So you want a summer body?

Picture this: a semi-drunk Char at the end of a Sunday Funday, the first big gay Sunday Funday he has ever experienced. He only came out recently and didn’t know that one could find free vodka happy hours, disco dancing, and boys galore on the Lord’s day. It is a strange phenomenon that while the pious are busy genuflecting in pews, legions of homosexual men are gyrating and imbibing at a staggering number of bars and clubs all before the cold winter sun dips below the vales of New Jersey.

Our hero, good ole Chuckiebill, still reeling from this revelation on a cold January day, has finally made it to Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque in the West Village. The meats are sauced and steaming, the sides are plentiful, and young buck Chuck cannot wait to sink his chompers into something. He orders- pulled pork! Ribs! Potato Salad! Mac 'n Cheese- just in case! A pause as he marvels at the wonders which will soon travel across his lips, coating his taste buds in all things good and pure, before finding their way to his tequila-filled tummy. A voice from next to him, a friend, or so he thought:

“Damn, Charlie, summer bodies are made in the winter.”

A throaty laugh fills the void as our hero debates how to proceed. The food has already been placed on his tray. You can’t just tell them to put it back. And also, we hungry. Being gay takes SO many calories, you guys! Proper nutrition is key! What to do? He decides to laugh it off and eat his food because it’s still only January, and there is plenty of time to catch the mythical summer body.

Okay, so dropping this hero conceit now- I think of this interaction all the time. It was a comment made in good fun and not meant to be serious, but it left me shook.  Before being openly gay, I felt some pressure to look a certain way or have a certain body type, which was made worse by the acting industry. Now the pressure to have the perfectly engineered summer body has increased tenfold, and I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.

I have never had a great relationship with my own body. I remember being in third grade the first time I became aware of my body being not okay. I was at a pool and an adult family member said, “what is that hanging over your swimsuit?” I looked down, confused, and picked up the drawstring and said, “these?”

“No, your stomach.”

My chubby phase in middle school left me with man boobs, or “moobs” as they were dubbed by my classmates who loved giving titty twisters (again, friends acting in good fun, but not easy to forget). Even as a competitive rower in high school, I never had the same physique as many of the other guys on my team. I was not overweight, but I was never toned and lean. This carried through my early 20s, despite staying active most of the time. I did have one phase right after Hurricane Sandy, where I went on a three month candy bender and went home for Christmas just over 200 pounds. Family members started asking if I was ok. I was great! I had been eatin’ good in the neighborhood and felt phenom. I hadn’t even realized that I’d gained weight until I saw a picture of myself at New Years, which prompted a three-month crash diet wherein I lost 20 lbs by basically living at the gym.

After that, I thought I looked great. I maintained my new weight over the next several years and generally felt good about it. Then I came out. I was sucked into instagram and looking at all these guys with ripped abs, big arms, and less than 10% body fat. It seemed to be the ideal. Have this type of body and you will be spending your summer in the Hamptons, jet off to Mykonos for a couple of weeks, revel in some debauchery in Fire Island, and choose your own adventure in P-town! Swipe up and use discount code IsCumACarb to purchase now! Even the parties throughout the winter became shirt-optional. I was mortified that something wasn’t quite toned enough, my arms weren’t big enough, and that, in the event that I did end up getting naked with someone, he would tell me to put my clothes back on and promptly return to sender.

Motivated by fear of rejection and self-inflicted societal pressure, I hit the gym hard. I worked my ass off that spring and had some decent results. I thought I looked good- a new level of good for me. It still wasn’t good enough. In joking about setting me up with someone, I was told, “yeah you’re cute, but he likes guys with big arms. Work on that and then we’ll see.” Another time, at the beach with a friend, he looked at me and said with a hint of surprise, “Charlie you’re getting into shape.” A compliment, but with caveats- was I not in good enough shape before? I thought I was. Also, I’m not in shape yet, apparently. I’m “getting” there. I wanted to scream, do a juice cleanse, take three spin classes and never eat again. I also wanted to just set it all on fire.

