Why Yoga, Part One: Annamaya Kosha

Not long ago, I had an epiphany.

My whole life, I thought of my body as something that was separate from “my Self.” First, my Christian upbringing taught me that when our bodies die, our soul lives on. And that we must control our bodies so that our soul can life comfortably in the afterlife. Then, I noticed that other people had opinions about my body ~ big-boned, chubby, fat, slow. This was so different than the feedback I got about “me” that the separation grew.

Fortunately, I had other things about myself and my life to love; academic performance, books, even a few friends. Plus, most of my family was, and continues to be what doctors call “obese,” which is average for working-class* Americans. If you work an soul-draining job, so you don’t have energy to move after work; don’t have a good nutritional education, so you eat the same crap your ancestors (who were at worse literally slaves & at best margarine-and-canned-everything-era housewives) ate; and don’t have the money or motivation to live an “active” lifestyle… it’s only natural to have extra body fat.

More importantly, if you don’t feel like your body is a valuable part of what makes you you, you might not even care. I certainly didn’t. Even when I started trying to slim down before practicing yoga, even when I learned to love my body shape, it still felt separate from “me.” Like my clothes, or a bicycle. Now my body isn’t just some vehicle I’m schlepping around, it is my home, my lover, my friend… it’s an important, valuable part of who I am!

Most westerners don’t think about this, but the state of your physical body greatly effects your mental, emotional, and spiritual health (come back for Parts Two & Three of “Why Yoga,” later). Don’t believe me? I dare you to be hungry and kind at the same time. The Annamaya Kosha refers to the physical body as one of many sheaths (koshas) that make us “us.” Yoga helped me make an intimate, lasting connection with my body, which really did open up the path for loving other, less visible parts of myself, too.

Even if changing your body shape is your reason for considering a yoga practice, there are many deeper, less obvious physical benefits that yoga provides.

Let’s talk about stress, baby.

We’re all under stress, okay. Even children are stressed out, and (ideally) they don’t even watch the news! I’ll write more on the psychological causes of stress later. Right now I want to focus on the physical solutions to stress that yoga provides.

Taking short, rapid breaths is a symptom of stress; taking deep, slow breaths is the cure…. Even if you can’t control your stressors, you CAN control your breath. ~Ashley Jemini

But stress is a mental thing, right? Well, yes and no. In post-industrial societies like mine, stress is usually not caused by immediate life-or-death situations. We tend to worry about more distal, but equally life-threatening situations (i.e.: paying the bills on time so you’re not homeless or without internet access next month). However, our bodies’ automatic stress response is still wired to fight, flight, or freeze as if you’ve just discovered fresh tiger tracks… even when it’s just a sh!tty email from our sh!tty boss.

Is this why I want to reach through the computer screen and choke a b!tch?

Yes! Exactly! 

It’s also why you run farther and faster when the police are chasing you verses playing a game of tag. When you’re done running for your life (if by some miracle the cops haven’t shot you. LOLjk, I know whyte privilege is a curse, not a miracle), your stress response turns off and your body returns to equilibrium. our body is just doing it’s job, trying to keep you alive, but the “facts of life” are not your body’s side, at all.

Most people in a near constant state of fight, flight, or freeze and it’s easy to see why: the stress of keeping a roof over your head, &/or feeding your children, &/or pleasing your parents &/or being popular, &/or performing well in school almost never go away. We call this chronic stress, and it’s definitely not just a mental issue.** The good news is, reducing your stress physically is much easier AND MUCH MUCH CHEAPER than psychotherapy, anyway. All you have to do is breathe.


Pause. Exhale. Exhale slowly. Exhale completely. At first, you may feel like you’ll suffocate if you exhale all the way, but that’s because most of us only use the upper 1/2 to 1/3 of our lung capacity by default. Taking short, rapid breaths is a symptom of stress; taking deep, slow breaths is the cure. I was studying for my PsyD (Psychology Doctorate) before I heard someone say, “it is physically impossible to be excited and calm at the same time” (Kvaal, 2009). I’ve been helping people with anxiety disorders ever since. Even if you can’t control your stressors, you CAN control your breath.

They don’t say this on Instagram, but breathing is really the most important ingredient in any yoga practice. When to enter a posture, how long to hold the position, and when to change shape are all directed by the breath. In yoga, you watch and listen to the breath so you know if you’re doing to much, too soon. When your breath is rapid or shallow, that’s your body trying to tell you “you’re stressing me out! Back off!” If you can recognize that cue on the mat, you’ll become an expert at seeing it in the real world, too. And you’ll know how to unstress yourself, exhales first, whether it’s at your desk, or in school, or in the middle of a test or on a date… whenever you’re breathing, basically.

