“Love the process of becoming the person you want to be.”
First love yourself, then others will love you. That’s easier said than done. It is very common that we criticize and even dislike ourselves. Lack of self-love and slow personal growth causes our loving relationships to fail. Often we are looking for an external attachment to feed our most inner, profound needs. This causes a lot of pain in the world. The most deeply radical love-action we can undertake is to spend time with our deep-self, learning how to cultivate love for the mind, body, and spirit we embody on this earth. To understand how love heals, we must become familiar with our dark side, learn how to meet it with love. It will be our darkness that gives us back our light. This path requires patience and courage. It means we must free ourselves from patterns and habits that keep us locked in a cycle of failed loved. Love is an act of freedom.
Today, I will share with you a very special and important interview with Meredith Yarbrough. She is an experienced health coach who has found a way of integrating Chinese medicine and philosophy into the work she does. Meredith talks about the years she spent living as a foreigner in China, and the common threads of humanity she discovered that allowed her to develop deep, loving friendships and relationships with the people she knew there. She throws light on finding the balance between heart and mind, learning to listen to yourself, and defining just what being “whole” means. If you are ready to change the relationship you have with yourself so you can improve the relationships you have with others, read on.
1.. Who are you and what do you do?
I am a fitness consultant, a body teacher, a health coach; I guide people through body transformations big and small. It is my passion and I started my business, Hao Human, so I could make it my life’s work. I blend Western and Eastern techniques to help you cultivate body awareness. Body awareness means that your body’s reactions to its environment are not a mystery. Understanding your body gives you a great deal of control to make changes. The next step is to bring your body into balance and keep it there. A balanced body means better sleep, better digestion, more stamina, fewer food sensitivities, fewer aches, pains and injuries, better sex, better results from exercise, healthier blood flow, clearer and more focused thoughts, and much more. As the body becomes balanced, the mind follows as the two are inextricably linked. My clients often report the disappearance of long-term afflictions after the program, like snoring or the cessation of a right shoulder pain that had persisted for years. I use the tools I have learned through a lifetime of athletics and body study in America and China: intervals, body circuits, meditation, yoga, muscle isolation, breath-training, agility development, joint strengthening, martial arts, sport-specific exercises (rowing, surfing, snowboarding, biking and many more), acupressure, food energetics and guidance on Traditional Chinese Medicine.
2.. What is your ideology as a health coach?
I believe in cultivating health wisdom. I believe that physical activity, mindful eating and healthy habits should be pleasurable and integrated into one’s life. I do not believe in the gym as the sole source of one’s fitness. The gym belies a certain mindset that exercise (and diet) should be organized around how we want our bodies to look. I am much more interested in what a body can do. I focus on helping people link exercise to activity so fitness is a pleasurable part of their lives.
3.. Please tells more about your time spent in China?
I think of my time in China as the yīn balance to my yáng American athletic education. Yīn and Yáng are opposites that together make balance. Yáng is the powerful side of the coin, the bright, intense and outward. My collegiate career as a University of Texas rower encapsulates the yáng: intensely powerful, muscle-dominated and incredibly competitive. Yīn is the meditative side of the coin: the equanimous, patient and inward. China was a time of intense yīn learning for me, and of re-evaluating my fundamental truths about health and fitness. I lived in three provinces over 7 years and studied whatever the local masters were teaching. In Húnán, it was tàijí and sǎndǎ (Chinese kickboxing). In Guǎngxī, it was meditation, qìgōng, fasting, and tea ceremony. Everywhere my experience was infused with the principals of Traditional Chinese Medicine and food energetics. I lived several years in Shanghai, a city where traditional society collides with modern culture. I worked as a dancer, choreographer and model, and learned a new way of managing my health to sustain my income that was different from managing my health to sustain my scholarship.
Throughout this time I learned to teach. I taught theater, choreography and language. It is the most humbling and valuable skill I have ever cultivated. It is how we as a species ensure our survival. I have had a lifetime of coaches and instructors and I have learned this: it does not matter how much knowledge and wisdom a person possesses, it they cannot teach, it is wasted.
