Although I have known for quite some time that I am a mermaid at heart (aka someone who desires to spend every moment of life at the beach or in the ocean so deeply that it feels like an actual need) and a Yogi at soul, the combining of the two concepts hadn’t occurred to me. That is, of course, until I was made aware of the #MermaidYogis challenge that was happening over on my favorite form of social media: Instagram!

"Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships."

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

After releasing my ‘pose perfectionism’ years ago, I have never been one to apply the concept of “challenge” to yoga. Hearing challenge immediately made me think of competing with other humyns. But, as I soon discovered, the term challenge can easily mean to grow yourself – test your edges gently, know your boundaries firmly, love yourself infinitely. For me, the challenge then quickly became about how much I could express and experience self-love during a yoga experience that is reaching over 70,000 other yogis who may or may not have a higher skill level than mine, but who for the most part (from my own perusing) still largely represented the physical ideals born from modern day yoga practice in America.
Enter: @tattedyogi16 – well actually, she was the actual catalyst for me to join #MermaidYogis in the first place – as a non-conventional, big bodied, POC yogi whom I’ve been following ever since my first article on yoga, my body simply resonates with hers more deeply than womyn who are blonde and a size 2. I think this is a truth most people don’t like to hear or face, but it’s true none-the-less. It’s not to say that I can judge anyone by the way that they look, but I can say that on purely physical level (let’s say that a photo on Instagram provides before you look at the accompanying words). It’s also important to note that this is my own personal truth that I can only apply to my experience rather than make a vast generalization for all more marginalized yogis. In any case, I just have to take this moment to thank the beautiful resonance of @tattedyogi16, because I wouldn’t have become involved without it!

Now, if I’m being totally honest, which I always strive for, I have to circle back to my own statement about not judging other based on the way they look. I must call myself out. I did just this when first entering the challenge and beholding the 4 hosts: @stokedyogi, @seavibesyoga, @zengirlmandy, and @janalyn.rose – each one blond and living in a body honored by current societal standards. My first reaction? “Typical lulu-lemoners – how could their yoga resonate with me?!” Furthermore, I felt affronted by the fact that there were actual prizes to be won by the many sponsors of the challenge. It first felt like further commercialization of yoga to me, but then quickly transitioned into my perception as an added bonus that I would be grateful to win. Also, my feelings about being led in yoga by 4 thin blondes quickly subsided as I got to know them better through their meaningful and all-inclusive posts as the days went on. It turns out that these womyn are the body positive allies I’ve been looking for and part of a #mermaidtribe I never knew existed (Thank you)! I truly appreciated that for each of these womyn, #MermaidYogis wasn’t about replicating poses and snapping photos of them, it was about fostering compassionate love between womyn of the world, and in turn each womyn fostering more self-love within herself.

Yo #mermaidyogis – we are so thankful that you're all coming along for an epic ride with us this month! Mark your calendars for August 29 – we are organizing the best meetup yet, complete with a surf/SUP sesh, a free community yoga class, acroyoga play time, photos by @horizonlightproductions, and an awesome after party at the @gracedbygrit store in Solana Beach with juice, kombucha cocktails, snacks, and an incredible raffle where you can win prizes from all the amazing #mermaidyogis sponsors plus a few surprise giveaways! Plan ahead to spend the day at the beach with us! Tag a friend who has been wanting to get more involved in the IG yoga community. All of us are here for you!! If you have questions, need modifications, or just want to connect, please reach out! Everyone is welcome in this challenge and we truly want to get to know you guys. 💕

A photo posted by Amelia Travis | Stoked Yogi® (@stoked_yogi) on

Personally, it facilitated all this and more for me, and when I realized all of the intricate elements of me making into that pose on that day, it made me want to reflect on the experience and delve deeper – so here I am sharing with you all the behind-the-scenes moments, thoughts, and emotions that occurred for 30 beautiful days of my summer, which started in Maine and ended full-circle-style in California…

 

 

I began the challenge trepadatiously with some fear about the eventual poses that I would be unable to do. I did relish in the fact that I was able to soak-in the experience of posing on a busy beach in my bikini with someone photographing me (thanks, Mom), which before this summer would have never been possible for me unless I was wearing a coverup and hiding in a corner by the rocks.

