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Fashion, Gear, & Beauty

My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 5

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LA Yoga Teacher Gigi Yogini on Cultivating Courage

In this six-part series, Yoga Journal asked six women participating in the Practice of Leadership conversation on Saturday, July 12, 2014, what body image means to them. Disclaimer: It’s positive, pop-y and powerful. And yes, as a yoga community, we do believe experience is everything.

Meet Brigitte Kouba, MA, (aka Gigi Yogini), a positive body image advocate and yoga instructor. She is also a co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

BK: …Rosie the Riveter. I can’t lie. I’ve always loved the image of her. It was used during WWII as a symbol of women’s physical and economic earning power, eventually inspiring multiple spin-offs to communicate women’s ability to be bold, brave, and beautiful.

YJ: How would you describe your relationship to your body image?

BK: Body image is someone’s perception of their body and their relationship to this perception. I believe that I have a healthy relationship to my body image, although it’s an ever-evolving relationship as I work through injuries, get gray hair, and continue to see myself in different elements.

I see my body in my mind’s eye and I feel how my body works from day to day in my yoga practice. Yet as I put my image out in the public promoting healthy body image, I see videos and photos of myself where I look different every time. People have mixed feedback about my mission, sometimes celebrating my curves, other times vilifying me for promoting “body love” although I’m not plus-sized.

I think overall what’s most important in my mission to promote body positivity is the cultivation of courage, confidence, and gratitude for one’s body in each moment. When we accept and appreciate ourselves, as we are, we treat our bodies with respect. If we feel shame and guilt, we have a harder time showing our bodies the love they deserve.

YJ: What scenario taught you more about self-acceptance?

BK: In my advanced teacher training, I often judged myself as being big compared to the other women in the room. This comparison initially made me a little more nervous, feeling like maybe the other women wouldn’t take me seriously because I was tall with thick thighs and large breasts. But one day we got into a circle and started discussing deeper emotional elements of our lives and practice. I was shocked when I heard multiple women in the circle talking about their body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and low self-esteem. I had just assumed that because they were thin, they were confident. But I realized that self-acceptance is a challenge for many people, regardless of age, shape, size, background, etc.

YJ: What has your physical body taught you about your emotional self?

BK: My physical body needs to dance, stretch, hike, and play in order to be fulfilled. The more I move, the easier it is to move through emotional challenges. When I’m physically stagnant, my emotions get stuck too. But one of the easiest ways for me to process emotions is to get outside and go for a walk. My body was made to move.

YJ: What can we do as a community to support women and create a body-positive culture?

BK: Thought leaders and media influencers can provide images of health that reflect the full range of human diversity. We have a great opportunity to share tools and resources to promote self-respect, especially in the yoga community, where we can continue to develop, promote and support yoga that is accessible and body-positive.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

BK: Body, Mind and Soul already are One.

YJ: If you could speak to your physical body, you would say, “_________.”

BK: Thank you.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

BK: Keep up the great work.

YJ: What’s your best advice for feeling comfortable in your own skin?

BK: Use your senses. Look at yourself in the mirror and truly see yourself as whole. Close your eyes and listen to your breath, realizing what a magical gift it is to be alive. Exercise so hard that you can smell yourself releasing toxins and taste your own sweat. Be present in the full range of experiences your body can have and most importantly, remember to give thanks.

YJ: Fireworks or Firefly pose? (It is July…)

BK: How about both—Firefly while Katy Perry’s song Firework is playing!

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Gigi Yogini’s personal experience with body image at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Or head over to our Facebook Practice of Leadership group to join the conversation. But first, read Part 6: Tara Stiles Talks Passion, Purpose, and Goosebumps