Life Isn’t Fair

scales of justice

When something inconvenient or unpleasant or awful happens, we are reminded that life isn’t fair.

Hard work doesn’t guarantee desired outcomes, and expectations often go unmet. Justice isn’t always served, and blessings are unevenly distributed in the world. Life’s unfairness is infuriating. When something bad happens to us, we ask, “WHY ME?!”

But what about when something good happens? Something serendipitous and lucky and pleasantly surprising? When we make a new friend or have a breakthrough at work or find a twenty dollar bill in an old coat pocket, why don’t we lift our eyes to the sky and ask, “Why me?!”

Maybe we should. Because life’s unfairness occasionally works in our favor, and we get things we don’t deserve. The sick are asking, “Why me?” but the healthy ought to ask the same. Why am I vibrant and functional when others are confined to bed? Why do I get to live in a secure place with people I love when others are homeless and feel alone? Why do I have enough to eat? Why was I born in such a comfortable and safe country? Why can I read and write and communicate without struggle? Why didn’t a tragedy touch me today?

Often we evaluate life’s fairness based on the quality of whatever we are experiencing: when good things happen, life is fair, and when bad things happen, life is unfair. But life is always unfair, even when we’re dealt the lucky hand.

When we have worked hard for something and feel we have earned it or deserve it, we should recognize the fact that we could have just as easily worked our buns off to no result. Sometimes, people go for something and get it, and sometimes they try with all their might and don’t. It happens all the time.

“Why me?” I am asking this today. Why did I wake up this morning when hundreds of thousands of people did not, some of them kinder, more intelligent, more inwardly beautiful and useful to others than I am.

When we have a good moment or a good day, we should ask the sky, “Why Me?” and let its vast silence humble us. We should open our hearts and be amazed by how deeply unjust the world is and how astoundingly fortunate we are.

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You Guys, Beachbody is a Pyramid Scheme

before and after

I have wanted to write about Beachbody for more than a year, but I’ve held back because I personally know a lot of people who are involved with the company, and I have a great deal of love for them. I should say right off the bat that it is not my aim to critique Beachbody Coaches. Quite the opposite: I believe that Beachbody attracts people with very big hearts and good intentions. I do not think that Coaches deliberately set out to be scammed or to scam their neighbors.

Let’s begin by getting clear about what, exactly, Beachbody is. Beachbody is a fitness product company that sells workout DVDs, nutritional supplements, and gym equipment.  It does not sell through traditional retail channels but rather uses the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) model. MLM businesses use individual salespeople to sell to customers, and salespeople are considered “independent contractors”, not employees of the company. Beachbody calls these contractors “Coaches.”

I first became intrigued by the company when I saw their “Portion Fix” product, a color-coded set of plastic containers designed to help people determine appropriate portions for specific food groups and food items. I am a big believer in eating everything in the world so long as it is done in moderation, so I thought the Portion Fix was genius in its simplicity: moderation is not intuitive for everyone, and the cups could be a great training tool to learn about reasonable serving sizes. The price was also fair: $24 for the whole set. I looked into Beachbody workouts too, and I think they are great! P90X and other Beachbody routines are intense, and it makes sense that, over time and with consistency, they are highly effective. BEACHBODY

Most of the Beachbody activity on my social media was not centered around the workouts or the Portion Fix though, but rather, “Shakeology.” My Facebook feed became populated with Before and After photos of fitness success, featuring tired and puffy Before pics (usually post-natal pics– let’s be real) contrasted with smiley, thin After pics. The After pics often featured a fit woman holding a bottle of Shakeology, which is a powdered meal replacement and nutritional supplement. Shakeology selfies were everywhere!

