All posts by Melanie Klein

About Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein is a writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is the adviser of the Santa Monica College Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and founder and co-coordinator of Women, Action + Media! Los Angeles. Melanie attributes feminism and yoga as the two primary influences in her work, and is committed to consciousness-raising, promoting media literacy, healing distorted body images and cultivating healthy body relationships. Founder of the blog FeministFatale, her work may also be found at Adios Barbie, Elephant Journal, Ms. Magazine’s blog, WIMN’s Voices, and the forthcoming anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice.

California Christmas and All Things Inspired: An Interview with Brandon and Leah

Leah Felder, half of the musical duo Brandon and Leah, just released her album, California Christmas featuring unique, beach-inspired re-makes of holiday classics and an original title track. The tracks are infused with her honeyed vocals and the distinct sound of the ukulele, perfect balmy sweet sounds to light up the season. Inspired by my recent conversations (ranging from being finding joy in the awareness of the present, liberation and music and mindfulness) with this socially conscious and talented couple, I decided to inquire and find out what inspires them and keeps them churning out good vibes and beautiful tunes.

People love your newly released album, California Christmas, and the self-released video for  “Life Happens” has reached close to a million hits. And many of your fans frequently mention how refreshing your music is, how inspiring your lyrics are and how distinct and unique Leah’s voice is. Can you name some of your musical influences?

L: When I was a kid I would go down to The Warehouse…remember that place? I’d get CD’s, come home, slam the door shut and I would listen to Etta, Nina, Billy and Aretha. And then I started getting into Erykah Badhu. I loved her for her, like… I think I was 12-years old and I loooved her “Call Tyrone” was my favorite song ever. I’ve grown to admire Nick Drake’s song writing and, of course, I love John Lennon and Dusty Springfield and the list goes on. And during my teenage angst there was a lot of Rage Against the Machine. I still keep that around, just in case. And I’d also like to add Edith Piaf. I think I am in love with her.

So how did a little girl from Malibu get into all of this old music in the late 1980s?

L: My sister listened to New Kids on the Block and my brother was into crazy speed metal. My dad didn’t really listen to a lot of music, he just played a whole lot of music. My mom listened to The Gypsy Kings and stuff like that. And I got my introduction to “real music” and the music I fell in love with at a young age from the woman that would help take care of all of us. Her name was Dolores and she was about 65-years old and when she’d pick me up from school would have Frank Sinatra on. We’d get it into her car and we’d blow up the speakers with Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. And Dolores had this taste… I started listening to this at about 7-years-old and listening to how it felt and she definitely got me into that era. And that’s when I really fell in love with music.

What a gift. What about you, Brandon?

B: I initially grew up listening to a lot of the very the beginnings of hip hop. Bands like A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian…things that were hip hop based and funky at the same time. I also loved Al Green. I remember when I first heard his music and it was just so great. I can still listen to that all day and I’ve heard it a million billion times.  And, Bob Marley has to be mentioned, of course. I always loved Marley but then I just saw the documentary Marley recently and it was just awesome. I also listened to a lot of blues stuff like John Lee Hooker. Sublime was a big influence.

What was the last great book you read? Why?

B: I’ve been reading this awesome book called How to Train a Wild Elephant. It’s strictly about how to be present and gives you simple tasks that build mindfulness.

L: A book that I just finished, but keep re-reading and re-reading is Leonard Cohen’s Fifteen Poems. I have absolutely fallen in love with it. The book I read all the time and keep next to my bed is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Another book that has expanded my perspective is Eckhardt Tolle’s A New Earth.

What does a typical day look like for the two of you and what sorts of things do you do to stay balanced and present?

L: I meditate two times a day, 20 minutes in the morning and at night. That helps. And hanging out with my dog.

B: Yeah, actually the dog is a big deal. There’s surfing and exercise. But more than anything is keeping a certain perspective about things whether they’re good or bad. I remind myself that things may seem one way one second, but they may seem a completely different way another second. It’s about being flexible and accepting.

L: “Blessed are the flexible for they will not be bent out of shape.” And a typical day, if we don’t have any meetings or anything, is waking up, taking a shower, taking the dog out, meditating and then driving to the studio and spending the day there. Whether we’re starting songs, finishing songs, or recording songs, we’re just working. It’s about being in the environment and having our energy present in that room so when little bits of creativity come, we’re right there to pounce on them. It’s important to us to have that repetition and a rhythm.

B: I’m a big believer that if you have any job that is sedentary and the studio very much is so…there’s a lot of computer work, that you have to switch it up and take little breaks. So we take little breaks here and there. We throw the ball for Gus or jump in the ocean.

L: Jumping in the ocean really helps with lyric writing.

I bet. It literally and figuratively washes you clean.

