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Move More… But for the Right Reasons: Part 4 of the Happiness Lab Podcast Series

Move More… But for the Right Reasons, is the last episode of the Happiness Lab Podcast Series, Smarter Strategies for Achieving your New Years Goals. In this episode, Dr. Laurie Santos was joined by Jessamyn Stanley, a world-renowned yoga instructor and author of Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body. 

Jessamyn who is Black, queer, and unapologetically fat, reflected on her childhood experiences with exercise and how these early life moments shaped her view of herself and fitness, even into adulthood. It wasn’t until she was much older, that she realized that the reason she was so unhappy was that she created all of these boundaries for herself and never allowed herself to step outside of them. It was in a hot yoga session, where she was consumed with negative self-talk, that she came to a breaking point. Jessamyn thought to herself, “Did you spend this money to come to this class to just stand here and talk shit about yourself? Because you could have just done that at home.”

She then realized that yoga put her in situations where she had to look at the way she talked to herself, and she was therefore required to step outside of her boundaries. 

Following this breakthrough, Jessamyn set foot on practicing yoga more frequently. She began with taking photos of her body doing certain poses, and through photographing herself, she came to realize that fitness could be about feeling good and loving yourself as you are. 

Jessamyn doesn’t use her yoga practice to achieve a perfect body, instead, she uses it to accept her imperfect reality. Through yoga, she’s realized that a more self-compassionate approach to exercise is key to boosting your health and happiness. 

What I learned from this podcast: 

Half of us intend to exercise in the New Year.

  • Although moving your body should be a good New Year’s happiness goal, these goals are usually not about happiness.
  • We feel deep down that we’ll only be happy once we’ve lifted enough weights or run enough miles to get that new idealized body, but all of that is a lie that your mind tells you. 

Yoga is a spiritual life path and is about mindfulness and being present.  

  • Mainstream yoga has made it about fitness.  

In yoga, there is a term called tapas. It has many definitions, but it loosely means fire. 

  • Essentially, we step into this fire that burns away the pieces of ourselves that don’t need to be there. 
  • How anything becomes strong, honed, or deepened, it’s always through intensity, it’s always through things being complicated, messy and unpleasant.  
  • We have to be okay with that or at least be willing to feel okay with that. We have tools to withstand this intensity, we just have to be willing to use them. 

Every problem you have with yourself is a universal problem.

  • Everyone is struggling with themselves in some capacity. They might not be struggling with their physical body, but they’re struggling in their emotional life. 
  • Everyone has something that holds them hostage from themselves. 

If you’re able to accept yourself then you can pass on that energy to others. 

  • By accepting yourself and leaning into your truth, you can help others to accept themselves. 
  • You can make space for even one person to be comfortable with themself and in doing so, that person is going to influence another person, and then another person.  

If we allow ourselves some grace, we’re naturally extending that grace to other people who need to give it to themselves too. 

The goal of exercise should be that it brings you some sort of enjoyment and happiness -- it shouldn’t be an ordeal of self-loathing. 

Benefits of yoga:

  • Yoga allows you to see life as so much more than it seems on the surface. 
  • It reminds us that everything in life is not good, everything in life is not happy, and you need things to be hard so that you can strengthen yourself from the inside. 
  • Yoga helps you to experience your body not just for how it looks, but for what it can do.
  • It allows you to see your body flexibly and better understand what it’s doing so that you’re able to pay attention to it. 

Strategies to incorporate into your life:

No one else is here saying these kinds of things about you. You are saying these awful things about yourself and you have to own that. 

  • If you’re the one saying these things, ask yourself: are these things that I really believe about myself? 

Be aware of your own body shaming. 

  • Know it, see it, and accept it about yourself. 

Approach fitness as a spiritual and/or psychological experience, where you just want to get inside of yourself.

  • Do it not because something is going to change about you, but to honour who you are right now.
  • Let yourself go back to those childhood experiences of just running because it feels good, not because there’s any kind of goal or expectation.  

When you are experiencing moments that feel emotionally hard, practice the same poses you use when exercising gets tough, like pulling in your core.

  • They will help to strengthen you.

Listen to your body and allow your body to be.  

Make space for your body parts, they’re going to be there anyway. 

  • You can still practice poses or exercises with body parts, like your stomach, in the way.
  • Remember, it’s okay for your body to take up space.
    - Allow yourself to take up space and practice taking up space in your yoga poses or exercises.
    - If you can practice taking up space in a physical way, you can take up space in other areas of your life.
    - Know that getting okay with exactly who and how you are opens the door for taking up space. 

To end this blog, I’ll leave you with a quote Jessamyn shared…

“The light in me sees the light in you, but the darkness in me also sees the darkness in you.” 

I hope you enjoyed reading these blogs featuring the Happiness Lab Podcast series, Smarter Strategies for Achieving your New Years Goals. Check out the other posts to learn more about how you can achieve your New Years’ goals with self-compassion.