Have you ever been pushing your hardest in a Spin, Zumba, Power Yoga, Barre, Boxing, or Strength Class and heard the instructor scream fervidly from the top of their lungs, “SUMMER IS COMING EVERYONE! NOW LET’S GET THAT BIKINI BODY!”

- or -

Maybe you’ve been lured by the oh so enticing promise of a TOTAL BODY TRANSFORMATION FITNESS EXPERIENCE that will also squash your deep-seated body issues into mush, get you the job you have always wanted, pay all your bills, and help you meet the partner of your dreams!?

- or -

Your body shame experiences may have instead been of the subtle and sneaky sort and you, no big deal, just judged the human with the ‘hot’ body that innocently and unknowingly walked by you, and while they were minding their own business, you were beaming hate rays out of your eye balls at them, hoping that maybe, just maybe, with your fierce glare you could somehow take their undeserved hotness down a couple of pegs. Take that, gym rat!


Maybe you have done a double take at that advertisement for the perfect diet pill in the latest issue of US weekly. There is even the possibility that just now, before opening this email, you were in the bathroom mirror putting yourself down and feeling remorse for eating too much lasagna last night. I feel you, girl (and guy) and I want you to know that not accepting your body is not the way to make any sort of positive change.


The ways that we put ourselves down and experience body shame are endless in quantity and void of true connection, meaning and quality in our lives. These behaviors are the opposite self-love, oneness and worthiness that we all infinitely have as our birthright (whether we can feel it now or not).


At this point in my life, the idea of working-out solely for the purpose of weight loss, thigh gaps, arm toning, tight abdominal hotness, society conforming body obsession, sort of...no, definitely makes me sick. It makes me really sick.  I am not naysaying the benefits of fitness or weight loss. For some, that can be extremely healing and even necessary for their specific needs. What I really want to get across is that I believe there are deeply greater values to moving and sweating than to fit into a size-whatever-dress. As someone who has gone through Eating Disorder recovery, refeeding (yes, it is as horrible as it sounds), and is now walking the lifelong path of rewiring old patterns, I am here to shine light on the dark and shady side of ‘fitness’.

I learned the fitness-obsessed-to-the-point-of-organ-failure lesson the hard way and because of my personal experience (which of course is different than yours) I simply can’t ‘stomach’ (no pun intended) our culture’s pressure to make the female body into an object of perfection.


I love to sweat, I love to dance, and I fucking love most forms of cardio, but the body and mind punishment that inherently seem to tag along with fitness is something I will no longer tolerate. (Fingers crossed, I can convert you over to my side too.)


This might be why I have taken my own series of fitness tours over there years. A little spin there, a little kickboxing here, way too much Zumba, a dash of HIIT and so on and so forth. But so far, nothing has gotten into my bones like Buti has. Buti Yoga is not *just* about getting that sought after body (though it is sometimes marketed that way, which a. Drives me absolutely bonkers, and b. Makes it challenging for me to stand behind it in die hard fan fashion). Instead, my Buti yoga experience is about having an asana practice that magically blends Updogs, Downdogs, cardio intensity, hip swivels, sensuality, primal unleashing, belly dance isolations AND tribal dance, not to mention Chakra alignment and body empowerment all-in-one!


My love for this art form is a tribute to the way I feel during and after every single class. It’s about what happens to my spirit after an hour of deep pelvic swirls, dips and tucks, rib cage spiraling, squatting with a pulse to the beat, and so many other movements that only happen in this class and behind closed yoga studio doors.


For me, Buti feels like total freedom. Buti yoga peels away the layers of judgement and comparison that I’ve often been plagued with in the gym and yoga studio setting. Buti yoga feels like the right way for me to love my body. It is within the transitions, the pushups, and the shakti release that something shifts inside me.  It’s a full body, mind, and spirit, engine revving practice of the divine feminine; and I leave feeling awakened every. single. time. Hello, yes please. I would like some awakened Shakti with my cardio.


