8 tips to reduce menstrual pain

Queer yoga in Berlin

Goddess Pose

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about my experiences with endometriosis. And as a result, some of the participants in my yoga classes have asked me how to reduce their own menstrual pain. Not all folks with menstrual cramps have endometriosis, but perhaps some of the things I’ve found that work for me to reduce menstrual pain could potentially work for you too!

1. Painkillers

I try to limit the amount of over-the-counter pharmaceutical painkillers that I use, because I’d prefer to not feed into the pharmaceutical industry. But sometimes I just don’t have time for anything else, and they can be a quick and easy fix. Medicinally-herbed cookies can do the trick just as well, but they’re not so ideal if I have to work that day! 😉

2. Menstrual Yoga

I like to do a slow flow with lots of deep breathing, skipping abdominal exercises, mula bandha and inversions, and focusing on hip openers. Poses like Goddess (above) and Lion help me to release tension that I’m holding because of the pain. I find that my jaw and shoulders also get tight during menstrual cramping, and these poses open up the jaws and the throat. I also find that growling and hissing loudly also helps to reduce anxiety, which I sometimes get when I’m PMSing or during heavy periods.

3. Stress Reduction Sitting Exercises

Menstrual cramps arrive at the least opportune moments – at work or in social situations. Stress aggravates menstrual cramps and can either bring them on or make them worse. I have created an exercise routine that I can do while sitting with other people that’s not so obvious. I take slow deep breaths and sit up tall with a neutral spine, as if meditating. I press my thighs down against the chair, so my lower abdomen lengthens away from the chair, creating more space for all the painful bits to relax and do their thing – shed menstrual blood and tissue. In addition to that, I also do short pushes down, as if ‘bearing down’ – what they tell folks to do when they’re pushing a baby out. I make sure I’m wearing enough protection to catch everything that comes out – and it does! And the cramps go away.

4. Riding a bike on cobblestone

Most cyclists in this city think it’s annoying to ride on those bumpy cobblestones, but I find it actually helps my cramps to loosen up! Instead of fighting the bumping, I just bump along with it and works like magic. 😉

5. Dancing / Hip shaking

Speaking of which, any movement of the hips can be great to help reduce menstrual pain. I used to attend an Osho Kundalini Meditation class at the Osho Centre here in Berlin. It was a wonderful practice to shake out those tense hips and pelvis, loosening the whole region. I don’t go out dancing very much anymore, it’s hard to find the music I like to dance to here! But, if it’s something you like to do, some hip-shaking dancing could definitely be what the doctor ordered.

6. Masturbation / Sex

Loosening of the pelvis and all the muscles around it, is a great way to let go of menstrual tension. In my experience, a good vibrator does the trick nicely. If you don’t want to get messy, or can’t stand the smell or the blood, then the shower is always a good place! And who knows? Your partner might even think it’s hot!

7. Hot water bottle

I don’t often resort to the tried-and-true hot water bottle, but when I do, it’s very soothing. In my experience, it doesn’t work as well to relax my pelvic muscles as some of the other items above.

8. Limiting coffee / alcohol

Whenever I drink coffee when I’m cramping, it always makes it worse. So I try to limit the coffee to when I’m not cramping as much. I also find that when I drink alcohol during menstruation, my tolerance is severely reduced. Not only do I get tipsier faster, but it also causes more menstrual cramping in the morning, and has sometimes lead to a hangover after only a couple of drinks. Drinking tea is often a good substitute for me.

So! I hope some of my experiences can help you to experiment and find your own solutions to reducing menstrual pain. And if you’re in Berlin sometime, drop by one of my classes! I teach Vinyasa Flow and Queer Yoga at English Yoga Berlin.

 

Practicing Breath

practicing breath

Practicing Breath

The idea of “practicing breath” is one that’s often heard in yoga classes. But what does it really mean?

Aren’t we always breathing?

In the novel Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins writes about two characters, Alobar and Kudra, who learn techniques of immortality, one of them a slow, controlled breathing practice. I often think about them as I breathe the way I’ve learned through years of yoga practice. And no, I’m not doing it because I want to be immortal!

I started practicing yoga about 20 years ago. I’d follow along with the breathing techniques in classes, and feel their immediate effects; more openness in my body, a greater sense of calm, more energy, and sometimes just pure bliss. But I started to understand why they were so important only more recently as the practice became more a part of my daily life.

