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Yoga Insights for Body Image and Self Love

Please feel invited to watch the short video below and/or read the corresponding piece of advice written in response to a great question posed by a wonderful student. I've received many similar questions and felt it an important subject to discuss. The written piece has more organized and outlined advice on dealing with negative self-image. The video is a heartfelt, off the cuff response involving my own experiences with this and the helpful insights I've learned in overcoming it. We're all works in progress. Be kind to yourself. I hope either resonate, and if they do, please feel welcome to share and continue the conversation. Apologies for the video being sideways, I find it apropos given the subject matter. Perfectionism is bullshit, embrace all the quirks.

Hi Dani,

I find myself struggling with body image in such a way that it affects all areas of my confidence and negatively affects my sex life. In truth, this has been with me my whole life. It feels like it’s simply who I am and that feels like an impossible mountain to climb. Is there hope and what can I do?

Thanks for your time, Rena

Hey there Rena,

It probably doesn’t provide much solace to know that you are not alone, but trust me, you are not alone. In fact, you are in some great company, the company of most western women and a surprising number of men.

Something we practice often in Yoga is making conscious choices to let go of what no longer serves our health and happiness. Our psyches become so accustomed to patterns that we’re then uncomfortable and unsure of how to break them. We have no idea what it feels like to be confident and that unease makes self esteem seem fake or out of reach.

Know this is a process. No one snapped their fingers and decided to let go of insecurities. They grew from knowledge and experience, and more importantly, they grew tired of being the unkind voice in their heads. However comfortable they felt in their patterns, the smarter, more accepting voice within finally spoke louder. And they decided to put in the work to move on.

Some actions you can take to grow your confidence:

By focusing your energy predominantly on your physical, outward attributes, you neglect and dismiss the vast beauty you carry within. This is beyond the cliches of beauty being more than skin deep, it’s about you working to change your vision. You know there is good there, innumerable strengths, but your focus is on external flaws so there is no attention given to boost the positives. Practice this: for every negative thought you have about yourself, body or mind, replace it with 2 positives. And repeat them until you believe them. Practice is essential. Acknowledge what you do to contribute to your health and happiness, what physical activities you do or don’t do, how you feed your body, and more importantly, how you feed your mind. The body is a machine and it needs to move to stay vital. This has nothing to do with losing inches, burning calories, fitting into clothes. It has to do with feeling your body work from the inside out. Regardless how your body changes, you’ll feel better when you move it. Find something you like to do, be it walking, dancing, gardening, biking, hiking, playing with your pets or children, Yoga, Pilates, anything to get your blood pumping and pores sweating. And give yourself this gift everyday. As challenging as it is to change your nutrition, it’s helpful to remember the strong ties our diet has not only with our physical health, but with our moods and energy levels as well. I am a self-confessed foodie. I love it all, healthy, unhealthy, and everything in between. I don’t believe in deprivation or resistance, but rather balance. Take in more of the good (whole foods like fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean meats if you eat them) and leave a small percentage for indulgences (chocolate, fried foods, saturated fats, etc.). The better you eat the better you’ll feel, no matter what the scale reads. Pay close attention to what consumes your mind. Are the books, articles, TV shows, films and other influences positive? Helpful? Inspiring? Uplifting? Art is most certainly an escape and a means of expressing a truth otherwise uncovered, but if the majority of the material you’re absorbing leaves you feeling less than energized, enthused or informed, then I’d replace it with something that does. Who’s in your circle? Do your friends and loved ones support you? Are they confident themselves or stuck in similar cycles of discontent? If someone drains you, makes you feel inferior in any way, or contributes more negativity to your life than positive, it may behoove you to take a step back from those relationships. It could be as simple as changing the dialogue within the relationship, expressing your desire to be more positive and open to growth. And at times, it may require stronger moves in a direction of your choosing, either closer to ones you find encouraging, or further away from those less positive. Be honest with yourself and be honest with others. In order to truly change, you must take a big step outside of these conditioned patterns and acknowledge out loud what you want to feel and how you’re going to make it happen. Trust you are capable and believe you are worthy. No one is perfect. The western world has set an unfair paradigm for human beings to live up to. It’s unhealthy and unrealistic. Try remembering what a gift it is to be a live, be in awe of the machine you get to live in, and don’t forget it is far more important how you feel than how you look. Sex is meant to be enjoyed without any thought at all, without reverence to measurements and cup sizes. It is unadulterated bliss and can only be fully lived by saying “Fuck it, I’m alive! Someone gets to have sex with me and I get to enjoy all the pleasure my body is capable of feeling. So I’m going to feel it, dammit!”

