classes are an absolute blessing

Each week I teach twice in-person and twice online.

I am still over the moon to be included in Ompractice’s impressive lineup! This teaching gig is a real blessing for me as it allows me to be paid appropriately for my expertise, to get to practice teaching – and to be part of a passionate yoga teaching community.

The Ompractice platform is also just exciting to be a part of! They continue to deepen, develop and improve – it’s very exciting to be involved!

So!

I’m adjusting to the differences of online vs. in-person. (I did teach online FREE GRATIS all year last year, but I had pretty low attendance.)

For instance:

As an online instructor I find myself more preoccupied – more worried – about my teaching performance. In person it’s easy to make small talk, to make eye contact. It’s also a bit easier in-person to sense someone’s feelings. Not that I’m all that great at that, but there is a tactile awareness that transpires between students and teachers, when we share the same room.

Uncharacteristically, at the end of my online class I find myself wanting to ask, “Was that okay? Did you have a good time?” 

I don’t do that – for many reasons!

But I still wonder!

I notice that both online and in-person students are similar in that they are shy about asking for help before, during and after class.

This might just be down to personality. I am a total TEACHER’S PET and NERD, I always have been. When I’m in a class I’m highly-engaged and I want to brain suck (warning, gross scene lol) everything I can out of teachers and fellow students. Now I’ve lived and learned enough to temper this proclivity of mine and to read the room, but honestly this is the kind of student I am!

I am already starting to get some online “regulars”, which feels very special. And just like it’s best not to guess at why someone does or doesn’t return to a class in person – it’s just impossible to figure that out, online. Still, when someone comes for several classes and then doesn’t return, I (of course!) worry it was something I did or didn’t do, that turned them away.

The truth is it’s likely they didn’t return (or haven’t yet) simply because 1. life is busy and/or difficult; and 2. very very few people discipline themselves to regular physical, mental and emotional self-care.

I love the mix I have right now – teaching both in-person and online.

I love being able to bring something wholesome and helpful to the world. I love being part of a platform that makes live yoga classes so easy! I admire all the work that went into Ompractice to help it thrive (and through teacher meetings I’m starting to get a peek behind the curtain).

Wherever you can find live embodied physical classes – whether at a gym, at a studio, online or in a living room – please do support these classes! Support these options with your dollars – and share with your friends, spread word on social media.

We need to make the kind of world we want to see.

Every one who attends my class(es), helps this good work continue.

Thank you – from the bottom of my heart!

Read more about the article i am not a “good vibes only” yoga teacher
Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga, Grays Harbor Aberdeen, WA

i am not a “good vibes only” yoga teacher

Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga, Grays Harbor Aberdeen, WA

I’ve been wading through the Americanized versions of yoga and there’s something that bugs me.

Okay there’s more than one thing.

But here’s a start:

The “good vibes only” yoga messaging is just terrible.

And it really, really is EVERYWHERE.

First of all – the “no negative energy, please” messaging is not based on yoga’s history.

There’s nothing in the 5,000 year old practices of yoga emphasizing “good vibes only” enough to where you’d sloganize it on a t-shirt.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga start us with the Yamas and Niyamas – that is, spiritual practices and personal observances respectively.

These are as follows:

The Yamas
Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satya (truthfulness)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses/our energy), and
Aparigraha (non-greed) – 

The yamas teach us how to behave in an ethical framing – how to conduct ourselves in the world.

The Niyamas
Saucha 
(cleanliness or purity)
Santosa
 (contentment)
Tapas
 (discipline)
Svadhyaya
 (self-study)
Ishvara Pranidhana
 (surrender to the Higher Self)

The niyamas invite us to find joy and strength in our personal practices – our inner disciplines.

So right away we have our first two limbs of yoga and TEN practices we can study –

and there’s no mention of or tone implying “good vibes only”.

If anything, the yamas and niyamas indicate disciplines and practices to employ – regardless of whether we’re feeling groovy about it or not.

So to be honest I am not sure where all the “good vibes only” came form, but I’ll tell you one thing:

Your bad vibes are welcome in your practice.

Your bad vibes are welcome in my studio space!

I don’t want you to avoid class – or practice at home – because you’re in a “bad vibes’ place, and can’t snap out of it.

I want you to practice regularly and learn to let your “bad vibes” show up too – maybe you can start to (gasp!) make friends with those bad vibes!

The thing is…

If we only practice yoga when we feel good, then we’re going to skip a lot of practice.