Breathing as Pain Alleviation

I’d struggled for years with pain from of endometriosis. And a few years ago I began a weekly practice of Osho Kundalini Meditation. Through this, I learned techniques of relaxation of the pelvic muscles, which helped to reduce the pain. As I would go through the exercises, I started to realize that it was my breathing that brought me to the relaxation. The deep yoga breath made me more conscious of where I was holding physical tension in my body and in invited me to release that tension. I don’t practice the Osho technique anymore, but as soon as I start feeling the pain from endometriosis, I take deep breaths and focus on relaxing my pelvic muscles. The pain quickly dissipates. I’m not saying that this could work for everyone, as not all pain is because of tension. But it works for me.

Breathing to Reduce Anxiety

Another thing that deep conscious breathing helps me with is anxiety. As an introvert, I feel the pressure of social anxiety in crowds of people. It’s easy to take a drink or too in social settings to numb that, and though I’m a yoga teacher, I’m not against that, as it does help me relax! But there are other situations where anxiety creeps up on me too. In these cases, a minute or two of deep controlled and conscious breathing help to me feel a bit more at ease. It’s not perfect, but that little bit does help me to function better.

Breathing as a Healing Practice

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning about restorative yoga and its healing potential. Allowing our bodies to rest through deep relaxation and conscious breath can support us in recovering from illnesses faster, reducing stress and anxiety, boost our immune systems and make us stronger. Last year, I began an advanced yoga teacher training, the Svastha Yoga Therapie program. What I’ve learned in the first couple of modules was invaluable. I’m excited for the 3rd and 4th modules which I will attend this year, which are all about the breath. I look forward to continuing to learn more about how the breath can heal.

Practicing Breath

The idea of practicing breath is not something unique to yoga, but it’s one that we focus on in yoga classes. Once or twice a week, we get together, breathe and move together. We learn various breathing techniques in a class lead by a knowledge guide. But then what happens when we leave? Do we go back to our short breaths, hunching shoulders up to ears while waiting for the bus in the cold? Holding our breath when someone makes us angry? My idea of practicing breath is about being conscious and aware of how I’m breathing in the moment. I try, when I can, to take this practice out of the yoga studio and into my daily life. It may not change the world and all society’s problems. But it can help me to deal with it better, and get strong to fight back against it in a way that is productive.

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Juli teaches restorative yoga and vinyasa flow at English Yoga Berlin in our Kreuzberg yoga studio.

English Yoga Berlin Winter News

There’s a lot happening at English Yoga Berlin this Winter! Pinelopi is giving a brand new Chakra course, Juli brings Queer Yoga back, Pedro is going solo, and Pinelopi is teaching at Dynamic Mindfulness teacher trainers’ course. On top of that we are selling yoga gift cards again this Holiday season!

English Yoga Berlin“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

― Yoko Ono

 

 

 

 


Christmas Gift Cards

We are selling beautiful Yoga gift cards for the Christmas holidays and all other celebratory occasions! You can buy yoga gift cards of one or five classes at our English Yoga Berlin studio or online. The gift of yoga is a precious gift!


Holiday Closures

Please be aware of our holiday closures! Check out our schedule page for up-to-date info.


tantric yogaPedro is going solo

We wish Pedro the best of luck as he goes solo with his new website. If you wish to follow his exciting posts on facebook, click here.


queer yoga berlinQueer Yoga is back!

Queer* Yoga Flow Berlin is back on January 18th, 2017. The class that prioritizes a space for queer and trans* people will be held every Wednesday at 10am. Allies and other misfits are welcome.


yoga teacher training in berlin200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training

Do you live in Berlin and would like to become a yoga teacher? Dynamic Mindfulness School offers an amazing teacher trainers’ course that starts in February. Pinelopi will be a guest teacher there. Check it out!


chakra course in berlinChakra Course

Pinelopi is offering a 10 week course on the Chakras. Starting date: January 12th, 2017. The first class will be a lecture and all other classes will focus on a yoga practice for each specific chakra, understanding both the emotions and the body area that chakras influence and get influenced by. Write to her here if you are interested.


Somuchmore and English Yoga Berlin partnership Update

To those Somuchmore customers who attended our classes, we regret to inform you that as of 2017 we will no longer be part of this service.


 

We continue to be thankful for your practice and your support of our work. We wish you a healthy, happy winter, full of inner peace and connection!


Small business advice for women

Business advice for women creatives

Photograph by Karina Louise Photography

Shaleah Dawnyel is one half of a team that offers a series of online eCourses and eBooks aimed at and predominantly for women running their own creative small businesses. Shaleah hails from L.A, California, and has found her way over to Berlin a few times now. The creative city of Berlin has her coming back for more.

