I’m so thrilled to be in conversation with the lovely Cyndi Lee today. Cyndi’s book “Om Yoga at Home” is one of the first yoga books I ever bought, and it’s still on my shelf today!
When I heard she had a new memoir out called “May I Be Happy,” I just had to read it. And when I heard it was about her relationship with her body — how much time she spent hating it, and how she learned to love it over time — I got it on preorder! Once it arrived, I read it over the course of one delightful weekend. Cyndi’s story is relatable to the many, many of us who have struggled with how we see our bodies and ourselves. As you’ll see during our conversation, she gets it — and I’m so grateful to be talking with her and extending this conversation about body image, yoga & meditation.
I had such a hard time choosing a favorite quote from your lovely book, but this is among them: “I haven’t allowed myself enough ease–to grow or to move–either in my body or my mind. If my practice is about creating the causes and conditions for sukha [ease] to arise, I’ve been stuck doing just the opposite.” This describes what my practice looked like for years, too, and I know the same is true for many others. If someone is realizing they’re in the same boat, what do you recommend as a first step in moving towards more ease?
I love how you’ve asked this question, because taking a first step is the right approach. Step by step, we can shift our relationship to ourselves toward more positivity. In fact, you’ve already described the very first step which is recognizing when we are too critical toward ourselves which doesn’t allow our own genuine experience to come forth. This is really deadening, just the opposite of the enlivening experience that yoga can give us.
Yes; that’s such a helpful way to say it. Sometimes it can feel discouraging to start yoga and then “suddenly” find all these negative voices. But, really, this is the gift of our practice — to see and then shift.
It’s easy to miss because we forget about our goodness, the goodness within all of us that is always there, no matter what. So it’s a matter of refocusing our attention.
The practice I describe in my book called Maitri, or Lovingkindness, is very effective for creating ease or space. It is a traditional Buddhist method for reminding us of our own innate goodness. When you notice you are being mean to yourself, breathe in and on the out-breath, say to yourself, “May I be happy.” Take a moment to feel the kindness of that wish for yourself. You can continue with “May I be healthy, May I be safe, May I live with ease.”
You can say these slogans to yourself anytime, any place, whenever you feel your self-esteem tanking or you feel lonely or resentful or inadequate. In this way, we begin to reconnect to our own goodness, and to take responsibility for our own happiness, health, safety and good life.
Hmmm…..I’ve thought a lot about this and what I have finally come up with is that these days yoga is really gotten quite mainstream — which is wonderful because it means more people are doing it! But, that also means that yoga now has to fit into boxes that make sense to media companies, to marketers, to corporations that own yoga chains. So that means that yoga is being promoted as a fitness and de-stressing program.
We know that barely touches what yoga is really about and has basically nothing to do with the traditional benefits of yoga. But they don’t know how to sell yoga in any other way. And let’s face it, the audience for getting enlightened, or being honest and genuine, or living a life that is based on being connected to everyone and everything or talking about death as a way to appreciate our precious life, this audience is always going to be smaller than the “Let’s Get Fit in 30 days” audience.
Haha — yes, how true!
This main stream approach doesn’t offer a platform for honest conversations about body image. Because magazines want to sell magazines, not yoga and DVD companies want to sell DVDs, not yoga, etc etc.
That’s why your work is so important, Anna, as well as other yogis and yoginis who are bringing awareness to these real issues and integrating positive solutions through yoga. Thank you, my friend!
Thank you! That actually brings me to my next question, which is one I hear often: If a yoga student starts feeling badly about their body while in a pose, what’s one thing they can do in the moment to shift that internal criticism?
Well, this question also gets to the heart of something important which is the difference between feeling and thinking. If a yoga student is feeling badly, literally experiencing discomfort or potential injury, then they should rewind out of the pose a bit and ask the teacher for guidance.
But, if the student is feeling badly because they have an inner voice that is saying unkind things, such as “Your stomach is too fat to do this twist,” or “I hate the way my arms look in this pose,” then you can start to think of that old familiar voice as a little gremlin. When that gremlin pops up, you can look it and say, “Oh, you again. I’m not talking to you today. Bye bye.” Really! It seems silly but you can dismiss that negative persona with a light touch instead of guilt or self-aggression. This will make you laugh inside a little bit and lighten up your whole story line.
The original title of this book was “I Hate My Body.” When my editor and I met for the first time to talk about my process for writing the book, she said to me, “Of course, we won’t really use that title.” I was so upset! I thought it was a great title that so many women would relate to but she kindly explained to me that the title showed where I was beginning but the final title needed to show where I ended up.
So I hope that readers, yoga students and yoga teachers, will learn from this book that if they have negative self-esteem they are not alone. And they don’t have to hide that and feel it is their own dirty little secret while they pretend to live a life of total confidence. The book shows my process of going from negative body image - “I Hate My Body” – to self-compassion and care and feeling positive about my excellent body – “May I Be Happy.” If I can do it, they can do it.
Yes — may we all. I highly recommend Cyndi’s book and hope you’ll check it out!
Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching. Founder of NYC’s OM yoga Center (1998-2012) she now teaches workshops and teacher trainings worldwide. Author of the classic, Yoga Body Buddha Mind, her newest book is The New York Times’ critically acclaimed May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind. Connect with Cyndi on Facebook and Twitter.