What many people don’t know about me and my once upon a time in a land far far away lack of exercise, is that I had a childhood filled with take-out Wendy’s french fries, hours of stagnant television watching, and a whole lot of binge eating. I was active during the summer because I was away at Summer Camp, where I was also celebrated for who I was and treated like a cool kid (because where I went to camp, everyone was a cool kid. Hooray for inclusivity!)

The truth is, I was uncomfortably and miserably overweight for most of my life and treated like a pariah because of it. Frankly, it was only during the summer that I could feel free to be myself and enjoy the simplicity, creativity, and body freedom that came with being a kid. I would play tennis and soccer, go kayaking, and I even became a total synchronized swimming professional performance artist. But the fact of the matter was that you wouldn’t dare catch me in a bikini anywhere outside of the Camp Nokomis, where my round belly was just one of the gorgeous parts of my shiningly enthusiastic twelve-year-old-self that I didn’t feel the need to humiliatingly hide away from the general public.


In my early 20’s, (having had to return home due to a health scare with my mom, who is now healthy as ever and dancing her 21-year-old self into Salsa oblivion with the other retirees in Florida) I had what seemed to be an out-of-nowhere intuitive strike of inspiration. As I was walking up the stairs at Park Street T to interview for a teaching position downtown, I saw a flyer for Onstage Dance Company. With seemingly no previous agenda, no prior thought and not even an inkling of desire to get back in my childhood neon green Jazz bodysuit and Go-Go boots that made me look like a toxic apple on two sticks, I somehow decided right then, that I would give anything to audition to be a dancer. I am not exaggerating here.I casually sighted the Onstage Dance Company flyer and decided that in that moment, no matter what, I was going to be in that dance company and it was going to change my life.


Back to the part about me being an inactive child with a diet of bacon egg and cheese Dunkin Donut croissants and television for breakfast.


My childhood dance background was extremely minimal. I took a couple of Jazz classes, but was deemed “the smelly girl” and was harrassed for not only my smell, but also for my larger body. Or maybe it was...body first, then smell...Not the most sticky sweet of memories one craves returning to if you ask me.

Though I had no “real” former training, I did have Camp Nokomis dance class nostalgia. Camp Nokomis Dance Classes weren’t the kind of training where you would ‘learn’ any specific style or steps per se. There was no ballet first position, pirouettes, or Jazz hands (see! that is the extent of my dance vocabulary). There were no strict rules to follow and no leotards in sight. Camp Nokomis dance class girls sported shorts and CN logo tank tops, chose our own dance groups, decided upon a song, and then choreographed a number to be performed at the camp dance show! If you ask me, that is way more fun than having to pleat and jete (more fancy words!) one hundred times. This type of class called to my love of music, movement, creativity, and leadership skills. It was EVERYTHING. 

I had to audition!

I woke up on audition day as sick as a dog. With snot dripping down my nose and my head in a Dayquil haze, I sneezed and sweated my way to Brookline, gave it my absolute best, and decided that simply showing up was a freaking miraculous win. I walked out of that audition like I had just won an Emmy because to me, I had. The icing on the cake was my lucky break. A few long days later I discovered that had I made it. I got in. I GOT IN!


I danced my little heart out with this company for about 4 years and got so much fulfillment from learning, self-expression, being in an inclusive community again, from moving my body to the music, and from feeling like I was more myself than I had ever been before. This experience changed my life and for that I am forever grateful.


My time with Onstage Dance Company  was also when I discovered Yoga and Zumba. So, in one year, I got the teaching position I had applied to, I became a performer in a dance company, I become a licensed Zumba teacher, and a certified yoga teacher. Everything had changed and I did it all with barely any prior knowledge or training at all. Life is magic like that if you have a crazy dream and refuse to take no for an answer.


Within the midst of the joy sauce that had become my life, I began to lose a lot of weight. I felt the pressure (that I had created) to be thin and ‘look’ like I played the part. I spent the next few years getting smaller and smaller, making food restrictions my absolute priority, fasting and only drinking green juices before performances and doing whatever I needed to do to be the smallest I could come show day ( I hadn’t yet discovered that this was just another form of my lifelong relationship with eating disorders).