The product is marketed as a proprietary blend of superfoods and special herbs, an appetite suppressant superior to whole food and providing better nutritional benefits than any competing powdered beverage. Of course, there is no medical or scientific research data to support this claim. According to doctors and certified nutritionists, Shakeology’s benefits are identical to any similar fortified beverage, no better than Ensure, that drink of choice for recovering anorexics and hospice patients. In addition to NOT being better than competing products, Shakeology is twice, three times, sometimes a hundred times the cost. It will cost you about $120 per 30 servings… but if you become a Coach, you get a discount.

Beachbody will have you believe that becoming a Coach is an opportunity to earn extra income- a side hustle with good potential to also become a career. Coaches pay for a business starter kit and a recurring monthly fee to begin. The cheapest option is $15.95 per month, but Coaches who desire marketing tools such as a website/blog or “club membership” can expect to pay around $130 a month. This means that the least invested Coaches pay around $190 per year and the most invested pay around $1500. Beachbody continuously reminds Coaches that their level of success depends on “motivation and work ethic,” but the numbers tell a depressing tale of painfully small ROI’s. The vast majority of profitable Coaches (69%) make an average of $550 per year. 22.5% make an average of $3,457 a year. The company does not publish median incomes. 44.73% of enrolled coaches did not receive any bonus or commission checks in 2014

If you have an extra six hours today, you can read the entire Beachbody Coach Compensation Plan, which weighs in at 51 pages.  If you don’t, here is a simplified breakdown of how the thing works:

The first part of the plan is retail sales, where Coaches make 25% on any customer purchase. If they sell a Shakeology or P90x for $120, they pocket $30. This is pretty straightforward and nothing to get excited about.

The second and more lucrative way to make money as a Coach has to do with Team Cycle Bonuses, which is the company’s cheerful euphemism for financially rewarding tireless recruitment. Look at the shape of the below graph:

Beachbody Coach Binary Compensation Plan

Beachbody Coach Binary Compensation Plan

In order to begin receiving Team Cycle Bonuses, a Coach must acquire the rank of “Emerald Coach,” which involves recruiting and personally sponsoring two Beachbody Coaches. Then, based on Team Volume of retail sales, certain bonuses are distributed. The bonuses are capped based on Coach rank, and caps increase based on increased rank (team growth). These classifications have increasing dazzling names as a Coach recruits and sponsors more and more people, and their recruitees go on to recruit more (Ruby, Diamond, 1 Star Diamond, 2 Star Diamond, etc.). As a reward for sales volume, higher ranking coaches attend conferences and are sometimes treated to incentive retreats and cruises, all of which are heavily broadcast on social media with the message that YOU TOO CAN ENJOY THE GREAT LIFE OF A BEACHBODY COACH!

I live in a small town, and one of the more distressing things about Beachbody to me is how it functions in the context of a small community. Recruitment is done among friendly acquaintances and friends– as Beachbody gains popularity, more and more people become Coaches, filling the middle of the pyramid. Early adopters of the fitness trend may be able to make a significant profit, because, by luck or by excellent foresight, they find themselves with a high rank at the tip of the pyramid. But their success is still dependent on their retail sales and the sales of the Coaches they sponsor. Soon, everyone who wants to be a Coach is a Coach. The bottom of the Pyramid is populated by people who are not interested in recruitment or even making a lot of money, but people who want discounts on Shakeology and other Beachbody products. Many lose interest in Beachbody, but are enrolled in monthly purchases and feel awkward about asking their friend to stop sending product. They continue to spend money and pad the pockets of higher ranking coaches while making no money for themselves.

As a woman, it really chaps my ass that MLM companies have been targeting female salespeople for decades. Although I know that there are plenty of male coaches, I take specific, personal issue with Coaches target marketing stay-at-home mothers who are intrigued by the prospect of not only losing their post-natal weight but also bringing in some extra income for their family. In this way, Beachbody has joined other MLM operations like Mary Kay, Pure Romance, Stella & Dot, Plexus Slim, Jamberry, Nerium –the list goes on– in taking advantage of SAHMs and underemployed women everywhere.

