Looking healthy, being overweight and Size Zero – Differences in Beauty Ideals in India – 10 Mar 16

Ramona and I talked further about the question of beauty ideals in India, especially for women, as well as the attitude that people have towards these ideals and their body.

On one hand, the idea of how thin a beautiful woman is, is definitely different here in India than in the west. In India, the models we usually get to see on posters as well as the actresses we get to see in movies usually weigh some more kilos than the ones in the west. Size zero was and is not as popular here as there. I believe that this has something to do with the fact that we actually have people dying of hunger. The general Indian will associate an extremely thin body with poverty, not with beauty.

In the same way, having a few kilos more than the average is considered as good in India. That’s how, when we once visited friends whom we had not seen for a while, the lady told Ramona ‘You look healthy!’ with a smile. What she meant was that Ramona had gained weight since she had last seen her – and it was a compliment made sincerely! I explained that to Ramona later, as in that moment, she had just been slightly confused for having been complimented on looking to be of good health. She had to laugh and now always tells our non-Indian friends that she’s not really keen of looking ‘healthy’!

So that is the difference in how women see a figure in India. On the other hand however, they do talk about it in very similar ways as out of India, too! There you have women discussing their weight and ideas on how to lose weight fast, shows on TV where the female characters try to go on diet and finally lots of products and charlatanry trying to sell pills that make you slim in a very limited amount of days.

You can see and hear both in India – but while those who are happy in being big get bigger and bigger, those who wish to be slim and fit know only one way to achieve it: go on a diet and be hungry for most of your day. Obviously, that is not the right and best solution but it is the sad truth that there are little to no fitness offers for women in India! It obviously depends on where you are, as you can easily find a gym for women in Delhi or Mumbai – but once you are out of the mega cities, it gets difficult! Colleges and universities offer sports but for adults, working women, housewives and those who simply don’t attend these schools, there is nothing! No place where they could learn exercises, no place where they could meet and work out in a group!

There is even no awareness about exercises during pregnancy or after birth. That’s another reason for women to look pregnant although they are not – after five children and with no exercise for your belly muscles, your belly won’t look flat anymore! No complaining or dieting will help here, you would need to exercise!

Of course, yoga is one option which you can easily do at home with little equipment and space. You can use help like our online yoga posture directory.

In the end however, in order to help people in India to be fit and healthy instead of oversize or undersize, India would need to first of all create awareness and the possibility for women to work out. It might change the image that people have of themselves – and maybe improve it one day!

Is it really necessary to correct your Yoga Students? – 29 Sep 15

Today I would like to write a few lines that got inspired by a recent visitor at the Ashram who had come for an advanced yoga retreat. In her daily two-hour sessions with Yashendu, a topic came up that is always interesting for yoga teachers and students alike: should a yoga teacher correct the student’s posture?

Quite obviously, different teachers have different answers to this question. I will let you know my point of view and that can be pretty well summarized with the answer: as little as possible – as much as is necessary.

When I was teaching yoga, I always stuck to this principle and Yashendu as well as Ramona follow the same. In a regular workshop, you will rarely hear us correcting an individual person, telling him or her that the pose they are in is wrong.

Why? Of course, any yoga teacher who is used to correcting and any yoga student who is used to being corrected will ask this question. How will you know whether you are doing it right or wrong?

First of all, yoga is not about being the best, it is no competition and while you may strive for improving your posture, it is mostly about your well-being and a good feeling. This being said, there are naturally certain movements that you should better not do when in posture. Usually, however, these will not appear if you demonstrate the way how to get into the posture and out of it. Accompany that with a spoken description and your students will follow your example. From the very beginning you mention that everybody goes as far as his own body allows and we should never cross our limits.

Once this framework is set, I believe it mostly has a negative effect on a yoga practitioner if there are constant corrections in class. People have told me that they were discouraged by their teachers who told them what they were doing wrong. There are chances that you make your students focus on their outside and on negativity instead of the good feeling they get from their movement, their stretch and their exercise.

Additionally, you don’t know the limits of the other person’s body. Especially in yoga workshops of just a few hours or when you only get the chance to work with a student for a few days, you cannot understand, even with their medical history in mind, why he doesn’t lift his foot as far as you do or bend his back as far as his neighbour does! Now you go and tell him to push the knee down – but he physically cannot! How frustrating of an experience!

If you really feel that the other one did not fully understand where to place his limbs or what they should put emphasis on, you can do it differently as well! Instead of saying: ‘Sandra you are crooked in the pose, straighten up’ or ‘Tim, push your hips further down’, you could say in general ‘The focus of this pose is to straight the spine’ or ‘With every exhalation we lower our hips a bit further down.’ They will look at themselves and improve their posture, if they can.

