Playlist for Relaxing Gentle Yoga

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1. On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter

2. Stillness of Heart – Lenny Kravitz cover by Ohrwurm (youtube)

3. Breathe – Alexi Murdoch

4. All My Mistakes – The Avett Brothers

5. Diamonds – Ben Howard

6. Fucking Perfect (Instrumental) – Pink

7. Diamond in Disguise – Chance’s End

8. White as Diamonds – Alela Diane

9. I Better Be Quiet Now – Elliot Smith

10. The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel cover by Nouela

11. Wait it Out – Allie Moss

12. Lifeline – Steve Gold

13. Streamside – The Album Leaf

14. Singing Bowls High Quality Audio Meditation – DeVries010 (youtube)

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Cool Yoga Playlist (No Sitars, Not New Age)

Goddess Durga- Indian Goddess

I like to start my classes slow, heat up in the middle, and gradually wind down in preparation for savasana. This one-hour playlist reflects that rhythm, and I hope you enjoy it!

1. Articulate Silences Part 1 – Stars of the Lid

2. Nicest Thing (Instrumental) – Kate Nash

3. Boston – Augustana

4. I Think Ur a Contra – Vampire Weekend

5. Sky – Joshua Radin and Ingrid Michaelson

6. Chasing Pavements – Adele

7. I am the Highway – Audioslave

8. Apologies – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

9. Moonlight Mile – The Rolling Stones

10. Tiny Dancer – Elton John

11. Undertow – Ane Brun

12. Weightless – Marconi Union

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Compare and Despair: How to Stop Sizing Yourself Up Against Other People

cookies

When we come home for the holidays, many of us encounter family members and former classmates we do not see very often. We can’t help but look at their lives and compare them to our own.

Maybe you have a golden boy sibling for whom everything seems easy, or a childhood friend whose career and gorgeous offspring make you feel like a loser. Holiday homecoming, combined with end-of-year reflection, can make you size yourself up against others and, inevitably, find that you come up short.

If you want to stop the misery of comparing yourself to others, your first defense is to recognize how unfair it is. Because the only mind we can read is our own, we tend to pit the worst in ourselves against the best in other people, and we don’t stand a chance in the fight.

In order to compare two things, metrics are required. Ask yourself, what standards are you using for comparison? Financial stability? Life milestones achieved? Fitness level? Can you accurately measure these things in other people? When you break down the standards you are using, you will often find that they are superficial. Is your self-worth really determined by homeownership or marriage or being thin?

Everyone has different challenges and struggles, therefore the definition of success is different for everyone. We have to acknowledge our successes instead of discounting the good things in our lives because they aren’t as good as what other people have. When you catch yourself feeling crappy, remind yourself of something good that happened for you or that you did in 2014. There is inevitably something to be proud of, so recognize it!

If you had a pair of cookies on a plate from two different recipes, your experience would automatically turn from enjoying the treats as they are to comparing the two. It is human nature to perceive reality in terms of contrasts, so the best way to eliminate comparison is to eliminate the thing we are using for comparison. In other words, to eat the cookie and enjoy the cookie alone for what it is. This does not mean murdering your siblings and friends (even if that sounds appealing)—it means to view yourself as being on an independent journey, not a race. Compare yourself only to yourself.

Feelings of intense jealousy and inferiority are a problem of perception, so consider reframing the way you see other the successes of other people. Envy is often a side-effect of scarcity thinking: we unconsciously believe that there is only so much happiness to go around, and if someone else has found it that means there is less of it left for us. Try to remember that the world is full of great opportunities, and that there is plenty of happiness for everyone to have a piece. Whether or not you feel like your piece is big enough, know that the Grand Pie is bigger than you can imagine, and there is plenty left for you.

If feelings of low self-esteem persist, they are sometimes a signal that we have to change something in our lives. If you have a healthy attitude toward the successes of other people, but your dissatisfaction with yourself remains, take a look at whether a positive change is needed. Perhaps your feeling of not being good enough is a sign you should find a new career path, quit a self-destructive habit, or otherwise improve yourself. Practice rigorous self-honesty. Every day is an opportunity to become the person you want to be, whether it is simply your attitude that needs changing, or something more.

*Note: This post was commissioned by ChronicleMe, a new social media experience focused on anonymity, positivity, and community. Check it out at chronicleme.com

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Yoga Class Etiquette

yogaclass

Etiquette in yoga isn’t about being the primmest, properest, classiest broad in the room: it’s about being respectful of your teacher and your fellow students. Here are some general rules to follow in order to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable practice.

1. Consider the way you smell.

If you like to work out before yoga classes, it is okay to have a bit of a shine on and a slightly ripe smell. However, if your BO is so bad that it makes you wince when you sniff your pits, it would be nice for you to clean up a bit so that the other people around you aren’t distracted by your smell. Smelling bad is bad, but smelling “good” is sometimes worse. It is extremely rude to apply heavy perfume to yourself before a class. Consider the fact that other students may not like your perfume or may be sensitive or even allergic to it. Wash the areas where you wear your scent with soap and water before going to class.

2. Be on time.

Leave your house early if you have to! The beginning of a yoga class is a really special time. As the class warms up, everyone is quieting down to arrive fully on their mats and come into a good collective space to practice together. Coming late robs you of this time for yourself and distracts others for whom this time is important.