Never have a ever joined a yoga challenge, so with #MermaidYogis popping-up on the feed of the rad @tattedyogi16 & with me already being a mermaid and a yogi – I figured there's no time like the present! This beachy keen pose represents Day 1 – seated sphynx. *at first I was challenged by the word "challenge" being associated with Yoga as I have learned to do it for no one but myself, but after looking into it further, I'm seeing it as an opportunity to connect and potentially receive a gift from the universe if it's meant to be.* Thanks to hosts @seavibesyoga @horizonlightphotography @stoked_yogi @zengirlmandy for honoring ALL BODIES as yoga bodies. #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #FuckFatPhobia #effyourbeautystandards #WearYourVoice

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

I felt so free and one with the Atlantic Ocean, and took to the rocks on my favorite secret cliff walk for this pose, having my own personal Ariel moment!

 

I remember feeling frustrated that I didn’t get to take this shot at the beach, but then remembered that the beauty of the photos was not what this challenge was about! I then proceeded to do some flows in my backyard while trying to sync the timing of my Photo Booth shots!

 

This was one of the most epic days of my summer because I was able to immerse myself in the wonders of an enormous thunderstorm with hail the size of golf-balls – as soon as it calmed down I grabbed my mat and took to the porch still in my bathing suit I had just been swimming in not long before. The energy in the air was both electric and peaceful making for a beautiful moment of celebration on my mat for the entity that is actual weather!

 

Late-night yoga session in the living room of my parents home -with my grandfather’s piano behind me – one of the safest feeling places on earth for me. Posing in my PJ’s after a long day of beaching felt like relishing in the feeling of home enough to take it with me everywhere I go.

 

I recall this pose being harder for me than expected; I do have arthritic issues in my left knee that stem from the inflammation of my Crohn’s Disease, but I hold a lot of fears around how this appears to others in relation to my body size, which I am still working on releasing.

 

This was one of my proudest yoga moments because I allowed myself to make many mistakes in public and didn’t care how I looked doing it – I also couldn’t stop laughing because an added challenge was the ebb and flow of the tide sucking the sand beneath my hands away before I could get any solid stance.

 

I remember this pang of shame and horror I had the next day after posting when I realized I had done more of a cobra pose than a sphinx pose, and then my thoughts said, “Who the fuck cares!?”

 

Dolphin pose is one of my favorites and on this day my very best friend kindred spirit, Tony, was visiting Maine (a rare treat) and he took this photo for me. This also represented a day when I said screw it to only wearing high-waisted bikinis, and embraced the feeling of having my entire belly out.

Day 9 #MermaidYogis: Dolphin Pose! @[email protected]_yogi @zengirlmandy @janalyn.rose #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #FuckFatPhobia #WearYourVoice

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

In the midst of tide pooling with Tony, I remember feeling so grateful for this stone staircase, which is a forever favorite of mine as it usually descends right into the water during higher tides. Without its support I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this pose, which felt so much more difficult than it now looks!

 

This day represented the very fist of the summer where I ventured away from Maine for a few days back with my bestie to New Jersey/NYC. The first thing we did? Get lost in a surprisingly wooded area whose trails were just poorly marked enough for us to end up hiking around 3 miles instead of the exploring we were planning on! Despite my utter frustration at the situation (aka where were we and how do we get out?!) I was captivated by this beautiful stone bridge deep in the woods, and later when we made it out I was grateful to greet the rose garden pictured on the bottom half of the photo.

Day 11: #MermaidYogis – pigeon pose prep with a heart opening backbend. @janalyn.rose @[email protected]_yogi @zengirlmandy #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #FuckFatPhobia #WearYourVoice @mandukayoga @rawelementsusa @gracedbygrit @bloominglotusjewelry @bodyglovegirl @twistedguru @colorescience

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

Despite my lack of affinity for cities, NYC is the one I compare all others to truly. Taking in her skyline for the first time while still being by the water’s shore was a powerful moment for me.

 

Hands down the most beautiful gardens I’ve been to – I loved including Tony’s dog Snoopy in my routines while I was visiting.

 

This night represents the one where I returned from nearly a week in the city, and drove straight down to my beloved harbor to soak in the sea salted ions once more.

 

I felt so powerful and strong in this pose on this day that it has stayed with me since and has become my favorite go-to when yoga-ing on the go!

