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Image vs. Self-Image/I AmThat

by Julie Leatherbarrow

I am the girl driving the big blue van. I am the girl making hemp jewelry; I am the glassblower; I am the mother, the wife, daughter, sister, friend, and yoga teacher.

The roles change as we move through our lives and, as we meet others, and we play these roles and that will be the image that they will have of us in their minds. Our minds, however, cling to certain roles that have made such an impression on us that it is hard to let go.

It’s been many years since I was the girl driving the big blue van on Grateful Dead tour. For some reason that is still the image that I have of myself even though I am married with kids and I have traded in the big blue van for a minivan. Why? What is it about that role that I still feel is me, more than 20 years later?

Over the years, my life has changed. I am more grounded and secure. I am married with kids and I run a couple of small businesses. I’m very involved in my community and I consider my life to be a success.

Then, there are those moments during conversations about my work when I will exclaim, “Whoever would’ve thought that the girl selling grilled cheese on Grateful Dead tour would be doing this?” The people around me will just laugh. Clearly, I am the only one who ever doubted that girl.

I see that girl that I used to be is flighty, curious, and brave. I was alone but willingly. But, I don’t think I had confidence. I don’t think that I really believed that I could do the things that I wanted to do even though I usually did the things that I said that I was going to do. There is a difference. Deep down, I had dreams but they did not fit into my self-image. I mean, what does teaching yoga have to do with being a glassblower? Can these two pieces of myself co-exist within one lifetime?

Then, there are my friends who knew me in the big blue van and still picture me in it, even though they have witnessed my transformation. To them, I am That. Those who have met me as a wife and a mother and a yoga teacher, to them, I am That.

Which leads to the question, who am I? Who gets to decide? How do I merge all of these images that I have of myself, into one whole being?

Moving fluidly through life, with a willingness to except change has been my rock. While my roles have differed, depending on the specific time, place and people in my life, I always held onto a sense of “I am-ness”. No matter who I was at the moment, I recognized the moment for what it was, a passage through time. “I am” remains while the description that follows changes.

Letting go of some of those descriptions of myself has been easier than others. Naturally, those identities that made me feel the most fire, un-chained, wild and adventurous are loaded with attachment! And, while those times laid the foundation for the woman that I am today and, I have no regrets, that life cannot be relived. Those lessons have been learned and those miles have been travelled. The way now is forward and steady. Is there more adventure ahead? Oh, I will be sure to create some! However, who I am now will respond rather than react to life’s situations. Who I am now moves in thoughtful, more deliberate ways.

This new “I am-ness” offers a new sense of freedom than what I had in my past. Slowing down creates space within that expands the potential of what’s next. That potential helps me recognize the variety of opportunities that surround me that I didn’t know where mine for the taking while submerged in my former roles. There is a chance to grow, to move forward, to learn from my successes and failures, to peel away the outer layers of identity that have clouded my ability to see who I truly am deep inside of myself.

That is the part of myself that is unchanging. No matter where I live, the car I drive, the jobs that I have, there is the sense of self that never leaves me. It may be buried deep under 20 identities but it is there. The practice of yoga has helped me tap into that space with greater ease. Breath awareness leading flowing movements of the body has brought stillness to my wandering thoughts that attempt to convince me that I am all of these other things when really, deep down, I am That. I am That which is connected to all that lives and breathes. I am That which holds within the microcosm of the Universal plan. I am that whose potential continues to unfold into a world of possibilities.

This new role of “I am That” is slowly becoming the lead role in my life. Admittedly, old habits die-hard so it’s easy to slip back into my former self. But, just like practicing yoga postures, this too, becomes a practice. The more I try, the easier it gets to embrace who I Am.

YOUNG IN SPIRIT: EMBRACING MY TRUE NATURE

By Julie Leatherbarrow

I love kicking ass.

Cardio kickboxing and high impact aerobics had been my choice of exercise for most of my life. I love the punching, advice the kicking and the sweating. I crave the blood pumping through my body to the beat of the music that is pumping in my ears. I seek the self-confidence that I built in my body; my strength as well as my ability to defend myself. My last semester in college, prostate I even considered switching from my English major to Physical Education so I could teach aerobics.

So everyone in my life was surprised when I decided to finally get certified at the age of 40 to teach, look I chose yoga. Kids yoga.

Now, I do have two young children, but yoga? Kids yoga? How does that relate to who I am? How does that relate to what I really love, other than my own kids?

When I got my first yoga tape (yes, a VHS tape) back in the late 90’s, I noticed that all of the stretching that I had learned over the years was similar to yoga poses. The breathing was different and the intention was different, true, but the foundation still felt like yoga.

As I began to slow myself down and just breathe, it felt like coming home. The strength was still there only instead of just physical strength I began to build emotional and psychological strength. The self-confidence that I have built is less about how I look and more about who I am. The focus in my ability to defend myself has also been altered. Protecting myself against self-judgment and self-criticism has become crucial to my personal growth.

This new self-confidence has helped me embrace the softer side of myself and has allowed me to feel free to work with children. In the past, I think that I felt that if people really knew how much I liked kids that I would be looked at as weak and vulnerable. Yoga has brought me to a place of understanding that there is strength in opening my heart and allowing myself to be vulnerable. Trusting that my softness will provide a nice place for to me to land should I fall.

This is my true nature.

I will always love kicking ass. But, changing my position from a defensive pose with my hands up in front of me in a fist to protect myself to one of openness; hands apart, palms up prepares me to give and receive all of the good that life has to offer.

