It all started in Erica Mather’s head.
She was in her mid-20s when she developed terrible migraines. After years of coping, she turned to yoga, hoping it would be a remedy for her pain. The practice didn’t stop her headaches, but it helped Mather revisit her relationship with her physical body. For years, Mather had evaluated her body based on its ability to perform. She grew up swimming, sailing, and windsurfing. Her appreciation of her body was rooted in what it looked like and what it could do. Ironically, that changed with yoga.
“At yoga, it was permissible for my body to just be,” she says. “And that state of being was sufficient for value, which is the opposite of what women are taught.” Mather’s yoga experience sparked her interest in body perception issues, such as weight loss, cultural influences on body image, and the ties between the mind and the body.
Mather completed Forrest Yoga training in 2006 and started teaching classes, infusing body-affirming insights and language into her instruction. She created the seven-step Adore Your Body Transformational Program. Then she wrote a book: Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Embrace Your True Power. All of her work fuses yoga, spirituality, and body-image concepts to uncover a more holistic understanding of the physical body.
Media images influence body image
Mather says that, from day one, comments from family members, classmates, and even strangers influence our self-perception. Then media images seal the deal. Mather challenges these toxic influences, encouraging clients to form a new mind-set around the form and function of their own (and all) bodies. Her work goes beyond positive affirmations and Instagram posts. She helps people shift how they view and think about the very existence of their bodies. For example, Mather helps clients understand how their bodies may change if they’re ill or when they begin to age. “We use mirrors, scales, and sizes incorrectly—as a referendum of sorts. As if they can actually measure all of what we are,” she wrote. “They can’t.”
She hopes her work brings yoga concepts to the conversation. For example, her work leans into the koshas, the five layers, or “sheaths,” of awareness, according to yogic philosophy. Mather unpacks how the physical body (annamaya kosha) relates to and depends on the other four koshas: pranamaya (vital energy body), manomaya, (mental body), vijnanamaya, (wisdom body), and the anandamaya (bliss body). She says the koshas are reminders that you can’t focus on the physical body without addressing the mind and spirit.
Uprooting body insecurities
Mather’s approach addresses the root cause of many people’s body insecurities: a hatred not of their bodies, but of themselves. Uprooting this feeling is no easy feat. The expectation of thinness, reinforced in ads and media—and dominant in yoga spaces—is a powerful influence on this self-perception. Mather makes people aware of these subtle messages, and actively take steps to reject them—enabling people to move into a space where they (and their bodies) can exist authentically as themselves. She says your body can’t be ignored as a critical part of your human experience: “The mysticism is that when you engage with your body as an ally on your life path, you start to see the world differently.”
From Spring 2022