Day 15 #MermaidYogis: dancer's pose – today's pose brought me to a full-circle healing moment. Remembering I actually danced for years as a child – jazz, tap, ballet – I loved it all…until I didn't. Until at some point society force-fed me a lie about my body's worth and abilities, & being too young to protect my own sensitive soul, I believed it. I believed there was something wrong with my body and I allowed myself to disconnect from it in shame for some of the first memorable times, which killed the joy of dance for me. This became a trend as I continued into childhood and adolescence – the only activity I allowed my body to stick with despite the separation of "otherness" was Tennis (despite my anxiety over the required short skirts & tight dresses it reminded me of my power and strength & learning it before negative thoughts about my body was a gift from my best friend, my grandfather). Over the years after dance, I quit gymnastics, softball, volleyball, and basketball solely for the reasons of experiencing deep oppression in a big body that had been claimed by others since birth (which I then identified as "not fitting into the uniforms"). Later in life, Yoga triggered me in the same way – "not even these clothes were made for my body," my mind would scream on a mat surrounded by petite lululemon mongers. However, my personal body positive and self-love journey has brought me so far, that I felt proud and free today while posing in my body on a crowded beach…while wearing an actual bikini! As I gaze at this photo, rather than be reminded of the ways my body has been told it cannot do something, I am reminded of all the things it can do. I am reminded that I never stopped being a dancer just like I will always be a Yogi. #FuckFatPhobia #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #WearYourVoice #Maine #goldenconfidence #losehatenotweight #ThereIsNoWrongWayToBeAWoman #honormycurves #radicalbodylove #bigandblunt @mandukayoga @rawelementsusa @gracedbygrit @glidesup @bloominglotusjewelry @bodyglovegirl @twistedguru @colorescience

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

I felt and soaked-in the freedom of being welcomed by the #MermaidYogis hosts to engage in any standing poses on this day, which reminded me that this could really be applied to any day of the challenge as long as I was staying true to myself.

 

I distinctly remember feeling disappointed in myself that I mistook the days pose. But it was important for me to reflect on these feelings of self-disappointment or shame throughout the challenge, because doing so allowed me to push through them into self-love and the further releasing of perfectionism.

#MermaidYogis Day 17: heart wide open *and then there are those mermaid days that start with a cliff walk, end with boogie boarding, and are punctuated by an historical sailboat ride, beach strolling, wave dancing, and quality family time – where you are so busy living yoga, that you "mistake" tomorrow's pose for today's and have to swap the epic photo you took earlier out on the open ocean for one taken impromtuly by your mother in front of your home sweet home at the end of a long, beautiful, live-in-the-moment, day!* @stoked_yogi @zengirlmandy @janalyn.rose @seavibesyoga #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #FuckFatPhobia #WearYourVoice #Maine #mermaidtribe

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

This was a beautiful day out on a replica of a Gundalow – an original type of sailboat used to transport food. I loved learning how to raise the sails but I also loved that my parents and I tried to envision what it would be like to be a Native American witnessing one of these vessels for the first time, and what the impact was like for them.

 

I was elated at the first time ever experience of this pose, and realize now upon reflection that as the challenge went on, the more confident in my own skin out in public I became. This reminds me also of my gratitude to my mother, who helped me complete this pose by handing me my left leg!

 

Another late-night yoga moment with my crystals by my side in my very quiet house in Maine where all you can hear after 9 pm is crickets and crashing waves.

 

It was beautiful that the sun came out during this time, and I felt nourished by its warmth, allowing my body to let go even more into this pose.

 

This was such a stop, drop, and yoga moment that occurred when I realized that I had yet again done the “wrong” pose for the day. My grandmother was up visiting and got to see the mermaid yoga-ing first hand. I also couldn’t believe how truly difficult this pose was for me, but allowed that to just be a thought with no judgements attached!

 

It wouldn’t have been authentic for me to try a yoga pose that would have caused me more pain, so instead, I listened to what my body needed and surrendered.

 

Bed yoga complete with one’s favorite stuffed animals needs to become a thing.

 

Allowing myself the variations suggested rather than thinking about what my body “can’t do,” is a freeing perspective I will be taking away from this day’s pose.

 

I felt as if I had been waiting the whole challenge to try and inversion that I not only could do, but love doing and provides my body with a unique inverted experience that felt enlivening.

 

Yoga from the chair of my infusion suites has become a new thing I’ve been trying this year, which really helps me to feel a deep love for myself during difficult and painful times.

Day 27: #MermaidYogis – I had considered posting photos of myself in underwater handstands in the pool and the seawater, but then I realized this was the most authentic pose of all – here's the secret trick: you can be in handstand however and wherever you like, even if by envisioning it in your "mermind's eye." Here I am doing it during my infusion of medication today because you can't truly be of service to others if you're not in service of yourself first. #WearYourVoice #FuckFatPhobia #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #WearYourVoice #Maine #goldenconfidence #losehatenotweight #ThereIsNoWrongWayToBeAWoman #honormycurves #radicalbodylove #bigandblunt

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

What can I say? It wasn’t just the wonders of photographic magic that allowed me to achieve an actual handstand on this day, it was the power of my own freedom to exist in my body just as it was. This represented my last day in Maine after 2 months of summering.

 

Back in Oakland, my first mission was to immerse in any water as soon as possible. The hot springs were beyond nourishing and allowed for a feeling in savasana that I want to bring with my to any class.