Patience and practice are pivotal. The more emphasis you place on accepting yourself, as you are, the more your true beauty will be revealed, to both yourself and to others. Happiness and a zest for life are magnetic and human beings are attractive because of the energy they radiate, not because of they’re symmetry or six pack abs. You are already beautiful, you are already enough. Start everyday remembering that simple fact and you will see tremendous growth in your health and happiness sooner than you can imagine.

Please keep me posted! Dani

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 4.28.30 PM
Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 4.28.30 PM

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To The Ones Who Teach Us How To Love

I didn’t grow up with an idol, plenty of crushes, sure, but no icons or symbols of the person I wanted to be. I really just wanted to be happy being me. I’m still the same. The list of men who stir up my loins grows longer by the day. But the list of people I idolize or wish to become lies with one: my nonna Today is my Grandma’s birthday. A vibrant and dynamic soul at any age, she remains the single person in this world I can ever remember looking up to in that way, seeing the woman I could be. It doesn’t mean I didn’t admire or respect countless others, because I absolutely did, but there was truly no celebrity, no athlete, no writer, no fellow classmate who lived love as beautifully as she did. And this truth lives on.

Me and Grammy (her actual name is Paola) at the Field Museum in Chicago

Grammy and Me

She is the reason I respect authenticity over accomplishments, sincerity over success, love over luxury. The epitome of what you see is what you get, my bella nonna lived such a beautiful example. She never forced or hammered her ideas in your head, she taught through action. The proof was in the pudding.

A quality I admire deeply in others is genuine confidence, a love of self that translates seamlessly into the love of others, an effortless respect paid to life and those who live it.

She is confident. Truly confident. In a way that’s not off-putting but rather endearing. You cannot help but smile and agree. I see her love for herself and my thought is, “hell yes, you are beyond lovable.” Without excessive makeup or suggestive clothing, Grandma walked the walk, a saunter only belonging to her, a style with no label, but one with her own special signature.

Grammy and my dad cutting a rug, joy radiating from her eyes and heart

Grammy and Dad

She’s exactly who I wanted to be when I envisioned myself as a grown woman. And the older I become the more I see how much there is to love within myself, the more I see her light in my eyes. Without saying the words “I don’t gossip or speak badly of others,” she just didn’t. There was no petty hate toward other women, no blaming others when something didn’t go her way. She took responsibility for herself, let nonsense from the outside world roll gracefully off her back and just got on with her life.

I wrote about the wisdom she lived and passed down to me for another publication. As I reflect upon those lessons, I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have had her as an example. She’s had many reasons to let life bring her down but she just kept looking up. She’s owned who the hell she is with humor, trust and presence. She’s carried a lifetime of positive relationships, including 53 years strong with my Poppa. She chose love over needing to be right, never held grudges, never let anger or negative emotions fester. She knows how to let go.

And what a presence she has. More than having to be the center of attention or harp on making her presence known, she leaves the deepest impact because her absence is always felt. I miss her deeply. Luckily, she is a phone call and a few hour plane ride away. More than that, her blood is in my veins, her love in my heart, her wisdom in my gut.

During my difficult days, ones where I feel low, inadequate, insecure and insignificant, I feel her resonance, I channel her energy. My blunt nature and feisty attitude began with her, so with a little tough love I say, “Nut up or shut up, Danielle. Life is a gift, stop wasting time on bullshit. Laugh it off and move on.” She survived much worse suffering than I, has lived happily and healthily for over 70 years, I can certainly muster up the psychological fortitude to live with the same ease and gratitude she does.

