The Skin You’re In

The relationship I developed with my body as a young girl was confusing and tumultuous at best; appalling and shameful at worst. It all started out well enough. I didn’t even consider gender or body image or definitions of ‘good or bad’ when it came to my own form until I was about eight years old, and then one day, I looked down at my bare thighs spread wide against the seat of the car and gasped at how…big they looked. I vowed never to allow my thighs to rest against the seat like that again; instead, I would delicately sit with my thighs elevated above the seat just enough so the flesh could hang off my bones, and maintain the slim appearance that I considered acceptable. I have no idea why I considered slim to be more acceptable. Maybe I had fallen victim to the media that surrounded me; maybe I had overheard negative remarks at school; maybe it’s because I didn’t want to take up so much space….who knows how it started. It just did.

This skin I’m living in has been through a lot, and it’s likely that the skin you’re living in has been through a lot, too.

It has likely been stretched, pulled, belittled, reprimanded, ridiculed, covered, shamed, ashamed, disregarded, used, abused…sometimes perhaps by others, sometimes perhaps by you.

And yet…it survives, thrives, rejoices, celebrates, dances, moves, holds, beholds, and most importantly, loves.

And I don’t know why we, as a society don’t talk about the beautiful parts of ourselves, as if it is shameful to even admit that you’re okay with how you look and okay with who you are, but I hope that the conversation might change—that we might not only talk about being okay with who we are as individuals, but to celebrate acceptance, innate beauty and the unique differences that make you, you.

Even as I write, I find a bit of hesitation to admit it—but I can finally say that I love the skin I’m in.

I love the bumps, lumps, lines and wrinkles.
I love the parts that change and the parts that stay the same.
I love that my hands look like my Grandmother’s and my nose looks like my Dad’s.
I love that there is an old photo of my Mother that could be me.
I love that there is herstory and history in my bones; and that I carry the stardust of my ancestors beneath my skin.

I love that I can finally look in the mirror and smile instead of scowl at what I see.

This love did not come through external influences;
There have been no dramatic changes to the shape of my body;
or outside sources declaring my worth and beauty;
I didn’t suddenly get prettier or thinner or stronger….
No, this love did not come through outside influences;

This love came from within.

It came because I was tired of wasting energy on not liking the skin I’m in.

It came through quiet moments of early meditation; sitting in the dark; squaring off with my demons; and discovering that inner truth and peace were never lost; they’ve been here all along, just waiting to be seen.

It came through hours upon hours of focused movement: updog, downdog, forward bend, repeat….movement that would peel away the layers of armor that held me from myself. This movement—sometimes slow and sweet, and sometimes difficult and strong—shook it off, bit by bit, breath by breath. It made me soft enough to feel and strong enough to grow.

It came through constant introspection; policing my own mind; noticing the cruel words; the loud voice; the demeaning demands; sorting out the truth from lies; questioning their validation, and ultimately finding the discipline to drop the things that kept me small and weak…

It came through looking in the mirror, and instead of focusing on my flaws; I declared my own beauty to myself, even when it felt awkward, strange and uncomfortable. I said it anyway; I spoke kind words until it felt real; until it felt true; until it became real and became true.

It came through miles and miles of running that helped to flush out stuck emotions; to process; to breathe deep enough to pull it from the darkest depths, and free it out to dissolve with the heat of my breath as it mingled with the crisp morning air.

It came through writing—sloppy, incoherent, rambling—a dumping ground of words and ideas that had to be released; cleaning out the wounds so they could heal.

It came through cleansing tears.
It came through clearing the air.
It came through forgiveness.
It came through trust.
It came through faith.
It came through each and every moment of my life that begged me to stop resisting and start loving.

It came.

And just because I’ve made peace with myself, doesn’t mean I can stop working at it; the work for acceptance is ongoing—up and down, in and out, with constant reminders and practice, practice, practice.

But the return for my dedication toward acceptance is that I can love and celebrate my body for the beautiful instrument that it is.

I live free.
I share.
I give.
I create.
I love.

Finally, finally,

I am no longer weighed down.
I am no longer ashamed;
I’m not ashamed of my body, and I’m not ashamed to love it, either.
I am no longer holding my thighs above the seat so that my flesh can hang from my bones to maintain a slim appearance.

