"I think the biggest step to self-confidence is learning to love yourself and finding contentment in who you are just as you are. You don't need to change who you are for anyone." - Dianne Bondy
by Karen Kramer, DY&OF blogger
Dianne Bondy is an internationally recognized yoga instructor and social justice activist. She is considered the leading voice of the Yoga For All movement and spokesperson for diversity in yoga and yoga for larger bodies. She has become the advocate for countless people who didn't feel they had a place in the yoga community. Her inclusive views and teaching methods are for all people who wish to be a part of the yoga world regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability.
It's hard not to see what Dianne is doing since she has become one of the rising stars in the industry. She is a respected teacher and advocate in workshops, trainings, online videos, and her prolific writing, as seen in her contributions to many publications including Yoga International, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal, and published work in the books: Yoga and Body Image, and Yes Yoga Has Curves. She is featured and profiled in international media outlets such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and People to name a few.
Her resume in advocacy continues with her collaboration with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition. She is the founder and CEO at Dianne Bondy Yoga, Inc., Yogasteya online yoga classes and community, and Yoga For All Online Trainings. She conducts yoga retreats, workshop presentations, and has many public speaking events throughout the year
We are so excited for Dianne will bring her dynamic energy to this year's festival as a major presenter! Dianne will conduct an all-day intensive on Friday; “Making Yoga Accessible; The Art and Science of Teaching Accessible Yoga Classes to Different Populations” for 5 CEUs, two sessions on Saturday; “How to Serve Your Students – The Power to Serve!”, and “The Path to Empowerment: Body Acceptance, Body Love, and Body Equity.” She will also teach a Sunday session; “Yoga, Body Image and Social Justice.” These workshops are not to be missed!
Dianne had a few minutes in her demanding schedule to answer some questions about her work as a “yoga for all” trailblazer. Her answers are so inspiring that I’m sure you will be just as excited about meeting her and learning what you can from this celebrated teacher.
"I am so encouraged (especially during these times) that there are disruptors and agitators who are showing society, media, and spaces of yoga that yoga should be inclusive and be used as a tool for uniting us, instead of dividing." - Dianne Bondy
Many consider you a “trailblazer” in the yoga industry. You’ve welcomed in people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and abilities, opened doors to yoga that people felt unwelcomed in until you made it ok. Do you see yourself as a trailblazer? Who or what inspired you? Did you have a role model that helped shape your message, style and mission as a teacher?
I do love the idea of blazing a trail for people to find and follow. I think all of us do that in some aspects of our lives. I was just really tired of being the only fat, black person at yoga and I felt that so many people were missing out because of this limited stereotype of what yoga looked like. I was ready to introduce it to more people which is why I took teacher training. I wanted to make this practice more accessible in every way; physically, spiritually, financially and locally. I am inspired by anyone who isn’t ashamed to put themselves out there. I was influenced by my mother who introduced me to the practice, my yoga teacher Linda Makowski of Namaste Yoga in Royal Oak who created a very inclusive space which I really felt at home, and Betsey Downing who taught me the value of progressive teaching. One of the very first plus sized yoga teachers I encountered was Anna Guest Jelley. Her unapologetic practice illustrated to me that there were more curvy, large and plus sized bodies that needed yoga. Her work continues to inspire me as well as Michael Hayes of Buddha Body Yoga, and Amber Karnes of Body Positive Yoga.
You have published many articles and done many interviews, workshops, videos…is it the yoga industry that recognized the need for your message or is it the many people who wanted to practice yoga but felt unwelcome who have finally found an advocate in the yoga industry?
Maybe a little of both. There are lots of people doing this amazing work and have been doing it for almost 10 years. It is so nice to see it finally take hold. Nothing before it’s time, right? I think lots of people have been feeling left out of the practice and are now happy to see representation on the mat. When we use our power to stand up we invite others to do the same. I think using our images and our voices have emboldened the movement towards body positivity. It is important that we all have a seat at the table.
What was the driving force behind creating Yogasteya.com? (Yogasteya.com is the online yoga studio and community designed, developed, and managed by Dianne, dedicated to creating diversity and affordability in yoga which offers classes for all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and levels of ability.)
Yogasteya started out as a way to extend my studio offerings to my students outside of studio hours and it grew into a place where we could create accessible yoga. It is where the Yoga for All movement began. Yogasteya features lots of different bodies doing yoga. When we started Yogasteya.com in 2012 the imagery around yoga was not as diverse as it was today. I wanted to be alternative.
What does your personal practice look like today?