And if we only practice yoga to instantly get some kind of result – we’ll give up when we don’t get what we want.

If we only practice yoga to change how our body looks or what impressive bendy shapes we can make – we’ll give up there, too, when progress doesn’t happen the way we want to, or as fast as we want to.

If we only practice yoga to lose weight or get those toned abs – 

we are not only being a fair-weather friend to yoga,

we are being a fair-weather friend to ourselves.

I invite you to be a best friend to yourself.

It’s a really smart investment, relationship-wise!

do you feel like you aren’t good enough to deserve nice things

A lot of people won’t commit to a contemplative or physical practice because they don’t yet feel “good enough” to invest (time, money, energy).

Let me explain:

They aren’t good at meditating, so they don’t want to try.

They are “out of shape”, so they want to somehow first (magically) get “in shape” before they join the gym.

They won’t be as fit/strong/capable as others in the yoga class – so they stay away.

I get it – I really do.

***

These days I am a daily yoga practitioner. But for many, many years I went in and out of practice. I’d sign up for month-long challenges, work my butt off, complete those challenges – then I’d take a break off the mat. One day turned into two days turned into three weeks turned into months.

Don’t get me wrong, I was more committed than most. For example: post-Covid we had precisely ONE weekly yoga class here in town and I was there, every week. Many weeks, I was the only student there. I shared about the class on Facebook and Instagram in hopes more would attend, because I knew it was unreasonable for the teacher to keep teaching with just one person there! Eventually she stopped. I am still so grateful for the time she gave me.

But I digress.

All this to say: the stop-and-start yoga approach is really, really typical.

(And nothing to be ashamed of.)

So what happened, to make me a daily practitioner? (And a daily meditator!)

***

In late 2021 I started really thinking over my desire to become a yoga teacher. I love yoga so much and my favorite thing about it, is the way we can share. I also have had a taste of a yoga community – and it’s wonderful. I knew that if I took the training, I could start building that community.

I also knew if I started teaching classes, I’d bring my A-game – and I’d actually practice more.

I was right – about all of it.

I hacked my own system – my drive to be consistent and quality in everything I do – because I knew I would commit to practice more deeply.

***

I also built the yoga practice I wish we had here in Grays Harbor. I longed for a consistent teacher who left fitspo and fatphobia at the door. I wanted a group that dedicated itself to all the teachings of yoga – instead of treating it like another workout modality. I didn’t want anything to do with “wine yoga” or “beer yoga”. And frankly, while yoga helps a great deal for physical strength and mobility – I didn’t want a fitness-oriented approach.

Yoga is so much bigger than that!

What I wanted – and what I still experience, and what I bring to the mat – is for people to feel joy in their practice!

When we feel joy in something we do, we are sure to return it.

***

I am proud to say every week so far, I’ve had at least one student in class. I wish I had a minimum of more like five students, as that would help me cover expenses and pay myself a living wage.

But I am also very patient!

I know I’m a good instructor.

So: why is attendance so low?

Part of this is the summer. People fall off their programs, during the summer (and also during the holidays).

But a big part of this is:

People don’t think they’re worthy.

If they commit to yoga once a week, they are committing to looking at, feeling, and experiencing their bodies in a deep way.

Many people just don’t want to.

They know they want to feel better –

but they don’t want to start at Square One, and become a beginner (again!) and stick with it.

Because if you don’t commit to practice, you can keep that fantasy that well, the day you DO commit to practice, you’re going to rock it and all your dreams will come true!

It’s easier to live in that fantasy – counter-productive as it is – to be curious about the reality.

It’s easier to be a strong yoga practitioner IN THEORY/in a fantasy future – than to start where you are, today.

And yes, I get it.

No judgment here.

***

I am not here to talk anyone into adopting a consistent practice – yoga, meditation, or otherwise.

I am only here for two things:

  1. to remove the barriers that are keep you from doing what you already want to do; and

  2. to share how much yoga as benefitted me, personally

To some people, it will seem like I’m trying to talk you into class so I can make a living teaching.

But if you know me – you know that’s not true.

I am regularly sharing many other practitioners’ mindful and joyful movement classes!

Because I want you to find what’s best for you.

But I also want to tell you: no one will do this work FOR you.

You have to seek it out, and you have to commit to extended practice – to know what benefits you may reap.

I am so, so glad I found committed practice in my life.