Finally, finally,

I am in love with the skin I’m in.

And my hope is that you will be, too. That you’ll start with wherever you are by accepting this moment with all of its flaws and all of its imperfections and unknown mysteries and realize that all of that is perfect, too.

That you are perfect.

And that realizing the truth about yourself isn’t about searching somewhere else. It’s about releasing the barriers that hold you back from recognizing your own beautiful image in the mirror.

I hope you’ll fall in love with the skin you’re in;

as it is, right now.

Because, it’s time.

Finally, finally.

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You Are Everything

One of the most unexpected benefits of being a yoga teacher is that, over the past ten years of observing my students—observing their movement as they expand, contract, close, open, stretch and strengthen—I have fallen completely in love with the human body. And not just the physical form, but everything it contains—the beauty within—the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects as they are reflected in physical form.

It doesn’t matter how it moves or how it doesn’t move; it doesn’t matter if it is young or old; graceful or awkward; strong or weak; tight or open. It doesn’t matter what it can or cannot do, or how it compares to societal standards.

It is all perfection to me.

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to backpack into a secluded high mountain lake and have nothing else to do for an entire afternoon, except stare at that lake.

It was absolutely mesmerizing.

As I watched, the reflection danced between perfect clarity and distorted images; the water rippled and stilled; ebbed and flowed; and the colors in the sky mingled with shadows and light that displayed an exquisite array of colors—light and dark; dull and vibrant—every color you can imagine. It was like watching a light show on the water. It never stayed the same for more than a breath.

It reminded me of the human body.

Your body, and everything within it, is mesmerizing. Sometimes it reflects back perfect clarity and understanding; sometimes it distorts the reflection. It is movement and stillness, and sometimes both at the same time. Your body passes through moments of light and dark; dull or vibrant—every color you can imagine.

You are absolutely mesmerizing.

Have you ever stared in awe at a newborn baby? The delicate features; the light on their skin; the clarity in their eyes? Would you dare to look at yourself the same way, even if only for a moment?

Could you allow yourself to slip away from the barriers of your mind and the rigid ideas contained there so you can have a love affair with yourself?

To feel your skin, young or old, smooth or rough, and adore it either way?

To appreciate the features of your face—the way they’ve been passed on to you like sacred treasure, holding the history of your family and the generations before you?

To look into your own eyes and see what’s there—the love, the hurt, the pain, the strength, and the deep, deep knowing that you are so much more than what you see?

Could you slip away with yourself, if only for one solitary afternoon, or one deep breath?

Would you give yourself the gift of you?

I hope you’ll see what I see when I look at you.
I hope you’ll see that you are magic; that your body is perfect, in spite of perceived imperfections.
I hope you’ll see that your ‘flaws’ are not flaws at all; that they are what make you unique and special.
I hope you’ll see that you are always and forever changing; that this moment now is already gone.

One brief moment of love for yourself will heal you in ways you could never imagine.
One brief moment of love for yourself will show you the truth;
…that you are more than what you see.

That you are beauty.
Grace.
Light.
Courage.
Strength.
Hope.
Faith.
and
Love.
You are so. much. more. than what you see.

You are everything.

MountainLake

Make it Okay

First, a story:

Long day; the last of too many yoga classes: I was burned out, exhausted and not exactly rooted in my best self.

A student walks up to tell me that she didn’t really like the class; it was too fast, she felt lost, and she liked the other teacher better….ouch.

I was stunned and embarrassed and a little pissed off.

I mumbled an apology, maybe an excuse or two, and she left.

And there I was, alone with full-blown resistance toward myself, the student, and the entire situation. My face was flush, my body felt tight, my mind was spinning, and I just wanted the whole thing to just go away.

For the next few days I went through a series of reactions—I felt sad, irritated, angry; tried to forget it, flung out excuses, pretended not to care, and imagined the things I should have said…

I kept pushing and it kept pushing back.

Finally, after I had grown tired of the wrestling match, I tried a different approach—I invited it in. It wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t like it, but I sat with it anyway. And when I did, I realized that my resistance to the situation was softening. My body softened, my mind stopped spinning, and my heart started to open just a little bit.

When that happened, I started to listen.

What can I learn from this situation?