One of my most significant memories during childhood was of my grandma checking herself over in the mirror (something she didn’t waste too much on, preferring to embrace and lightly enhance what nature gave her), smiling and saying, “Not bad for fifty.” I fucking love it. She said it at 60 and 70 too. She’s still got it.

My beautiful momma and nonna making gnocchi together

Momma and Grammy

We should all look at ourselves with the same benevolence. It made it so easy for her to love others, even easier for her to forgive others. She never let the words or actions of another affect her internal well-being. This is so Yoga! But it’s so rarely seen and lived by our fellow human beings. Not to disparage anyone, this is really difficult to do. All the more amazing that my beautiful Italian grandmother is able to truly inhabit it.

We experience love first before we’re able to understand it. Words and ideas muck it up but as we grow older we learn HOW to love by the examples we live with. How we love others begins within. When I see one who is unkind, resentful, angry and otherwise incapable of truly loving another, I feel tremendous sympathy and compassion, for this poor soul must treat themselves even worse. Their karma is having to live with themselves each day.

My Nonna knew innately to let others be, without attachment or expectations. She took care of her own, absorbed only the energy that would serve her, and in turn, gave back precisely what she was harnessing inside: Love.

It is through her I remember to never compare myself to another and not to compete either. We are all the same, each bright lights capable of shining. It is up to us to feed the love within rather than the chaos without. It is her that reminds to live joyfully each day, no matter who sings my praises or knows my name, no matter how much money I have or stakes to claim, it’s a privilege just to be here. And being me ain’t that bad, I need to appreciate it and take the gifts my grandma passed on and give as much as I can to others, so they may feel that same pure love within we all seek for outside.

It all resides inside. Enjoy the ride.

Thank you, Grammy. I love you and appreciate you more than you could ever know. I couldn’t fathom a better idol than you.

Knowing What We Need

600775_4052819080255_817193740_n A keen skill we begin to cultivate when practicing Yoga consistently is the ability to listen to what we really need. When we begin, most of us will approach the practice with the mentality of “I’m going to do my best,” and that usually means pushing ourselves well past an edge in an attempt to “keep up” with the rest of the class. We end up trying excessively hard, not hearing the teacher’s sincere guidance to listen to our bodies, to find a happy medium for us, to not compare or compete with others.

We find ourselves over-exerting, hyper stretching, and ultimately exhausting ourselves over a practice that’s meant to make us feel good, to help us reset and start anew. We mistakenly feel like we aren’t “good” at Yoga, when there is absolutely no such thing. Yoga provides a unique map showing us where we are and the endless options for where we can go. The growth and the path is entirely up to us, but we must first drop expectations or unfair standards, and instead relax into the journey, let the lessons unfold as we do.

I felt similar pressure to be adept in the practice when I first started. Coming from 15 years in athletics, a few years in gymnastics, and years of high standards in academics, I was seeking something to fill the void where my exercise regime used to be. I wanted to be “good” at Yoga too, having no clue what lessons were about to be bestowed upon my thick skull. A common occurrence, I’ve found, we walk into a studio for one reason, we stay for another. I kept going back because Yoga was the only physical activity, or any activity for that matter, that I’d ever entered for the sole purpose of feeling better.

Who I was didn’t matter, how flexible or strong I was had no barring on the outcome in class, for others or myself. The dozens of fellow students I breathed and moved with during those years each had their own reasons for being there, and none of them mattered. It wasn’t my business. My focus and execution of certain challenges only served me, it had no influence on the others, there wasn’t a team, there was no winning or losing. We’d already won, we were there.

When I started delving deeper, noticing how the breath affected my mood and energy off the mat, how my body felt slightly different each practice, and how Yoga softly guided me out of my mind and into the moment, the mirror reflecting my relationship with myself only grew clearer. I began to see why the decisions in my past caused pain, why my conditioned thought patterns were keeping me glued to my place, and that it was within my power, it was my responsibility to pull myself out of the past and move confidently into the future.