It is awesome that people want to get fit and healthy and to help others get fit and healthy. The motivation behind the individuals who become Coaches is really admirable, but Beachbody is a shitty way of sharing health solutions with others. Why not start teaching an aerobics class at your local gym? Go get certified to teach Pilates, or start a running club, or go to school and become a nutritionist. Go start a blog about your fitness journey. Find a different, less shady way to spread and share healthy habits.

Note: I realize that this post may ruffle some feathers, so if I have gotten any of my facts wrong, please let me know in the comments or email mandylearo@gmail.com. I will correct any factual errors, but I don’t think there are any. See links for sources.

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Yoga Didn’t Cure My Alcoholism

mandy in india 4

Read my latest essay, “Yoga Didn’t Cure My Alcoholism” on Elephant Journal!

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How to Get Out of a Bad Mood

mandy learo bad mood

Strap in for an OKNamaste edition of the most internety of internet articles: the listicle!!

Bad moods happen, and I am not an always-sunshine-and-rainbows type of yoga teacher. Sometimes I’m a cantankerous b*tch, and I need to DO something to get myself out of a funk.

Compulsive and addictive personalities are preoccupied with alchemy: primarily the transformation of feeling-states and personal realities. We want to change the way we feel, but if we are trying to live a healthy life free from compulsion and addiction, we must find means and methods that aren’t self-destructive.

What I don’t want is to sit in self-pity, reach for a drink or drug, abuse food, become depressed, or take my sourness out on those around me. A bad mood is an opportunity to develop and practice healthy coping skills, ways of changing my state that are good for me.

Below are some specific actions that work when I need to change the way I feel:

water

1. Drink an entire glass of water. Maybe I am dehydrated. I do a whole 8-12 ounces at once. I chug water like a college freshman chugs a beer when he’s surrounded by chanting frat brothers.

walk oknamaste

2. Go for a walk. I put on my sneakers and go. Sometimes my headphones blast the most inane girl power pop playlist possible. Sometimes I listen to moody acoustic folk ballads. Sometimes I’ll go without music and do a walking meditation. A walk almost always works to pass through bad emotional weather.

chips and salsa oknamaste

3. Have a healthy snack. This one is tricky because what I don’t want is to end up gorging myself or eating my feelings, but sometimes a bad mood is legitimate between-meal hunger. If I suspect my blood sugar is low, I pick out a reasonable snack serving and use a plate– not eating out of the bag or jar is a must. I then set an intention to be nourished by the food (sort of like a secular Grace). Since I don’t have the best hunger/fullness biofeedback, I wait at least 20 minutes before I judge how successful the snack was, and if it’s not, I don’t reach for more food. I try something else.

coloring book color to relieve stress oknamaste

4. Coloring! Someone once told me that drawing and painting are helpful self-regulating tools, but I’m not very skilled at that kind of art. Coloring is more accessible for me, and I find it super-soothing, occupying both the hands and the mind.

phone a friend oknamaste

5. Call a friend or family member. Texting is fine for making quick plans, but for me it doesn’t have the same effect. I need to get over my (generational) fear of the phone and call. Isolation and loneliness only make bad moods worse, and it’s okay to reach out when we need support. Sometimes I make a call to vent about something, but the call doesn’t have to have meaningful content to make me feel better. If I don’t have a specific issue to hash out, I can just call to say hi-how-are-you, and simply hearing the voice of someone who cares for me lifts my mood.

nap time oknamaste

6. Take a short nap. It has taken me awhile to figure out how long my body likes to nap. If I sleep for more than 45 minutes, it tends to make me more emotionally unstable and is counterproductive. But if I set an alarm and commit to getting up, napping is the human equivalent of turning the computer off and then on again. Sometimes my problems fix themselves.