The student had been right; I was moving too fast, I was unengaged, disconnected, and not teaching from my heart. I didn’t want to accept it, but it was true.
And when I accepted the reality of the situation, I found myself in a space of clarity; a space with options; a space where I could actually facilitate positive change.

And so I did.

The experience became my wake-up call; a call toward positive change and necessary introspection. I reevaluated my schedule and lightened my load. I didn’t love the way the message was delivered, but sometimes it takes a hard hit to get the point across.

My point is this: Acceptance isn’t easy and you don’t have to like it, but if you can drop your resistance to yourself or the situation, you will enter into a space of clarity—a space where you can proceed with wisdom and grace.

If you have resistance toward something; pay attention. Be brave; look at it; invite it in, and most importantly, listen.

And then look at your options with clarity:

“Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it, all else is madness.” –Eckhart Tolle.

Leave it.

Change it.

Accept it.

Whatever you do, don’t let it bind you into a tiny ball of resistance, because when you resist, you’re closing yourself off to the good parts of the experience.

Your practice for the next couple of days is to watch for moments when you slip into resistance—the moments when you don’t like your body; the moments when you’ve been dumped with more work; the moments when you wish you hadn’t said what you said, or heard what you heard. And pay very close attention to the moments that you wish would just go away.

Those moments are the doorways to something bigger—they’re the doorways to greater awareness, greater compassion, greater understanding…..greater versions of you.

Contraction precedes expansion. Moments of non-acceptance aren’t meant to tear you down; they’re meant to teach you how to get bigger; find space; and then proceed from there.

Now it’s your turn. Dive into the work, and see what insights you can find in the moments you wish weren’t there.

And if you can’t quite get to a place of acceptance? Accept that you’re trying and that’s good enough.

Okay

Soft Belly

I currently have a two-week old baby, which means that—depending on how you look at it—I’m either in a state of complete bliss, or a lack-of-sleep induced fog. (I think it might be a bit of both). My baby likes to be held. Whether he’s sleeping or awake, he seems to know whether or not I’m physically holding him–which means, I’m currently writing with him strapped to my chest as I methodically sway from side to side. This could lead to some misspelled words and incoherent sentences. My apologies in advance.

Since the focus of my blog right now is primarily on the idea that optimal health and fitness happens from the inside out, my post today is about the fear that I battled throughout my pregnancy of facing my postpartum body.  This is my third child, and I’m 37. In my mind, that feels old enough to expect that my body will likely not bounce back right away; and a third pregnancy…well, that’s a lot for one body to go through!

Throughout my pregnancy, I managed to conquer most of the fearful or negative thoughts with conscious awareness and positive intentions for myself and my baby, and now that I’m facing the reality of my postpartum body, I’m discovering something unexpected…I  kind of like it.

I have a round belly, big boobs for nursing and a bit of curve to my normally slim frame. If I were to sum up my body in one word, I would describe it as soft; which makes a nice cushion for my baby to sink into and snuggle up against. I didn’t expect to feel this way.  By working to dispel the negativity surrounding my postpartum body, the most I had hoped for was acceptance of my body, and here I am in awe with love and appreciation for all that it has gone through—the amazing development of pregnancy, the delivery of my beautiful baby, and the miraculous recovery from childbirth.

No matter what your body has gone through, I hope you’ll look at it with love and appreciation. It carries so much, releases so much, and heals itself again and again. It’s like witnessing a miracle every day.

This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on March 18, 2014

Hello, Shadow

Lately I’ve been questioning how well I know myself.

I know what’s on the surface. I know what I like and dislike. I know who I love, how to love, and how to be loved. I know what makes me feel good or bad and I know, for the most part, how to create the conditions for happiness to occur. I am willing to study my strengths so they’ll grow, and I’m willing to nurture the parts of myself that I feel might serve others, serve the planet and bring fulfillment. In general, I place a great deal of awareness on the aspects of myself that I consider my ‘light’ side.

But how well do I know my shadow side? Do I recognize its voice? Its tone? Do I recognize the way it feels in my body? When it is present, do I run away or do I face it? Do I blame other people and situations for its presence? Or do I own it, accept it and question its purpose?

