“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”
As a fitness instructor I am given the “fat person once over” now and again. You know what I mean. I mention to someone that I teach yoga – and then the person takes a sweeping glance from my feet to my head - and looks me in the eye with some level of disbelief.
I admit that my weight is some number north of my ideal weight – and despite keeping a 40+ weight loss off this body for over ten years – I always struggle with my weight. Even though I exercise daily, eat fairly healthy and practice yoga.
And like Oprah – despite all I have accomplished –some judge me by my weight success (or lack of it).
Oprah has accomplished so much. She overcame many obstacles including poverty, abuse and a teenage pregnancy. And despite all racial and gender odds she rose to become the most recognized and successful talk show host in history. Then she transformed her talk show into a wellness, mindful force for the greater good. She followed that success by creating her own OWN network to feature programming that helps viewers be their best selves.
Yet, based on her article in People, she still struggles with her weight. OMG – if she struggles with her food issues – how can any of us mere mortals scale it? I feel compelled to write her – to encourage her and thank her for her honesty.
You are more than your weight. Your journey to this point has been long and filled with challenges that you have surpassed swimmingly. You have been pursuing a marathon of wellness, and you are on mile 22 and yet some people might still look at you as if you didn’t get up and put your shoes on for the starting line-up!
Eating is the most basic of our bodily functions. It is a matter of life and death and our ability to control it is compromised at a visceral level. You have accomplished so much - why do we, and you, still kick ourselves when we cannot manage effectively something that most Americans fight with on some level?
Oprah’s struggle resonates so strongly with me because I was physically abused by my mother as a child and part of the accompanying mental abuse involved berating me because I was slightly overweight. Which of course only became way worse as I rebelled due to her conditional love.
With therapy, nutritional changes, exercise and yoga I have overcome the abuse, learned to thrive despite a related anxiety disorder, maintained a 40-pound weight loss, and survived a divorce from an adulterous spouse.
Yet I still struggle with my weight and am given the "once over" occasionally because I am not the thin, pony-tailed depiction of karma goodness.
As an abused child, eating became my coping mechanism. When I was with my mother I had to keep it all together - watch every word I said and every action so I wouldn’t be hit or verbally abused. When I was away from her, I would take comfort in food - sometimes gorging myself with whatever was in the house.
I realize now even though I am in control of my life, and no one is currently abusing me, I am still routinely triggered as if I was about to be abused. As a result, I seek food to comfort me. To forget the feelings…to hide from the pain.
But I don’t have to accept this triggering pattern.
By committing to daily exercise as well as breathing practices, meditation and yoga, I have been able to down regulate my nervous system enough to notice my eating triggers. Then I am able to avoid the “food as comfort” response in favor of other activities like writing or walking my dog Yogi.
And if I fall off the wagon, I just climb back up on it again – with acceptance and self-love - and try again.
So one more thing Oprah - we are impressed by your ability to navigate and excel the marathon of your life. And we believe you will surpass all expectations in your quest to achieve this last weight gauntlet.
But no matter what – we love you through thick and thin - and thank you for honestly sharing your journey with us. Namaste. Donna
How can mindfulness breathing practices and yoga help you navigate the food or other triggering responses in your life to allow lasting change"? Join us on Super Bowl Sunday February 5th at 1 PM at the Malvern REMAX office at 409 Lancaster Pike, Malvern, PA for an hour of Mindfulness and Yoga to Make Lasting Change". Hope to see you there!
“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” - Maya Angelou
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” - Mark Twain
The last time I had a dog was over twenty three years ago before I was married. So my children had no canine experience - for adoption we needed a low maintenance specimen. And as we had just lived through a whirlwind divorce - if he could provide a peace that passes all understanding – that would be great too.
The day we adopted Yogi from All 4 Paws we were not even sure we were ready to bring home a dog.
Sure I had filled out all the paperwork, and my personal references had all been checked. But I was nervous about making another commitment, and I was in the midst of completing 500 hours of yoga teacher and therapy training. And it was January. What sane person commits to routinely walking a four-legged animal in January? All in all, it was not an opportune time to adopt a dog.
But my daughter was home from college – and we wanted to check out how the adoption process worked - so we decided to go to a “meet and greet” event at a local pet store.
We had preconceived ideas about what we wanted in a dog. We even looked at some potential adoptees on-line. We were selfishly looking for a dog that would suit us – or what we thought would suit us. We wanted a dog that was younger, larger and could help protect us now that our patriarch was gone.
