Yesterday I finished the fourth and final session of a girls’ empowerment course that I was teaching every other week for an hour at a local community center.
During the third session I had an eye-opening realization working with these young women (ages 12-14). We got into a discussion of safety and violence, and once again my privilege slapped me in the face. Many of these women had observed or experienced violence in their families or with close loved ones in ways I am unlikely to ever understand.
I had begun reading the book “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Manakem. I wish I had discovered it when I first designed the course. There are many amazing practices that are yoga-like to help both black bodies, white bodies, and police bodies heal the trauma of racism in America.
I managed to teach “legs up the wall” pose first as a calming pose. Then we laid on the floor to do belly breathing for a couple of minutes and to notice where we felt the breath. We tried crocodile (on our bellies) to again notice where we felt the breath. After a few cat/cow transitions, there was silliness and I realized 15 minutes of yoga was the upper limit for this group on this day.
Though this group of women rejected “yoga” when I attempted it on the first class, by starting with legs up the wall, as a way to calm the nervous system, they seemed open to the other poses as well. Less talking, more demonstrating and practice in the future. Good lessons for me.
I thanked this group for being my teachers in this class. They seemed surprised that I would put it like that. But they taught me far more than I could teach them.
On the eve of another 3-day yoga teacher training weekend (#6 of 7), even if I am unable to count those hours toward my practicum requirement as initially planned, I am profoundly grateful.
Abby Wambach’s new book, Wolfpack, is short but full of actionable advice. She illustrates with stories from her own experience, and she unapologetically makes the case for a sisterhood of women supporting each other.
I have two favorite chapters. From Chapter Three: Lead from the Bench:
Old Rule: Wait for permission to lead.
New Rule: Lead now – from wherever you are
This is a woman after my own heart. I’m fairly sure she did not read my manifesto, and yet her words really speak to my philosophy as well.
In Chapter Seven: Bring it All, she tells us:
Old Rule: Lead with dominance. Create Followers.
New Rule: Lead with humanity. Cultivate Leaders.
Yes. Leaders all around us. People who are awake, aware, conscious and engaged in what is meaningful to them.
I look forward to new models of leadership in the world, more inclusive and supportive than the models of the past. We are ready for a fresh approach. The old way we have followed results in stress, burnout, environmental distress and war.
We cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created those problems. Instead, we must rally the Pack toward our shared destiny. Amen, Abby!
I spent a lovely afternoon with 14 women who joined us for the workshop “Embody the Leader Within You.” Despite the below-zero temperatures, and a chilly meeting room, this really warmed my heart. The discussions were robust and engaged, and everyone participated actively, which is exactly what I’d hoped.
There was such positive energy in the room, and I believe some fruitful connections were made. I got good feedback after the session, even though 90 minutes can go so fast it is hard to cover everything. We were able to hit the high points. One student who talked with me afterward said we offer a 3-session series on the topic… indeed!
It was so great to know that the topic resonated for this group. I am grateful for how it proceeded, and the opportunity to meet women with such different experiences, to explore how to empower ourselves and other women further. I shall let this experience “sit” with me for a couple of days to consider the feedback and how it will inform my upcoming 4-week course offering.
For now, I feel really happy with the effort and the participation. I am on the right track and with practice, I shall iterate and improve what I offer each time. I am breathing out a big sigh of relief and gratitude for a successful first “pilot” of this type of workshop. Onward!
This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.
After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.
We are not going to solve a broken health care system with a food system that is poisoning our population. Until we begin to understand that sugar, flour and other processed and “powdered” foods are killing us, and that we are addicted to them, both systems will remain broken.
When I began to understand the role that food was playing in my life as a comfort mechanism and a way to “medicate” my emotions, I started waking up to what I needed to do in order to promote vitality and health in my life.
What I see in our national discourse is a lack of understanding of how privilege and knowledge function in keeping some people focused on their next meal, rather than on the future they can build.
I love personal empowerment literature and believe many of us can control our destinies because of the choices we can make. But there are systemic problems in our schools, communities, cities, states and the world that do not allow every person with high potential to thrive.
Hidden Brain replayed an episode on the scarcity trap a few weeks ago, on the problem we have of the “tunnel vision” that develops when we are desperate for something. We spend our time and mental energy focusing on the scarce item item (whether it is food, or time, or health) so obsessively that there is little time for anything else.
But really then we have a scarcity of insight, because we focus so strongly on the current problem that we are unable to see the bigger picture. We are unable to make good decisions for the long-term because all we see is the lack, the need. We may sacrifice long-term rewards because we are stuck in that cycle of lack.
When people feel they lack power over their own lives, they make decisions that may not be in their own best interest. They fall back on “what they know” rather than trying something that may feel risky to them, or that could jeopardize what they do have.
Taking good care of our health and well-being is not something we see modeled for us in this culture of “busy-ness as a status symbol” (thank you Brene, Brown). It is indeed a radical act of self-love and self-compassion to attend to our wellness regularly and without apology.
Taking in only what nourishes us and rejecting or minimizing anything that depletes us is the way to true health and lasting joy. For those of us with enough privilege to know where our next meals are coming from, and who have decent health care and a good support system, we have amazing power to choose in our lives.
Let us now empower those around us to get what they need as well. In a country of plenty, what if nobody lacked basic necessities such as food and health care? Imagine the explosion of creativity and innovation that could exist if we could empower every person to live up to their full potential.