 

Full circle moment supreme; back on the beach on the west coast reflecting and relishing in all that the month’s magic has taught me, knowing I will utilize it all as I foray back into city, school, and therapist life.

Day 30: #MermaidYogis – full moon, full circle. What was started on the Atlantic Ocean is being completed on the Pacific. From Maine to California, my mermaid heart is full of love & reflection for a magical summer. (Photo credit: my favorite & forever photographer @triple_f_soul) @mandukayoga @rawelementsusa @gracedbygrit @glidesup @bloominglotusjewelry @bodyglovegirl @twistedguru @colorescience #WearYourVoice #FuckFatPhobia #selflovingyogis #yoga #yogi #yogabodyimage #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody #yogis #biggalyoga #bodypositive #thisiswhatayogilookslike #effyourbeautystandards #WearYourVoice #Maine #goldenconfidence #losehatenotweight #ThereIsNoWrongWayToBeAWoman #honormycurves #radicalbodylove #bigandblunt

A photo posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

compilation videos:

#MermaidYogis challenge complete Part 1 30 Days of self-discovery, otherwise known as the #MermaidYogis challenge, took me full circle from Maine to California while simultaneously uplifting and grounding me even deeper in self-love. Thank you from the bottom of my very open heart to hosts: @stokedyogi @zengirlmandy @seavibesyoga @janalyn.rose #mermaidchallengecomplete @[email protected] @gracedbygrit @glidesup @bloominglotusjewelry @bodyglovegirl #yoga #yogis #yogachallenge #yogaforeverybody

A video posted by Rachel Otis (@somewhere_under_the_rainbow) on

 

I was also honored to be featured as the Woman Crush Wednesday of @zengirlmandy after the challenge was complete:

Nearly 70,000 contributions to the #mermaidyogis movement and the tribe is growing everyday. From its creation, our main intention was to spread more love — towards yourself, other women, and mama earth. 🌍 it's hard to sum up how much it means to me, so I'll let my #WCW beautiful girl @somewhere_under_the_rainbow take it from here. . #MermaidYogis —–» in which I learn the continued lesson of letting-go. I surrender to my truth that today my body was living yoga in other ways and moving through pain the way it needed to. Surrendering to the truth that this was as deep into today's pose as I could safely go, and releasing fears of any potential consequences, because the only one that matters is if I stay true to myself – whole heart, whole soul.* #selflovingyogis . 30 Days of self-discovery, otherwise known as the #MermaidYogis challenge, took me full circle from Maine to California while simultaneously uplifting and grounding me even deeper in self-love. Thank you from the bottom of my very open heart to hosts: @stoked_yogi @zengirlmandy @seavibesyoga @janalyn.rose #mermaidchallengecomplete ✔️ . #ThereIsNoWrongWayToBeAWoman 💜

A photo posted by Mandy Burstein (@zengirlmandy) on

 

Turns out, I won a beautiful new bag for my yoga mat as well!

🐬✨🌈✌🏼️🐢❤️☀️💦🐠 Mermaid Yogis Winners The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. 🌊 #MermaidYogis – we made it! After another month of super inspiring, encouraging, and amazing community, we are left with full love tanks and shining hearts. Time to spread the mermaid love around! There are so many of you that we would like to honor for taking the time to share your practice and feelings with us through this challenge. @zengirlmandy @janalyn.rose @seavibesyoga and I are all so grateful for this tribe! Here are the August 2015 #MermaidYogis challenge winners: @gracedbygrit grand prize – @ginacocabina @bodyglovegirl prize pack – @tribevinyasa @bloominglotusjewelry Mala – @klatiu @colorescience gift pack – @namastella @TwistedGuru Mat – @alligrube @MandukaYoga ProLite Mat & Yogitoes @yoga_practitioner @rawelementsusa "love your skin gift pack" – @bhivegreen @glidesup lotus board & paddle – @queenbryt91 @thebeautyofhandmade dream mat bag – @somewhere_under_the_rainbow La Fete Des Femmes Retreat – @kaileyohlalee Stoked Yogi gift bags (2) @xvx_yogi @nancy_sohl @camilla_yoga_mermaid Contact [email protected] to provide shipping/sizing information and we will connect you with the sponsor. Until next time, salty kisses! 😘❤️🙏🏼

A photo posted by Amelia Travis | Stoked Yogi® (@stoked_yogi) on

 

All of this reflecting, has got me realizing I want to create my own Body Positive Yoga “challenge” to bring to an Instagram near you shortly! Please let me know if you are interested in collaborating in this venture with an email: [email protected]

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