Photo credits: Hillary Cramer

 

From “Flaws” to Freedom: How Yoga Led a Budding Feminist on the Body Image Journey of a Lifetime

The following post is an excerpt from Melanie Klein’s complete essay, How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me, featured in the newly released anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice.

“I can’t enjoy how pretty I look if I don’t feel good.” – Bryan Kest

I’d spent almost two decades trying to have the reality of my body conform to the image that had been created in my head. The women in my family, boyfriends, my peer group and, most importantly, the prolific realm of pop culture, had influenced this image of physical perfection, and its correlating value. The joy of living in my body as a child had been replaced by disappointment.

*****

The women in my family were consumed by their weight and their desire to measure up to mainstream standards of beauty; lamenting weight gain with bouts of depression and self-loathing, celebrating weight loss with great fanfare and sizing other women up. An unhealthy preoccupation with my body and food was set in motion before I hit puberty and manifested in all sorts of dangerous methods to obtain thinness: diet pills, colon hydrotherapy, fasting, legal and illegal stimulants, calorie restriction, self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise. And all along the way, the images around me assured me that the pursuit of pretty by any means necessary would be pay off. After all, baby, you’re worth it.

*****

The routes to freedom presented themselves at about the same time: feminism and then yoga. After wandering around fairly aimlessly for over a year, running away and living in Maui for a period of that time, I had landed in “Sociology 22: Sociology of Women” in the fall of 1994 at Los Angeles Valley College. I didn’t know what Sociology was or what it might have to say about women, but it sparked my curiosity. “I’m a woman,” I thought and, “this should be more interesting than meeting my general requirements for a major I’m not too committed to.”

“It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy,” said the radical 60-something woman at the front of the room with the “War is not good for children and other living creatures” medallion swinging from her neck. She wore a turtleneck encased in a neat blazer and put one leg up on the seat of the chair for leverage as she lectured with more gusto, authority and confidence than any woman I had ever encountered. I was utterly smitten and completely enthralled, all the while having my mind blown during each and every class. The world was transformed. My paradigm shifted from one that viewed my body image issues as seemingly personal troubles to understanding them as public issues that were (and are) systemic in nature. In short, my soon-to-be mentor, in all her fierce fabulousness, had ignited my “sociological imagination.” And it was distinctly feminist.

My sociological and feminist education included a healthy dose of media literacy, a field of study that was just beginning to blossom at the time.  I was offered the ideological tools and skill set to deconstruct mediated images and understand the role of the advertising industry in the creation and manufacture of these endless streams of images and messages that flood the cultural landscape. This allowed me examine my tortured relationship with my body in a systematic and structured way, lifting the clouds of shame and guilt that followed my every move.

Maybe there wasn’t something wrong with my body. Maybe there was something wrong with the messages the mainstream medic culture proliferated, contorted and unrealistic messages that were raking in profits from my insecurity and from the body image issues of girls and women around me. (The mainstream media’s targeting of male body image issues didn’t begin in earnest until several years later.) The realization that I wasn’t the problem was a relief and ultimately liberating. It also left me utterly pissed off.

*****

Yoga provided the practice that rooted the things feminist sociology had taught me. It is one thing to intellectualize self-love and acceptance; it’s another to embody and practice it, especially after spending decades learning, practicing and perfecting self-loathing.

*****

My friend, Marla, led me to a spacious dance loft in downtown Santa Monica, a space large enough for over 120 sweaty bodies to get their downward facing dog on by donation. The room was bursting at the seams with a sea of bodies and their body heat warmed the cavernous room. A hard-talking high-school dropout from Detroit was leading the practice in the most conscious and loving way amidst his occasional farts, burps and f-bombs. It was 1997, and I had landed in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometimes delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest.

I knew I had stumbled upon something utterly delicious and profoundly nurturing for me.  It had taken me a lifetime to find yoga and over a year of active searching to find a teacher that fit my needs. His street-wise attitude and working-class background meshed with my own and I felt comfortable. I was finally home.

Photo credit Sarit Rogers/Sarit Photography.

To read the rest of this essay, purchase the book HERE.

This article is an excerpt of my chapter in the newly published anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, edited by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey. In the complete essay, I detail my budding relationship to feminist ideology and my yoga practice. I examine media culture at large and reconcile my  experience of yoga as a practice of self-love with an increasingly commercialized yoga “industry.”  I invite you to read the rest my chapter, as well as the eleven other phenomenal essays in this book, which discuss contemporary North American yoga and its relationship to issues including recovery, body image, and spirituality. You can learn more about 21st Century Yoga by visiting the website, and purchase a copy either in print or Kindle edition.

