Discover Your Inner Warrior – Meet Gwen SofferJanuary 13, 2015
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is committed to building conscious community and highlighting the work that inspiring yogis are doing in their local communities and beyond. We’re pleased to introduce you to Gwen Soffer, a member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s advisory board.
What does a healthy body image look like to you?
Only in my late 40’s have I even discovered what this means myself. Having a healthy body image means living fully in the body you have with an understanding that the work that you do in your life does not rely on how you look. It means feeling bold and strong regardless of your body. It means that you appreciate your body for the amazing things it can do, but it is still only the vehicle that allows you to inspire beauty and change in the world. It means that you respect your body enough to keep it healthy and see the natural beauty of it without the impulse to make it “desirable.” It means that you can experience the freedom of understanding the pressures and false ideals that we all have been subject to our whole lives without believing that they are true. It means not needing to compare your body to anyone else’s. It means seeing the beauty and grace of your body as it is changing in your lifetime.
What is yoga’s impact on your body image?
When I first started practicing yoga at age 35 it seems like the magic potion I had been looking for my whole life that created a body that I had never found even in my teens. This was an ego drug for me for a long time. My weight has gone up and down over my lifetime, but I had never experienced a body like the one I had when I was compulsively practicing yoga on top of my other physical activities. After a bad accident falling down a steep set of stairs in my home, my life started to shift. I was faced with dealing with my obsessive behaviors: compulsive exercise, highly monitored eating, and alcohol abuse, that were just another cover up for a lifetime issue that I needed to address, which was depression.
As I dealt with this problem for real for the first time, I stopped drinking, I eased up on what I was allowed and not allowed to eat, and I changed how I practiced yoga. Up until this point, yoga was just exercise to me. After a great deal of personal work (and I credit the training I received from Off the Mat, into the World for giving me the skills to do this), I was able to give up my need to look like anything other than the person I am in this moment. If that person is thirty pounds heavier or lighter, it does not change who I am or the work that I do in the world. This freedom allowed me to become the person I am meant to be, and I feel stronger and more graceful now more than ever before. When I learned how to practice yoga beyond the asana, I found a freedom in my mind and body that I never knew how to access before. Even more importantly, I learned how to take this of the mat and out into my life.
How does your work address body image issues?
As a yoga teacher, I am able to show up without the “weight” of needing to be anything other than who I am, and this allows me to be authentic. Being truly comfortable in my body as it is, heavier and aging, not only gives me the ability to be exactly who I am, but I believe it also creates an environment in my classroom that inspires the same in my students. I often speak in class about the issues in our lives that drag us away from the person we are meant to be, and not accepting ourselves because of our bodies is one of the most basic of them.
I also teach a women’s/teen self-defense course called Discover Your Inner Warrior. In my workshops, I explain to my students that women are most powerful in our hips, the exact place that we have been criticized for being “too big.” Imagine that? We talk about how to use our strength and not to deny it or struggle to make our power smaller. Showing women that they are not only powerful in their minds and hearts but also in their bodies is so important.
In addition, being in my body and seeing the beauty and strength that it has ALWAYS is important to me in my role as a mother to my 21-year old daughter. Although she is exposed to all of the same media and societal false ideals that we all are, I know that my relationship to my body and the work that I commit to has a direct impact on her, and I would say to her the same thing that I would have said to my younger self, “Share your strength. Others need you.”
Gwen Soffer is a yoga teacher, women’s/teen self-defense instructor, empowerment workshop leader, and community mentor. Her personal journey toward better physical and internal health and healing led her to these arts, and her passion for them led her to teaching. Her teaching is based in personal evolution and discovery, combining yoga, meditation, and self-inquiry to inspire her students to be open to the lessons on the mat and to be motivated to expand themselves off of the mat. She is the co-founder of Enso yoga studio in Media, Pa.