Of course, if you teach someone over a long period of time, if the other one requests you to correct or if you teach a yoga teacher to go further in practice, it can make sense to actually correct the other one directly – but that is not the case in your normal lesson!

Furthermore, one thing you will never see in any of our classes: pushing a person physically into the right position or further into the stretch! If you do that, you believe you know another person’s body better than he himself does. The problem is: you can create physical harm to the other one, cause serious injury! Even if you have studied anatomy, even if you keep in mind the other person’s medical history, you can hurt the other person by pushing too fast, too far, too hard!

Finally, you don’t know how comfortable your students are with your physical closeness! They may not like having you stand so close, looking down on them and then touching them as well! You may ask but when there are ten others in the class, your student may be too shy to say no – and just not come to class next time.

I just believe you don’t need to touch anybody in class and would recommend reducing verbal corrections as well. Let me know how you do it in the comments!

Loving your Body does not mean accepting Overweight but also not starving yourself! – 20 Aug 15

In a world where everything is about what you see instead of what you feel, our appearance, our physical body has become so very important. That’s how there has been a huge fitness-boom recently and lots of people use sometimes crazy diets and very strict workout schedules to get into shape. In the spiritual scene however, people preach practically the opposite: love yourself and your body as you are. I would like to write a little bit about these two ideas and where I believe it is best to stand.

The point where we start this conversation is that you are not happy with your body as it is right now, most probably because it doesn’t fit into a beauty ideal propagated to you by common public media. You want to change this and you have two possible ways:

First, you can get your body to the size and shape that you are admiring on others. For that, you will need to change or regulate your diet and do physical exercise.

If you choose this way, I want to recommend you, as I have done before, too, that you focus on being healthy. This means that you should not, in any case, go on a diet that harms your body! The same goes for any kind of pills or shakes that are supposed to make you lose weight. They often contain chemical ingredients that have side-effects you cannot even think of. When it comes to physical exercise, please take the help of a professional for finding out how to exercise properly without hurting yourself.

And I want to warn you about two things: for once, it is impossible to actually reach the figure of the bikini models on public posters – because Photoshop played a big role in making them look like this! Secondly, you may not gain happiness and satisfaction in this way. You may never be really happy with how your body looks like and just keep on trying different diets or workouts to achieve something that may not be possible for you – simply because you are another body type or it is an unrealistic ideal you are having!

So we get to the other possibility: learning to accept and love your body however it is. You will probably assume that I would vote for this option. I don’t. At least not completely.

Yes, you should love your body, yes, you should accept yourself. At the same time however, I think you should also be healthy! If you are overweight and you will just work on accepting yourself, you may go further and accept your unwillingness to move and your urges to eat more than your body actually needs! You may even accept any unknown health problem that causes your weight to skyrocket! You will accept knee problems and back pain because you accepted your weight. You will just try to accept things as they are and will thus avoid any change that could come out of it.

So no, I don’t agree with this concept either. I believe we should focus on being healthy and feel good. You cannot tell me that you feel good if your knees hurt when walking for ten minutes. Don’t try to convince me that you feel good when your body is craving more than the apple you have eaten the whole day long.

The common beauty ideals are contorted and wrong, as we all are different and cannot fit in one frame. You don’t need to starve yourself to a certain weight if you feel good with pants that are one or two sizes bigger. But please take care that while you accept and love your body, you love it enough to keep it healthy. Eat good food, not junk food. Stay fit and enjoy moving.

Make it right for you!

Are you unhappy with your Body, feeling guilty after eating your favourite Food? – 23 Feb 15

Today I would like to write about a topic which I believe is important for everyone, meaning people of both genders: you have to feel good in your body. It should be healthy and you need to take care of it but you don't need to try to reach common beauty ideals or figures that tell you your ‘ideal weight’. Don’t let them make you unhappy!

First of all, I want to say that I am really in favor of healthy eating and a healthy weight. When I say you should love your body, I don't mean that you should ignore overweight that is causing you back, hip and knee problems and very serious health issues like diabetes. When I say you should feel good in your body I don't want to encourage you to accept an unhealthy underweight either, which can be a real danger, too.

There is however a wide range in between overweight and underweight. And this is something that is not widely accepted. Beauty ideals which are propagated by the media always show you exactly one figure, one weight, one ‘way to be’. It is highly unrealistic, no, impossible for every person on this earth to look the same.