The third great lesson I learned has to do with China being a collectivist society (the diametric opposite of our American individualist culture). I learned a lot about cultivating harmonious relationships, and the patience and humility one must practice in order to keep the peace in the face of heightened emotions.
4.. A lot of love comes in to your business. What is it about your process that makes your work so special?
Love does enter into my realm in many different forms. I deal with the human body and it is our primary vehicle for love expression. However, it is a sensitive instrument, and stresses can easily damage its delicate love transceivers.
Self-love is the first area that I help my clients to cultivate. Think of the body and the mind as a married couple who have not been vigilant in maintaining respectful communication with each other. The mind aggressively nags the body for being paunchy; the body passive-aggressively retaliates by paunching further. Neither is listening to the other nor providing for each other’s needs. My job is to help you repair the relationship between your body and mind. That includes retraining thought patterns away from self-criticism, understanding the language the body uses to express its needs, and clearly defining who gets what responsibility (for example, the mind is responsible for deciding if a food is delicious, but the body determines if it is nutritious).
Sex is another area I focus on a lot. If you love your body and it functions well, sex can be incredible. If you love the person with whom you are sharing your body, it becomes cosmic. Sex is a beautiful example of how inextricable the mind and body are: it is a physical activity but also a meditation shared by two people.
5.. Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is someone who wants to reach the next level in their personal health journey. If that is you, then you are an insatiable learner. You re-evaluate and evolve constantly. This is probably not your first rodeo: you have trained before, enrolled in workout programs, created your own regimens, etc. But whether you have a fitness background or not, you are open to tinkering with your mindset, habits, preconceived notions, self-relationship, and body.
6.. What does love mean?
Love is a living thing. It must be cared for and nourished. It must be allowed to mature and change. Romantic love means there are two people responsible for its health. Healthy love is nourishing and energizing; it is life! It is food! Just as you should feel better after eating nutritious food, you should feel better for being in love. Ups and downs are unavoidable, but overall your love should produce a net gain.
7.. What does it mean to become whole?
I think the common Western answer to this question is that to be whole is to be happy as a solo, independent person. But I take a more Eastern approach: a human being cannot be happy outside of human relationships. So for me, being whole means establishing robust and respectful relationships in which you are comfortable. That means having strong boundaries: knowing where your lines are, and enforcing them out of fierce self-love. It means being unapologetic about your boundaries, and dismissing anyone who insists on violating them. It means feeling good about putting your essential needs above the needs of anyone else.
This will be hard if you were not allowed boundaries as a child or young person, i.e. you had an adult or significant other who would react negatively if you tried to assert your need for time alone or freedom from criticism or autonomy over your body. This is a hallmark of abuse; most of us some degree of it in our past. It interferes with our ability to be whole. Luckily, we are in an exciting new age of human-mind exploration; there are tons of resources to help you become whole. Patricia Evans has a flotilla of books that introduces these concepts in a really simple and straightforward style. Counseling and therapy are great. As are meditation and guided writing. This journey to become whole frequently surfaces in my client-sessions because the body and mind become a journal of boundary violations. The good news is that we have the power to edit.
8.. What are the basis of a solid relationship with yourself?
In the people I help, I often see a pattern of self-criticism that harms the self-relationship. It is a natural human response to resent the one who criticizes you, even if it is yourself. I suggest honing in on the voice you use to talk to yourself, and ask if you would use that same tone with a friend in a similar situation. Speak kindly to yourself and practice non-judgement.
Another good idea is to cultivate a capacity for reflection. Mistakes and missteps are both inevitable and necessary for growth. You should never make snap-judgments about your most recent misstep; instead, give it time to rest. This is because the slow movement of time through your life and body can only be seen when looking backward; you never know when a mistake might actually produce a gift. Keep journals and pictures to aide you in your reflection but only visit them when a significant amount of time has passed. When you do reflect, treat your past selves as you would a young niece or nephew: be compassionate for the person who knows less than you know now.
9.. Getting married is a very important step in someone’s life. How can a person prepare better for that compromise?