 

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MIRROR, MIRROR…… REFLECTIONS OF MY BELLY

       I have a round belly. At the age of (almost) 42 and the mother of three children, one would expect roundness to my belly but my belly has ALWAYS been round. Even as a skinny ten year old.

Like most people, I have struggled to accept the roundness of certain parts of my body. I have worn shirts that completely hide my belly and I have also worn shirts that totally showed off my belly. At a Grateful Dead show in 1995, I had a guy say to me, “Wow! You have a really big belly!” My only response could be was to tell him, “That’s where my uterus lives. It’s supposed to be big.” Clearly, his statement had an affect because I still think about it almost 19 years later!

But, in my room, I have a face mirror that my belly looks great in! I angle the mirror and step back and my belly looks tight in all of the right places. It curves around at the bottom and dips in at the hips. There are more curves along the top and then cuts in at my oblique muscles. I can’t help but wonder, is this my belly that everyone else sees? When I step away from the mirror and look down at my belly, reality strikes. The roundness is back, even bigger than before.

 This is my belly as I see it.

Then, I had a dream about my belly. In the dream, whenever I looked down at my belly, it was round where it felt right to be round and it pulled in where it felt right to be pulled in. But, when I looked in my special mirror, my belly looked big. Really big. My belly looked like it belonged on someone else’s body. When I looked back down at myself, my belly was, once again, my belly.

When I woke up from that dream, I woke up to a whole new perspective of my Self. I woke up to a whole new reality. My perspective about my Self has been, for way too long, a reflection of how I feel other people perceive me.

My belly is a reflection of my three pregnancies. It is a reflection of the life that I have lived; dancing at shows, times of healthy eating habits as well of times of midnight snacking. My belly reflects the times in my life when I couldn’t afford a lot of food as well as times of prosperity. More recently, my belly is a reflection of my yoga practice and teaching. Inhaling in through my nose, filling up my belly like it is a balloon. I use it to show my students how big my balloon belly can get to encourage them to breathe deeply into their own bellies without being embarrassed by the roundness of their bodies. With pride, I encourage them to fill up the roundness of their bellies with their own breath.

My dream has given me a new perspective on my belly. It has taught me that my belly reflects the whole of my life experiences. I have learned to recognize the beauty in the roundness of my belly. I have learned that I am just as I am meant to be. My dream has taught me that what matters the most is how I look at my Self.

I have gone back to using my mirror as it was intended to be used. For my face.

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Laughing in the Face of Fear- A Jaw Dropping Experience

“To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”  ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved

 I eat stress as a late night snack.

Grinding my teeth has been an issue for me since I was very young. I used to grind my teeth so loud that I would wake up my sister who slept in the room next to mine.

Teeth grinding and TMJ, is the body’s way of dealing with stress. I rarely feel stress in the forefront of my mind but clearly, my body is feeling it and it is manifesting in my jaw.

Last summer, while driving home from a stressful day at my job as the director of an artisan market, my jaw dislocated itself. Right there, in the car! My jaw came off the hinge and fell to the right.

Throughout the day, I had been faced with the usual stressors of work. People rely on me to manage efficiently so that our market runs smoothly. As any issue came my way, I would laugh my way to a solution. At one point, we were concerned about having to cancel due to bad weather and I laughed, saying the weather is out of my control. We always want large audiences for our artists so I took many pictures of myself smiling to post on FB so all could see the fun to be had. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see my teeth are tightly clenched.

Instead of facing my fears and dealing with them, I pushed them, or so I thought, to the back of my mind. Interestingly, the back of the brain is where the “fight or flight” response resides. That’s the part of the brain that tells us what to do when we are afraid. Do we flee or do we stand and fight?

I chose neither. I chose to laugh.

All of the years of not dealing with my fears put such a strain on my muscles from clenching and grinding that they finally just gave up and let go.

The following weeks involved various forms of therapy including chiropractic, acupuncture and restorative yoga to realign my jaw, lower my stress and to learn breathing techniques to calm my central nervous system.

I learned the importance of acknowledging my fears.

In the past, I buried my fears. I thought that if people knew that I was afraid that they would lose confidence in me or take advantage of me. I stand just under 5ft tall and was always afraid of being “small”. That fear fueled my determination to appear strong; stronger than YOU or ANYONE around me. It felt acceptable to be short, as long as I was strong. I thought strength would over come fear.

But, the fear never left. It was with me the whole time. Now that the fear had been acknowledged, what could I do with it?

This process has led me to recognize that all of our choices are based on one of two things; love or fear. When I have fears, I look at the scenarios. Is this a real, concrete fear or is it something that I have made up in my mind? If it is concrete and real, what positive (love) action can I personally take to move forward in the right direction? If the fear is not concrete but something that I have made up in my mind, then I must acknowledge that too. I must focus on the things in my life that are under my control and let that propel me to the next level of positive (love) action.

In a frantic moment, when nothing seems within my control, I focus on the breath. I take a deep, loving breath into my belly. I remind myself that my breath is always within my control. I remind myself of the quote by Dr. Dyer, “We cannot control what goes on outside of ourselves but we can always control what goes on inside of ourselves.”

I am still practicing bringing my fears to the forefront of my mind but it is getting easier. What has amazed me is that the more I address my fears, the stronger I feel. I guess I didn’t have to be so afraid of fear after all!

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