So how does this translate into knowing what we need? It’s such a gradual process that requires diligence and patience. These lessons unfold not by force, but rather organically, in due time, at precisely the moment we need them. The wisdom I gleaned through Yoga started broadly, with big picture advice focusing on being present, dropping comparison, recognizing humans are here to collaborate, not compete. I recognized how much I’d built my sense of self based on how I measured up against others: by striking a batter out in softball, winning a match in tennis, achieving high marks in school, etc.

What Yoga helped reveal, and keeps revealing, is how we’re all the same. We all struggle with confidence, sadness, confusion. We all endure suffering, tragedy, heartache. And we’re all capable of experiencing joy, passion, and exhilaration. Yoga helps you release those feelings of separateness, of inadequacy, of loneliness. And deeper than that, it helps us surrender into those very human sensations. We cannot escape loss, failure, or pain. We can only get better in absorbing and learning from it.

So the practice brings more acceptance, of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and of the inevitable highs and lows we’re bound to experience in this lifetime. We learn over and over that we cannot change the past, reliving it only causes more pain and keeps us from living in real life, choosing to retell the same stories in our heads instead. So long as we’ve learned, we no longer need those harmful thoughts and memories. We’re better served in releasing them.

These pains from the past get stored deep within the muscle tissue, causing tension and discomfort. The hips are the storehouse for much of this pain, existing as somewhat of an emotional basement, a place we throw away memories we’d prefer to forget, but they’re always there. While undergoing minutes in what can be an uncomfortable hip opener, like pigeon, frog, or bound angle, we feel the pangs of resistance as our bodies cling tight to the old.

What we need is to let go, allow the emotions and challenges to reveal themselves, rising to the surface so we can see them for what they are, and only then can we truly release them for good. In addition to acceptance, to all that was and all that we are, we need surrender. We need to yield into harsh times and submit into pleasure just the same.

As we begin to build strength and flexibility, we get to know the subtle nuances in our bodies and how to apply the appropriate amount of challenge and/or modifications to find balance in our practice. No longer feeling the need to please the teacher, impress our fellow students, or live up to some unfair standard within our minds, we open to what we truly need in that moment.

Knowing what we need here requires a depth and intelligence of ourselves that can only be honed through practice. Yoga provides a safe and open framework for each us to grow at our own pace. I thoroughly enjoy a challenging asana practice, pouring sweat onto the floor and leaving lighter than when I came in. But where I’ve really fallen in love is with Restorative Yoga. That’s the remedy for almost any challenge I’m enduring, be it in body, mind or heart.

If I’m sore, achey, lethargic, under the weather, Restorative does the trick. If I’m anxious, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, Restorative saves the day. If I’m happy, content, settled, grateful, Restorative only adds to that bliss.

We need a combination of strength and softness, power and presence, levity and lightness; and paying attention to our needs, listening from the inside out, always points us in the right direction. We may be able to rock a handstand and perform a million chaturangas, but that’s not always what we need.

At a pivotal point in the practice, Yoga is no longer about what we can do, it’s simply what we need in that very moment. We don’t need to push, we only need to respond. It’s not a performance, it’s a practice. What matters is how we feel, not how we look. Yoga is here to serve us in whatever capacity we need today. It is up to us whether we listen and take the care we need and deserve.

This choice lies within us all. And it’s an individual’s call to implement what they need on any given day. There is a quiet intelligence within all of us that our practice helps to reveal. Some would call this our intuition, our soul, our consciousness. The important thing to recognize is this is precisely the voice we tune into to give ourselves exactly what we need.

We should feel better after we practice. We’ve cleansed and released the old, opened ourselves to receiving the new. This practice is an ongoing gift, the deeper and more consistently we practice, the better our lives become.


8 days into my current Sadhana, I’m feeling clearer and more decisive. I feel more in tune with what I need and excited to be implementing these subtle changes into my daily habits. I feel even more connected in my relationships since taking a step back from social media and I look forward to re-evaluating my approach to the digital sphere once this 40 day personal practice is complete.

If you have any questions about Yoga, be it with philosophy, insight, poses, building strength, flexibility and balance, or simply how Yoga can improve your life off the mat, please feel warmly welcomed to ask away via