After her short return to California, she moved to San Francisco to start up Seeing Beauty with Karina Louise, offering small business advice for women through their online resources. I’ve had the opportunity to try out several of their eCourses and they’ve helped me to figure out whether running a small business is the right thing for me, and how to do it in a way that suits me. As a freelance yoga teacher and filmmaker, the idea of running my own business was daunting and I was downright resistant to the idea of marketing. Working with Shaleah, and doing the eCourses helped me to see how I could make it work and have it fit with my own values. Here I’ve interviewed her to gain some insight on how she came up with these ideas and what she likes about working with Creatives.

What’s so great about Berlin, what draws you here?

I absolutely adore the energy in Berlin! There is a creative spirit here that I have never encountered anywhere else in the world. The pace leaves lots of room for both personal and professional exploration and the diversity and reasonable standard of living also make it primed for creating new things.

How did you get the idea to start this business? What were your motivations?

A couple years back we had an idea for a photography course for camera shy Creatives. At that point Karina and I had already been working together for over 5 years before we started Seeing Beauty. She had experienced some really transformative things while building her brand and wanted to share this experience with others. But we both knew that most people can’t afford to hire a consultant so we wanted to make what she and I had been doing to build her business practically and affordably available to more people. One eCourse became two, and the next thing we knew, we were co-founding a company. I guess you can say this idea found us!

As someone who predominantly works alone on your own consultation business, what is like for you to work with a collaborator on Seeing Beauty?

I actually never work alone as I am always collaborating with clients! My small business consultancy let’s me work with artists, makers and wellness workers to find their unique talents, leverage their resources and develop creative work that actually fits them. So many people leave nightmare jobs to create nightmare businesses! Figuring out what you really want is really the hardest part. Once you know that, the rest is just details. I help with the figuring AND the details.

But my favorite part of SB is working to collaborate with other badass biz ladies. So far we have 4 eBooks for Creatives, all developed by us and authored by experts who we asked to work with us. So many awesome people are too busy or humble to get this stuff out there. We love taking things that were sitting on the shelf, or ideas that haven’t yet come to life and making them into stuff our creative community can use.

Can you tell us a little bit about the e-courses that you offer?

Most of our products are things we have needed ourselves while building our own businesses or resources that my clients have needed along the way. At the moment this includes a Marketing Course for Creatives, US Small Biz Tax Guide, a Designer guide for Small Biz, and a Content Basics eBook. We actually just launched our new photography eCourse, the initial reason we started the company last year, and so far the reviews are awesome!

Our eCourses are highly personal and exploratory- helping people to tap into their own inner wisdom about their creative work. The eBooks are all written at the basic level to make sure the reader has a good handle on the subject. With so much non-sense out there trying to tell us what to do as entrepreneurs, we wanted to create practical resources filled with soul. I think we have succeeded so far…hopefully you agree?

I find your questions throughout the eCourses quite creative and thoughtful, they’re not the obvious ones one normally gets in questionnaires to find out “what I should do with my life.” I’m curious how you came up with these questions.

The questions come from my consultancy work. After working for over 7 years with Creatives from all over the world I have found that often asking the right questions is better than giving answers. Our work is geared around learning to hear your own voice and trusting yourself to lead your best work.

What kind of feedback have you received from those who have taken your courses?

The feedback so far has been really amazing. Like teaching anything, its insanely rewarding to see people have those “ah ha” moments where they really get something that changes their perspective and empowers them in their creative work. It’s also great to be building an actual community of dynamic, talented people who are trying to make the world a better place.


 

Shaleah has been an active part of the English Yoga Berlin community, attending our Hatha yoga classes and offering us consultation. We offer yoga classes in all different styles: Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Tantric yoga, Restorative yoga and community classes.

 

Yoga is Not Dance

As a yoga teacher I often hear from students, “I like yoga, but I’m not good at it.” What I understand from this is that they feel they’re expected to do the poses ‘correctly’ in order to be ‘good at yoga.’ But yoga is not dance. As yoga practitioners, we’re not performing for an audience, but we do yoga in order to feel more ease in our bodies, more calm in the mind. We practice yoga for ourselves and nobody else. True, our practice can extend to others by helping us see how we can help our communities. But the practice of yoga is not a show.