You could practice yoga postures without paying attention to your breath ~ I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and I didn’t like it ~ #yourbodyyourchoice. But… Seriously??? You’re already breathing, why not breathe well? Check out my note** on cortisol** from the MAYO CLINIC** about just some**  of the effects of chronic stress on your body. It’s the only body you’ve got, I’m just sayin!

got pain?

Like chronic stress, chronic pain can be such a ubiquitous part of your life that you don’t even know it. Like chronic stress, you may think “this is just what it feels like to be 30” or 25, or 15 years old. Well, when I started to have chronic knee pain on my right side in my mid-twenties, I didn’t want it to continue or worsen, so I did yoga. With just a few poses a day for about two months, the muscles and ligaments around my knee joint became stronger, the pain completely disappeared, and I withstood a bike-vs-parked-car injury with no more than a bruise.

Unless you have a neurological disorder, chronic pain is likely caused by weak muscle &/or connective tissue, misaligned joints, or a combination of both. Even if the cause of your chronic pain is neurological, the meditative aspects of yoga can many people to cope with the pain. The physical practice of yoga allows us to move our bodies in a gentle, playful way, respecting whatever physical limitations we might have. Yoga holds space for laughing and crying through the pain, allowing all of us to love and accept our bodies the way they are, even if we get mad at them sometimes ^_^

Also, your body will definitely change shape

I didn’t say “you will definitely lose weight,” because yoga turns fat into muscle and muscle weighs more. Muscle also burns more calories, so your weight will decrease gradually and more permanently than it would with what doctors call “diet and exercise.”

If you’re already pretty muscular, like I was, yoga


*I’m starting to think “working-class” is shorthand for “working at least full-time but not making enough to afford Girl Scouts or ballet or karate; or take international vacations, or save money for college/intergenerational wealth.” Parents of the people I went to high school with worked for their money, but they lived a very different life than we did. And their kids weren’t “obese.”

** You’ve heard of cortisol, right?  It’s one of a few chemicals in the stress response that increases blood sugar and heart rate and stops digestion so that you can run away from that tiger whose tracks we saw earlier. But what if you’re just sitting at your desk reading that sh!tty email or balancing your checkbook or studying or arguing with your partner? What if you feel this way all the time, and there’s nothing to fight, flee, or hide from? According to the Mayo Clinic,

“[W]hen stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. (¶) The long-term activation of the stress-response system ~ and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones ~ can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.”

See?? Real doctors agree! The link goes into more detail on the effect of cortisol and ways to reduce stress, including yoga.

Bonds of Love, Issue One

Nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more “right” or valid than another’s.

I’m at the Gorgeous Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue, writing a post called Why Yoga Part One. Quickly, I realized that the answer to “why yoga” should be a series of posts. An hour later, I realized that the first part of this series (just on the physical benefits!) is worth spending a few days to compose.

Pouty Face
But I wanna post something noooooooww!

Fret not, angel. Dig deep into your hard-drive. You know you have something quick and revolutionary to share with the world! See? Look:

Benjamin, J. (1988) The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination. Pantheon Books, New York.

Years ago, while reading an old grad-school textbook for fun (yes, really; why would anybody lie about that -_- ?), I read a passage that compelled me to look up the citation in the textbook’s index. There I saw the most attractive book title I’d ever seen: The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination, by Dr. J. Benjamin (1988). My life was already changed. I searched the public library catalog, and I knew that this book and I were meant to be together.

It was big, and old, but not crusty: just how I like ’em!* We spent weeks together; I probably renewed it the maximum number of times before I decided to just copy down the parts that resonated with me the most so I could share Dr. Benjamin’s insights with my friends, at least! I don’t think I ever planned to post them publicly, but I’m not getting paid for any of this and it’s cited everywhere, so… not plagiarism!

If you can keep up with the academic writing style, I highly suggest purchasing a copy of this book.  If you can afford two, can I have one? Or find it for free at your public or Local University library. For now, I’ll share what I’ve saved, and my thoughts on the material, one chapter at a time. Remember, these are just the parts that I thought were mostly-self-explanatory out of context! If you have any questions that aren’t answered in my discussion, please ask in the comments. I’d love to have a public dialogue about this stuff. 

The Bonds of Love examines interpersonal relationships from a psychoanalytic perspective. “Analytic” may sound like a synonym for “judgmental” ~ and I’d be lying if I didn’t give a shout-out to all the “analysts” who agree ~ but psychoanalysis is a science that was originally designed, like organic/physical medicine, to be as impersonal and universal as possible. Psychologists are just people who observe and record their observations about human emotions and behaviors the way botanists study plants. This is some of what Dr. Benjamin has observed. Enjoy!