And how would you change your body over the course of time the same way as these ideals change? How can you go from curvy in one decade to super skinny in the next? You cannot have both with just the one body that you have!

That is how I say it is most important that you feel good! Even if you are over or under the one figure that is supposed to be your ‘ideal weight’, as long as you are healthy, you should feel good! And that includes meals, eating and exercise, too!

I am really a fan of food and I enjoy my daily yoga and workout as well. I have heard from so many women however that when they eat, they count every calorie and feel guilty after festive dinners or just indulging in their favourite food – which they should actually enjoy! The result is that mealtime is something they are dreading and even disorders can be the consequence!

Men, too, have such issues though, just that they mostly get obsessed with sports and exercise, with building muscles and sweating off every extra calorie they ate. Nothing against a good, sweaty workout – but once you HAVE to go to the gym every single day and for hours after holiday meals, it becomes a constraint. That is not behavior that shows your love for your body.

Stop feeling bad about eating, love food. Love your exercise but don’t mind if you don’t do it one day or do less one day. Don’t place importance on ideals from outside – and love your body. Enjoy life – and that won’t happen if you declare war on your body!

Shiva Lingam – How the Worship of a Penis started in Hinduism – 17 Feb 15

Today is Shivaratri, a Hindu holiday in India which is celebrated as the wedding day of Shiva and his wife Parvati. For every Hindu temple, this is the day of the biggest Shiva worship of the year. Many of you will already know that Shiva is worshipped in the form of Shivling or Shiva Lingam, a penis-shaped statue. Today I would like to present you the story written in Hindu scriptures which is behind this worship.

This story is mentioned in different scriptures and, as usual, with some variations. I will give you two of them, so that you get an idea:

Shiva’s first wife had died and in his incredible sadness, he was roaming around restlessly, wandering alone in a forest, naked and like a madman.

In that forest, there lived many rishis – which are holy men with special powers called siddhis. They had wives, too, and while Shiva was wandering around like that, these women saw him. They could not hold onto themselves when they watched him walking by naked, his divine body in full display. They ran after him, admired him and finally started touching and hugging him.

As luck would have it, just in that time, their husbands, the rishis, came by as well. Seeing their wives in close embrace with Shiva, they got very angry, accusing him of immorality. They combined their powers and cursed Shiva, no, cursed his penis, saying it should be cut off and fall down at the spot!

There is another version in which they pick up stones and throw them at him, which with their sharp edges cut off his penis, so that it falls down.

No matter how exactly it happened, the penis fell down to earth and where it fell, it stood erected and started burning like wildfire. Wherever it went – my wife asked how it ‘went’ but I cannot exactly tell you – it caused inferno and chaos. Bad things started happening in the world, as if the earth’s last day had arrived. Mountains burst, fire was spilling everywhere and people were in panic. Had the world come to its end?

All demigods and rishis went to Brahma, the creator of the world. He got to know what had happened and, together with everyone, reached Shiva. Everyone started pleading with him and praying: ‘Please, take your penis back, it is destroying the world!’

Shiva was appeased by all these prayers and agreed, but with one condition: ‘Only if you start worshipping my penis, will I take it back!’

And that is how Shiva Lingams were installed across the earth in temples everywhere and the worship of Shiva’s penis started.

There are some of you who think that this is a joke? No, it is not – and you may also enjoy the following variation:

In this version of the story, Shiva was already married to his second wife Parvati. He was nevertheless running around in the forest naked – not out of grief, just because he felt like it – and encountered the rishi’s wives. They could not withstand the power of his attraction and hugged him. Their husbands were not amused and cursed his penis, which promptly fell down, causing chaos and apocalyptic conditions all over the world.

Everyone got together in crisis to find a solution. Who could catch Shiva’s penis and hold on to it? Where should it go once captured? Oh yes, once the saving idea was found, it was very clear: only Parvati would be able to hold Shiva’s penis, in her vagina!

They all prayed to Parvati and that’s how it was done: from that time on, Shiva Lingam was worshipped, erect and fixed in the vagina.

For more stories and my comment on the biggest of hypocrisies of Hinduism, surrounding Shiva’s penis, you can read my next blog entry tomorrow.

Western Bellybuttons or Indian Legs – what is sexier? – 22 Dec 14

Some time ago, a woman commented on one of my blog posts. In that post, I wrote that Indians thought of Westerners to be more liberal with the naked body. She pointed out and made me realize once again that this is really a cultural issue – and that you cannot say black on white that westerners are relaxed about nudity while Indians are not! One has to go a bit more in details there!