Mindfulness and Music: Interview with Brandon and Leah, Part 3

If you can do your part to elevate people’s consciousness and change their perspective just a bit…you’re doing the world as a whole a favor. –Brandon Jenner

In Part 1 of my interview series with Brandon and Leah, the soulful and insightful musical duo from Malibu, we talked about the inspiration behind their feel-good single, “Life Happens.” In Part 2, we talked about overcoming obstacles and emerging triumphant in their beautifully produced video, “Vaseline.” In the final segment of our interview series, we dive down deep and talk about mindfulness, honesty and vulnerability in music and in life.

From the thousands of comments fans have posted Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, it’s clear that they see you as a breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by mass produced and commercial music. Time and time again, they’re expressing gratitude for your authentic and down-to-earth vibe and sound. What drives you in your musical creations?

B: Honesty and emotion. In writing music, you have to be a listener first.  Those are the things that have attracted us musically-things that bring out certain emotions…

L: “Music is what emotions sound like.”

B: …and we’ve always tried to make music that is honest and comes from a pure emotional place, music that gives someone a certain kind of emotional response. Part of what makes a lot of other music come across as commercial is because the songs are written and recorded in an assembly-line fashion. It goes from person to person. Somebody writes the song, somebody else records it, you might get beats from another person, then you might get something from somebody else…and there are musicians that play a song after the first time they hear it. In that process, something is lost.

It sounds like that conscious connection to your craft and the music you create is what distinguishes it from most of the mass produced, highly commercial stuff out there…music that often feels like it has no soul.

 L: That, as well as having the vulnerability to be honest with yourself.

B: That’s true.

L: When you sit down to write a song and you’re staring at a blank page, you’re supposed to write like a journal….completely exposing yourself. Yet, ultimately, you know that what you’re going to write down tons of people are going to see and hear. And I’m learning to close off that door or absolutely nothing will come out.

 Because when you think that way, you self-censor and edit, right?

 L: Yeah, and there’s the thought, “What would people like to hear me say?” I feel like a lot of musicians these days get caught in that trap thinking, “What’s gonna’ bring this home?” And I feel like it is up to us to always remain honest and vulnerable.

You’re tapping in deep to your own internal source, the deepest core of your being, without using external sources of validation. Instead of trying to please others and getting distracted, you’re tapping into what is there and bringing that out and people are able to connect and resonate. And they’re able to because it is honest and authentic.

 B: For sure.

People have not only fallen in love with your music, they’ve fallen in love with the two of you and what you stand for. From recommending socially conscious films, sharing inspiring and thought-provoking quotes etc, the two of you represent positivity, love and a commitment to personal and planetary evolution. In particular, your video “Change Happens” helps reveal your conscious and inspiring nature.

 L: Growing up I went through a lot of things, like depression, and it took me a long time to find different teachers and people that helped me to discover certain parts of myself and different parts of life. And I want to be someone that helps promote consciousness and mindfulness. If we have a platform and there are people listening, then these are the types of things we want to promote and spread…messages that are unifying and can help people that maybe aren’t in such a great place. And there’s a balance to not come off as preachy and self-righteous. That’s really important to us and I think we do an OK job of keeping that balance.

B: I think that Leah is right on. People are just dealt the cards they are when they’re born. You are who you are and you try to make the best of your circumstances. I think that part of what we do with our music and our message, without being too preachy as Leah said, is to promote the things that we believe in. There are certain things we envision for the world and we’d like to see the world like that one day.

L: And I feel like a lot of artists, everything they put out and what they’re all about it is “Look how f*cking awesome I am and don’t you want to be me?”  I feel like that is the message so many people put out and I absolutely can’t stand that.

 

It’s the culture of self-indulgence and narcissism.

 B: Yeah, and we’re very much the opposite of what we’re trying to put out and promote. Leah said something really interesting to me. She said that when she talks to people she reminds herself, “I am no better than this person and I am also no worse.” And that’s the kind of attitude I think more people should have. You’re no better than someone and no worse. It’s empowering. We’re all in this together but we have all been dealt a different set of cards. And that’s what’s shaped our perspective on the world. The only thing that differentiates all of us is that perspective and that’s also what has divided us as humans.

L: You gain such perspective when you all the way out and you see this universe and look at the Earth and all its inhabitants. And then you see us bombing each other.

B: If you can do your part to elevate people’s consciousness and change their perspective just a bit…you’re doing the world as a whole a favor. Conflict and wars can be minimized.

But what inspires you to do that work? Being socially conscious is hard work.

 L: I feel like once your perspective is widened and the door is opened, you can’t retreat.

So it’s not a choice. You’ve each had moments of awareness that have opened you to this perspective and it felt like the only course to continue on, right?

 B: Yes, for sure, moments of awareness. If I hadn’t gone to Kenya on safari when I was 15-years old and seen people living there, I wouldn’t be the same person. There’s been a collection of experiences.