I experienced a couple rough rejections that summer and fall. The objects of my desire were into other people, as is the case more often than not. I had worked really hard to look a certain way, but it felt like it wasn’t going to be good enough for anyone. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just go crazy, let myself eat whatever I want, abandon the gym, allow myself to become what I perceived as physically unattractive so that if I was rejected again I could blame my appearance. It could put a buffer between the sting of being left behind and the reasoning behind it because it would give me some agency. If I chose to look a less than ideal, then I would be able to use that as an excuse. Rejection when I felt good about my appearance either meant that I still lacked the ideal body or worse, it was a flaw that no amount of gym time could fix. My personality. My disposition. Something intractable. But my body I could change, and at least if I thought I wasn’t worth someone’s attention due to my appearance then it would make sense when they moved on.  

Fucked up thought process, right? These thoughts still cross my mind. I still have the urge to put up walls in whatever form I can find them to make things easier to stomach when they don’t work out, but I try to choose to be gentle with myself.  Let me issue this reminder to you, my little chinchillas, and primarily to myself: a summer body is just a body that a person has during summer. It looks similar to a spring, winter, or fall body. No two summer bodies are the same. If you want your summer body to become a winter body, all you have to do is cross the equator. The seasons are switched down there!

I still exercise often and I try to eat well, but I recognize that these two things also help my mental state. I am happier when I am healthy, but health is not tied to a six pack. It’s big picture. When I see my belly hanging over the waistband of my swimsuit, I try to remind that confused little third grader that it’s ok to look however you look.  I also want to emphasize that I am not shaming or holding anything against those people who do have their ideal body and who have worked hard for their results. My point is that I now realize that holding myself to an external standard is not healthy or realistic for me physically or mentally. I want to celebrate my body in every aspect, especially in the places where I have had insecurities in the past. I am sick of wasting time thinking that I am not good enough, because this is the only body I’ve got, and the same goes for you.

If you want to make a change, whether through diet and exercise or plastic surgery or a little botox here or there, go for it! All I ask is that you choose to make those changes from a place of self-love instead of a place of insecurity. I am well aware that it is not easy to do these things, and I struggle with it constantly. Whatever we choose to do with our bodies, let’s own those choices. Love them even. It may not be easy, but one day it will be worth it.

So you teach yoga? Why?

So what had happened was about a year and a half ago some shit hit the fan in my life. A huge career opportunity failed to materialize, a romantic relationship fizzled, and things went a little off the rails. Oh, and Donald Trump was elected the leader of the free world, unleashing the fiery gates of hell, bigotry, and everything I stand against. NBD. So I did what shit does when it hits the fan- I scattered. I fled to my parents’ house for a month to regroup and collect the bits of feces that were my life (I’m so sorry for that visual. Ew. I grossed myself out too. We’re all in this together).

As a result of The Scattering (next Stephen King title?), I decided to become a yoga teacher. I enrolled in a 200 hour yoga teacher training through a studio where I’d been practicing for a couple of years. It seemed like a good idea, right? WRONG. It was a great idea, you guys! Third best decision I’ve ever made- guess the other two and I’ll buy you a drink- happy hour beer/wine/well only, don’t get crazy.

As part of our training, we each picked a group of people who may not have access to yoga for whatever reason- financial, physical, stigmatization, or intimidation. I totally get why yoga is intimidating. First off, to someone who has never practiced before and doesn’t know much about it, yoga looks insane. People expect to walk into a class and a vegan named Cloud to tell them to be a tree, a chair or a triangle, and those are things that are decidedly not normal to be when you’re a human. Second, everyone seems to think that you have to be able to touch your toes to do yoga. Bruh, you wanna touch your toes? Bend your knees.  Third, yoga seems to be reserved for upper middle class moms who have the extra coins to spend on athleisure wear, yoga accessories, and private yoga sessions. With the mission to make yoga more accessible for even just a few people, I picked a group near and dear to my heart.

Here’s the email I wrote to my teacher about what I wanted to do:

As I said in class last week, I want to use yoga to help the LGBT community, particularly youth, in some capacity. I came out later in life, just under a year and a half ago [now nearly three years ago], right after my 27th birthday. One of the reasons I waited so long was because I felt like something was inherently wrong with me for feeling the way I did, and because of that, I did not feel worthy or deserving of love from anyone, especially myself. Yoga, especially Y7 because of the dark and the heat and the music, always made me feel at home in my body and gave me the freedom to move in ways that felt authentic to me when very little else did. If I can share that experience with even one person, then that will be a success to me.