***

My yoga and meditation practices have helped me more than counseling, more than medication, more than book clubs, more than support groups.

(all those things are wonderful AND I’ve used or continue to use them all!)

But as far as benefits; yoga has helped me the most.

Yoga is one of the only times I get a guaranteed respite from self-absorption, from worry, from obsessive thoughts.

Yoga is always there for me. If I can breathe, I can practice.

Yoga never lets me down.

I have always felt better after I stepped off the mat!

Meditation is trickier – it took a lot longer for me to consciously experience benefits. (I’m grateful I stuck it out as long as I did!) I plan to write a lot more about meditation this year. I hope you stick with me!

And in the meantime:

I’m here, if you want to join me.

I’m ready when you are!

It’s the adventure of a lifetime!

let’s get real about meditation

Mediation is beneficial; this is known and obvious through thousands of years of scientific study as well as even more compelling anecdotal and empirical evidence.

We know it’s good for us.

It’s also FREE – it costs nothing.

Then why don’t we do it?

***

The vast majority of people who find this post, will not be meditating daily, or even regularly.

I am not here to shame anyone about that.

I’m not even here to convince anyone that they *should* meditate.

That’s kind of beside the point, for me.

But I want to offer a few thoughts, and share some of my experience.

First: meditation is not (usually) an instant gratification activity.

In other words meditation rarely gives us a high. In contrast, we get an immediate boost from a cup of coffee or an impulsive shoe purchase (two delights I experienced this week) – that kind of thing.

Now – some people DO experience bliss in meditation –

However, that is rather rare.

And I’ve not met a regular practitioner who experiences bliss *EVERY time they meditate*.

(and yet they keep at it!)

So for me, this means we might decide to meditate – and commit to practice – knowing we likely won’t receive immediate benefits.

And despite the fact we engage in all kinds of “good habits” just because we know they’re good for us  –

(for instance very few people absolutely LOVE brushing their teeth but most of us do it regularly as the alternative is much worse) –

for some reason people don’t want to invest five minutes a day in something that could improve their BRAIN.

(I don’t know about you, but my brain needs all the help it can get!)

***

I want to point out that for many years, I was no exception. I crumpled up “meditation” on a list of things I “should” do, good habits I “should” employ – like saving 10% of my paycheck, or staying hydrated –

and I just let those “shoulds” beat me up.

Rather than doing anything about it!

So here is my second point:

Almost all forms of meditation are training the mind.

We KNOW that brains can be trained. We train our brains every day – either on purpose or,  for the most part, fairly unconsciously through the things we choose to put into our brains.

In fact we put in a LOT of brain-training time.

It follows that:

Any wholesome training of the mind, will result in improvements in our life.

In fact, that should be obvious.

In other words: we don’t have to know HOW our minds and our lives will improve –

we just get to TRUST that they will, and look forward to observing the change.

Actually, it’s a pretty cool process.

***

Personally, I don’t think we’re being lazy about any of this.

If you think about how hard life can be, our behavior makes sense.

For most of us our minds work well enough that we don’t give them much focused attention.

Our minds work pretty well or IF THEY DON’T, we’ve found a way to get through our day, to survive.

Well I don’t know about you, but I want more than survival.

I’ve been in survival mode and I didn’t like the kind of person I became.

I want to thrive, and I want to be able to help others to safety, to wholeness, to joy and healing.

So!

I’ve put a lot of effort into improving my health, my behavior, my life and the life of my community.

And in that effort – and in doing that research – I came to see that a committed meditation practice was missing.

So I added a meditation practice.

I am very clever so – I found two weekly groups to commit to (one in person at no cost, and one online for monthly dana), and I downloaded a free app for seven days a week solo practice.

I put meditation in my daily task list – so that I get to check it off at the end of the day.

(This feels quite satisfying!)

And this practice is starting to feel very good – and I’m experiencing benefits.

It’s starting to really take hold.

I’m glad I gave myself the chance to see it through.

***

So!

Once again: I’m not here to tell you to meditate.

But I will share that it’s made a huge difference in my life – in my relationships, in my physical health, but most importantly:

in the quality of my mind.

I hope you consider making a consistent practice of meditation – even five minutes, uninterrupted, per day.

Don’t let anyone talk you out of it!

(Even if it’s YOU trying to talk yourself out of it!)

Why not give yourself a chance?

You’ll never know how much your mind – and your life – can improve, unless you commit to the experience.

I look forward to hearing about your results!

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