The reciprocal relationship between self and other can be compared with the optical illusion in which the figure and ground are constantly changing their relation even as their outlines remain clearly distinct — as in Escher’s birds, which appear to fly in both directions. What makes his drawings visually difficult is a parallel to what makes the idea of self-other reciprocity conceptually difficult: the drawing asks us to look two ways simultaneously, quite in opposition to our usual sequential orientation. Since it is more difficult to think in terms of simultaneity than in terms of sequence, we begin to conceptualize the movement in terms of a directional trajectory. Then we must try to correct this inaccurate rendering of what we have seen by putting the parts back together in a conceptual whole which encompasses both directions. Although this requires a rather laborious intellectual reconstruction, intuitively, the paradoxical tension of this way and that way “feels right” (p. 25).

Psychoanalysts begin their study of behavior from when we are very young ~ like Rugrats™-young, or even Muppet Babies™-young. Even in infancy, you’re still a human being, with the same natural range of emotions and needs as an adult. For a while, your range of expression is limited to: you feel discomfort, and you cry about it. If you cry because you’re hungry, and if you’re fortunate enough to have attentive caregivers,** someone will eventually feed you. As a baby, psychoanalysts theorize, you assume this happens because you created the source of food.

Magic Baby BIG
Alakazaam, B!tche$!

Everybody knows babies are selfish assholes (literally! All they do is poop and inconvenience everyone around them and poop some more!), but do you ever think about their point of view? To be fair, they haven’t been alive long enough to know that there is a distinction between themselves and the world around them. When they cry, and somebody comes along to wipe their but, babies think “ahh, I did such a good job wiping my butt just now,” because they don’t yet understand that they share the world with other conscious beings.

This is the axis of Bonds of Love, which analyzes interpersonal relationships from infancy through adulthood. Relationships are “interpersonal” because they involve two-or-more people, whether they acknowledge each-other’s person-hood (like you and your friends) or not (like you and your newborn or my ex and me, loljknr). If you’ve ever felt invisible or dehumanized during an interaction, it might be because the other person or people do not see you as your own distinct-but-equally-human self.

Sadly, this is not uncommon. Many people, often without realizing it, never feel a “close” connection to others because, like infants, they only see other people as extensions of themselves that carry out their wishes, not as fellow conscious, autonomous human beings. We all know people like that. Heck, one of them is the president of These United States of America! Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery? I digress, but only a little.

How do people get this way? Well, according to Dr. Benjamin, these profoundly isolated individuals (imagine for just a moment that you were the only “real” person in the world!) do not experience what she calls “self-other reciprocity.” Benjamin uses the image of MC Escher’s Two Birds (No. 18) to describe how challenging, yet rewarding it can be to place equal emphasis on two perspectives at once.

The painting shows two interlocking flocks of birds, flying in opposite directions. Like much of Escher’s work, the piece invites our eyes to dance. Our focus hops from blue-to-white-to-left-to-right until we get comfortable seeing both flocks at once. It’s like changing one’s mind from “only one of these is the right answer” to “these are just two different answers,” much like the drawing where the picture is both a duck and a rabbit. To me, “self-other reciprocity” just means seeing the whole picture for what it is: nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more valid than another’s.

Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery?

As the book goes on, Dr. Benjamin and I will go into how this truth, which I like to call intersubjectivity, is learned, partially-learned, or missed in early childhood. Intersubjectivity just means that every story has more than one main character. To be subjective means to have your own point of view; to be intersubjective is to acknowledge that everyone else does, too. There really is room on the planet for multiple POVs, people. Diversity only becomes a “problem” when some folks’ perspective is devalued or ignored in favor of someone else’s.

As The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (Benjamin, 1988) continues, we’ll discuss how men are traditionally raised (not necessarily on purpose) to value their subjectivity and not others’ (not even other men’s, really), while women are traditionally raised to place others’ subjectivity over their own. It’s gonna be good, y’all! Thanks for reading all of this, Truly. The intro will be shorter in the future, but the passages might be longer. What do you think? Please share below; I’d love to read your thoughts! Namaste, y’all.


* I like crusty books, too. And new books. And skinny books and long books. And short books and fat books. And fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, historical-fiction, novellas, short-stories, autobiographies, graphic-novels, how-to-do-stuff books, how-to-talk-to-people books, psychology books (lol, ya think?), yoga books, racial books, art books, picture books, poetry books, Spanish poetry books, children’s books, young-adult fiction, folk tales, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Toni Morrisson, Audre Lorde, PHEW! Okay I should stop now…. But the old ones do smell the best ^_^

If you’ve read this far and you have any book recommendations, whether they fit into the far-from-exhausted list above or not, please share them below! 

