Balance and Nutrition15/11/2012 20:47
Since we are spending a month in this place where all the food is sattvic (meaning healthy, light, fresh and juicy – to harmonize the mind, the physical and the subtle body), a word about nutrition: Yesterday I see people's eyes go wide as Stephen mentions that your lifestyle should support your yoga practice. Meaning that there is no point in running to practice every day, if at the same time you have 5 cups of coffee a day, which probably make you irritable and so you're impatient with traffic at rush hour, with the person at the checkout counter, with your spouse, your mother etc. When on the same night, we leave the sattvic oasis of Samahita to go out for dinner and I comfortably order a beer with my food, people's eyes go even wider. But let me tell you how I got here.
I have been obsessed with nutrition ever since I was 11 years old. A Samskara that I will probably have to work on all my life. The groove is so deep, it is all way beyond rational. Too many years of dancing have etched it deep. I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I think, I have come very close. When, after the first years of yoga, Ayurveda came along, my ego seized onto all the dos and don'ts. For quite some time, I was cooking only ayurvedically and denying myself everything that did not fit the requirements of a yogic diet. You want to know what happened? My skin got worse, I was often bloated and, can I just say, very unhappy. It was a vicious circle. I grew more and more frustrated and thought the remedy was to be more and more rigid in my diet.
The stress I was creating around my eating habits was enormous. And what happens when we are stressed? Adrenalin is released into the blood stream, our heart and breath rate accelerates and blood flows into the extremities, away from the digestive organs. And then NO MATTER WHAT you eat, the body cannot properly digest it. Badly digested food starts to ferment in your digestive tract. Toxins get stuck. As Manuela once said to me, stress is actually the worst toxin. After months, I finally admitted to myself, it's not what you eat, it's THE WAY you eat it.
As Stephen often says, yoga can be the medicine, but it can also be the poison. Our practice on the mat teaches us in a very unique and tangible way how to pause and observe. Alignment in Asana and observation of breath are wonderful tools to create awareness, or as Manuela loves to say, mindfulness in action. We are still moving, acting, but we are watching ourselves as we move or act. Over time, this becomes a habit. And we begin to mindfully observe off the yoga mat, in our every day life. Which can be quite revolutionary – at least it was for me.
Suddenly you begin to notice certain behaviors that are unhealthy or even destructive. I think, most practitioners of yoga would say that yoga has had an effect on their lifestyle in a very organic way. Then however, there are the A-type personalities like me, those that are used to being proactive, to being the doer. They become aware of something that doesn't fit the whole concept and they desperately want to change it.
So, it is easy to cling to this concept of sattvic balance (eat light, go to bed at 10pm, meditate every day...) and knock it over into a new extreme. The ego is smart. It will use any excuse to stay in control. It is easy to bargain with yourself: “If I eat/talk/act/look/sit like this, then I will emanate the bright and radiant aura of a true yogi.” Sadly, this is just a new facet of the same neurosis.
I love how Lama Yeshe explains the Buddhist concept of Renunciation in his Introduction to Tantra: Renunciation does not mean that we have to renounce pleasure. The idea is simply to renounce the belief that if we gain or get rid of something, we will be happy and satisfied.
I've seen this happen so many times. People get obsessed with being “such a yogi”, as I like to call it. Just the same way they were obsessed with being such a successful banker or such an acclaimed scholar or such a skinny dancer. This is what human beings are like: We tend to go into the extreme, over and over. Balance, or health or wholeness, however, is about finding the middle path, over and over. And about loving yourself – as horribly cheesy as that sounds.
Balance is not static, it's dynamic. Like our body, it feels different every day. Every day we need something else to create balance. And on some days that might be a vigorous practice or a steak, on others it might be a light restorative session or just a light soup. The only trick, really, is to observe with honesty. And to have the Maitri, loving kindness for yourself, to give yourself what you truly need. And on some days, that might just be a beer to go with your pizza.
And, really, what's the pleasure of getting all clean and shiny if you can't get a bit dirty?
PS: And in case you were wondering... Yes, I am very much aware that beer and pizza are very much clashing with what you'd expect from a yogic blog. It is a form of self-therapy.