Buckle Up: 3 Lessons Learned from the Ugliest Belt I Own

I really love my sacrum. In fact, I love it so much, that I accessorize it whenever I take a yoga class with the very sexiest of all the orthopedic medical supplies out there, the sacroiliac belt. It looks like this:

Hot right? Now just imagine it wrapped so tightly across the hips and butt that all the skin, fat, and muscle around it have nowhere to go except for bulging helplessly over all sides. Trust me, it is a look. And it is a look I now proudly sport in practically every class I take, thank you very much!

For those who may not know, your sacrum is the triangular bone at the base of your spine. It is held in place by ligaments and attaches to the pelvis at the sacroiliac joints (stay with me here…I’m promise not to go too heavy on the anatomy). The location of the sacroiliac joints is visible on many of us because of those adorable little indentations on the lower back that I recently learned bear the nickname, “Dimples of Venus,” which is weird but also kind of cute. I’m talking about these guys:

My own Dimples of Venus may seem normal on the surface, but the actual joints that lie beneath them are shot to hell. By that I mean that the ligaments that are supposed to hold my sacrum in place are so loose and overstretched, I sometimes imagine them looking like the waistband on a pair of undies whose elastic is shot.

Enter the sacroiliac belt! The process alone of getting into the thing makes me feel like I am ready for battle, literally girding my loins for yoga! It involves stretching what feels like military grade velcro, pulling it as taut as humanly possible, and connecting it in three places. The salesman who fitted me for it likened it to fastening a seat belt just as tight as I could right around my ass. I guess he did that sort of thing a lot? Who knows.

The squeeze and support that the belt gives me is absolute heaven. For any ladies out there who have given birth, remember how excruciatingly your back hurt during labor? And if your partner or whomever knew how to press in on your hips in the right place with all of their might, you had a tiny bit of delicious relief? This belt is like that squeeze but constant!

Of course I know it is also a crutch. The belt provides external support when what I ultimately need is internal strength. It also limits mobility and is ugly as sin. And the gnashing, ripping sound it makes if I need to make even the slightest adjustment to it is awful (and sometimes embarrassing). But despite its imperfections, my ugly-ass belt helps me feel safe and supported, especially in group class settings, and I am really grateful for it.

In closing, I’d like to thank my sacroiliac belt for teaching me 3 very important things:

  1. All your strength does not have to come from within. It is ok to get external support.
  2. It is very important be able to laugh at yourself. Even more important to fully embrace your muffin top.
  3. Sometimes the ugliest accessories are the very best ones.

Cheating on Yoga with Pilates

I’m cheating on yoga with Pilates.

Full disclosure, I used to really hate Pilates. When I was in grad school for dance a million years ago, it was a requirement, and the octogenarian that taught it was even meaner than she was old. She would tell the class daily how terrible we were, and would push on my belly so hard I thought I would barf.

But she was a legend in the Pilates world, had studied with Joseph Pilates himself, and there was a sort of hushed awe when people would say her name. Whatever. I absolutely hated it. That also happened to be the same time period when I was getting my first yoga certification, and I was over the moon, smitten, googly-eyed in love with yoga. In my shamelessly dualistic worldview (not very yogic, I know), I pitted yoga against Pilates, and yoga won out big time.

Fast forward two decades, and I feel like I have done a 180 (proof positive that I am still pretty entrenched in duality I guess!) Now I love Pilates. It gives me so much of what I have needed for so very long. Stability. A strong center. Feeling like I can’t so easily be pushed off-kilter. And, oh, how it helps my yoga-injured back! Seriously, I love it. I can’t get enough of it.

But I do feel a tiny bit like I am having an illicit affair, like I am sleeping with the enemy. Currently, I take Pilates classes far more often than yoga, and my body is actually doing better. So what does this mean? Is Pilates better, safer, healthier than yoga? Have I wasted all these years getting the wrong certifications, teaching the wrong classes, doing all the wrong things?? Agghh!! (See how many times I used the word wrong in that sentence? Oh, duality, you ARE a beast!)

If I am honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that my issues with yoga aren’t really because of yoga itself, but rather pieces of evidence about the ways in which my own yoga lacks balance. There are plenty of ways to practice yoga with the same support, stability, and center that Pilates provides. But yoga does require that you work (or in some cases, work less) in order to figure it out. Finding balance is different for every single individual, and since balance is also dynamic, it means different things for the same individuals throughout various moments of their lives. At this point in my life, my own personal balance requires doing much less of the deep stretching that so many of my favorite asanas involve (yes, I know, I’m not supposed to have “favorites,” but you know…DUALITY). I would be lying if I said I am not sad about this loss. But there you have it. Balance isn’t a cakewalk, and neither is yoga.