“Yoga is not a competition”

The media tells us something different. Yoga competitions are springing up all over the world. The covers of Yoga Journal and Sein show us mostly white, mostly slim, mostly cis-female flexible yogis demonstrating their fanciest poses. Yoga teachers tell us; “there is no right or wrong way to do yoga,” and “yoga is not a competition,” and “everyone has a different body.” But I’ve also heard yoga teachers say that their students are not doing the poses ‘correctly.’ In a yoga class, the teacher will offer corrections with the primary goal of preventing the practitioner from injuring themselves in the pose. But sometimes, subconscious biases causes a teacher to ‘correct’ a student’s pose so that it looks like the textbook or covermodel version, pressing a student to go beyond their own limits, and throwing them out of awareness of their own body. This can not only lead to physical injury, but can also inadvertently cause a student to feel as if they’re ‘not good at yoga.’ As a teacher, I’m always looking to find that balance to gently encourage students to find their limits and go further if they feel like it that day, or retreat from it if they need to. Sometimes this means I do not do corrections at all, especially for those new to yoga. I like to let new practitioners find their own way of doing the poses. Though I myself really like the feeling of an experienced teacher’s gentle guiding hand encouraging my shoulder blades to release down my back, so I don’t want to do away with it altogether. Maybe we even need to move away from a terminology that refers to something as a ‘correction’ and instead call these gentle encouragements something else? What would work for you? Assistance? Encouragements? Guidance?

At English Yoga Berlin, we have consent cards at the fronts of each mat with YES on one side and NO on the other, that lets the teacher know if a participant would like to be touched or not. Participants are invited to turn it over at any point in the class.

Yoga is not Dance

A regular practice of yoga can be good for dancers to balance the stresses they put on their bodies. But it can also be good for those of us who put our bodies through stress in other ways – doing manual labour such as caring for small children, cleaning or construction work, or doing immobile work without a break such as sitting at a computer desk for 8 hours every day or driving a truck for 36 hours. Human bodies need to move, we need to strengthen and limber up our bodies to create more ease in our everyday lives, to recuperate from our daily stresses. This is how a regular practice of yoga benefits us. I can understand how yoga is popular amongst dancers. But when people who have never had dance training come to yoga, and they see a dancer at the front of the room, or amongst them in the practice space, it may cause feelings of inadequacy. How can we, as yoga teachers, and how can we, as experienced yoga practitioners, make room for those new to yoga to feel comfortable?

At English Yoga Berlin, we also have a sign with guidelines as to how we would appreciate everyone act in the space. As the yoga space is for everyone, we hope to provide a space where everyone can feel comfortable. For us, this means that we respect others’ practice by not showing off, flaunting our privilege, wearing strong perfume or chatting in the practice room. Is there anything else that would help you feel more comfortable?

Safer Space

English Yoga Berlin – Safer Space Guidelines


 

Juli offers Community Yoga classes at English Yoga Berlin, with an emphasis on creating a space for those who feel marginalized by mainstream yoga classes: sliding scale prices for no- / low-income earners. Juli teaches Vinyasa Flow Yoga and Restorative Yoga and is currently enrolled in the Svastha Yoga Therapy advanced teacher training program and has completed the first two modules, yoga for injuries and illnesses of the body.

The Neutral Spine

We often hear these words “the neutral spine” as a cue in yoga classes.

But they don’t often come with a clear explanation of what that means or why it’s important. Sometimes a yoga teacher tells us to “tuck our tails under,” which for some people helps to lengthen the lower back, but for others just emphasizes an already rounded lumbar spine. All of our bodies are differently shaped, so a “neutral spine” is different for every person.

neutral spine

Spine Foto by Katie Cowden

So what is it exactly?

A neutral spine is like a spring that can absorb impact as we walk, stretch, strengthen, and generally move about. Like shock absorbers on a car. Anyone with classical dance training has been told to keep their backs straight as a rod, but this removes this spring in our step and our body’s ability to accommodate impact. I often see former dancers come to my yoga classes with chronic lower-back pain or slipped discs. A neutral spine has curves, and generally forms two S-shapes; one at the bottom at the lumbar spine and one at the top at the cervical spine. Long hours of sitting at a desk with a rounded lower back and chin jutting forward can affect longterm impact upon our body’s built-in shock absorber.

Why is it important?

When we take the double-S form of a neutral spine, it helps to keep not only our spines healthy, but other parts of our bodies too. It reduces impact and helps nutrients and oxygen flow where they need to. It also reduces the likelihood of pinching nerves that extend from in-between the vertebrae into the arms and legs. Pain or numbness in the arms or legs can occur when a disc bulges or slips backwards into the spinal canal and presses against nerves that extend outwards. These most often occur at the lower spine, but over the last 15 years with the popularity of the laptop, tablet and smartphone hunching posture, we are seeing many more people with pinched nerves in the neck and upper back. These can often be quite dangerous, because surgery is required to push the disc back or remove the inflammation. Physiotherapy and a regular yoga practice can help, but most people do not take enough time for that. Orthopedists recommend practicing yoga, pilates or physiotherapy 2 or 3 times a week over a minimum of a year in order to heal from a slipped or bulging disc.

