This is an extension of the interview that first appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Yoga Journal. Here, learn more about the personal journey and vision of Melody Moore, PhD, RYT, who founded the Embody Love Movement in 2012 to use yoga as a transformational tool for embracing inner beauty.
Seane Corn: Does inner-journey work help our spiritual practice, and why do you think there might be resistance to exploring shadow emotions, such as shame or grief?
Melody Moore: It doesn’t just help us; it’s necessary. For me and probably for many other people, the resistance comes because it’s scary and uncomfortable. We’re trained in our culture to run from discomfort and to anesthetize it, so it’s easy to bypass it in order to go toward light and love instead of investigating the frightening parts of ourselves. But those are the parts of ourselves we have to know because they trip us up and lead to self-sabotage. Those are the parts that can be used to help us have empathy and to see connection instead of being in service to our ego.
SC: What brought you to the mat, and how do you think your shadow self led you to become a doctor and want to serve in this particular way?
MM: So much in my shadow felt that I was not enough, that I was unworthy. I felt like I needed something or someone outside of me to both make me feel lovable and safe. Yoga brought me a sense of feeling safe inside my own body no matter what was coming up, whether it was rage, fear, or anxiety. Yoga has allowed me to experience those things within myself and not feel like I was going to die. When I was first introduced to yoga, I thought it was another form of exercise that would make me stronger and more flexible. Another piece of my shadow wanted to be the thinnest and the most beautiful, and therefore the most lovable, and yoga was going to help me get there. Instead, I found a tool to help me get the truth that I was already enough, that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that everything I needed was within me. I could tap into it by being with myself and breathing into those spaces that once were so terrifying.
SC: How can yoga help with eating disorders—help people to understand their own impulses a bit better?
MM: Someone with an eating disorder struggles with being present with emotions and being aware of hunger sensations. Through breath, the person expands the belly in order to get a sense of what’s in there, what sensations are happening. Yoga reconnects the mind and body through the breath.
Another way that yoga is helpful to someone with an eating disorder is that on the yoga mat they’re practicing alignment. They’re practicing stacking bones in a particular way. Taken off the mat, this is integrity. It’s matching up what we think and what we say with what we feel and what we do. When those four things align, it’s almost impossible to act outside of integrity through a self-harming behavior or an addictive behavior. If you’re in alignment with your integrity and your body feels hungry, you feed it. If your body feels full, you don’t. If you feel a certain way, you put words to that. Expressing emotions is a foundation for eating-disorder recovery because then you’re able to lean into the uncomfortable places and situations in life and ask for support, and ask to get your needs met. You find ways to sit with the discomfort of emotions as they come up instead of acting out via your relationship with food. Yoga’s capacity to bring oneself into physical alignment on the mat moves directly into a way of finding integrity with one’s value system off the mat.
SC: How has your yoga practice influenced how you engage in your work and make it sustainable?
MM: I was fortunate to have Kerri Kelly as a coach during the infancy of Embody Love Movement. During one of our coaching sessions, she said my organization is going to take the shape of me. She asked, “What yoga pose are you taking the shape of? How are you embodying this work?” My commitment to getting on that mat almost every single day is so important: It’s part of my being in integrity with myself because the mat is confronted, and it’s a reflection of where I am and how I am and who I am being. I ask myself consistently on the mat and through the practice, “Show me the places where I am not being of love, where I am feeling separate from myself, others, or God.” If I want to stand for being embodied love, I have to embody love. Yoga is the practice and tool by which I tap into what is or isn’t of love inside of me, and how I am or am not being of love, to myself primarily and therefore with others as well.
SC: What is the vision of the Embody Love Movement and what programs do you offer?
MM: The vision is to create a world of unconditional love and action. Our mission is to inspire and empower girls and women to embrace their inner beauty, to commit to kindness toward themselves and each other, and to believe that they have a purpose to create meaningful change in the world. The programs are the Inner Beauty Shop, which is a workshop designed to take girls and women ages 12 to 100 through a transformational journey from understanding how to change internal criticism into internal love so that they can recognize their purpose is not to be the thinnest and most beautiful; it’s to be exactly who they are. Another program is Embody Love Clubs. These clubs are led by girls and women on high-school and college campuses, and focus on respecting ourselves and being accepting of one another so that the campus as a whole is more loving, kind, and compassionate. We also offer Embody Love In Action, which is a five-session curriculum on body acceptance, kindness, and purpose for schools.
SC: What impact have you seen?
MM: In the first 8-week offering of yoga for those with eating disorders, I asked the participants to take a deep breath and asked, “What do you feel?” One 19-year-old client looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I feel hungry.” She had not felt hunger in more than five years. She had struggled with anorexia since age 12. The long-since severed cords between her body and mind had an opportunity to become reconnected.
One more example: One of the original Inner Beauty Shop facilitators, Lexi Moorehead, trained 20 young women to facilitate the Inner Beauty Shop at Spring Hill College in Alabama. Then, they brought it to all the sororities on campus. They have reported to me that in the last two years, they have not heard one unkind word or negative comment from any of the sisters. It’s amazing to me because when I visit college campuses and high schools, I constantly hear women bashing themselves and each other. But on the Spring Hill campus, they have created a kind and compassionate community.
SC: Would the Inner Beauty Shop be useful for yoga teachers?
MM: Absolutely. Most of the facilitators thus far have been yoga teachers because yoga is one hour of the three-hour workshop. One of the reasons I think it’s so useful for yoga teachers to participate is to access parts of themselves that have yet to become acceptable to them. It is a workshop on self-acceptance and empowerment. Yoga teachers, like all of us, can benefit from becoming more loving toward themselves. Also, when yoga teachers become facilitators, they can then hold this space and offer the teachings of yoga to girls in schools, female students in their studios, and more. Women universally can benefit from being reminded that they matter and that they have value and they have purpose.
SC: How do you respond to the idea that yoga and yoga media could actually reinforce weight-control behaviors and that studios often celebrate thinness and perfection of form? What can we do as a community to create change?
MM: The only way that systematic change is going to occur is if we as individuals take responsibility to create change within ourselves, because then it’s inevitable that systematic change will occur. As a yoga community, we can learn to have conversations that are compassionate, but honest in pointing out when we see harm being done. We can say, “Hey, did you notice that every instructor at your studio and every instructor shown on your website is a certain size or a certain color, and that this may not be inclusive of or welcoming to a broader population? Or that it may perpetuate the idea that the sole reason to practice yoga is to become thinner?”
We also have power in the way we spend our money. If we don’t buy products and media that are inclusive only of a certain body ideal, then we send a powerful message as a collective that this is not our value, that this is not in integrity with what we believe to be true and what we believe to be yoga.
SC: What’s the future of the Embody Love Movement?
MM: Last summer, we rolled out a curriculum for younger girls called Inside-Out Beauty. Sadly, most girls as young as six, seven, and eight are influenced by our media culture and sometimes by the culture of their families to buy into media ideals and stereotypes. As we train new facilitators in 12 new cities this year, the revolution will continue to expand, and I hope to remain open to the needs of the community that we serve. Next year, I’ll be teaching a yoga and body-image curriculum to yoga teachers and therapists, so they have a way of offering a yoga that’s safe and beneficial in therapeutic yoga studios and treatment centers for those who are struggling with negative body image and eating disorders.