L: I have moments of awareness every single day whether I am having a conversation or I bump into someone.

Once you were opened, you continued to stay open.

 B: When you look at the rest of the world, no matter how great you are there’s probably someone better than you. There are a lot of people out there who have done so much more with so much less and that is really inspiring. I feel very blessed in my life. Part of this, is that I feel compelled to make use of my time and my blessings. I feel obligated to do everything I can and be intellectually curious, learn everything I can.

You’ve released 4 songs on i-Tunes so the big question is “when does the album come out?”

L: We will have an EP this fall!

B: Until then, we’ll be releasing another single later this month.

Super! We can’t wait. Until then, if you want to catch Brandon and Leah and you’re in the Los Angeles area, they will be playing the Sunset Strip Music Festival this Saturday at the Key Club at 8:15pm and at the Dakota Lounge in Santa Monica on September 15. They’re also playing on Blake Shelton’s cruise this October.

Don’t forget to tune into their UStream chat tomorrow, Thursday August 16, at noon PST where they’ll be revealing the winner of the caption contest. If you haven’t submitted a caption, you still have time.

Photo credits: Funk Factory Films and Hillary Cramer

 

The Road to Liberation: Interview With Brandon and Leah, Part 2

The last time I chatted with Brandon and Leah, the dynamic and down-to-earth musical duo from Malibu, we talked about their hugely popular first self-released single “Life Happens” and it’s feel-good, live-in-the-moment video that shows the two of them living their lives in and around the beaches and hills of Southern California. In part two of this three-part interview series, we dig deeper into their latest video release, talking about overcoming obstacles, finding the road to personal liberation and artistic expression.


For your second video release, you two teamed up with the geniuses at Funk Factory Films again and shot an old-time western-themed, edgy and much darker video at Melody Ranch. It’s an incredible production that looks like a feature-length film. It’s impressive from that stand point alone.

But not only do I love the video for “Vaseline,” I love the lyrics, the sound and feel of the song. It is a true testament of your artistic talent and creative vision…not to mention your versatility. A lot of artists tend to maintain repeat one particular style and sound, especially if it’s popular. After the bouncy and light feel of “Life Happens,” it’s nice to see the “shadow side” of Brandon and Leah…proving to everyone that you two are no one-hit-wonder.

Can you give us some background on the song?

B: We wrote the song with Boots Ottestad in New York City and we really connected with the song when we first started writing it.  It represented us in a lot of ways, specifically the chorus.

L: The song highlights the point that no matter what position in life you’re born into or what role you’re given, no matter what it is; you always have the opportunity to change it. You may not be able to change it physically, but you can always change your outlook. I feel that there is a huge sense of freedom in that. You’re never completely imprisoned by your circumstances.

That reminds me of the Prison Yoga Project that Robert Sturman has photographed extensively. You may be physically stuck or boxed in by a situation or a set of circumstances, but you have the power to change your inner state of being…and that is liberating.

It’s actually very similar thematically to “Life Happens” when you describe it that way. I love that that message of liberation and mental freedom comes through in these both songs, two songs that on the surface appear to be very different in mood and feel. In reality, your shared outlook on life, your commitment to personal evolution and presence of mind and heart, come through quite clearly in both of them. That’s quite a feat.

 L: Yeah, they’re similar in terms of the basis of their message, but the feelings and specific focus for each song is different. One song, “Life Happens,” is where you’ve already succeeded and now you’re embracing life. “Vaseline” is about the process and the struggle of realizing what you need to do to change your circumstances and come through the other side.

I love that, Leah. And you packaged that message in a beautifully produced concept video which is quite a departure from “Life Happens.” Can you tell us a bit about the video itself?

L: We didn’t want the video to be taken too literally or have the concept of the video be too specifically aligned with the song. What one person relates to is not what another person relates to, right? I thought by taking it and putting it back into a different era, it would let people connect to the message of the song without having the images deter them from it.

B: The concept of and the images in the video aren’t going to directly or literally pertain to anyone’s life. If it was set in modern day, it could speak to someone’s literal experience and we didn’t want it to be that. We just wanted the message to come across.

…so it becomes available to more people.

L: (laughing) That and I really wanted to shoot an old-time gun and I really wanted to see you [Brandon] on a horse.

B: And you got both.

*Spoiler alert* Thinking about it that way, the part where Leah goes through the window is symbolic of breaking through those obstacles and challenges, no matter what they might be. All of the images and pieces of the video are symbolic.

 L: That is exactly right.

Just curious, why name the song “Vaseline?”