How do I know if my spine is neutral?

There are many cues that yoga teachers give to help participants find their own neutral spine position. “Extend the tailbone down.” “Zip up the belly button.” “Lift the heart.” “Pull the shoulder blades together.” “Lengthen the neck.” etc. But only you know when you’ve reached it. You will breathe more freely because your chest is at its most open. Lower back pain may dissipate because the pressure gets lifted as the lumbar spine lengthens. Your balance could improve is one-legged poses, you might feel stronger in warrior poses. One way to test and get to know where your neutral spine is, is to do the rod test. You can get a friend to help you.

  • First, you can try it in tabletop pose.
  • Ask your friend to place the rod against and in line with your spine.
  • Touch the tip of your tailbone and the flat part of the back of your head to the rod.
  • Engage your abdominal muscles so that your belly is not drooping.
  • You should feel long on both the front and back sides of your torso.
  • There should be a gap between your lumbar spine (lower back) and the rod.
  • Now that you’ve got the hang of it in tabletop pose, try it standing!

Juli offers Community Yoga classes at English Yoga Berlin, with an emphasis on creating a space for those who feel marginalized by mainstream yoga classes: sliding scale prices for no- / low-income earners. Juli is currently enrolled in the Svastha Yoga Therapy advanced teacher training program and has completed the first two modules, yoga for injuries and illnesses of the body.

Queer Yoga takes a break

This Wednesday August 17th is the last Queer Yoga Flow class of the summer season. It has been nice to see the community grow, but now it is time for a break.

queer yoga

community yoga in berlin

Queer Yoga prioritizes a space for queer and trans* folk. Allies and other misfits are welcome.

Read more about Queer* Yoga.

Juli‘s Sunday 4pm classes continue without a break, but with substitutions by 3 different teachers in 3 different styles. Here’s your chance to check out some of the other yoga teachers in our Berlin yoga community!

* August 28: Kanchi – Body Positive Yoga
* Sept. 4: Pedro – Tantric Yoga
* Sept. 11: Pinelopi – injury-conscious Hatha Yoga

All of Juli’s classes (including the classes by the substitute teachers) are available to low- / no-income people at a sliding-scale reduced rate. Read more about our community classes and payment options for low-income students.

Juli’s approach to vinyasa flow is slow and injury-conscious, including postures and techniques learned from the Svastha Yoga Therapy teacher training program that support the body in healing injuries, chronic pain and illnesses. Last winter, Juli offered a 6-week series of workshops based specifically on these trainings. And will begin a new course in winter 2016-17. Stay tuned for more info!

Juli’s aim is to make a class comfortable for those who feel marginalized in other classes but still want to discover the yoga benefits. You are invited to join Juli in creating an atmosphere of alliedness by recognizing our privileges and creating space for others (queers, transfolks, sex-workers, b&pocs, differently abled, abundant bodied, low/no-income).

Yoga and Wellbeing: thinking outside the box

It’s difficult to think about yoga and wellbeing these days when there is so much pain and suffering in the world.

Photo by Bär Baer

Photo by Bär Baer

So much of western yoga is focused on the individual and how one can get healthier, be more relaxed, stronger, eat right, get enlightened, feel better, etc. It’s internally focused and urges us to forget about the problems of the outside world. It offers a retreat from everyday life and horrific news stories.

For some people, those who experience oppression, harassment, chronic pain and other stresses on a daily basis, self-care is a necessary antidote. And a regular practice of yoga in a space that feels safer than the outside world can be a valuable tool in being able to tackle daily life. More and more of us are feeling the pressure building up and yoga is a way to alleviate it and be more at ease when we are confronted in our everyday lives. Office places know that yoga helps to increase productivity of their workers, keep them happier and more compliant. But if we all keep retreating into ourselves, and learning how to go with the flow, who’s left to fight when injustice rears its ugly head?

Yoga selfies won’t change the fact that black people are being killed by police in massive numbers in the United States, right-wing anti-immigration movements like Pegida are popping up all over Europe, while thousands of people drown at sea trying to flee war and tyranny, Rom*nja people are being deported daily into the hands of people that would rather see them dead, people who practice the Muslim religion are shunned and treated poorly everywhere, an automatic weapon is sold to a homophobic citizen who slaughters 49 queer Latinx in one night, and nearly 300 people are bombed to death in Baghdad by a terrorist group and nobody in the western world blinks.