In terms of teaching, balance needs to come in the way I communicate with students. The same stock phrases I have used to describe poses a million times already simply won’t cut it. Honestly, if I never again utter the phrase, “Send your sitting bones back,” I’d be fine with it. My sitting bones don’t need to go any further back; they need to squeeze in! Meanwhile the student in front of me may need something else entirely, and the student next to them may not even know what a “sitting bone” is. All the words I offer my students should be in service to helping them find their own individual balance. Full stop. Stale language and stock phrases have no place in that discourse.

But back to Pilates! Even as I’m writing this, I am feeling that post-Pilates class buzz, that gentle core ignition that my back and my body love so very much. Of course I am having an affair with Pilates; it is so damn easy to love! Yoga on the other hand, not so easy. Yoga asks a thousand different things from all of us. It asks us to work our asses off as well as do absolutely nothing. It asks us for single-pointed focus and also to clear our minds. It asks us not to run away from ourselves over and over again. And you guys…all that is really hard! But even I, in all my disenchantment and shortcomings, know that it is worth it.

For now however, I am going to get the most out of my Pilates affair. I am going to try to strengthen my center just as much as I can so that I can bring it with me into yoga and everything else that I do. I know that this is much easier said than done. I also know that I have a very long way to go.

I love my students

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

When I began thinking about starting this blog, one of the things that really worried me was betraying my students. I would imagine them (and still do) coming across one of my posts and thinking that my disenchantment with yoga meant that I was disenchanted with them. The mental image of that scenario literally makes me want to weep.

I love my students. That may sound sappy or cliched, but it is true. I am moved by their willingness to show up over and over again, try new things, and trust me with their instruction. My students teach me so much, and honestly, if it weren’t for them, it is likely I would have given up yoga long ago.

Part of why I am trying to do this whole Yoga for the Disenchanted thing is to access my truest, deepest feelings about the yoga practice. And right now, the feeling that is sitting on top of it all is disenchantment. I can’t ignore that if I want to teach and practice authentically.

So students, if you are reading this, I hope you know that my disenchantment with yoga is not disenchantment with you. In fact, more and more, it is starting to feel like a gift; one that has the potential to lead me somewhere in my yoga, and consequently my teaching, that is better, truer, richer than ever before. Thank you so so so much for your trust and patience as I work on getting there.

So Bad at Boundaries

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Yoga people are so bad at boundaries. Is this a generalization? Obviously. But is it true? YES.

Lest I come across as a jerk, I’ll just remind you that I too am a yoga person, albeit an occasionally disenchanted one, and I find setting boundaries so freaking hard. To be fair, boundaries are hard for most people, so my saying that “yoga people” aren’t great with them is a bit of a cheap shot. But I do think the stakes are higher, especially for yoga teachers, because whether we want to or not, we hold a lot of sway in the eyes of our students.

One complicating factor in yoga is that transcending and ultimately dissolving boundaries is a central value in the yoga tradition (Yoga Sutra 2.51). Now, clearly the type of boundary that Patanjali is talking about does not fall under the same category as, say, agreeing not to talk politics at the Thanksgiving table or check work e-mail after 6 PM. He is talking some serious ego meeting id, individual merging with universe, soul expanding, mind bending stuff! And I can assure you that I (like 99 % of every other yoga teacher you will encounter) am totally unqualified to preach….I mean teach…about such things.

But what I can tell you (because I have witnessed it many times) is that the boundary dissolving sentiments of the sutras can VERY easily be distorted to suit the whims of self-serving individuals. This isn’t exactly news to anyone, I’m sure. All you have to do is google “yoga sex scandal,” and you will get plenty of examples.

Now, these are extreme instances and ones that get a lot of press. The more common ones, however, don’t get talked about so much but in some ways are even more destructive because of the sheer numbers of people they affect (this Yoga Journal study showed that roughly 20 million Americans practice yoga). I’m talking about when yoga teachers do things like: give medical advice that they are in no way qualified to provide; teach to a group as though every individual in the class holds the same political, religious, and social beliefs that they do; act like a therapists when they are not.

I’ll be frank; as a teacher, I have done all of these to some extent. I have “suggested” possible causes of pain for students when really what they needed was a medical opinion. I have made assumptions when I shouldn’t have. I have repeated things my own therapist said to me as though I knew what the hell I was talking about. And as a student, I have overtly or unconsciously asked my teachers to do these things for me. I have wanted them to cure me, to validate me, to praise me, to nurse me. And that ain’t right.

I think most of the time, we don’t even realize when we are crossing boundaries in the actual moment we are doing so. At least I don’t. Then once I do realize it, it is very hard to not let the shame spiral kick in. And there is no feeling more likely to ignite my own boundary obliteration quite like shame, and so the cycle continues. So for the foreseeable future, I think I will try starting every class I teach with a quiet prayer for good clear boundaries. May I respect them for my students, my family, my friends, and most importantly, for myself.