I didn’t do this because someone told me to. I did this for myself. I did it all so that I would feel accepted and celebrated. I wanted so badly to look like a walking billboard for beautiful, that I became malnourished and eventually amenorrheic (without a period) for two years. I was constantly sick, getting injured, and seemed to be in a perpetual state of recovery. I eventually and without explanation to my fellow dancers, had to drop out of Onstage Dance Company because I wasn’t well enough to attend weekly rehearsals.


The same passion that drove me to live out my dreams also drove me to ruin them with false ideals of success. The drive I had to win had taken me down, shaken me to bits, and left me crying and weak on my kitchen floor.


I had what some would call a breakdown, but what I will now refer to as a ‘breakthrough’. It was a realization that I couldn’t keep up with the starvation any longer. It was a wake up call from the universe. It was the beginning of discovering my truth. It was the path to understand more about myself, my feelings, and my past. Having my breakthrough taught me how to unconditionally love myself and how to return to love every time my heart breaks. How to have compassion for myself and the people around me.

I stopped getting sick. I started eating again. I began using my brain to do things like organize yoga retreats and write and draw and spend time with friends and re-discover the imaginative girl who had become lost in false successes and illusion. I searched deeply into my purpose and I found peace and balance.


When I began to nourish myself, I was finally able to tap into a deeper creative source that I hadn’t been able to access while I was using all of my energy to count calories, obsess about how my stomach looked, and track every morsel of food I ate into my fitness app.


I became free from my own mental prison (one that had developed when I was too young to even know it) and was able to proudly and openly delve into an entirely new way of seeing the world. I broke free from being a living advocate of body image obsession that so many worthy people are caught up in, wasting their lives feeling too fat or too frail or too 'insert-body-part-here’.


We are all worthy and the idea that our bodies need to look any certain way is frankly total capitalistic patriarchal bullshit.


I chose ( I really had no choice) to see the illusion that had become an ideal of beauty in so many societies around the world. After about a year of being real with myself about my lack of self-love, I discovered that beauty is not longing to look differently than we are in this moment. Beauty is not starvation. Beauty is not cruelty. Beauty has no comparison or negative counterpart. Beauty is especially not exercising to negate the calories you have consumed.


Now, I refuse to do anything but accept and love myself as I am in each moment because anything else is a waste of the worthiness that is my birthright. I will not ruin my own brain with that nonsense and I will do what I can to help those that do not see their perfection in imperfection open their eyes to the truth.


You will never hear, “Let’s get our six-pack on” from my mouth because that is not why I am on this earth. I am here as a reminder to love yourself ( and your body!) exactly as it is. I am here to share my experience, so that the community of ED recovery warriors can continue to build and grow and so that maybe just one less person doesn’t have to suffer inside their own mind and waste away from what could have been.


Buti yoga has been the balance in action, sweat, self-love, sassiness, and freedom that I have been seeking for so long. I am sure there are many of you that are looking to tone your bum bum and I celebrate you too! There is nothing wrong with fitness. Hell, I can’t deny the intensity of which I have love for my ass right now, but it’s just not e v e r y t h i n g to me.


For me, Buti Yoga is about reconnecting to what it’s like to be in my body in an authentic way. To be in my body that jiggles. My body that has belly rolls, strong as hell arms and legs and heart, MY body that can do hip isolations to an eight count, vibrate, and celebrate through sound and movement. My body that has been through so much. My body that has periods and is in flow with the moon cycles again. My body that is mine and mine only. My beautiful body that deserves to be cared for and loved and admired for it’s everything.

Let’s continue to move our bodies for the sake of nurturing our well being. Let’s commit to a total retaliation of body image obsession that kills beauty and creativity and uniqueness in so many ways. Let’s remember that in order to have a bikini body, all you have to do is put on that damn bikini ( I am way more into one-pieces) and strut your hot stuff, unicorn. You are a reflection of the divine. You are perfect just as you are. 

“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don't. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.” -Rumi

Shira BrennerComment