Every person has a shadow side. It is the part of us that we generally choose not to explore. It’s where we hold the habitual tendencies that (sometimes unbeknownst to us) harm ourselves or those around us.  It’s where we hold weakness, fear, doubt, guilt, shame, anger or jealousy.  It’s the side of ourselves we don’t want to see, so often times we choose not to see it, fooling ourselves into believing that if we don’t look, it will go away. The problem is that our shadow  tendencies creep into our lives, making their way into conversations and life situations, causing distress and turmoil until they sink back into the dark, only to return again at some other time.

The only way to dissolve the shadow is through awareness of it. Our shadow tendencies provide an amazing opportunity for growth and understanding if we have the courage to face it. If I choose only to study and observe the light and pleasant parts of myself, then I will be missing out on the opportunity to study the real reasons behind what causes difficulty in my life.

The critical element in seeing our shadow tendencies is to remain present. As we practice present moment awareness, we become skilled in the art of paying attention–watching our thoughts and emotions come and go; seeing what makes us feel good, but also seeing what makes us feel bad. The difficult part is that we generally don’t want to accept that we’re the reason we feel bad or sad or angry, etc. That’s when we try to escape the feeling, blame others, distract ourselves, remove our awareness and ignore the shadow.

The dissolution of the shadow happens when we can remain still as it arises. Drop the story that comes with it, and hold acute observation of the feeling itself. Whenever an uncomfortable feeling or situation arises, breathe into the sensation that is manifesting in the physical body. It may feel like hardness around the heart, a lump in the throat, or discomfort in the stomach. Continue to drop whatever thoughts come up and focus on the sensation itself until the feeling dissolves. The shadow may come up several times before it is completely gone, but through this practice, we are given the opportunity to work toward awareness and ultimately, freedom.

Once held in the light of awareness, a shadow is transformed. Jealousy becomes inspiration, anger becomes activism, doubt becomes courage, guilt becomes forgiveness, shame becomes compassion, and fear becomes love.

If I want to know myself better, then part of that process means choosing to observe and accept all the parts of myself–not just the parts that I like, but also the parts that I don’t like. The next time my shadow emerges from the dark, I’ll see it, accept it, question it, change my behavior, and allow it to dissolve into the light of my awareness.

What is your shadow trying to tell you?

Next time you see it, ask.

 

This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on February 26th, 2013

We accept the love we think we deserve

Wow. This is such a powerful statement–a line from the movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This statement tells us that we determine what we receive in terms of love–not only love from other people and relationships, but the love we receive from the Universe—from nature and our various life situations. Two people can be looking at the same scenario and have two completely different perceptions. One might see and feel the beauty, opportunity, growth, expansion and love, while the other might only see and feel despair, desolation, ugliness, contraction and fear. The perception comes from what we think we deserve.

What we think we deserve. The statement is both heartbreaking and empowering, depending on our perception. The key is to recognize that we have the power to change the way we think in terms of what we deserve.

It is not a matter of whether or not we deserve it–all the love in the world is already ours–it is a matter of accepting that love.

The mind is undoubtedly a gift. It is the only way that we can realize consciousness. Without the mind, we would still be conscious, enlightened beings, but we would never be able to experience our own consciousness. It is only through the gift of the mind and the experience of being unconscious, that we are given the opportunity to realize and experience our enlightened state.

That being said, the mind can also create an enormous barrier. It attracts and holds all of the things we are taught—all of our perceptions about ourselves–who we are and what we deserve. Beginning as children, we are taught what is good and bad, based on society and other people’s perceptions. Depending on our experiences, we build up an identity for ourselves based on what we learn from the world. Are we good or bad? If we’re ‘bad’ we deserve less. If we’re ‘good’ we deserve more. All of us hold varying degrees of ‘good and bad’ and it changes throughout our lives based on experience, relationships, and our various perceptions.

How do we change our perception from deserving certain quantities of love, to accepting it from an unlimited source?

Through forgiveness.

We hold ourselves trapped in a self-built prison of shame and guilt based on all of the ‘bad’ things that we’ve ever done or had done to us in our entire lives. And whether we’re aware of it on a conscious level or not, it is still there, wreaking havoc on our lives and holding us back from accepting the love that is already ours.

In order receive the love that is ours, we absolutely must forgive ourselves and anybody who has ever helped in building the perception of ourselves as not being worthy of love.

