In yoga, we are advised to go to our edge and not much beyond by way of preventing injury.
A few days ago, this relatively flexible yogini, who has been practicing since 2004, took a stretch far longer and in a more expansive way than nearly any I have attempted in my lifetime.
No, it wasn’t an inversion pose, which I could only have done before with assistance and now, since a heart attack, I am not permitted, so “legs up the wall” is the only way to go. It was most certainly a heart opener that had as much benefit to the anahata (the Sanskrit word for the heart chakra, translated as “the unstruck note”) as bow, camel or cobra poses.
I am a therapist, teacher, healer and writer who offers guidance in the areas of self esteem, sexuality, body image and relationships—including the one with the woman or man in the mirror. I teach what I need to learn, so I am still a work in progress with regard to these topics. I am called to walk the talk.
Are You Body Loving or Body Loathing?
Over the past 57 years, I have both loved and loathed my body, I have embraced what it can do and chafed at its frailties. I have celebrated its achievements and felt betrayed by its all too human limitations. I have luxuriated in the love and pleasure it has both given and received.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel the same way. When you gaze into your own mirror, what do you see?
A container for your mind and spirit or wrinkles, sags, stretch marks and scars? Has injury or infirmity impacted your way of viewing yourself? If you are of a certain age, do you feel as if your body is betraying you since you aren’t as flexible as you once were? What I have come to realize is that our bodies have transported us on all sorts of adventures and deserve our appreciation rather than criticism.
It seems that all of these dichotomies made me qualified to teach a workshop called Love The Skin You’re In: A Body Positive Journey, along with my new friend, yoga teacher and massage therapist, Beth Nolan. A confirmed nudist, Beth also teaches naked yoga classes.
We determined from the outset that our workshop would be clothing optional and folks could undress and dress throughout it, at their comfort level. Although no sexual touch was involved, a sex positive and touch positive culture is what we reinforce, rather than the shame based views many still carry.
We formulated the class after being introduced by a mutual friend who sensed that we would collaborate somehow and that we would “plot world domination with love.” From the moment we connected, we knew we had something that could heal ourselves and others. Little did I know, just how much I would be impacted.
Once Beth and I set a date for the maiden voyage, all of my body negative fears kicked into high gear. “Who are you to teach on this topic, woman? You have as much stuff going on as anyone in the class.”
When I was in my 20’s, I was an itsy bitsy, teeny tiny size five to seven with a swimmer’s physique honed by many hours in the pool. I was able to maintain something close to that throughout that decade. In March of 1992, something happened that added some unintended curves. I experienced an ectopic pregnancy that had the lower abs cut in the service of saving my life when a fallopian tube ruptured.
Since then, regardless of how intensely I have worked out in the gym or on the mat, and how much weight I have shed, the rounded belly remains with me as a reminder. I have never had complaints from lovers and the only critical clamor is my own. I am learning to offer that body part love each time I am tempted to sneer in derision.
It was this thought that carried me into the workshop, since I know that I am not alone in casting a critical eye on the skin I am in. As a clinician, I also had trepidation about being too “out there” professionally, since even though I was the “go to” person at my various jobs, when it came to sexuality, I was still reluctant to “bare it all” in other settings.
What would it mean that I would not only being exposing my heart and mind, but my 57 year old seasoned body while I was teaching? Gulp. Could I do it? I would be hypocritical if not.
In the culture in which many of us were raised, adult nudity = sex.
I have been to other clothing optional events and to a nude beach. Each time I came away with the impression that those were often less sexually charged settings than a “regular” beach on which bikini and Speedo clad hotties were lounging. In places like the aforementioned, eyes met eyes and smiles, rather than mostly consisting of casting a gaze to a position a few inches or feet lower. Paradoxically, while little girls are admonished to put their shirts on around age four, their male peers or brothers were permitted to run around topless indefinitely even though they were no more developed than the boys. Women in skimpy bras and skin tight tops are socially acceptable and “the girls” are used to keep Victoria’s Secret in business, we’d better not free the nips or breast feed in public, since who knows what manner of lewdness and lasciviousness might ensue as a result?
Exposed To The Elements: A Fitting Metaphor.
The night prior to the workshop, I headed out the door to visit with a teen who I mentor. I stopped at the mailbox and opened the driver’s side door. The wind, which was gusting, seemed to grab it from my hand and whip it back past the point of its hinges. Once I got back in, to my dismay, I found that I couldn’t close the door as it remained at a 45 degree angle… “Oh sh*t, now what?” It felt like one of those surrealistic dream images in which an unseen hand had been involved and you are left with head scratching bewilderment.
Fortunately, I was still on my street, as I drove back and parked in my driveway. I called AAA to have it towed to the shop of my mechanic who I had alerted about its arrival. I was abundantly aware that it would need to remain open to the elements all night until they themselves opened nearly 12 hours later.
I prayed for its security and expressed gratitude that it was neither raining nor snowing. I took everything of value out of it, including a postcard with the Dalai Lama’s picture on it, that I had taped to my dashboard, since even though the blessings of His Holiness might have added an extra layer of protection, I was concerned that the roaring tempest might loft it away.
It occurred to me that it was a powerful reflection of what I was about to do in the class; being exposed, open, uncertain and yet available to whatever might happen in any given moment. Since this was such a freak occurrence I chose to read that meaning into it myself. It just made so much sense. I could also affirm that I was “off my hinges” and “blowing the doors off” in so many areas of my life.
Peeling Off the Layers To Reveal The Real.
The day of the class dawned and I found myself tearful as I contemplated what might arise for the attendees. I knew that it was our job to create a safe container and hold space for healing. We had no clue what issues and history would accompany those who were courageous enough to sign up in the first place. A huge responsibility awaited us.
Once we began, we discovered that the more we bared, physically and emotionally, the safer the participants felt to follow suit. The seven women and five men who courageously faced their own monkey mind, self critical thoughts were accompanied by years of baggage that ranged from carry-on that could fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment, to steamer trunk size that they had been dragging behind them for years.
My favorite exercise was called “fishbowl” in which the men sat in the center at first, with the women around them “eavesdropping” on their conversation on topics such as what it means to be male in our culture, what they learned about their bodies, about sexuality and about women. After 30 minutes or so, they reversed positions and they listened in as the women spoke about the same concepts. It was such a profoundly tender experience for each group to hear what the other species had to say. This is not something we typically have access to and they handled it with poise.
Throughout the day, more layers were willingly peeled away and all manner of emotions surfaced. Tears, laughter, hugs and tissues were in evidence.
Folks who were strangers to each other in the morning had bonded to become what I call family of choice by the end of the day. Trust was built and revelations occurred for many, for the two of us as well. The conversations indicated that a bit more body-love had occurred as some admitted they had some distance to go before they could fully embrace the skin they were in.
The same was true for me, as I came to the revelation that whether or not fabric stood between us, my own vision of what was acceptable had shifted dramatically and when it was time to leave, I actually felt more exposed in public with my clothes back on than when I was in the safe container we had all co-created.
What was apparent was the vulnerability and naked flame of the heart that burned brightly for all who had dared to bare.
Author: Edie Weinstein
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: LaVladina / Flickr
Featured Photo: Mia Isara / Flickr