Body Image

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

“Every fragment of self-talk is a little story in the head that goes around, and then you look at reality through the lens of the little story.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Two years ago, I created a routine about Body Love and Self Love called Brave. At the time, it felt brave to go public with my own issues with distorted, unhealthy body image. But life and art, it turns out, are evolving things and as I return to the routine now I feel differently.

Now I want to feel at home in myself and with myself. Now I’m more interested in creating a Self that is kind and balanced and honest and compassionate…and also brave.

Here are some ways of making your body/self-home more comfy and more in alignment with you.

1. Don’t wear it unless you love it.

When you got dressed this morning, how did you feel? If you feel great, awesome. If you don’t, do not put those clothes back in the closet. If you find yourself wearing things that are uncomfortable, that you are tugging at all day, or that you think you should wear because they look professional/sexy/appropriate, for the love of Pete, get rid of them. Put them all in a bag and take them to your local second-hand store or even better, get together with friends and have a clothing swap and find some gems that you love but that aren’t working for someone else.

2. Feed it like you mean it.

Food can be tricky ~ there are so many emotional, habitual, cultural, familial patterns around what we choose to eat. Make your meals an opportunity to be intentional about how you want to feel. If you love coffee but find that the third cup leaves you with a rumbly tumbly, limit it to two so you feel better. If you don’t love green veggies but know that they offer incomparable nutrition, find ways of sneaking them into pasta sauces and omelets and smoothies. If sugar pulls you like a tractor beam but you feel terrible after indulging, look into ways of breaking the habit. (Wendy Vigdor-Hess and Megan Buer have a great e-course that addresses just that.)

3. Move to your rhythms.

Find ways of moving that you love – and that are flexible. We’re not the same day-to-day: today you might be full of energy, tomorrow you might need some restorative practice. Move in ways that are fun and enjoyable (so you’ll keep doing them) but also that are responsive to your changing needs.

4. Rest your sweet self.

Do you find yourself skimping on your sleep? Do you push yourself and book your schedule so you feel you have to stay up late and get up early? Sleep is one of the most important aspects of for your physical, emotional and mental health. There are studies linking sleep disorders to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s (Yikes, right??). Treat yourself as you would a precious child: get yourself some rest.

5. Inspect Your Self-Talk.

Pay attention to your thoughts about yourself. Are they demeaning and critical? Are they self-aggrandizing and puffed up? Are they true? Are your thoughts kind? Is that the kind of talk that would feel good in your home? If not, it’s probably not so cool to have it in your head.

6. Treat Yourself Like a Friend.

Sometimes I just have to wonder at the scathing criticism I sometimes dish out about myself. I’ve often thought, “I would never, ever say anything so mean to anyone else.” Now when I notice a tone of meanness or belittling I check in: would I say this to a friend, to a child, to someone I love? If not, I don’t say it to me.

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On the wall of the studio where I taught my first Nia classes hung a small print that read:

Come home to yourself.

Home: a place where you are accepted and loved for who you are. A place where you can relax. I’m sure that was the artist’s intent.

But every time I looked at it, I thought, what if home isn’t a relaxed place where you can be yourself? What if there is tension at home? Struggle? What if there is anger, resentment, criticism, bullying or even violence at home? What then? Then where do you go?

In a scene from Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, a circle of women move (are they dancing or writhing?). They wear white dresses with long sleeves that extend far past their hands. Their sleeves are tied together.

Poetry is tied to the music and images:
“I tried to change, closed my mouth more.
Tried to be soft, prettier, less …awake.”

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. — Jim Rohn

If your body is your house, it’s a rental.
A rental that you didn’t choose.
And you can’t move. It’s the only rental you’ll ever have.

There is no landlord to fix things up if you go on a rampage and break the windows and tear down the walls. There is no cleaning crew that will come in if you neglect the place for decades and fill it with hoarded up bacon and chocolate bars.

It’s up to you to do your best and take care of this place you’ve landed but even that can go too far. You can obsess about how clean it is or what kind of paint you put on it. You can decorate it with expensive boots and dangly bangles but that doesn’t make it a healthier happier place to live.

Some people will judge you by the house you live in. And while it may be an important place, it isn’t who you are.
As Nutritionist Michelle Allison says,

…your body is the space within which you exist. It’s the material assertion that you have the right to exist in this world, that you have a place in it. It’s the concept of ‘home’ — not a house, a thing to be remodeled at whim, bought and sold — but a cherished, adored, childhood home comprising memories both sad and sweet.

The physical structure needs care, of course, but it is the feeling of home that matters the most.

Two years ago, I created the routine Brave, focusing on body love and gratitude. Your body. As it is. Right now. Loving and valuing everything it allows you to do. As I said at the time (you can read my original post about it here), I’ve been working on this routine since I was 14.

And my work on it is evolving. While I appreciate what I’ve done so far on the Brave routine, already I want to change the name… and the approach.

The word Brave feels girded and armored. Brave feels tight, like an inhale with no exhale. Brave feels tough and defiant.

If I were to name it again, I’d call it Home ~ a place where you feel at ease, relaxed and secure.

We are given these “houses” to live our days in and my invitation as we return to this routine is to create a home in your own bones. Imagine yourself as an 8-year-old getting off the school bus to go home. Is she walking into a place of kindness or criticism? Can he relax there or is he not allowed to eat a cookie while sitting on the couch? Is it a place where she feels loved and important or ignored and annoying?

