A clinical psychologist shares how yoga can help people embrace their emotions and embody self-love.
This is the fifth in a yearlong series of interviews conducted by guest editor Seane Corn, founder of the yoga service organization Off the Mat, Into the World, each featuring a different leader in yoga service and social-justice work. Everyone profiled here will join Corn in teaching a workshop on yoga for social change at Yoga Journal LIVE! in Estes Park, Colorado, September 27-30.This July, Corn interviews Melody Moore, PhD, RYT, who founded Embody Love Movement (embodylovemovement.org) in 2012 to use yoga as a transformational tool for embracing inner beauty.
Seane Corn: How have your clinical psychology and yoga backgrounds worked together to create a transformational healing journey for you?
Melody Moore: After I completed my PhD in clinical psychology, I enrolled in postdoctoral study at a psychoanalytic institute. I created a discipline where I would practice yoga every day at 8:3o a.m., and then show up on my psychoanalyst’s couch at 1o a.m., Monday through Friday. After an embodied practice on the yoga mat, I had a clearer understanding of my mind, my patterns of behavior, and the times when I wasn’t accepting ways that I’d behaved or things that had happened to me. The two processes and practices were beginning to heal me. It took a few years, but I slowly discovered that yoga was not just for the body, and therapy not just for the mind. Instead, both practices create integrity of the body-mind connection, and both connect to the soul, to truth. I began to see how to apply what was working on my yoga mat and in my own therapy to the lives of my clients.
SC: You specialize in yoga and body image, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders. Can you talk as a doctor about your perception of these issues within the yoga community?
MM: As the business of yoga has grown, it has come with this idea that practicing yoga will burn calories or make you look a certain way. But yoga has a healing capacity for people with disordered eating. They often have severed the connection between their mind and their body, and yoga is a union between the mind and the body. It breaks my heart when yoga is used as a way of continuing to sever that connection, to use the approximation of poses as a way to compete, to compare, to attach to outcome, or to push oneself, instead of to find acceptance, develop mindfulness, and become present.
SC: What is the responsibility of the yoga teacher who recognizes vulnerability in the room?
MM: First, it’s our responsibility to be inquiring consistently about where we are in terms of our own body image and our own capacity to feel worth despite how we look on the outside and how our body is “performing” in the yoga practice. If we’re not aware of the places within ourselves that are not accepting of ourselves, we’re not going to be able to help others. It’s also necessary that we not cue students to attain a pose, so we’re not making it sound as though being able to do something is more important than being able to feel something.
SC: What is the Embody Love Movement organization, and how did it come to be?
MM: Four years ago, I visited South Africa through Off the Mat, Into the World’s Global Seva Challenge. We visited GOLD (Generations of Leaders Discovered).
The organization trains leaders in middle schools and high schools to understand how HIV/AIDS transmission works and then sends them back into the schools to tell other kids their age about the myths around HIV transmission. It makes sense: Teens are more likely to listen to one another than they are to listen to me as a doctor, or to teachers or parents.
Everything clicked. I developed an eight-week course that combined yoga and psychotherapy, with a call to action at the end. I offered it to the girls who had done face-to-face psychotherapy with me for years. They were transformed. They felt empowered and integrated. They wanted to be instruments in making sure that other girls and women didn’t suffer like they had.
We created a curriculum called the Inner Beauty Shop, which is a three-hour workshop, including yoga and other embodied activities, for girls and women ages 12 and up. We took it into junior highs, high schools, colleges, camps, churches, and other nonprofit organizations in order to prevent other girls from growing up with the idea that they weren’t worthy, or that their value was based on how they looked. We have trained over 1oo facilitators, and have 12 trainings nationally this year in addition to our other programs.
SC: What lessons can you share with anyone setting out to create a nonprofit?
MM:I listen to my clients and others in the community to understand their needs and where I can be of service rather than showing up with what I want to offer, which can be more harmful than beneficial. And I recommend getting mentors or coaches. Then, you have a whole community of people who are encouraging and supporting you as well as being honest with you.