So, how I'm going to do it. I've looked into volunteering with the Ali Forney center for homeless LGBT youth. I cannot fathom the chaos this kids have lived through, and providing them with a safe space to breathe and stretch and feel some sense of peace in the midst of everything would be an amazing opportunity. Also, I feel like yoga gets a bit of a bad rap for being for faux-spiritual yuppie moms with $4000 strollers, and it would be so rad to show a group of people that may not have access to yoga that it can be fun and use good music while still being a workout, and also being grounding and calming and centering.

If the Forney center is not the right place for this, then I will try to find somewhere else work with- maybe it is not going to be for homeless youth, but working with gay-straight alliances in high schools or other LGBT groups. Working with underage kids can be tricky, I know, and I would also be thrilled to work with anyone in crisis who may not have access to yoga. Possibly HIV+ adults or people in recovery. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant in the gay community, while self love and, just as  importantly, self respect, are harder to find. Yoga helped me start to accept and love and respect myself, and it's still an ongoing process. It's a practice. I know I am not alone in that struggle, and I want to help other people who are also going through it as well.

I reached out to several organizations, but without any luck. Instead, my in came from an unexpected source: Tinder. I matched with a health and physical education teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn. He had an active role in his school’s gay-straight alliance, and instead of becoming involved romantically, we became involved educationally. I ended up working with a large number of his students before and after school, both in the GSA and outside of it, and I had more fun than I ever could have imagined.

The kids were confused at first and not super familiar with yoga, but then they started asking questions and got really excited about it. I wrote an email info sheet for them with more about yoga in general- where it comes from, its broad scope, and how to do it. If it works for high schoolers, then it will work for you, my little chinchillas. Take at it look below- any questions? Slide into the DMs. Xoxo

 

What is yoga?

Yoga is basically an ancient self help technique that started before Oprah was around to get us motivated and talk about how much she loves chips in Weight Watcher's commercials (same, girl. same). It is not just the physical practice of doing weird postures that we typically think of when we hear the word "yoga," but includes a code of ethics, breathing exercises, and guidelines for meditation. These different aspects of the practice are referred to as the Eight Limbs of Yoga . Follow the 8 limbs and you will find happiness. Simple, right?

But like, can I live?

Totes. Yoga is an individualized practice, and no two people will experience it the same way, and your relationship to yoga will change over time or even daily, and that's cool. People practice yoga in tons of different ways. Some people just do the physical practice of yoga, called asana, purely for the workout. Others follow all 8 limbs, all 5 yamas, all 5 niyamas, eat a sattvic diet, think about their doshas constantly, meditate and achieve samyama on the daily, and can do the craziest arm balances you've ever see your life. Neither approach to yoga is right nor wrong. You do you, boo.

Obligatory History Interlude:

Yoga is first mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, around 4500 B.C.E. It spread and started gaining popularity for a super casual few thousand years, then around 50-200 C.E. it was codified by a mysterious dude/lady/non binary individual called Patanjali. Little is known about the identity of this person, or possibly group of people, but Patanjali created the yoga sutras. The sutras outline the 8 limbs of yoga and provided a clear and concise "how to" guide for practicing yoga. The first mention of the physical postures (asanas, remember?) happens around 1400 C.E. Since then it has been refined, branched into many directions and popularized, particularly in the last couple hundred years thanks to guys like Krishnamacharya, Patthabi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar.

So...?

Patanjali defines yoga in sutra 1.2: Yogah chitta vritti nirodah. Got that? Cool. I'm kidding you guys, lighten up, yoga is fun! But also "yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind" (according to this translation from Sanskrit). So to put this in terms of the 8 limbs, we use the code of ethics to get right with the world, we use the physical practice of yoga to get comfy in our skin, we use the breathing exercises to help block out the chaos of the world, and then we focus the mind through meditation to calm the thoughts and surrender to the divine. The "divine" in yoga does not refer to God or Allah or Beyoncé, but to the self when it is free of ego. At the risk of inceptioning you via email- you exist in the universe and also the universe exists within you. You have the divine residing within you at all times, and yoga aims to help you access that side of you, and in turn embrace and accept yourself for the powerful, badass, and happy human that you are.  

Key words

Yoga- literally means " to yoke" as in to join things together. In this case that can refer to the mind and the body. movement and breath, the self with the divine or however you feel like interpreting it on that day.

Asana- the physical practice of yoga and also each posture is referred to as an asana.