L: I just read Leonard Cohen’s “15 Poems” and they were really, really great. When you’re writing a song, you think about things…I think about my life and I’m a visual person. When I think of music, I see it, you know? When I was thinking about my life and writing this song, I was thinking about the chorus and the lyrics I saw it as these bumps…until “things go smooth.” What would that look like?

So you’re playing with words, painting pictures with words. Like the video, it’s not literal but symbolic. Again, it’s another departure from “Life Happens” which is in many ways quite literal in its lyrics and the video concept.

B: Yeah. In addition to what Leah just said, I think that you have to be vulnerable and open to taking risks. It’s not necessarily a word that you would put in a song. To us, it seemed to be the best way to describe what we’re saying, something simple. It was the title that resonated.

 And you went with it… I like that you two are so connected to the words and images you created. And that you take those artistic risks.

 The two of you are about to release an alternate ending to “Vaseline” which I’m excited about and Intent.come readers can help make that happen. Go to Brandon and Leah’s Facebook page, “like” it and then share it. They’ll release the alternate ending when they hit 30,000 “likes.”

You also have some Brandon and Leah swag to offer.

B: Yeah, one reader will win a prize from us by captioning the picture of Leah to the left. We’ll announce the winner this Thursday at noon PST during our next UStream chat.

Intent readers, post your caption in the comments section below and include your email address before you submit. If you can’t make their UStream chat, they’ll also announce the winner on their Facebook page after their UStream ends.

If you haven’t read part one of my interview with Brandon and Leah, click here. Stay tuned for part three; the inspiring, intimate and insightful conclusion to my interview series with Brandon and Leah which will be published this Wednesday.

 

Photo Credits: Funk Factory Films

So Many Reasons to Be Happy…

Dynamic musical duo Brandon and Leah are not only insanely talented, they’re insightful, intelligent and socially conscious. That’s enough to turn me on any day! If you haven’t heard of them, let me be the first to introduce you and share their infectious music, as well as the depth of their love and light in this special three-part interview.

Congratulations! Your first self-released video “Life Happens” has almost reached 1 million hits. That’s impressive. Not only have people fallen in love with the  uplifting and upbeat vibe of the song, they’re drawn to the playfulness and sheer joy in the video itself. What was your inspiration?

Leah: I was having a not-so-good day, you know those days when you wake up and things all seem to be happening at once and you feel like you have such a weight on top of you. I was driving in the car, thinking about it and I got home and I said, “You know what, I’m getting over this.” I grabbed the ukulele and I just started playing the beginning of it…

(Singing) “So many reasons for you to be happy, so many reasons for you to be smiling…”

I really felt these lyrics and it became a mantra for me. I wanted to have a song that I could play when I was going through challenging stuff and a song that I could give people when they were going through things. Not saying that everything in life is perfect or things that are heavy and getting people down aren’t important, but it is so much easier to deal with these things if you can shift your perspective and find reasons to be happy.

Eventually it turned into Brandon and I getting into a room with another song writer, Rune Westberg, and “Life Happens” came together in about two hours. Sometimes it takes a really long time for a song to come together and this one came just like that (snaps fingers). There was something special behind it that felt really freeing and I think people pick up on that when they hear it.

Brandon: I think the song says a few things in its message. I think they’re pretty obvious and I think that a lot of people out there understand what it is which is why it connects with so many people. One of them is that you can’t control things. I just heard a lyric on a song that Leah was playing earlier, an old song and this woman sings something like, “Let’s go ahead and try and make plans but you’re a fool if you do.”

L: Jane Morgan!

B: Yeah, and it was a really cool line. She said it a lot better, I forget exactly, but basically things are going to happen no matter what you try to plan so you’ve just got to go with it and smile your way through it sometimes. And know that those things are happening just the way they’re supposed to. The other thing that the song does is remind people to be present in the moment. If you don’t take the time to look around and be present for it, life will pass you by.

Things evolve, people evolve, and consciousness evolves.

I think that is a big thing that is happening—people are becoming aware that you can’t be caught up in the future all of the time and your plans and all of that stuff. There’s a growing awareness that they key to real happiness is to become more present.

What I love about the way the song delivers this message is that it is said in a way that is simple yet potent, in a way that appeals to and extends to a wide audience, people outside of “consciousness communities.”

L: As for the video, we felt it was necessary to be honest with it and be honest in who we are. We didn’t want to try and come across as anyone or anything other than who we are. Because that song is honest, straightforward and full of happiness, we wanted the video to be a mirror reflection of the spirit and energy of the song.

B: The video is light and makes people feel good. You can go along way with that and allows you to connect with people easily. It’s very palatable. The video was organic and authentic. We didn’t do anything in that video that was forced… Well, yeah, we don’t necessarily bring our guitars on a hike with us…

L: And we don’t usually sing underwater.