Communication, communication, communication. I suggest reading The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. Figure out the love languages you and your partner respectively speak, then get to work becoming fluent in each other’s language. Keep in mind that often a partner expresses love in the way they hope to be loved, not necessarily in the way you hope to be loved. So if he’s constantly telling you you’re beautiful, he loves you, etc. but it’s not making you feel more beautiful or loved, before you get frustrated, recognize he’s really asking you for verbal re-assurance about him. Tell him you love him and you like his ass in those pants, then work on understanding your own love language enough so that you can teach it to him.
I also think sex is very important in a healthy longterm relationship. It won’t solve your problems but it is your canary in the coal mine: if the canary is chirping away happily, the air in your relationship is not toxic. Treat sex like a practice. Place value and importance on it, and recognize that it is good for the body and mind. Work hard to dispel stress in your life and resentment in your relationship; these can creep in to muddy the waters of your sex-practice. Allocate time and energy to it. Sex is a communication that requires both people to be present and “talking”. All the love languages can be expressed through sex. And like any good discussion with someone you love talking to, sex evolves, meanders, goes on tangents, gets passionate, calms down, forms tenets and dispels them, and changes throughout a lifetime.
10.. Why is it that having expectations of the other “completing us” often kills our relationship?
A relationship is something new and distinct from the people who comprise it. It is a living thing that requires attention and maintenance from both its creators. It is a reservoir of love, energy and security that either can draw upon to weather tough times. But it is reliant on good sustainability practices. If you are constantly sucking energy out of your relationship to fill your void, there will be nothing there when your partner needs an emotional boost. Instead, your partner will need to put in extra energy to replace what you’ve taken: depleting and exhausting them until they must end the relationship out of self-preservation.
11.. What does it mean to be whole in a relationship?
To be whole in a relationship is a process of presenting your boundaries to your partner, and having them acknowledged and respected in a loving way. This is a slow process as you cannot overwhelm new love with too many boundaries too quickly. It’s also an exercise in keeping an open mind and communication. It’s easy for this process to feel like criticism or rejection. Be kind with your words. You must trust each other that when you establish a personal boundary, it is to fulfill a need you have, not to hurt the other person.
That being said, evaluate your boundaries and be careful of those made in a time of crisis. To use a stark example: if your boundary is that you rarely allow your current partner to touch your body because someone violated you in your past, then that boundary does not fit your new loving relationship. Make sure that your current partner understands and respects your boundary as it is now, then seek counseling and self-reflection so that you may cultivate the trust to ease that boundary.
12.. What steps can a person take to become in love with themselves?
Know thyself. The better you know and understand yourself, the more fun you will have in life. Treat yourself as a lover you desperately want to get to know. Celebrate with yourself. Have secrets. Create space to work on yourself without intrusion or audience. Love the process of becoming the person you want to be.
13.. What other projects do you have going on?
I am just mad about snowboarding these days! I have developed a Hao Human program to train for the slopes. I love helping people expand their repertoire of what they can do with their body!
I also just finished a new Female-health-specific program that helps women to balance their bodies in preparation for conception and pregnancy. There is a lot of ancient Chinese writings and wisdom pertaining to fertility, and if population numbers are any indicator, it’s effective! if you’re not looking to procreate just yet, this program can help you have pain-free menstruation and pleasureable sex.
On the artist-activist side: I’ve co-written a theater show that is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest this month. I wrote it with a Shanghai collaborator of mine, Apphia Campbell, who also performs it. We called it “Woke” and it explores the American criminal justice system, specifically how ordinary citizens can be created into criminals by discriminatory practices within the police and courts. I jumped on this project because, after living so long in a communist country, I came home and expected our system to be better. Furthermore, there are over 10 million incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people in America who have the brutal memories of prison etched into their bodies and minds. That is an incredible amount of PTSD to be absorbed into our culture!
14.. What is the best advice you can give to people reading this interview?
I leave you with a quote from Mary Schmich’s “Wear Sunscreen” essay: Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it, it is the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.