The day of the meet and greet we were the first to arrive. All the dogs weren’t even there yet. As we mingled with the arriving foster parents and pets, a small furry black and white dog kept coming over to us. He would plop himself right in front of my daughter or son – legs flat on the floor as if in child’s pose. He would look up at them with his big black eyes and small nose and demand that attention be paid. His plume like tail was the size of his head and it was wagging furiously.
As we interviewed the other dogs at the event, this black and white bundle of joy kept coming over. It was clear he had picked us and it was as if he was saying, “Pick me back, pick me back!”
No other dog large or small had the peaceful charm of this dog. We asked his foster mom about him.
“He is a dream. He is good with kids and other dogs. And he is so mellow – hardly barks at all.”
We asked some questions – was he housebroken and leash trained? All answers were positive.
I was a little hesitant. “We didn’t even look him up. We don’t even know his name.”
We went over to the three ring spiral notebook which housed all the foster pet information.
“It’s Yogi Bear,” my daughter said.
A yogi just like me. It was like a sign from the universe that this was our dog. I signed the initial adoption papers 5 minutes later.
So, despite all of our previous search criteria – we took the leap and adopted an eight year-old, 18 pound Shih Tzu named Yogi Bear. Picture below from Yogi's adoption day.
And he has been both a dream and a bit of a yogi mentor as well. My kids say the best thing about 2016 was adopting Yogi. He has been a great addition to the family – providing a peaceful presence for our transition to a single parent household.
I had such a positive experience that when the All 4 Paws adoption agency needed volunteers to foster dogs for the holiday, I agreed to foster a small dog named Scruffy.
He was a one-year-old 13-pound Brussels Griffon mix with a slight overbite on one side. Adorable (picture below).
Without asking Yogi for permission, we brought this bundle of energy into our house and asked him to welcome him. And he did.
When Yogi met him, Scruffy immediately tried to mount him. Yogi didn’t try to bite him or growl – he just removed himself from the young scoundrel.
Being a young dog, Scruffy wanted to horseplay with Yogi. Yogi gently rebuffed the pup.
After all – he is an old man who is interested in playing with a toy once every 3-4 weeks when there is a full moon. And then only for about 5 minutes.
Scruffy was fully trained and ready to play. He could fetch, play tug of war and dance on his hind legs. He took over the house immediately – including Yogi’s food, favorite blanket and bed.
Yet Yogi just let it happen. I was amazed at his graceful kindness. Faced with the same situation – would I be as evolved?
I picked Yogi up and looked into his soulful eyes. It’s like he somehow knew that we were paying it forward – doggy style. We had both been abandoned recently and had found comfort in each other - transforming our loss into tremendous gain. And now it was this young rascal Scruffy’s turn to find a family that he could transform too.
Without reading a lick of Pantanjali’s Sutras or posturing through a single yoga class (although he does “help” my private yoga client sessions by providing a cuddle when needed) he exhibited more yoga enlightenment than I have mustered after years of classes, training and now teaching.
We only had Scruffy one night. The next day he was adopted by a family who loved his quirkiness and couldn’t wait to give him the home he deserved. My daughter and I cried on the way home from the adoption center. My son started planning a dog fostering wall at the house with all the pictures of the dogs we were going to foster. But I was not sure my heart could take this whole fostering business again.
We got home and Yogi ran to meet us at the door – like he does every day. And when I sat on the couch that had seemed so small when Scruffy was here, Yogi curled up at my feet like nothing had happened in the last 24 hours. He had experienced an uncomfortable situation, handled it gracefully and quickly recovered.
During a recent yoga training I attended, the instructor who was leading the session said that the goal of yoga is to encounter difficult situations and remain kind and helpful to others throughout.
“Afterward,” he said, “if you are truly enlightened, you should be able to quickly return to a peaceful disposition.”
So - I have been striving to achieve this personification of Zen for years - yet my dog exhibited it innately - without even trying.
It was then that I knew we will foster again – and next time I will emulate Yogi’s kind graceful acceptance and release of our transient foster child. Because as it turns out, he has rescued and enlightened me more than I him. And, now that it has been a year since he picked us, I look forward to paying that gift forward – Yogi style.
In what ways can you learn from the kind creatures in your life?
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
- Will Rogers
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” - Emerson
Almost every morning I visit my nearby WaWa convenience store because I love their coffee. For those who haven’t been to these stores, they are part of a convenience store chain primarily located in the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area.
I am always amazed at how helpful and kind people are during my morning WaWa visits. Customers hold the door for those arriving and exiting, and they nod and say hello to each other. And although the stores are small and quite busy - there is never any pushing, shoving or line issues – even though most patrons are still in need of their morning coffee.