B: …and we usually don’t sing underwater. Aside from that, we spend a lot of time in that pool, we spend a lot of time hiking, surfing…those are the things that we do. There was nothing in that video that we did that was very staged or forced. We really do fly kites on that hill… We just wanted to compile all of the most fun, most present things we do in our lives and present them in the video.

It’s a collection of all the moments as your lives happen.

B: Exactly.

Stay tuned for part two on Monday. We’ll talk about their western-themed video Vaseline and give Intent.com readers an opportunity to win some Brandon and Leah swag with a caption contest.

Photos: Funky Factory Films and Lex Kays Photography

“I’m Not A Size Zero. Can I Practice Yoga?”: Anna Guest-Jelley Says “Yes!”

Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga — a training & inspiration portal for curvy yogis & their teachers. As a writer, teacher & lifelong champion for women’s empowerment & body acceptance, Anna encourages women of every size, age & ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.

She’s also hugely inspiring and a cutting-edge visionary. And I got the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about body image, images of yoga bodies in the mainstream media culture and her new book!

 

Hi, Anna! Thanks for joining me today. As you know, I’m an enormous advocate of yoga as a tool to specifically heal distorted body images and negate body hatred (among many of the other countless benefits of a regular yoga practice). I know you share this same intention in your teaching. Like you, I think yoga has the ability to transform us from the inside out. Unfortunately, lots of people who might receive potent benefits from yoga are afraid to begin an asana practice, let alone dip their toes into the rest of yoga. They’ve come to believe yoga is merely a physical practice, a form of exercise, available only to the limber, the supple and already toned. Tell me how your new e-book, Permission to CURVE: Inspiring Poses for Curvy Yogis and Their Teachers, helps bring every body to yoga.

Yes, we are definitely on the same page! I, too, believe that yoga can be an incredibly transformative practice – and I also believe that it’s been kept from too many people for too long.

My intention with Permission to CURVE is to lift the lid, so to speak, on ways that people of all shapes and sizes can practice with comfort and ease. The book is written specifically with asana modifications for people with curvy bodies, but I believe students who fall anywhere on the size spectrum can learn something from it because its true message is that yoga is a powerful tool for self-acceptance. I don’t think that’s something any of us hear often enough – or can hear too much.

Because the book is digital, it’s highly interactive; photos and videos supplement the written instruction so that people can learn in whatever way best fits their unique learning style. This is still a relatively new format for the yoga community, but I think we’ll see more and more of it in the future – especially for practice books. It only makes sense for students to see the poses in action to get a safer and more comprehensive feel for the poses.

Your book just became available July 9. What’s been the general response?

Oh, wow; people are really loving it! What’s been such a gift is that the people loving it are so diverse – they are every shape, size, age and ability. Some are yoga newbies and some have decades plus of practice under their belt. All are students and some are also teachers.

The common thread that runs through people’s feedback is how much they permission they find within the pages of the book – that not only is it okay to find a yoga practice that works for them, but that this is actually the entire goal of yoga – and now they have some practical tools to follow that path. And teachers are feeling empowered to support their students on that path, which is wonderful.

That’s incredibly inspiring and wonderful, Anna. You recently released another (free!) e-book, Curvy Voices. Can you tell us about it, including what inspired you to put together this collection? 

I definitely see the two as very connected. Curvy Voices is an edited collection; it contains stories from 36 incredible yogis (including a wonderful one from you!). My intention with this book was to create community – to share the many ways that body acceptance and yoga show up in people’s lives.

Too often I see the body image conversation cast as very narrow – as though if you haven’t personally struggled with something like an eating disorder, it doesn’t have much to do with you. But I think it’s broader than that; many of us are disconnected from our bodies for any number of reasons. And when we’re disconnected from our bodies, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to feel good about them and, thus, ourselves. This is where yoga is so helpful because it can facilitate that process of connection.

So my goal with Curvy Voices was for people to see themselves reflected in the book, to feel less alone in utilizing yoga as a tool for self-awareness and acceptance. And I believe it accomplishes that; the stories shared are so touching, and they showcase a wide variety of experiences – everything from loss to friendship to joy to illness to making yoga an integral part of your life.

That’s beautiful and I completely agree with you, Anna. There are plenty of people (boys and girls, men and women alike) that suffer from low self-esteem stemming from disappointment, if not outright dissatisfaction, with their bodies. And, in large part, that’s the result of the mind/body split as well as seeking external validation for one’s worth. Yoga can absolutely bring us back in touch with our bodies, our whole being. Like I mentioned earlier, yoga helps us to define our worth from the inside and out.

Ok, moving on. You website proclaims “A woman. A mission. A whole lotta curves.” That is absolutely right! You have a lot of exciting things going on right now. Can tell us about your upcoming Curve Fest and some of the other fantastic and inspiring projects, tools and resources you’re creating and offering?