ted talks oknamaste

7. Watch or listen to a Ted Talk. They are inspirational and educational, and 15 minutes of smart ideas keeps me from ruminating on myself, my bad mood, and my problems. I like to put on a Ted Talk and do a menial chore I’ve been putting off: matching socks, disinfecting the counter, whatever.

shower

8. Take a bath or shower. Recreational bathing is awesome because, unlike a typical morning routine, there’s no time limit. I like to take my time, shave neglected square inches of leg, and sometimes just stand beneath the water in a heat-induced trance. When I emerge, I am clean and sweet-smelling and usually a bit better than when I went in.

otis

9. Spend some time with a pet. How can I be melancholy with this face smushed between my thighs? Sometimes I need snuggle time with the dogs, sometimes play time with a ball, sometimes a walk. The simplicity of their love, and their cute, wet little eyes on me, can often cheer me up.

window shopping rj jewelers oknamaste

10. Window shopping. Shopping with no intention of purchase is so much fun. I lock my wallet in the car and wander around the store like it’s a retail museum. I pick things up and put them down; time is killed. My brain has something for stimulus other than whatever is troubling me.

isaac my friends kid

11. Spend some time with a kid. I’m not a mom yet, but I love kids, and time with them feeds my soul. I’m lucky enough to have some mommy friends, so I sometimes seek out dates with them. Hanging out with a kid makes me feel like one myself, and it’s like the carefree, happy child inside me comes out to play.

mandy learo easy yoga for stress

12. YOGA! Of course yoga. But a bad mood is no time for me to push my limits or work on reach poses. If I’m looking to ease an unpleasant mood, I hit my mat up with the most basic stretches and preparatory poses. Sometimes I just do funky ninja lunges and somersaults. I embrace the fact that no one is watching, and I get weird.

mandy learo meditation

13. Meditation. I have written a lot about meditation because it has helped me so much and made such a difference in the way I see myself and my life. Even though meditation is sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling bad, sometimes it is the best thing for me. By simply sitting with a feeling and accepting it completely without fighting, I take the power of the feeling away.

There are so many healthy ways of dealing with stress and sadness and the general blues of being imperfectly alive. I simply have to stop and consciously choose one. What are your go-to strategies for changing a bad mood?

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Open Letter to Naked Old Women in Gym Locker Rooms

locker room

Ladies,

The first naked woman I ever saw was my mother, who regularly showered with me as a toddler and continued to change clothes in front of me until I became an adolescent. She was not ashamed of her body and never taught me shame, but she was also young and beautiful (twenty-years-old when she had me).

The second naked woman I ever saw was you. You were not young and beautiful, and so you were fascinating. I was five or six when I spotted you emerging from the gym shower and followed you to your personal locker. You peeled off your towel and patted yourself dry. I stared at you, fascinated, with my head peeked round a locker. I had never seen skin like yours before, with texture and color that changed across the planes of your body.

I thought when you caught me looking you would snatch up something to cover yourself, but you didn’t. You saw me, smiled a little, waved, and then continued to dry off and get dressed at a pace unhurried by knowledge that a little girl was watching.

There is always one of you in the locker room, and sometimes more than one, you with wrinkled faces, heavy breasts, spotted chests and veined extremities and dimpled skin loose on your thighs. Younger, thinner, more stunning women are notoriously shy in public changing rooms, but you are not shy. You are as frank and free as I imagine you are in your own bedroom. You are nude as the day you were born, and totally unapologetic about it.

Throughout my life, pop culture has wanted me to believe that everyone is perfect but me. Women on television and in magazines and movies are almost always young and fit, and when they are not, they are rarely seen in sleeveless shirts or shorts, and never without clothes.

But you exist, and you are not sorry for existing. You are coming in from Aqua Zumba and Silver Sneakers and you are taking off your clothes and you are not ashamed of what is underneath them. You sometimes talk to me about the weather with your breasts out and splayed on either side of your belly. You seem to be at peace with your own flesh, and I want to be like you someday.