Of course – while you have nudist areas on beaches in the west, you cannot even think of taking off your bikini top in India. The words ‘in the west’ however are very broad. I was told that in earlier times, while German and French tourists used to sunbathe topless, the British had much more problems being so relaxed – and actually found the tourists of the other countries too free.

When I was in America in 2010, we went to the beach and I was wearing what I had worn already on many beaches around Europe – it looks like a thong. The lady who was with us, our organizer, got frightened and told me that the police could come and object! And I was not even naked!

So those morals when it comes to clothing are very different in different countries. When it comes to India, the general idea is that the Indians are very close and rather prudish, even bathing in the ocean with their full clothes on. It is however not fully like that!

In India, there are a lot of Hindu and Jain Sadhus who walk around the country completely naked! There are men and women around everywhere – but nobody minds it. They even have disciples, a whole crowd of people sitting just feet away from their naked penis – and neither are they shy nor are their disciples. They wash the feet of their naked guru. Try walking around in any western city just in your birth suit and you will most probably be arrested! You won’t get away with explaining that you are holy and that this is your way of devotion!

Another thing is the clothing of women – which is always one of the biggest problems when people talk about the lack of morals of other cultures, especially the west. But when guests come to the Ashram, they actually see it the other way around! They know that it would be considered very sexy if they showed their legs in India and have read that this is why Indian women always wear long skirts or pants! For them however, it would not feel that sexy to show their legs, as sexy as it would feel to expose their back and belly the way Indian women do in their sarees!

Yes, a saree looks extremely sexy to many westerners because it shows nearly the complete back and belly! For many women in Germany, showing the belly is something that they would only do at the beach where they wear a bikini – or not even there because they could rather choose a bathing suit as well! But they would comfortably go to work with a skirt that Indian women would never even think of wearing.

The conclusion is simple: don’t judge others before considering the circumstances of their country and knowing that they might think the same about you in one way or another!

Our Work with Ayurveda doesn’t include Energy Work – 29 Sep 14

We recently had our Ayurveda Massage Training. It was very successful, the participants learned a lot and we enjoyed passing on the knowledge and most of all experience that we have made with Ayurveda massages and treatments over the course of years. There was however one point with which we did not feel very comfortable: the participants asked about the energetic aspects of such massages.

Ayurveda literally translates to the science of life. What we do in an Ayurveda retreat is to focus on your physical as well as mental issues, trying to soothe them and maybe even heal them. The massages relax the body and you are able to relax the mind with that as well. There are treatments for pain in back, shoulders, knees and other body parts. There are also treatments to relieve stress, depression and insomnia.

We don’t however work with energy.

No, we actually don’t even believe in energy! I know that there have been many people who have connected this science that has a measurable, real effect on the body with ‘energy’, something that is not touchable, measurable or explainable. Something that may as well not exist. I also know that many massage therapists, due to their religious belief, start a massage in a way that seems to me superstitious: they light a candle at a small altar, they touch their hands to the table and their head and make a prayer – for support, healing or whatever. We don’t do any such thing.

Through such actions of religious therapists and probably also lectures by religious Ayurvedic professors, a person not related to Ayurveda can very well get the impression that this all is a part of Ayurveda, that Ayurveda has something to do with energy. It is however, basically, a science with effects that can be proven.

It is you who presses acupressure points, who moves the hands over tensed muscles and who knows the techniques how to move the hand over a hurting joint! Of course you help the other one, of course there is a certain relaxing atmosphere and a sense of inner calmness that helps you do your job well. We think this all is related to you, your inner situation and your work, not anything from the outside. Apart from the psychological effect that it could have, we don’t believe any of those religious or superstitious actions is beneficial to you or the person in front of you.

Obviously, if you expect such a thing to be taught in our training, you will be disappointed. We cannot give you an instruction for a ceremony, ritual or prayer to do before you start a massage or treatment. If you would like to ask God, the universe or anybody else for support and request healing energy for the person lying in front of you, you are free to do that yourself. We won’t be able to teach you such a thing. Simply because we don’t believe in it.

Our participants left the Ashram happy and satisfied with the knowledge and practice they received. They may have missed that point of energy but we could explain them our point of view. What we have learned however is that we may have to make a note on our website, telling clearly that there will be no energy work involved. At all. It will help us getting the right people to our training and help them saving themselves from disappointment.

What could be more natural than being naked? – 7 Sep 14

I have already told you that in 2006 I met a lot of nice people on that spiritual festival in Sweden. Among them was a Swedish couple who were also giving workshops on the festival but also joined many of my workshops. I got to know them a bit better not only at the festival but also after it. Let me tell you about that beautiful summer time.