My practice varies from super gentle to very vigorous. Currently, I have been practicing every day since October as a way to gauge how my body feels and what changes I see in my personality and my overall mood--and it has been amazing on all fronts! I am inspired by my body’s ability to do what it can do and to heal and grow. The body really is a miracle when you think about it. I am thrilled with my practice and I learn from my injuries.
Are there more changes that you would like to see in the yoga world?
Publications being held accountable for the harm they do to the culture of yoga by tokenizing certain bodies. I would love to see mainstream yoga media make a real effort to be diverse and inclusive. I would like to see studio culture become more connected to expanding the practice outside its walls to underserved populations. I would like to see body image taught as part of the Yoga Alliance 200 hour requirements.
I’d love to get a preview of what your “Yoga, Body Image and Social Justice” workshop on Sunday is about. Can you give a description?
I believe that together we rise, and together we create positive change. I want people to open their minds to yoga as a tool of exploration into the power of social change. Body image is powerful and our society’s grasp on body image determines that certain bodies have more rights and privileges than others. Certain bodies get better access to justice, education, wellness and experience a more desirable life. I love to talk about the connection between body image, equality and equity and the power of the yoga practice as a vehicle for shifting consciousness.
What are you most proud of in your career so far? What are you looking forward to?
The Yoga For All training online course that I teach with Amber Karnes. I LOVE training teachers, watching them grow, finding themselves, and changing yoga culture and the world. I am looking forward to teaching more courses on empowerment.
We have changed the name of the festival to include “Oneness”, the Dubuque Yoga and Oneness Festival. Do you have any thoughts about the concept of oneness in your yoga philosophy or in general that you would like to share?
Oneness signifies that we are all in this together and when one of us rises we all rise. I am hoping the world will begin to celebrate what make us different but embrace what makes us the same. I am excited for the exploration of unity that yoga teaches us!
Join Dianne at the 2017 Dubuque Yoga & Oneness Festival! Click HERE for more information about the weekend schedule and HERE for registration information. Check out her website for more information, https://diannebondyyoga.com, at yogasteya.com, and yogaforall.com for more information about her online teacher training.
Jeff Wright, Jai Ram, and Jim Earles: 2016 Dubuque Yoga Festival Meditation Vigil
Many years ago a yoga teacher explained that all I had to do to meditate was sit still, watch the breath, and let thoughts come and go without getting attached to them. “It’s that easy, and it’s that hard, but the rewards are well worth it.” What specific rewards? Why was it several years before I could form a meditation habit? It’s seems a simple practice but for many of us it feels more complicated. Fortunately, we have four seasoned meditators taking part in the 2017 Dubuque Yoga and Oneness Festival who have some information to share with all of us on the yoga/meditation journey.
Jeff Wright, Jai Ram, Jim Earles, and Molly Menster are area yoga instructors and meditators. Molly will facilitate a free sitting meditation on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7:30 – 8 am. These meditation sessions are a great way to begin your day with sangha (sacred community) and mindfulness. She will guide you through a practice that will help you focus your attention and intention, activating different regions of the brain.
Jeff, Jai Ram, and Jim will sit in stillness throughout the entire weekend. All festival participants are welcomed and encouraged to join them in their meditation vigil, even if for a few minutes, in the atrium that overlooks the Mississippi River.
This is an opportunity to deepen your experience and understanding of meditation by sitting together. Whether you have a long-standing practice or are a beginner, give yourself this gift of quiet. Take time to sit with others in stillness and oneness. I asked the four to give us some background about themselves, their meditation practice, how it might relate to their yoga practice, and any tips for beginners. Here are their insights…
Thoughts on Meditation
By Jeff Wright
I began my study and practice of meditation over 45 years ago. I began under the instruction of an excellent Indian teacher who brought a great deal of his tradition to this skill. Over the years, practicing 1-2 hours every day, I have come to see meditation as a something much simpler (though no less profound), indeed a very natural activity shared by all creatures with a nervous system; as natural as sleep, though truly about being quite awake .. calm, but very alert. I prefer not to call the activity “meditation” anymore; because that implies something we do with our thinking brains. I now think of what I do as “sitting in stillness.” Just that. Therefore, when I teach the practice I begin by making sure a student can sit actively erect and solidly balanced, comfortably without moving, for at least 20 minutes.
That is the hardest part, and often involves a lot of individualizing (as well as some physical yoga practice). Next come skills in settling the nerves (including the thinking brain) and that is best handled by cultivating smooth, complete breathing. Again, some of the instruction involves yoga techniques of releasing the diaphragm and various other tension patterns in the body. Finally, there is just practice. Just sitting, sitting, sitting … and sitting. Establishing a daily routine is important and also sitting often with others. That is why I have established three different weekly “stillness group” opportunities in the Tri-state area. They are free to attend and you can find out more about them at my website: www.wayofstillness.com.