Take care of the structure, absolutely. Care for your body-house in a way that honors all that it allows you do to and feel and be. But more than that, create a feeling of welcome and ease in that place. Create a home. Pay (at least) as much attention to the thoughts and foods and activities and relationships you allow into your body-home as you would choosing the art or dishes or carpeting for your house.

Consciously create the home that you want inside yourself, the kind of environment you want to live in. You can’t choose the structure, but you can choose what it feels like within that structure.

Make the space inside your skin a home that you love to be in. Make it yours. Make it a place that you would run into from the bus.

If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. ~ Beyoncé, Lemonade

brave india arieThanks to everyone who danced Brave with me this week (literally or through our cyber connection).  This is a routine that I’ve been getting ready to teach for years.  As India Arie sings, “This is a true confession / of a life learned lesson / I was sent here to share with y’all.”   It has been a scary joy to share it this week.

One of the gifts I’ve received from this routine has been hanging out with this music.  Every song was carefully chosen for its energy and its poetry and every one is about standing up for ourselves and for each other.  After listening to it for two months, I feel like I’ve got 14 friends in my head reminding me that I am worthy and beautiful and amazing.  So here is the playlist.  Go download it and see how it feels to let this music soak into you.


Video – 4:10 – India.Arie
Beautiful (Radio Mix) – 3:54 – Audio Adrenaline
Shame (Feat. Eve And The A Group) – 3:34 – Jill Scott
Just the Way You Are – 3:41 – Bruno Mars
May all Beings – 6:27 – EarthRise SoundSystem (omitted Weds 4/2 for shorter class)
Complicated – 4:07 – Yonder Mountain String Band
Born This Way – 4:20 – Lady Gaga
Shake It (Feat. Lady Saw) (Wizzigrime Dancehall Remix – 4:16 – Michael Franti & Spearhead
Cirrus – 5:49 – Bonobo
Brave – 3:40 – Sara Bareilles
Terrapin – 4:31 – Bonobo
Let It Go – Africanized Cover (feat. One Voice Childrens Choir) – 3:01 – Alex Boyé
Winter – 5:43 – Tori Amos
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla – 3:19  Pedro Aznar

Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to get the whole playlist, below are some selected lyrics to zing your strings. Check them out and let them in.

Some other potentially string-zinging things:
–          Bev Wann is offering her powerful good Movement & Meditation class in a five-session series at acac downtown on Thursday evenings 7-815pm starting on April 10.  I recommend this work highly – it has made a difference in my life.  You can register or get more information at acac member services or by calling 434.984.3800.
–          Nia Blue Belt, Jennifer Myer is playing in a grand performance of Handel’s Messiah on Sunday, April 6 at 3pm at the University of Richmond.  Admission is free.  You can get more information here.
–          If you haven’t seen the video of Sara Bareillis’ Brave, the title track of our routine, it’s worth a watch and this behind the scenes vid is pretty cool, too.
–         One of the bravest things I’ve done lately is send my writing to broader sites for publication. I felt a little naked when this one came out — for good reason, I guess. To see my article that was published on Elephant Journal this week, click here. 

Finally, if you’re interested in more information about Nia, and want to learn more about this rich system of learning,   everything Nia is at…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice?  Check out the Nia White Belt Training.  There is one coming up in Richmond the week of May 17 and lots of other places, too.

Okay okay, enough, Susan.  Here are some lyrics!

Dance on.  Shine on.
Susan sig

From Video by India.Arie

I’m not the average girl from your video
And I ain’t built like a supermodel
But I learned to love myself unconditionally,
Because I am a queen

When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me
Every freckle on my face is where it’s suppose to be
And I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me
My feet, my thighs, my Lips, my eyes, I’m loving what I see

From Beautiful by Audio Adrenaline

Just the sound of Your name is a beautiful thing
And I love You, I love You, I love You

From Shame by Jill Scott

It’s a shame!
You’re missin’ out on me.
And it’s a shame.
You don’t even know my name.

From Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars

I know, I know
When I compliment her she won’t believe me
And it’s so, it’s so
Sad to think that she don’t see what I see

If perfect’s what you’re searching for
Then just stay the same
So don’t even bother asking if you look okay
You know I’ll say,

When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
‘Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are

From Complicated by Yonder Mountain String Band

It’s a frame of mind
It’s a surfacing you notice
from the corner of your eye
You can see for miles
With an inner light that’s guiding you home

From Born This Way by Lady Gaga

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

From Shake It by Michael Franti & Spearhead

You got a little broken nail, hair outta place, a little bit of extra middle right around the waist.
But all of them things I never ever hesitate, because the thing about you baby is the smile on your face.

From Brave by Sarah Bareillis

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

From Let It Go by Alex Boye

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on

From Winter by Tori Amos

When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses have gone ahead
I tell you that I’ll always want you near
You say that things change
My dear

brave thinkingWhat are your mind habits? How do you talk to yourself about your body, abilities, choices?

Do you treat yourself like your best friend … or not?
Do you hide the messy parts, the brilliant parts?
Do you make jokes so nobody else does?
Are the words in your head are sharp and critical?

What if those words are echoes left over from somebody else’s pain?
Seeds of heartbreak planted in you that you now tend and grow.

What if today you took the brave step of loving yourself madly?
What if you started a different conversation?
What if we did it together?


A brand-spankety-new-never-before-published article went up on Elephant Journal yesterday! You can check it out here:

and if you missed the last one, you can find it here:

Be part of our mindful movement: spread the love about taking practices out of the studio and into life!

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