I met someone at a yoga teacher training a few weeks ago who reacted with a strong shock of awe when I told her that I live in a shared flat and prefer it to living with my partner or alone. She responded “what a completely different life!” I didn’t even go into the other things about my life that would make me seem even more foreign than she could imagine, like my queerness for instance. She couldn’t even imagine that someone would want to share their living situation. This makes me very sad for the state of the world. Instead of coming together we are distilling down into individual units, battling against all other external forces. I feel a growing fear closing in on itself. People are building bigger walls, gating communities, separating from one another, creating divisions, more national boundaries.

We come to yoga to shed those bad habits that hold us back, the Samskaras. But what if we were to think of our yoga practice in connection to the world? What if we worked on yoga not for our individual self and wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the world? What if, we as individual practitioners were to see ourselves as part of the world, moving and breathing with it, all of us together? What can yoga teach us about healing our communities and freeing the world from the Samskaras?

Laurie Penny has recently written an article about the relationship between self-care and its relationship to our ailing world. Michelle C. Johnson offers some ideas about how yoga and activism can come together through social justice. And Kinisha Correia writes about 4 yogis who practice Karma yoga, the yoga of service, to raise collective consciousness. Offering yoga to marginalized communities is one way to help heal those communities. But those of us with more privilege than others can take yoga out of the practice space and into our everyday life too.

We talk about mindfulness as a way to be more aware of how we are treating ourselves. For example, not sitting so long at a computer desk in a bad posture because it causes longterm pain. But what if we were to use mindfulness to be aware of how we treat other people? How can we be mindful of our own actions and privilege and make room for others and treat them with kindness and respect? We often talk about yoga as a way to heal the self in order to help others, but I feel that we are all so focused on the first part, that we never get to the second. How about we take yoga outside the box and use what we learn in a practical way? Make more space for BlPOC to speak, move and breathe, recognize the invisible work that others do, put our bodies in a protest, use our voices to show resistance to oppressive measures.

Juli offers Community Yoga classes at English Yoga Berlin, with an emphasis on creating a space for those who feel marginalized by mainstream yoga classes: sliding scale prices for no- / low-income earners, and a weekly queer yoga class.

Myths about Weight-loss and Yoga

It was quite unexpected one day when I tried to open an article about body positive yoga and was then slapped with a popup for a weight loss ad. Like a slap in the face, I presumed I was going into friendly territory, and then was shamed for it.

“You would look so much better if…”

I proceeded to communicate with the manager of the web-platform (not the same person who wrote the article), to explain to them how these ads are detrimental. He refused to acknowledge my point of view, explaining to me why my feelings were invalid, and his were correct (a clear case of mansplaining). I think I know when I feel shamed. And when a weight-loss ad pops up while I’m trying to read an article about powerful abundantly-bodied yogis, this is exactly what “fat-shaming” is about. And sometimes it’s not so obvious to those doing it: “The shaming may be performed under the guise of helping the person who is overweight/obese realize they need to lose weight or they will die, become ill, and/or never succeed in life or relationships.” I should not have to be reminded of the so-called beauty standards outlined by mainstream media when I’m trying to find solidarity in connecting to my body with positivity. The term “weight-loss” is grammatically “negative” in and of itself. But I don’t want to dwell on semantics. Body Positivity is about connecting to one’s own body the way it is right now, loving it, owning it; whether that body fits mainstream standards of ability, size, skin colour, gender, or not. Body Positivity is about disregarding the propaganda that capitalism wants to sell us through whatever new trend of the day is, and just being present and accepting our bodies for what they are. In my opinion, the hottest people are the ones who are able to do that, they shine from the inside – they glow with bliss and love of their own bodies. It’s powerful and inspiring.

unhealthy weight-loss

Unhealthy weight-loss

“Body positivity and the wish to lose weight go hand-in-hand…”

Obviously this guy knows nothing about body positivity, nor has any experience about the wish to lose weight. As a female-socialized person who never fit into any beauty norms, I can attest to the experience that I never felt less at home in my body than when I wished to lose weight, nor did I feel any more positive about my body than when I did actually lose weight. Now, at the heaviest I am in my life, I feel the most at home, the most happy. I look in the mirror, and I say “look at that hottie!” About 8 years ago I was on a strict diet that was supposed to alleviate the painful symptoms I had from endometriosis. I lost a lot of weight very quickly, I was 20 kilos less than I am now – in the so-called BMI ‘normal’ weight range, even though my ribs were sticking out. But my immune system got depleted and I kept getting sick. And the symptoms continued to perpetuate. According to the BMI, today I would be classified as ‘obese.’ But I have no desire to lose ‘weight.’ The mass my body has is mostly composed of thick muscle and strong bones. Yeah, I have some fat around my middle, I enjoy a few beers now and then. But according to my doctor, I am very healthy for my age. And I don’t lose connection to my breath while I’m both demonstrating as well as talking through the approximately 30 chaturungas in my yoga classes, as well as practice handstand, and forearm stand regularly. I hardly ever get sick these days. I’m flexible, strong, commute by bicycle and move easily in my own body. If I lost weight, I’d lose muscle and strength.  The BMI is a load of bollocks.