Sutras- literally translates to thread. The codified system created by Patanjali that weaves the tapestry that we now see as yoga.

Savasana- corpse pose- the final pose of all asana practices. say it with me now- shah-vah-sah-nah

Vinyasa- a style of yoga where breath is tied to movement, frequently described as "flowing." Also can refer to the 3 pose transition of chatarunga dandasana- upward facing dog- downward facing dog used to neutralize the spine.

 

So you think you're important enough to start a blog?

I have asked myself this question countless times over the last several months. What special breed of narcissist are you, Charlie, wherein you have stumbled into the illusion that people care about what you have to say? Do you even have anything to say? The truth is, I’m not sure. I mean I totally have things to say, many things. A million things a minute bounce through this noggin of mine, but the question is are they worth sharing? And, should I start to share them, is that bravery and courage and claiming my voice and power, or is it just another millennial voice shouting into the well-saturated void?

I suppose if you made it this far, gentle reader, that you know where I landed on these questions. I still have my qualms though. In our social media driven day and age it seems like blogs are almost on the way out. Our brands can be linked to a stream of pictures or 240 character thought fragments that we then sling out into the world, hoping they garner a like or two. Blogs almost feel passé to me, but maybe that’s my superiority complex creeping in.

You see, my little chinchillas, I am no stranger to the blogsphere. I came of age in the era of blogspot and xanga, livejournal and AIM away messages. In high school, I lingered on popular girls’ xanga pages due to some strange amalgamation of sexual confusion, envy, and hope that they would mention me in passing. We had so many classes together, girl, come on! You detailed every aspect of Taylor’s party but didn’t mention the time I put my hobbit feet on your bag on accident in lit class? Ugh. Such is the plight of the invisible.

I never took to xanga or livejournal, and I didn’t have the penchant for moody away messages like many of my peers. Instead my relationship with blogging came later, when my best friend, Sarah Mae FKA Sarah (she became extra once upon a time in Africa), studied abroad in Costa Rica in our early college years. She documented her adventures on a blog that then continued after she returned. My favorite post was one in which she wrote an ode to Salsa Lizano, a zingy green sauce that she put on everything. I checked her blog hourly for updates, craving more, and then realized that I wanted to do the same thing. So I did. I wrote about my life as a depressed student at the University of Southern California. I used it as an escape from the reality that the only thing that could pull me out of my constant funk was reading the Twilight series, which, honestly, more people should have recognized as a call for help.

I kept up the blogging as I took a year off and did some traveling, and after running out of money, I moved in with Sarah’s family- into her childhood room in fact. Then things petered out. I was generally happy; my life calmed down from constant motion to my routine of dinner with her mom and brother, watching tv while drinking exactly two beers, going up to my room and then watching several episodes of Alias on dvd before falling asleep in a twin sized bed. My Ode to Jennifer Garner didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped, time passed, and the blog faded. I ended up transferring to school in New York City, and then I didn’t have the time or desire to pick it back up.

Smash cut to seven and half years later as I sit in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side that would fit in much better below 14th Street. Our internet presence has become how strangers approach us. Our social media is filtered and tailored to perfectly portray the sides of ourselves that we most want to show to the world. The old saying “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” may well be updated to “curate your social for the life you want people to think you have, not the life you have.” It drives me crazy, yet here I am, tap tap tapping on the glass.

I recognize my resistance and questioning surrounding my decision to start sharing more thoughts online comes from a place of insecurity. What if no one reads this? Or worse, what if they read it and hate it? What if they hate me? I am a fully formed dynamic human and though I have my moments of being a dumpster fire (2016 word of the year), I think I’m a good person. These pixels forming letters that form words that then form sentences on your screen only demonstrate one side of me. What if that side is insufferable? Oh god, what if all of me is insufferable?

However, I’ve decided that I’m over this fear. I’m over the idea that no one cares about my voice. I care about my voice and my experience, and I am a person in the world, filling my lungs with air one breath at a time, just like you. I’m not totally sure how I’ll use this space. What do I want it to say about me? That I’m an actor… kinda. I teach yoga. I’m gay. I live in New York. I recently killed two plants. I spend most of my time pining after unavailable guys and dogs online. I love Beyoncé. Is this just going to be another painfully basic foray into the navel gazing world of blogging? The horror.