I also encourage participants at the Dubuque Yoga Festival to sit with us for a bit. The big question for many will doubtless be, “Why in the world would I ever want to just sit like that? Totally boring, a waste of time, and mildly embarrassing!” My main answer is, no verbal explanation will suffice. Do the practice and it will be obvious. That said, I have personally found the following pay-offs: First, dignity. Strength, courage, unassailable resolve. Second, sanity. Being able to see things clearly and to act accordingly. And finally, most of all and most inexplicably, compassion. Appreciation, gratitude, and then the persistent impulse to help. Noble thoughts, for sure, but I know I have not had much success in thinking my way into those virtues. Just sit still, no other efforts of feeling or thinking (or not thinking) required, doggedly, and after a few weeks, you might be quite pleased by how you have changed.
An Evolving Perspective
By Jim Earles
16 years ago, I became a teacher of Kundalini Yoga, as set forth by Yogi Bhajan. This form of Yoga incorporates many practices that are useful for meditation--breathing techniques, mantra repetition (both out-loud and mentally), strategic focus of the eyes, body positioning (including mudra configurations for the hands) and visualization exercises. Of course, strengthening and developing the body through asanas (the yogic postural exercises) is also an important means to the end of facilitating meditation. In a chicken-and-the-egg sort of scenario, many Kundalini meditations strongly resemble asana work, as they require movement or physical exertion in tandem with other practices.
Kundalini Yoga is perhaps unusual in that it has very specific goals for meditation. Yogi Bhajan dictated entire manuals full of individual meditations, for purposes as diverse as: awakening and balancing the chakras, releasing harmful emotions, breaking addictions, improving the functionality of the internal organs, strengthening the nervous system and many other goals. Underlying all of these particular goals is the ultimate goal of contacting with and merging into the deep, abiding, pervasive stillness of the true Self. The yogis call this Sat-Chit-Ananda (Sanskrit words denoting pure Existence itself, pure Consciousness itself, and pure Bliss itself). To frame this in Christian terms (at the risk of confusing the two issues), this is the Gospel, the Good News, of Yoga! Our true Self is Sat-Chit-Ananda, and it is accessible through devoted practice of meditation.
In recent years, my own personal practice of meditation has remained grounded in the wide tradition of Yoga, but deviated significantly from what was set forth by Yogi Bhajan. Another yogi and friend of mine has convinced me that "meditation" isn't even a useful term! It might be better described as "mental concentration," as the entire process requires directing and focusing the mind, and each passing year sees the creation of new and diverse practices called "meditation." I encourage people to experiment with what works for them personally, but I don't put much stock in the emerging field of meditation technologies--meditation machines, mindfulness apps for your phone, brainwaves and binaural beats, etc. Meditation itself is perhaps the original "technology" of the human being, and it remains as the best technology, without any attempts at an upgrade.
by Jai Ram
Generally, my yoga practice consists of meditation with a personal mantra every day. I say my mantra both with mala beads and without every day. I also do a short puja (act of worship) practice to my Guru Neem Karoli Baba daily.
My weekday schedule is very busy so I do my Hatha practice on weekends. When I have a break from school, i also practice during the week. My Hatha Yoga practice consists of mantras, intentions, prayers, asanas, pranayama and mantra meditation; it takes about 90 minutes. I also practice Jnana Yoga daily by reading yoga scriptures. My Hatha Yoga practice is from one of the following styles or a mixture from all three: Dharma Mittra Yoga, Integral Yoga, or Vinyasa Krama Yoga. I am certified in each style; generally, I prefer Dharma Mittra Yoga to practice.
For beginners, I would say that an important practice is to Jnana Yoga, i.e.. yoga philosophy. Here we learn about meditation and that yoga is really about the mind. The most important practice, however, is to learn how to control the mind - especially when you are in difficult times. Hence, meditation or Dhyana Yoga is the most important practice for the beginner. Later after you have a good meditation practice, for the advanced yogi, Bhakti Yoga will be the most important yoga. You are not the mind or the body; find a place of refuge that is safe. This place, as my teacher Baba Ram Dass says, is the Spiritual Heart; identify with it and you are safe! But this, of course, requires another practice - the practice of Loving Awareness. Hence, reading philosophy is not enough.
Finally, most important, as the Bhagavad Gita tell us, is to learn how to die; we have to do it at some point, so we should learn to do it well. Let’s make this our best yoga practice. Om Shanti.
"Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day."
Karen Kramer is a yoga instructor and festival blogger.