forearm stand to scorpion

Moving up to Scorpion pose

Look at these athletes, how strong they are… I’m sure some of them would be classified as obese. If you slapped them with a weight-loss ad, they’d scoff in your face! I don’t think that losing weight should be a goal for anyone. Especially when it means that some people can take this concept to the extreme and develop eating disorders. I can get behind the idea of being healthy, but at cost to whom? And what’s in it for someone who runs some random web platform to tell others what they should or should not do with their own bodies?

“You should eat healthy…”

The manager of the website went on to explain to me that many of their “readers have a long history of health related issues where many of them are related to unhealthy diets and eating habits.” Firstly, I don’t know how he could know this, he’s judging his readers based on analytics and statistics from what they click on. Just because someone falls prey to the latest weight-loss trend does not mean they have ‘unhealthy diets’ or are even ‘overweight.’ Both of these concepts are based on culturally-constructed marketing concepts sold to us by multi-million dollar companies. Secondly, even using the term ‘healthy’ for food is ridiculous. How can something that is dead be ‘healthy’? Okay, sometimes people eat food that is not dead, but most of us will eat dead and / or processed plants or animals. ‘Healthy‘ refers to an organic material, plant or animal, that is alive and thriving. When we eat, our bodies take nutrients from what we consume, not ‘health.’ One could say that “Kale is nutritious” because it contains a lot of nutrients that human bodies need to remain healthy. But so does a bag of chips and a glass of beer! I just found out about this trend in Berlin called BierYoga, I’m all for it! Why not bring together two things you’re passionate about? I’ve heard some German yogis say that they will never drink beer because it gives them a thick belly. As the old school yogis proudly display their beer bellies, these westerners fall prey to capitalist vanity. I myself don’t see the point of such restrictions, and want to enjoy my life with a few beers now and then. And I will rock my belly in a bikini, despite your jealous sneers. Yes, I do think that fat-shaming comes from a place of jealousy over the fact that this ample-bodied person allows themselves to indulge in the enjoyment of eating and drinking, and the one watching their waistline places themselves in a prison of calorie-counting and latest diet fads. Who’s the one with the ‘unhealthy’ eating habits here? It’s not so easy to say, is it?

“Emotional over-eating is the cause of obesity …”

Some people, no matter how careful they are with what they eat are still unhealthy, and those who just eat whatever they want whenever they want are very healthy, like myself. Emotional over-eating is not the problem. And I would even venture to say that emotional over-eating may stem from the very thing you keep pushing at people. Mainstream beauty ideals tend to alienate more people than they include. Weight-loss ads just create more eating disorders than they help people get healthier. Contemporary western society is so food-obsessed that we’ve lost track of what food can do for us as social human beings and how we can connect to each other. People are constantly counting calories, worrying about whether what’s in their food is GMO or contains this preservative or that salt, or whether something is deemed as organic or fits in with the latest hipster trend and makes them look cool. I fear that people don’t enjoy their food anymore, that it’s become a status symbol, something to post on Facebook. I’ve heard people say “at our age, we have to leave more on our plates” when ordering at restaurants. So… what happens to the food on your plate? It gets tossed in the garbage. This just emphasizes your status as a wealthy person who can afford to order a lot of food, and then not eat it, because you’re ‘trying to keep slim.’ This makes me so angry when I see food go to waste. Food should *not* be a status symbol. In most places of the world, people eat what they can get their hands on. They cherish the food that they have available to them, because there IS nothing else. I grew up with food as a social tradition. We would gather around a feast. Food was important to keeping our culture thriving, and over-eating was a sign of respect. And we would never, ever leave food on our plates. If we couldn’t eat it all, we would put it away as leftovers for the next day, because there was a time when my family remembered having very little or nothing to eat and they didn’t want to go through that again. In South Korea, over-eating is one of the most popular things to marvel at – it has become a kind of sporty entertainment! And here in the west, we’re ‘counting calories.’ Except for the lower-income people who don’t have access to fresh produce. Could these so-called ‘food deserts‘ be the cause of obesity in the United States? These are also often in places where city folk don’t venture to go, there are no yoga studios in a lot of these lower-income regions, no soccer fields, no cooking classes. People are struggling for survival in a society that deems them under class, they don’t have time to count calories or the money to buy better food.

