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from brave to home 050116

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

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brave mr rogers“There is only one way to avoid criticism:
Do nothing
Say nothing
And be nothing.”
~ Aristotle

I thought that if I got thin and nothing was soft or poochy on my body that I would be free from judgment and criticism. I thought I would be loved fully. But no. Love and connection requires vulnerability, and vulnerability is brave.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” ~ Fred Rogers

whole hearted brene brownWhat’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? It may be something physical like jumping out of a plane or running a marathon or speaking in front of a crowd. It might be something more intimate like telling the truth in a tender situation or telling the doctor that’s not the treatment you want or saying gently but firmly that enough is enough.

Whatever it is, think of the bravest thing you’ve ever done and recall the sensation. What did it feel like in your body? What emotions did you feel? What thoughts ran through your head?

Brave feels both scary and exciting. There is often push/pull sensation of “Yes, I really want to do this” and “Holy Crap, what if I do?” Making the brave choice by its very nature means that you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Brené Brown’s ground-breaking TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability (2010) explains that connection is essential to the human experience. Connection is why we’re here and it is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. Her research demonstrates that in order to truly connect with others, we be vulnerable. Vulnerability is absolutely not weakness (a common misconception) but means that we allow ourselves to be seen, to love without guarantee, to risk failure, and to believe we are enough.

For most of my life, vulnerability scared the bejeezus out of me. Sometimes it still does.

In her talk, Dr. Brown also identifies shame – an epidemic in our culture – as the fear of disconnection. Shame is the fear that if someone sees this about me or knows this about me, I will not be worthy of connection, love, and belonging. Shame is the belief that something is intrinsically wrong with me. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is “I’ve made a mistake.” Shame is “I am a mistake.”

Shame, I get. Since adolescence, I have been ashamed of my body. I thought it wasn’t thin or beautiful enough for me to be worthy of love and connection. My body felt like a character flaw and I was sure something was seriously wrong with me.

I’ve done a number of brave things in my life: marrying a man with two young children, teaching Nia, taking a sabbatical from teaching Nia, sharing my writing, walking all the way to the top of a fire tower. But when it comes to my relationship with my body, the bravest thing I’ve done is to relax.

At the height of my disordered body relationship, I was doing whatever I could to tighten up. Aerobic exercise, weight lifting, obsessive food monitoring — all of my energy was poured into having nothing soft or flabby or pooching out or sagging. I was always, ALWAYS walking around sucking in my stomach. I believed that if I was thin enough and lean enough and tight enough that I would be confident, safe from criticism, that I would be loved, that I would be happy and whole.

I thought that if I looked just right, no one (including me) would judge me. I would be invulnerable.

I wanted to be thin so I wouldn’t be vulnerable … so I wouldn’t have to be brave.

Of course, this totally didn’t work. Having my internal experience (feeling love and belonging) be dependent on an external circumstance (my physical appearance) will never work. I kept thinking that the reason I didn’t feel confident and relaxed in myself was because I wasn’t perfect enough and that if I just worked a little harder, I would be. On a good day, this circular logic makes me laugh; on a bad day, it can have me twisted up and tripping over myself.

Even when I lost weight, got leaner, and sucked in my tummy all the time, I didn’t feel any more worthy or connected or loved. I thought perfection was the way to those feelings but it’s actually the path away from them. Real love and connection requires that we be seen with all our imperfect softness showing.

Brené Brown calls it whole-heartedness. I am living whole-heartedly when I am willing to be vulnerable and when I believe I am worthy of love and belonging. Whole-heartedness means taking emotional risks, telling the truth with no guarantees. It means not sucking in my stomach and relaxing into being my brilliant, messy, beautiful, spazzy self.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve done today? How about making the courageous choice to be imperfect? Be kind to yourself first, then to others. Let go of who you think you should be so you can be who you are.

Take a breath, relax your belly. Brave feels both exciting and scary. When you feel it, you’re on the right track.

brave clogsI teach barefoot, practice yoga barefoot, and live in a shoe-free house. Most days, I wear clogs that I can kick off easily even with my hands full. A while ago I noticed that whenever I take off my shoes, I take my right shoe off first. Every time. Right shoe first.