Staying young and tight and beautiful forever is not an option, but your frank self-acceptance is. Thank you for existing. Thank you for sharing your body with me.

With love and respect,

Mandy

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36 Journal Prompts for a Yoga Diary

yoga diary yoga journal oknamaste mandy learo

Even the most passionate yogis get in ruts and find themselves on auto-pilot. It has been my experience that starting a “Yoga Diary” can help to reignite enthusiasm and transform the way we think about our yoga practice.

There are six dimensions of asana: physical, energetic, emotional, mental, spiritual, and personal. Although they are all vital, it is my conviction that the most important of these dimensions is the personal: direct and active engagement of the individual with the practice.

Go treat yourself to a pretty blank book and begin actively reflecting on your yoga and what it means to you. Sometimes that will mean recording the classes you attend, the dates you attended, and anything about them that stood out to you. Sometimes it will mean drawing or doodling when words are not readily available. Sometimes it will mean processing thoughts or feelings that seem to have nothing to do with yoga. Whatever you choose to fill your yoga diary, remember that it is yours and yours alone and not to let perfectionism or fear get in the way. The inner critic has no place in the personal, safe space of journaling.

Here are some prompts to get you started!

  1. Recall your first yoga class. What made you decide to go? Describe the setting, the instructor, and the experience.
  2. How long have you been practicing yoga? What has changed the most between your first class and your most recent practice?
  3. Do you ever feel frustrated with your body during yoga practice? What, specifically, is frustrating?
  4. Do you struggle with negative self-talk during yoga practice? Are you able to notice it and move toward self-compassion?
  5. What is your favorite yoga pose? Why do you like it?
  6. What is your least favorite yoga pose? What don’t you like about it?
  7. Are you good at matching your breath and movement in yoga practice? Do you sometimes move mindlessly and forget to breathe?
  8. Do you ever feel competitive with yourself or others during yoga practice? How do competitive feelings affect your experience on the mat?
  9. Recall a yoga class you once took that was particularly satisfying for you. Identify what you liked about it and describe the experience.
  10. Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment in your yoga practice? Describe one or many and reflect on it/them.
  11. What do you think is your greatest strength as a yogi/yogini?
  12. What do you think is your greatest weakness as a yogi/yogini?
  13. Do you often use props during your yoga practice? Do you have any particularly strong opinions or feelings about them?
  14. Have you ever injured yourself (even slightly) while doing yoga? What happened? What have you done to prevent the same injury from happening again?
  15. Do you enjoy savasana (corpse pose)? Is it easy for you to relax your body laying down on the floor? Is it easy for you relax your mind?
  16. Do you worry about time or watch the clock during yoga, or do you easily let go of time awareness? Do you count reps or breaths? Describe your relationship with time while practicing.
  17. Do you prefer to sit in the front or back of a yoga class? Why?
  18. Is there a pose you would like to be able to do but cannot yet? Are you actively working on achieving it?
  19. Do you have a home yoga practice? If so, what is it like? If not, would you like to develop one?
  20. What is your favorite style of yoga? Why are you drawn to it?
  21. What is your least favorite style of yoga? What don’t you like about it?
  22. Do you have your own yoga mat? Describe it any other objects your associate with your practice.
  23. Do you think of your yoga mat as a sacred space? Are there any other sacred spaces in your life?
  24. Do you set an intention when you begin your yoga practice? If not, why not? If so, what are some intentions you have set?
  25. What does it mean to “breathe into” a body part?
  26. Do you enjoy the actual practice of yoga or do you do it for the way you feel afterward?
  27. Have you ever become emotional while practicing yoga? Describe.
  28. Do you prefer backbends or forward folds? Why do you think that is?
  29. Describe your most recent savasana. What thoughts or feelings felt most prevalent? Did any words or images arise?
  30. How are you in balance poses? Do you think that your ease in balance poses reflects the degree of balance in your life?
  31. Pick a yoga pose and explain it as though to someone who has never seen it or even heard of yoga before.
  32. Reflect on the mind/body connection and describe a personal experience that proves this connection.
  33. What area of your body feels the most chronic tightness or pain? What yoga poses help ease this pain?
  34. Consider the most recent time you practiced yoga and identify something you would like to improve on.
  35. Consider the most recent time you practiced yoga and identify something you did well.
  36. What is the most difficult thing about meditating? How are you managing this difficulty?