This couple gave workshops, as I did, but they had a quite broad variety of subjects. I saw them painting with children, give body painting workshops and got to know that they also spoke about sexuality. They came to several of my workshops and enjoyed them as well.

In our free time, we somehow got to talk and so we got to know each other better. He was also a photographer and told me that in the past 20 years there was no day when he didn’t take a photo of something. I loved this dedication! He was taking photos on the festival and later on took some of me as well.

When they asked me about my plans after the festival, I told them that I had some free days. I didn’t have to be back in Germany until the next week. They spontaneously invited me – and with me my musician – to come to their home in Stockholm.

Of course I agreed – and right after the festival, we sat in their car and together drove to Stockholm.

They showed me around, I met some of their friends and I really enjoyed getting to know this country a little bit! After the beautiful nature at the festival, I expected a big city, something like Frankfurt, as it is the capital of Sweden. Instead, I found this wonderful place which was so much calmer than I had thought!

And the nature was still so close-by! In those very hot summer days, my friends decided, we should go for a swim. It took us ten minutes from the middle of the town to get just out in the jungle where I could see nobody but my musician, the couple with whom we stayed and their one friend who had come with us! We reached a lake, just in the middle of a forest, everything so green around and there was no other person!

My friends just went towards the bank of the lake, took off all their clothes and jumped in. It was so normal for them to swim there naked, they didn’t think twice about it! Well, when they were so natural about it, I thought it would be funny now for me to pretend being shy! So I just took everything off as well and joined them, bathing naked in the lake.

My Indian musician was hesitating and ended up keeping his underwear on and also didn’t go in as deep as we did, as he didn’t know how to swim.

It was the most beautiful swim I ever had! It was fully quiet around us, just the nature and us. There was no other person!

I don’t normally belong to the people who like to go to nudist beaches. I have seen many of them but I never felt comfortable to take off my clothes. Here however, it was a fully different matter! There was no sign saying ‘naked beach’ and not a border or indication on how you should behave swim, what you should wear. It was just natural.

From my visits in Denmark I knew that Scandinavians in general are more natural and easy about nudity. I had an unforgettable experience!

Beauty comes in all different Shapes! – The Harm of wrong Beauty Ideals – 28 Aug 13

Yesterday I explained how many people, especially women, compare themselves constantly to others, taking self-esteem out of these doubtable victories and feeling bad when they believe they lose that comparison. Apart from the fact that this makes it difficult for you to feel good when you are alone, you also need to realize that the beauty ideal that you are following brings a whole lot of further problems.

I think we don’t need to spend much time on discussing whether the beauty ideal to which most women compare their own bodies is realistic or not. The images that the media displays are modified with computers, the women who are displayed wear heavy make-up, the light is in their favour, they don’t act in real-life situations and it is their profession to look like that. The image that you thus normally see displayed on posters, in magazines and on TV burns itself into your mind and makes you forget that this is shown to you to make you purchase whatever they are selling. You take it for the norm, for how you and every woman should look like in order to be called beautiful.

Mainstream media doesn’t take into account that there are people of all kinds of different body shapes! The people, men and women, whom you see in the end are only a very few selected ones, sorted out with strict criteria which a majority of people cannot fulfill.

The result is clear: people all over believe that this is normal and try to look the same. If they cannot reach there, they believe they are not beautiful – although it is mostly really impossible! And this fact that it is impossible frustrates a lot of women who are honestly trying with full effort to lose weight, to get into the same shape as the women on the screen! They cannot achieve that because their body structure for example is different!

Seeing this, many just give up completely. They see that the only way to be called ‘beautiful’ is to look like that – but they won’t ever reach, so why even try? They don’t have any enthusiasm or reason to work out, to move and to do something for their body. The only reason that they see would be the competition and the goal to reach but if it is anyway impossible, why even try? They know that they can never win.

The solution to this problem – apart from changing the way society works and promotes unrealistic beauty ideals – is to change the way that you look at exercise, healthy nutrition and your body in general. You need to realize that you don’t eat healthy in order to lose weight just to look like someone else. You also don’t move your body, run or swim in order to look like anybody else. You should not do all of this for anybody else but for yourself!

Do it for yourself! Eat healthy because you feel better! Work out because you get a good mood and feel your body again! YOU are the one that benefits from a healthy weight, nobody else! Do it because you love your body, because you love yourself!

If enough people act like this, we might even get advertising companies, the movie industry and the general thought of society to realize that there is beauty in each individual, in all different shapes that exist!