Initially, forgiveness might feel phony. It might be spoken or thought without feeling or depth, but do it anyway. It might start out shallow, but with practice, it becomes a real feeling with depth and meaning. Forgive anything and anyone in the past, and also everything that happens in the present moment. Make it your mantra to forgive. Allow it to rest on the surface of your mind, ready to dissolve any thought or feeling of guilt or shame that arises out of the present moment. It may surface as a memory of the past or it might come as the result of present action. If it is a current action that causes a feeling of unworthiness, change the behavior, forgive yourself, and move on. You might forgive the same thing over and over again, but eventually the shameful behavior will dissolve into your willingness to forgive. Stick with it.

Forgive yourself, forgive others, forgive the situation, and see how your perception changes. Love will no longer be something you deserve in varying degrees. You will come to realize that unlimited love is already yours and you’ll be willing to accept it.

This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on March 15, 2013.

Ever Been Hurt? Shine Even Brighter

Remember when you were a kid and you were going along, perfectly content about yourself and your life, and suddenly somebody, (maybe that mean kid in grade school), pointed out that you have big ears, or a crooked nose, or a weird laugh, or…fill in the blank. And suddenly, you’re mortified to find out that you DO have big ears or a crooked nose or a weird laugh, and based on the way the information was delivered to you, you recognize that apparently it is not a good thing?

And so it begins…your perception shifts to see yourself as ‘less than’, ‘too much,’ or ‘not enough’ and this perception makes you think you aren’t worthy of love or attention, or praise.

And so perhaps you went on thinking this way for a while; but hopefully, at some point during all of those years you started to realize that while your ears may be big, they’re really unique and beautiful, and that your nose may be crooked but it’s just like your grandmother’s, so you love it anyway; and your laughter is contagious so everyone around you finds joy in it also.

Hopefully, you have come to realize that these qualities are what make you beautiful.

Yet, sometimes it doesn’t work that way; sometimes old wounds get buried under new ones, and before you know it the wounds run so deep that it requires some real effort to heal what hurts.

You might resist a certain part of yourself or your life because it hurts, but it hurts because it needs to heal. When you have an injury your body lets you know about it through physical pain. The pain reminds you that you need to nurture the wound until it heals. It’s the same thing with emotional or psychological pain. You can’t ignore the pain and expect the wound to heal. You may even go so far as reopen the wound again and again by replaying the scenario or repeating the same cruel inner dialogue again and again. It’s pretty hard to heal when you’re constantly being reinjured.

You can’t ignore it, and you definitely can’t keep opening the wound, so what do you do?

You’ve got to nurture it back to health.

First of all, you’ve got to stop the offensive dialogue or events from invading your head space. Police your own mind. If the thought doesn’t serve you, tears you down, or makes you feel like crap, then Get.It.Out. Replace the image or the thought with something else—a song, a mantra, or a kind thought would be nice. If that doesn’t work, sit with the feeling of it. How is the thought showing up in your body? Where can you feel it? Can you sit and hold the feeling of it in your body or surround the sensation with space and light?

Old habits die hard, and acceptance doesn’t happen in one day. This is a process, so be patient with it. Especially if it’s an old wound—it may have been there for years—so give yourself time to really let it heal. Recognize that you’re going to have good days and bad days. Sometimes you’ll be strong and resilient against any negative attacks, but sometimes you’ll crumble at the slightest hint of negativity. Don’t let those days derail you. The fact that you can hold awareness of the good days and the bad days is a very powerful practice, and a sign that you’re on the right track. Being able to look at yourself and observe that you’re really feeling hurt, sensitive or raw at any given time is a sign that you’re slipping into a more expansive state of consciousness. Recognizing that you’re experiencing pain is different from being completely, unconsciously devoured by it. The difference is that you either hold the experience of pain, or it holds you.

Here’s the thing; life is full of people and experiences that will shake you up, tear you down, and break your heart. Don’t let those experiences be what defines you. Allow your response to those experiences be what defines you. Ultimately, you are in control—maybe not in control of what life throws at you—but you’re definitely in control of how you respond.

Be courageous. Nurture. Heal.

Then go out and shine even brighter.

This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on February 18, 2015.