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Lions Roar : March 2013
Reviews MAY I BE HAPPY: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind By Cyndi Lee Dutton Adult 2012; 272 pp., $25.95 (cloth) REVIEWED BY DIANA WINSTON BODY HATRED IS SUFFERING. How many women and men, nation- wide, suffer from eating disorders? Why is cosmetic surgery a multibillion- dollar industry? What respite is there from endless media images exhorting us to be thin, beautiful, and youthful? No one I know has escaped this type of suffering, so one would assume spiritual teachers aren’t immune either. But most teachers aren’t public about it. An exception is Cyndi Lee, in her courageous new book, May I Be Happy. It’s not every day that one of the leaders of the yoga world—in this case, the founder of OM yoga—comes out as having body-image issues. A yoga teacher who hates her body. Huh? It’s about time someone was straight about this. Her willingness to do so takes guts and is an inspiration to the rest of us. Lee’s journey to “Changing Her Mind,” as the subtitle says, takes us from her self-hating adolescence, her early years in the New York East Village alternative art and dance scenes, and her life as a jet-setting yoga teacher to her current-day search for answers to her health and body fixation, before she settles on metta (loving-kindness) practice, which, in combination with other practices, ultimately transforms her. Woven throughout the book is the story of her aging mother’s decline, some of the most powerful writing in an occasionally rambling book. I was moved by Lee’s bittersweet compassion and love for her mother, since clearly her mother was a factor in her body struggles. Though I didn’t connect personally with some of the expert advice she sought, I was impressed by how Lee meets the topic with fearlessness and a determination to heal. Her journey might lead us to ask an important question: Is the dharma the right medicine for these particular cultural and personal maladies—body hatred galore, and more generally, self-judgment and unworthiness? Historically in Theravada Buddhism (my own practice lin- eage), the body seems to get a bad rap. We can trace this back to the dominance of a monastic tradition. Monasticism, such as in Burma where I practiced, is infused with patriarchal attitudes such as the inferiority of women, the unworthiness of the body, and the denial of sexuality. It suggests that the Buddha encouraged us to hate this inconvenient bag of flesh and get out of samsara—fast! But a closer look shows us that throughout the Pali canon, the Buddha exhorted us to find awakening within the body. From the Dhammapada: “They awaken, always wide awake: Gotama’s disciples whose mindfulness, both day and night, is constantly immersed in the body.” Loving-Kindness for Your Body Female Nude (woodblock), Eric Gill PRIVATECOLLECTION/GILLIANJASONMODERN&CONTEMPORARYART/THEBRIDGEMANARTLIBRARY SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 79