** For other babies, there are several outcomes. One is that the absence of someone to meet their needs is still initially interpreted as the baby’s own failure. Another is that these babies understand too soon that their existence depends on entities outside of themselves. The scarcity or unreliability of care makes “ANXIOUS” the poor child’s “default” setting, which explains why trust issues may persist into adulthood.

If you forget everything else, and never visit my website again, please know this: every person is unique, and there is no “A + B = C” formula for how any of us turn out. More importantly, if you don’t like the way you’ve turned out, you have the power and the opportunity to change with every breath you take. Try listening to love songs as if you wrote them to yourself, see how that feels. Let me know how it works, or doesn’t, for you. Peace!

This song is actually LESS creepy now, lol! They won’t all work out that way, trust me. 

Did she really just do that?

Uhh…. Do What? What did I do?

Well, I took The Local Skank’s lyrics literally and Quit My Day Job to become a full-time blogger!!!111 … … … until the money runs out, of course.

Unfortunately, I did not join *this* circus, but their CD Collect All Five is legit!

How did I get here? Well, it really started with what I’ve been calling the MardiGra-calypse…. That’s when my ex-ex-ex café (yes, 3 jobs ago. yes, Mardi Gras is in February. Judge me all you want, just keep reading) closed indefinitely and unexpectedly the day before Mardi Gras, leaving all of us jobless at the end of a busy/hiring season.  Did I mention that the schedule for the rest of February had been sent out  already, so we basically had 2 weeks of anticipated pay revoked?

This is how the staff all looked at each other when we got the news.

Kind of a dick move, right? Of course there’s a longer story leading up to that, but I’ll link to it here if I write a whole post about it. Anyways, about half the staff found new jobs and never returned. I applied to several cafés and accepted both positions I was hired for, thinking “I’ve had 3 jobs before! I’m only teaching yoga across town once a week! What could possibly go wrong?”

Seriously? #famouslastwords much?

Don’t look at me like that! Honestly, the worst part was the physical pain/fatigue of working on my feet 6 days a week and teaching yoga during the hottest part of every Thursday. It wasn’t much more taxing on my body than working 3 jobs in the French Quarter back in 2008, and the hours weren’t nearly as long. I just felt it more, in part because I commuted by bike this time. Also 10 years makes a big difference in what your body is willing & able to do.

But what were my options? NOT pay rent? NOT give myself the financial security I might need, in case of another MardiGras-calypse or evacuation situation? OR work really hard until the festival season ends and stack those stacks?

Thoughtful Edit.png
Hmmm… decisions, decisions…

But how did I deal though?? Well, this time* I complained, and played a videogames, and journaled, and drew mandalas to cope. It wasn’t easy, but I made more money than I had in a while. My sacrifices paid for an awesome Adaptive/Therapeutic Yoga Teacher training with one of my Shri~guru’s, Kelly Freaking** Haas, a long-overdue new laptop, a new passport, and two summer vacations, with plenty left-over.

[Yoga joke! pic of me patting myself on the back w/both hands. Caption: “#secretsecret, yogis only practice gomukhasana (cow-face pose) so that we can pat ourselves on the back… but you didn’t hear it from me!”]***

While I was working, I would fantasize about living off my savings and writing much more. After the Teacher Training over Memorial Day Weekend, I went down to on-call status at one café job. After an awesome trip to Austin in early July, my hours were reduced at the other café job so much it wasn’t worth my time to be there. I continue to teach a public yoga class on Thursday afternoons, whether it makes me any money or not.

The summer months are notoriously slow for the service industry in New Orleans. I’ve heard of people who work their butts off during the busy season to make rent for the whole summer. Now I’ve had the experience myself, and I must say, it was worth it.

Making the money was the easy part (LOL, of course I mean metaphysically). How I spend it & how I spend my time now are what really matters now.

Thanks for joining me! I look forward to more and more musings with you. Have you ever worked multiple jobs at once? Long or short-term? Was it worth it? How did you DEAL @_@???? Please share in the comments below. We all have a lot to learn from each other. Namaste, y’all.


*The first time, I had my very first sketchbook, a knitting project for myself, and an outdoor swimming pool to keep myself feeling balanced and calm. Also I had WHOLE DAYS off where I could go to Adam’s grocery for the cheapest poboys and beer &/or Plum Street Snoball Stand whenever I wanted. Ahh, youth!

**Her middle name is not Freaking, I just get excited whenever I talk about her because I’m a huge, geeky, wheezing, creepynotcreepy, fan-girl for this woman. The admiration just won’t fade! It is a great honor to call her one of my teachers and mentors. My heart and I bow at her lotus feet.

***As soon as I get a photographer (even if it’s a stranger on the street!) to capture this brilliant moment of physical comedy, I’ll edit this post. Pinkie-promise! Days from now you’ll revisit this article an weep with pride at how far I’ve come :,)