Erica Mather joined us for an interview on her book, Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty Standards & Embrace Your True Power. What follows are our questions in italics and her thoughtful responses.
Early on in Your Body, Your Best Friend, you set out to correct society’s misunderstanding of happiness. Your thoughts?
As I thought about the problem of body dissatisfaction, I wanted to get to the very root of it. Where does it begin? The most fundamental body image question is, I think, are we happy with our bodies or not? More often than not, the answer is “no.” Why is this? Before I answer that, you need to know that at the core of my belief system is this truth: our bodies are innocent. They are not responsible for our experience of happiness or absence of it. So…the problem must lie elsewhere! Where? It’s in how we have been conditioned to experience happiness. The first chapter is a corrective to all of misconceptions we’ve been taught, through society, our families, and other social institutions, and shows how simply being human, naturally lead us to believe what we’re taught. Once we’ve liberated our bodies from the misplaced, burdensome responsibility for our experience of happiness, we can begin to understand both our bodies, and happiness, on their own terms.
You encourage people to journal with a variety of prompts. How has journaling changed you?
Embodied journaling—doing it while engaged intermittently with some physical activity—has surfaced some of the deepest lies I’ve told myself, some of the most harmful truths, and the most liberating epiphanies. I’m actually not much of a “journaler”—meaning I don’t write in the morning, or at night, with coffee or tea, and I don’t have “a journal.” I journal in the way I’ve presented it in the book: answering a set of thoughtful questions designed to get a person to think differently about a specific topic. Sometimes, I’ll even take a problem to my mat, to work on through my practice, stopping and writing down questions, or epiphanies, then getting back into my movement. I call this kind of work “problem process.” It’s similar to pondering a problem while running, showering, making music, or any other activity in which the mind softens. In this state new solutions appear, coming from other aspects of the human being.
What are some questions you use to challenge our culture’s beauty ideals?
“Is this (picture, expectation, human interaction) making me feel better about myself, or worse?” If it makes me feel worse, why? If it makes me feel better, why? Are these answers sustainable over time? This last one is important, because inevitably our bodies will age, and I’d like the aging process to be a generous one for all of us. A good follow-up question is “who is profiting from me feeling this way?” Usually the answer is not “me.”
Please share the value of “sankalpah.”
A sankalpah is, at its most fundamental conception, an intention. Intention drives everything—how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others. If our intent is noble, for instance to bring the highest good to every situation and interaction, chances are higher that we will experience positive outcomes. Try it! Before you pick up the phone, set an intention for the outcome. Before you get out of bed, set an intention for the day. Your intention can be really simple, like “it’s a great day!”
Can you speak to the challenges of change?
Change is what we all long for and fear. It is inevitable—the passage of time alters our bodies. We are all getting older, together. Change can be for the better, or for the worse. Some things are easy(er) to change—a hair style, a wardrobe. Other things are harder—a belief, a value system. For the most part, we all want to improve our experience of life and how it feels. So we try to accomplish this by changing externalities. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you want to change something, figuring out where to apply your time and energy is the first step. What will create the kind of authentic, lasting, sustainable transformation that you seek? Inner work? Outer work? A little of both? Identifying where to apply pressure can be tricky. Inevitably there will be consequences, because if you succeed at this change project, it will affect the people around you and they will either like it or not. And if they don’t, they will try to get you to change back. This all being said, it is my firm belief that our greatest life directive IS change, because growth is change and we must grow while alive, if even the tiniest amount.
How does embodiment make us “smarter”?
We intrinsically understand the answer—there are different “kinds” of smart. Book smart and street smart, for example. Book smart means that your brain is smart. Street smart means that other parts of you are smart. What parts are they? Street smarts comes from your body—it’s the tingle along your spine, the funny feeling in your gut, the hair raising on your arms, the indescribable sensation that tells you “go this way, not that way.” When we’re embodied, we have access to all of the wisdom available to us, not just the incredible and invaluable understanding that comes from our big, smart brains, but also the pre-linguistic wisdom that comes from every cell.
What are some of the deep benefits of “listening” to one’s body?
Better health is a big one. How many times have you thought, “if only I had listened to my body?” If you had, perhaps you would have avoided an injury, burnout, or a saying something that you regret. The wisdom that comes from listening to the heart is another big one. Our hearts have a language. Listening to our hearts keeps us headed in the direction of truth and love. Listening to our bones keeps us in touch with our ancestry and our history. Think of the expression “I knew it in my bones.” This saying comes from a deep truth about knowing. These are just a few examples. If you think about it, you’ll discover other turns of phrase that spring from our basic understanding of our bodies’ wisdom.
About the author:
Author, Yoga Therapist, Forrest Yoga Guardian, and Master Teacher Erica Mather, M.A. is a life-long educator. She teaches people to feel better in, and about their bodies. Her book Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty-Standards and Embrace Your True Power (New Harbinger, April 2020) is a 7-step spiritual journey helping women befriend their bodies and utilize them as tools and allies on their quest to live their best lives. Her Adore Your Body Transformational Programs help overcome body image challenges, and the Yoga Clinic of NYC supports students, teachers, and health professionals to learn about empowered care for the body. She lives in New York City and Salem, Virginia. Visit her at www.ericamather.com