This may not strike you as an earth-shattering news flash. That’s because it isn’t. Who cares, right? What difference does it make? None. No difference. It doesn’t matter.

But here’s what’s more interesting to me. For about two years, I’ve said to myself, “When you take your shoes off, take your left one off first.” For the fun of it, I set an intention to break my right-shoe-first habit. And here’s the thing: in two years and hundreds of unshoddings, I’ve managed to take my left shoe off first all of three, maybe four, times. I’ll be standing in the mud room and before I can stop myself, I’m taking my right shoe off. I walk into yoga and – whoops – it’s my right clog that slides off first.

Mindful practices of Nia, yoga, and meditation have helped me notice how I do what I do. This is always the first step toward change: paying attention and noticing what’s actually happening. Awareness alone is challenging: much of what we do is so deeply entrained in our bodies and minds that we do it automatically. Once we struggled and puzzled out how to brush teeth, drive, touch type, pour coffee. Then for efficiency’s sake, the brain flips into auto-pilot for those things and saves its gray cells for complicated tasks like refolding road maps and figuring out which TV remote to use.

Habits are not just physical, though. Since adolescence, I have wobbled under the weight of a debilitating negative body image. I have spent years judging (what I saw as) too-big thighs, too-soft belly, too-wiggly arms, too-thick ankles and in general the not-enoughness of my body. I have a deeply ingrained habit of obsessing about my body and basing my worthiness and value on what I look like. This habit has scuttled me with a wake of shame, despair, fury, and grief.

Untold amounts of time, energy, emotion, and resources have gone toward my negative body image habit. I’ve done every workout imaginable, dabbled in dozens of diets, and habitually beat myself up for the character flaw that is my physical form.

Unlike taking my right shoe off first, this habit matters. It is exhausting and humiliating. It feels isolating and hopeless. It has filled me with misery and has distracted me away from the people and pursuits that I love. It is a habit of madness.

Just like the right shoe off first habit, however, even when I realized I had a body-hating habit, even when I could see how damaging and painful it was, I kept finding myself in my old patterns. I told myself and others that I wanted to stop obsessing about my body. I made a commitment to love myself and be kind to myself. But no matter how many times I reminded myself that I didn’t want to do it anymore, I kept finding myself caught in the same loop of body-hating thoughts and feelings.

This week, I launch a new routine called Brave — a routine that I have been working on in one way or another since I was 14 years old. Brave began with the title Body Love. I wanted to create a routine to embody a new habit of loving my body.

Even grown in the weak soil of years of body-loathing, it has blossomed into much more than that.

It is an act of courage to love my body. To love my physical form as I am right now with no changes is, as Brene Brown says, to dare greatly. Second, these body image habits are so old and this pain is so deep that I (and I posit that none of us) can do this alone. We need to stand up for ourselves and we need to stand up for each other. We need to gently but firmly tug each other out of painful patterns and to remind each other of our respective and collective awesomeness. And as I play with each song, as I weep over lyrics, as I uncover movements to tell this story, I see that proudly being ourselves, completely and fully, without apology, is the bravest thing any human being can do. To be myself without hiding the not-so-pretty bits, to be myself with gratitude and pleasure, to be myself without pretending and masking is Brave.

I still slip my right shoe off first almost all of the time. And I still fall into my habits of criticizing and judging my body and wanting it to be different than it is. But I do recognize now what I’ve been doing to my body and myself. My body is my oldest friend and my most loyal companion. I have never done a single thing without her. She has stuck with me through everything and she has always done her very best for me. When I can remember and celebrate this, I break a long-held habit and start the healing.

I know it will take a long time, probably all the rest of the time I have. I know I will fall back into my old habits, of course I will. And I want to make a commitment to pay attention and make a different choice. Who’s with me?

* I am indebted to many for helping me create the playlist for Brave, including but not limited to: Christine Bergland, Jane Belisle, Joy Brown, Tamy Eustis Audrey Gelb, Pam Gibson, Kimber Hawkey, Virginia Hill, Beth Kariel, Anna Mairs, Sara Marks, Lynette Meynig, Laura Parsons, June Rivers, Kellie Silico, Joy Tanksley, Todd Waters. Especially since I’ve been on radio silence for most of the past year, I could never have found all this music without you. Thank you!

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