Everyone’s a fraud!

In my last post, I talked a little about losing my own voice as a yoga teacher and feeling like a big ole fraud. If you missed it, feel free to check it out below. But what I didn’t mention in that last post was the growing suspicion that everyone around me was a fraud as well.

Several years into teaching, I started having a really hard time taking class from any but a small handful of teachers. I was so critical of other teachers that I could barely focus on myself. Of course I never voiced this criticism aloud, but I can assure you that it was a riotous symphony in my brain. I may have looked all calm and namaste, but inside I was screaming:

How could you give THAT person THAT adjustment?! Do you not see her knee turning in, butt sticking out, shoulders at her ears, crunched lumbar spine?? Are you trying to send her to the operating table? And are you kidding me with that terrible Sanskrit pronunciation?? It is SAVasana, ok! Not SHIVasana!! We are talking corpses here not deities!!!

To say I was judgy is….an understatement. And to say I was angry…yes, just a little.

It was like some debilitating form of yogic paranoia. But beyond anything, it was very isolating and gave me a great excuse to not go to class.

The fact of the matter is that we are all frauds to some extent. I mean, I was once asked to teach a class called “Rock your Ass-ana” for God’s sake. Now if that’s not “authentic” yoga, then I don’t know what is! It’s ok. We can laugh at ourselves when we are stupid. And that class title was STUPID. Bless my sweet, sanctimonious, twenty-something year old heart for recognizing it even then and refusing to teach it.

But seriously, at some point or another, we are all frauds. The dangerous frauds are the ones who never recognize their own fraudulence or seek to do anything about it. And there are certainly plenty of those in yoga, as there are in every other sphere of life.

I am trying to face my fraud head on so I can get back to the yoga I love. And if I can be patient enough with myself to try and do this, it is incumbent upon me to show that same respect to other teachers as well. We all need the room to be a bit of a fraud. And we all need time to figure it out.

I am a fraud.

Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t said (shouted, blared, trumpeted) this to themselves at some point? I’m not asking this rhetorically but am genuinely curious about whatever lucky species of human is out there that hasn’t at some point in their life felt like a fraud. Does such a one exist?

As I sit to write this first official blog post, the fraud feeling sits on my shoulders. I have never done this before, and already the pit-of-the-stomach questions lurk: Is this even relevant? Do people still read blogs? Am I a phoney-baloney? But as my dear friend B reminded me on an excellent FB post this week, I should:

So here goes.

When I first started teaching yoga in 2003, I was so in love with it that it never dawned on me to feel like a fraud. I was sharing something beautiful! It was profound and affirming, and so freaking hard and still somehow relaxing. I taught those early classes in a sweaty, smelly, padded wrestling room in the basement of NYU’s Coles Gymnasium, now demolished in the name of development. Full disclosure here, I wasn’t even certified when I started! But things like that didn’t matter quite as much back then. I loved yoga and knew enough, so by God I taught it! And honestly, those were some of the most joy-filled classes of my whole teaching career.

Ironically, the fraud-y feelings didn’t come until many years and many yoga certifications later. It started slowly but then picked up momentum. As I taught, words that once felt illuminating as they came out of my mouth started to feel like play-acting, like I was just repeating the same phrases, the same cues, the same cheesy jokes and cliches that a thousand other teachers had before me: In yoga, practice doesn’t “make” perfect; practice is perfect! I mean, it’s true and all, but really? That ain’t me.

There are few things worse than losing your voice. And I don’t mean laryngitis, although that certainly sucks too, but I am mean your voice. I am from Tennessee, but have virtually no southern accent at all. People remark on this often, as though it is some sort of compliment. Little do they know that it makes me so very sad. Like I have lost something sweet that I didn’t even know I had. As a writer, too, I struggle to “find my voice.” One that feels real and authentic and not a re-hashed version of someone else.

I think I will try to use the fraud feeling as a driver, steering me towards a voice that feels more like who I really am. And I will also try not to beat up on whatever voice comes out in the mean time, even if it doesn’t feel so much like me. Maybe it is just a shell. Or a chrysalis. Or snake skin I need to shed. Snakes don’t resent their former skin, do they? Nor do they try to hang onto it.

Lauren Hale Biniaris has been teaching yoga since 2003 in gyms, studios, and privately to students of all ages, levels, and physical needs. She holds yoga certifications at both the 200 and 500 hour levels as well as in prenatal yoga and mommy and me. Lauren is also a dancer, choreographer, and writer and holds degrees from Brown University and NYU.