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OK Namaste in Print!

oknamaste in print the citizen auburn newspaper

I am feeling so grateful and happy today to have my first yoga column published in print! Read the full article here.

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Homemade Raspberry Jam: Grandma’s Recipe

homemade raspberry jam jars oknamaste

The process begins with handpicking fruit at Chase Farms.  As a kid, I remember gleefully eating a berry for each one I placed in the pint container, and how my face would grow splotchy with fruit juice. Yesterday, I caught myself consuming a few raspberries off the bush, and my grandma, spotting me, said that it was important to taste test them. On the way out, we remarked that the goats were missing from their usual petting pen, and I had a distinct flashback of my own child hand extended out to touch one. The soulless goat eyes, the thrill of contact with a beast.

raspberry bush

My grandma would never lecture you about eating local or the value of farm-to-table or about feeling connected to your food. She would never refer to her jam as “artisanal,” but rather goes about this process with humility and a matter-of-fact attitude. While I marvel at how spiritual the process is, my grandma is concerned only with the ripeness of my berry selections and how clearly she is communicating the recipe. Because I can be such a pretentious f**kwad, I love her for her practicality, and I adore her jam.

grandma raspberry jam homemade pouring berries into pot oknamaste

Ingredients:

2 pints (4 cups) red raspberries

6 1/2 cups Domino sugar

1/2 tablespoon Land O’ Lakes butter

1 pouch Certo fruit pectin

Directions:

Place thoroughly cleaned mason jars on a rack in the sink. Fill a teapot with hot water and bring it to a boil.

Thoroughly crush raspberries with a potato masher. Measure out 2 cups of crushed berries into a saucepan, then add sugar and butter. Put on high-heat stove and stand there, stirring continously, until there is a rolling boil. When you have boiling, add packet of pectin.

grandma adding pectin to raspberry jam homemade oknamaste

Bring back to a boil, stirring continuously for one minute. Remove pot from the stove and set aside. By now, your teapot should be hot. Pour boiling water over mason jars to scald and disinfect. Dry mason jars and pour in fruit mixture.

grandma canning jam oknamaste

Screw the tops on and store them top-side down for 5-10 minutes. Then, flip them top-side up and wait for the telltale “popping” sound of the jar sealing.

raspberry jam jars oknamaste

As you can see, we made several batches. The amounts listed above make 4-5 jars.

And, in case you were wondering, I did ask my grandma if she ever made a sugar-free version. She said “No,” shook her head at me, and that was that.

raspberry jam on bread oknamaste

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Peaceful Flow Yoga Playlist

peaceful flow yoga playlist

For more awesome OKnamaste playlists click here.

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I Made My Own Peanut Butter and It Was Delicious

homemade peanut butter oknamaste

One of my favorite things about living in Delray Beach was the Whole Foods in Boca Raton where I spent a shameful portion of my salary. There, they had a peanut butter station where you could grind up your own peanut butter. It never occurred to me that I could do this at home until yesterday, when I was staring into my cupboard with the bored, half-hearted hunger of a rainy afternoon.

All I did was pour a tube of dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts into my Nutribullet and grind away. (Since Nutribullet has never cut me a check, I should point out that any food processor would probably work.) The peanuts became crumbly, and I had to shake it once, but eventually I got peanut butter. What a simple and easy snacktime revelation!

Go forth, yogis and casual readers. Free yourselves from the chains of pre-ground peanut butter and taste the freshness of your own creation!

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