“Obesity IS the cause of many illnesses our society is suffering…”

The capitalist machine has invented a fear of ‘fatness’ to sell us overly-priced food and weight-loss regimes. The capitalist machine has also invented fast food, deep fryers and over-sweetened our cereal, so that they can feed the machine, shower us with images of what we should look like and sell us back weight-loss regimes. It’s a well-thought out campaign to keep profits high and consumers feeling shitty about how they look. This is the reason why weight-loss ads earn money for web platforms like this one I went to. The manager claimed that he would like to represent diversity, but he wants to keep the website going. Yup, weight-loss ads sell, and diversity makes you no income, because it is revolutionary and counters capitalistic devices. I’m not going to disagree that a lot of excess fat in the body contributes to heart disease and limited mobility. But people get heart disease who are slimmer as well, and limited mobility can be caused be a lot of different reasons. When I was attending the first module of the yoga therapy teacher training program, the teacher, who’s also a practicing orthopedist, asked us if anyone knew what the main reason for bad knees was. A fellow student piped up, believing that obesity was the cause. He shook his head, ‘no,’ and said that’s one of the most common misconceptions. Yes, people who carry around extra weight, like myself, stress their knees more than smaller people. But that can actually create more strength in the knees, because of the pressure on the bones. Time and again, with every illness in the body, he kept referring to “too much sitting” as the most common cause of illness in our society.

Advertisers feign interest in people’s health in order to make more money for themselves. They don’t actually care about the health of other people. If they did, they’d stop shoving images of plastic unattainable bodies at us, fast food and weight-loss campaigns. If you really want to help people get more healthy, you’d actually go into lower-income communities and open up community kitchens with affordable nutritious food, cooking classes, economically-accessible exercise programs and community events that get people interacting with each other and moving around. Reduce the workweek, so people spend less time sitting at desks. Provide everyday office activities that everyone would enjoy – going for a walk or lunchtime yoga. Weight-loss ads only benefit those who are selling the ads, nobody else. Body Positivity is about enjoying yourself, your body, how it is now. My interpretation of mindful eating is rather than a selfish and vain approach of ‘watching what you eat’, to enjoy and be thankful for what I have to eat, and to recognize the connection between all of us on the planet through food.

Juli teaches Community Yoga classes in Berlin, with a focus of creating space for those who feel marginalized by mainstream yoga, offering classes both in German and English. Juli offers two weekly Vinyasa Flow yoga classes at our English yoga Kreuzberg studio

History and Evolution of Yoga- The Workshop

Photo by Patrick Hendry

Photo by Patrick Hendry

Yoga is 4000 years old. No, no it’s not! It’s 400 000 years old! What? No, Hatha Yoga is only 1000 years old. What yoga are you talking about? Yeah, I heard that there is even the yoga of singing! Is that even a thing? Sure! But what does that have to do with anything? But yoga belongs to the Hindu religion, right? No, it’s also buddhist and Jainist. No!… everyone says yoga has nothing to do with religion! But what about the Bhagavad Gita? It constantly uses the word yoga. That’s about a war! How uspiritual! Is Yoga spiritual? Isn’t Tantra Yoga all about sex? And where does Hot Yoga fit into all of this anyway? I’m not sure Patanjali would consider that yoga at all! Pata- WHO?

Feeling confused about Yoga’s history?

Come and join the lectures on History and Evolution of Yoga and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In History and Evolution of Yoga we will explore the basic most important texts of Yoga, samkhya philosophy, Classical Yoga, Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga. We will talk about the spirituality behind yoga and the various philosophies that accompany it.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we will explore the eight fold paths of classical yoga, giving special importance to the ethics and moral observances, as well as the practice of detachment.

What:

History and Evolution of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

When:

May 7th, 15.45-18.15

May 8th, 13.50 -15.50

Teacher:

Pinelopi Sioni

Pinelopi Sioni

Where:

AIKIDO am Gleisdreieck, Tempelhofer Ufer 36, 10963 Berlin

AIKIDO am Gleisdreieck, Tempelhofer Ufer 36, 10963 Berlin

Price:

25 Euro (40€ for both lectures)

25 Euro (40€ for both lectures)

Feeling you want more? These lectures are part of the Dynamic Mindfulness teacher training course in Berlin, and have been opened up to the public. Check out the full course if you wish to go deeper into your yoga studies.

Pinelopi usually teaches Hatha Yoga and Pregnancy Yoga in Kreuzberg Berlin.  These lectures, however, will not take part in our English Yoga Berlin Studio, but at the Aikido center as mentioned above.