Haha – thank you! Yes, it’s a busy and exciting time over at the Curvy Yoga HQ! One of the things I’m really thrilled about is CurveFest, which is my upcoming teaching tour. I will be traveling to 7 different US cities, connecting with folks I’ve had online friendships with for years as well as spreading the word that Curvy Yoga is a movement, and our movement continues to grow.

Another project that is continuing to expand is my Curvy Yoga certification options. This is just such a joy for me; I love knowing that Curvy Yoga is expanding to local communities! This fall I’m offering an online option for people who want to keep teaching their current yoga classes but want to make those more accessible for curvy people. My hope is that this can be a win/win – more options for curvy-bodied students to practice and more students in teachers’ classes. And next spring, I’ll be offering a 200hr program for people who are not yet teachers but want to be. To learn more about the various certification options, please click here.

I absolutely love the Curvy Yogis, Represent! photo gallery on your website. We don’t get to see a lot of these images in the larger yoga culture, certainly not on the glossy mainstream yoga magazines. Why do you think that is? Do you think that’s a problem? If so, how can we change this trend?

Thank you, and I agree! Anytime I need some inspiration, I go check out the gallery.  It was our first community project over at Curvy Yoga (Curvy Voices was the second). The community of lovely readers and students and I decided to put it together in response to a larger conversation about media representations of yoga, which rarely incorporate images like the ones in the Curvy Yogis, Represent! gallery.

I think the reason we don’t see these images in mainstream yoga magazines is the same reason we don’t see them in other mainstream media – they’re not really created to reflect reality but to encourage us to buy something. And what sells better than making you feel bad about yourself?

So this gallery is an attempt to reclaim some ground for the many, many of us who are out there on our yoga mat, at home and in classes. Solidarity is an incredible thing; the more of us who come together, the louder and more powerful our voice can become.

I love that, Anna. I hope everyone takes a look at the Curvy Yogis, Represent! gallery. And I hope to see it grow. Yogis come in every shape, size, color, exist at every level of ability and span the age spectrum. Not only do lots of people shy away from the mat because they think they’re not limber of flexible enough (“I can’t put my ankle behind my head so I can’t practice yoga.”), but lots of people think they can’t practice because they’re not a size zero. Not only do mainstream yoga covers show little variation in what a yogi looks like, most yoga photography focuses on women that can easily slip themselves into a pair of size zero (maybe size two or four) jeans. We rarely see size 8, let alone size 12 or 14 (or up) as a yoga body. It sends the message that only certain bodies can (and are allowed) to practice yoga. I think that when we see the same thin, toned, limber, young, white, female “yoga body” over and over again, it excludes people and closes the door to people who are interested in a yoga practice but don’t meet those qualifications. Instead of being inspiring, it can be demotivating to far too many (and it mimics the self-esteem busting formula of the dominant culture).

And every body is a yoga body. Every body should be encouraged to find the practice that fits them. I’m so thrilled you’re leading the way in expanding people’s “permission” to practice yoga and having conversations like these. We need more open and honest conversations within the yoga community about these issues.

Where do you see yourself and Curvy Yoga in ten years?

Whew – well, Curvy Yoga is already growing so far beyond what I imagined it when I first started it. But I believe we’re starting to see where it will be in ten years – which is moving from margin to center. My goal and hope is to see it become second nature – classes offered in every town, incorporated into 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher trainings and the rule, not the exception, that teachers offer pose options for every body type in their classes.

What a world that will be!

Thanks for your time and your beautiful vision for yoga’s future, Anna. You’ve been incredibly generous- not just to me, but to all our readers! Anna is offering a $5 discount on her new book, Permission to CURVE. Use the discount code “INTENT” when ordering online to secure your discount.

 

To stay up to date with all things Curvy Yoga, be sure to sign up for the newsletter – it’s free! You can also connect with Anna on Facebook and Twitter.

 

How Yoga Makes You Pretty

We’ve been told that “pretty” is the magical elixir for everything that ails us. If we’re pretty, we’re bound to be happier than people who aren’t pretty. If we’re pretty, we’ll never be lonely; we’ll have more Facebook friend requests; we’ll go on more dates; we’ll find true love (or just get laid more often); we’ll be popular. If we’re pretty, we’ll be successful; we’ll get a better job; we’ll get rewarded with countless promotions; our paychecks will be bigger. Cultural and personal rewards for being pretty are a form of cultural currency, as Naomi Wolf elucidates in the feminist classic, The Beauty Myth.  In short, “pretty” will buy us love, power and influence. It will solve all our problems. “Pretty” will ultimately make us feel good.

And who doesn’t want to feel good?