Wish the same could be said for other establishments.
Last week my fiancé and I went to a well-renown yoga retreat center for a few days of rest and relaxation. I had been going to this particular center for years. During my first visit I decided to commit to yoga teacher training. Which was quite fortuitous as within a month of starting this training, I discovered my husband had cheated on me causing me to eventually file for divorce.
The yoga teacher training, and yoga community, helped me navigate a very difficult time in my life. As a result, I have a very warm place in my heart for this particular yoga retreat center.
The yoga center asks attendees to refrain from using cell phones in common areas such as the lunchroom. This is something I typically adhere to. However, last Thursday, the pet adoption agency I volunteer for had an urgent need for someone to foster a 65-pound Pointer named Buddy over the New Year’s Holiday. There was a quick turnaround needed to arrange the fostering assignment and I was working with the adoption manager to figure out if my 17-pound Shih Tzu would likely get along with Buddy. So I was quietly texting the adoption manager in the lunchroom. In hindsight I should have probably gone to my room, but the cell coverage in the center is rather spotty and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively if I left my location.
Out of nowhere someone said “Is this your first time here?” I looked up at the person behind the voice and stayed silent as her eyes and tone were not warm.
My fiancé took her comment for friendliness and said, “It is my first time here but she has been here multiple times.”
I continued to remain silent. I sensed her comment was related to my cell phone. Was this really happening? At a yoga retreat center? Have we become such an intolerant society that even yogis are throwing “shade” for ridiculously inconsequential things?
The first time I heard the term shade was on Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta franchise. Shade is defined as a seemingly nice comment that is in fact quite rude and hurtful. But because the comment is landed rather innocuously, it is difficult for the receiver to be sure they were criticized or judged. And, to top it off, it can look like they are overreacting if they do respond. Being read is another way to describe this type of activity.
This is a communication approach you might expect to hear on a Bravo reality show, but not at a yoga retreat center.
I finished texting my agreement to foster the dog and put my phone away. A part of me wanted to be above it all and just walk away. But, I couldn’t stop myself from letting her know the context of my situation.
“Excuse me, did you ask whether we were first timers because I had my cell phone out?” I asked as I started shaking from head to toe.
She looked a little embarrassed, “Yes, I did.”
“Do you know the story of “Baby in the Backseat?”
She said, “Yes.”
Baby in the Back Seat is a story that illustrates the importance of situational context. A person (let’s call him Fred) is sitting in a car at a red light. The Toyota before him at the light has a woman in the front seat and she is reaching into the back seat of the car. The light turns green and the Toyota doesn’t move. Fred begins honking his horn and going crazy about the Toyota not moving. He becomes even angrier as he watches her continue to fiddle with something in the back seat. He starts to get out of his car to yell at the woman when he sees her frantically open the driver’s side door and go into the back seat. Her infant son was choking on something and she had to perform the Heimlich maneuver to save him. Fred offers assistance, but the mother was able to help the son resume normal breath. Before going back to his car, Fred apologizes to the woman for not understanding the context of the situation. She accepts the apology and both proceed through the traffic intersection.
This story is sometimes called Baby In the Back Seat or BIBS.
I explained, “So, I was in the process of arranging to foster a large dog over the upcoming holiday weekend since no one could do it. That was why I was texting.”
The woman looked embarrassed, “That is very nice of you.”
I didn’t know what else to say without being unkind. So I said, “Everything is not always what it seems” and I walked away still trembling.
I was so frustrated. Even here – at this renowned yogi sanctuary – I was thrown shade. I could understand if I had my cell phone out in a class or lecture, but it was the cafeteria. Practically every yoga class, lecture and art work proclaims the benefits of a kind and forgiving nature, yet I was still “read” by an intolerant yogi.
I tried not to let this incident affect me. Not everyone at the center was like her and she was probably having a difficult time on her journey. So, with a little mental re-framing, and the help of a previously scheduled meditative and reiki massage at the center’s spa (amazing), I felt better.
The next morning, my boyfriend and I were scheduled to leave the yoga center right after breakfast, but we decided to leave before dawn to return to our normal surroundings.
We also wanted to visit WaWa so we could experience some kindness with our morning coffee.
I will likely go back to the yoga center someday – but only when I can leave my cell phone at home.
Have you mistakenly harmed or been unkind to someone because you misunderstood the situational context? Maybe remembering the BIBS story could help you create a kinder outcome.
“Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, color, sounds and work that nourish you.” - Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy
Turns out at least some of my people are at WaWa.