While this emphasis on physical perfection is a goal presented to us from a variety of sources, the pursuit of pretty is most often given precedence via the mainstream media. The media juggernaut that actively shapes our 21st century cultural environment sells us this promise and perpetuates this myth beginning in early childhood. Even the toys I played with as a girl have become sexified, slimmer and more heavily made up. The princess brigade continues to spotlight beauty and the pursuit of Prince Charming. And, let’s face it, you nab your prince with your spellbinding beauty. I mean, really, have you ever seen an ugly princess, especially one that lands the guy? I didn’t think so. And think about poor Snow White. Beauty took such a priority that the Queen hired a hit man to take the fairest in the land out.

The continuous assault continues as we move through adolescence and adulthood. It meets our gaze at every turn through fashion, television, film, music, and advertising. These images and messages are practically inescapable, even in yoga publications these days. They peddle products that actively sculpt our desire and entice us using sleek, sculpted models and celebrities in computer retouched photos.  The advertising industry, the foundation of the mass media, is specifically designed to appeal to our emotions and shape our expectations, thereby constructing cultural values. Advertising constructs enviable identities and lifestyles in order to sell a gamut of products and services from beer, luxury cars and designer shoes to yoga mats, DVDs and diet pills. And there are billions of dollars in profit when we succumb. Ultimately, we’re spoon-fed repetitive streams of unrealistic images in a virtual onslaught that tells girls and women, and increasingly boys and men, that the most valuable thing we can aspire to be is, well, pretty.

And the tantalizing promises of a better, prettier, you are absolutely everywhere. The idea that we can simply “turn off” or “ignore” these messages is narrow in scope and short sighted. Unless you’re living under a rock – wait, make that in a hermetically sealed bubble – you are affected in one way or another. And so are those around you.

Like many girls and women, I had waged a war on my body most of my life. In 1997, I had  the great fortune of landing in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometimes delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest. Not only did Bryan become my yoga teacher, he also became my one of my first body image teachers. His teaching fused physical postures, breath and meditation with a focus on media literacy and body image awareness. Whether he knew it or used those exact terms didn’t matter. His rough edges held pearls of wisdom for me—wisdom that helped me heal my self-hatred and body abuse. He asked us to consider the health of our toes and spine, things that are not given any attention in the mainstream beauty aesthetic or fitness industry. Things I had never considered before.

According to Kest, “Everybody wants to be pretty because that’s what they’ve been told will make them feel good, even though there’s no proof that people who are prettier are healthier and happier. So why don’t we just cut to the chase and go straight to what makes us feel good?” Bryan urged us to stop comparing and competing with one another . . .  and ourselves. He commanded us to be with the reality of that moment and detach from the artificial images in our minds. And in doing so, he challenges us to confront the demands of our egos.

And that is the practice of yoga-the state of mind you cultivate as you move through your life’s experience. It is a practice devoted to uniting mind, body and spirit—creating unity, balance and peace. As Georg Feuerstein points out, yoga was classified as a “spiritual endeavor” utilized to cease the fluctuations of the mind and senses as early as the second millennium BC. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition, which values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body – thereby creating a duality referred to as the mind-body split.

Yoga is a pathway to cultivate self-love, allowing us to shift our sense of validation inward, as opposed to the standard practice of measuring one’s worth based on external definitions. We’re able to begin defining ourselves from the inside out, rather than the outside in. In fact, the cultural validation we’re encouraged to seek often fans the flames of further discontent since we can never be thin enough, muscular enough, wealthy enough or pretty enough by mainstream standards. Even if we are a waify size-zero, a bulked up mass of muscles, a millionaire or a picture-perfect model, happiness isn’t a guarantee. There are plenty of depressed, disgruntled, unsatisfied “pretty people” with low self-esteem.

“Pretty” doesn’t necessarily signal a healthy body, mentally or physically. In fact, in my own work as a body image activist, many of the most “beautiful” women I’ve met have had some of the most dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships with their bodies. Too often, this has been marked by eating disorders, disordered eating and dangerous beauty rituals to maintain the outward facade. In the end, there isn’t a direct correlation between being pretty and being happy or healthy. The prizes “pretty” entices us with can’t be enjoyed without a deeper connection, a feeling of wellness, wholeness and/or self-love. Pretty hasn’t delivered and what has been defined as pretty isn’t real or sustainable.

Remember, Naomi Wolf called it the “beauty myth” for a reason.

What’s your intention? To look pretty or feel beautiful?

This post is an excerpt from Melanie Klein’s chapter, “How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me”  in the forthcoming anthology,  21st Century Yoga: Culture,Politics and Practice, available June 1, 2012 (pre-order here). An earlier version of this post was published at Adios Barbie and on Elephant Journal.

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