3. Turn off or silence your phone, and DON’T touch it for the duration of the class. 

Ringing phones have a nasty tendency to go off during savasana, just when people are entering the best part of their meditation. Turn yours off or silence it to prevent this from happening. Also, don’t handle or play with your phone during class. I once watched a woman in happy baby pose slip her phone from her purse and proceed to text someone. It was insanely rude, and you should have seen the incredulous expressions on the students with the bad fortune of practicing near her. Think of your yoga practice as a time to reduce the chaos of life to simply yourself and your breath, and enjoy a vacation from your device!

4. Don’t step on someone else’s mat.

During my teacher training I really angered a fellow student when I stepped on his mat. For a couple days I persisted in my belief that he was ridiculous and oversensitive, but when I brought it up with friends I learned that staying off the mats of others is common yoga etiquette. This is for basic hygiene reasons as well as because some people think of their mats as a portable sacred space. Because it takes very little effort to conform to this rule, simply follow it.

5. Don’t have conversations while class is going on.

I work primarily at YMCAs, and I love that people chat and enjoy community while they enter class and as they leave. I am very fortunate in that everyone seems to intuitively know to stop talking when class begins. However, there are occasionally disruptive conversations that pop up, and it is unfair to others who are trying to concentrate on their practice. Get all your chitchat done before class or save it for after– while practicing yoga, focus on doing that and that alone.

6. Leave the practice space as you found it.

Don’t leave tissues or empty water bottles around, and if you have dripped sweat on the floor, take the extra minute to clean it up. If you borrowed props like blocks or straps, put them back where they belong. You are not a baby, and you are responsible for your own messes. Hopefully, you are blissed-out from practicing and can approach the brief clean-up cheerfully.

7. Don’t make the teacher remind you to pay.

If you are in a class that costs money, it is kind of you to offer that money on your own rather than forcing the teacher to ask you for it. You know that you are there for a service, so pay for it willingly!

Being respectful of others and yourself in yoga is a great place to start, and, like many things in your yoga practice, has the potential to leak into your life and improve it.

Namaste, bitches.

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Mindfulness of Emotions, or, ARGH ALL THE FEELS!

emotions

Practicing mindfulness means being awake to life and non-judgmentally aware of experience. In this experience we find the vast array of emotions that comprise the feeling life of a human being. Some are pleasant, and we feel like we could mindfully bask in them all day. Some are not so pleasant, but if we apply mindfulness meditation techniques, we find that our emotions will not swallow or destroy us. We need not recoil from or reject them to find a sense of peace and freedom.

Michele McDonald, an accomplished Vipassana meditation teacher, developed a process for coping with feelings called RAIN: Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-identification. I love this acronym because I have always found it useful to think, in mindfulness practice, of all my experience as the weather against which I, the sky, remain still and never-changing.

1. Recognition

Naming the emotion is a powerful act: it corrals the feeling and cuts it into an appropriate size and shape. When we are able to point at something and give it a name, it is the first step in disentangling ourselves from its grasp. The part of our consciousness which does the naming becomes stronger, and it is the namer, not the emotion, that we need to connect with.

We ask with kind curiosity: What is this feeling? Loss? Anger? Fear? Despair? It is important to be honest with ourselves. At times, it is immediately obvious what we are feeling, but at other times we will be surprised when we apply clarity of language to our emotional state. Sometimes, what we thought was “shame” is more accurately “remorse,” and that clarification in itself is comforting. Sometimes, what we thought was “anxiety” is actually, upon investigation, “excitement.” In these cases, we have begin to make our emotions easier to cope with by simply naming them.

Murky or confusing feelings that resist being named at all will sometimes occur. When we don’t know what to call our emotion, there is no need to agonize over what, exactly, it is. We can simply name it, “discomfort” or “chaos,” or even more simply name it “feeling.”

2. Acceptance

The best way out is always through.

-Robert Frost

We cannot reject our emotions because we don’t like having them. We ARE having them, and therefore, the only way to find peace is to accept them absolutely as they are in this moment. Mindfulness practice is an “inside job,” and our minds are a safe place to acknowledge our truth– we must give ourselves permission to feel what we feel.

Let us say that a sibling or good friend is purchasing a home, and because you are not in a financial place to do so, you feel envious and angry. This is an instance where we may think we shouldn’t be feeling what we are feeling. We think we ought to be happy for them, so we turn from our true reaction because we think it indicates a character defect or that it means we are bad people. This rejection of emotion is self-destructive– rejecting something as bad doesn’t make it disappear! We must remember that in the safety of mindfulness and meditation, we not only have permission to emote honestly, we have a responsibility to do so. We don’t need to have a good and just reason for our feelings.

Even when our emotions are easily justifiable, it can still be uncomfortable to sit with them. Anger is a good example of this because it is a feeling that we like to express physically in order to get out of sitting with it. We like to yell or exercise or hit something or overeat or drink alcohol, and the last thing we want to do is mindfully hold the feeling in our awareness. It is as though we are trying to physically push the feeling out of us– we don’t like it, and so it must go!

In these and all cases, we have to move into a place of acceptance: “I feel X and how interesting it is. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is.”

3. Investigation

Investigation does NOT mean getting wrapped up in the story of why we are feeling what we are feeling. If we are sitting with sadness, we do not silently build a case for why we are sad. Instead, we turn our attention to the present-moment experience of having the emotion. Compassionate curiosity is the attitude: how do I know I am feeling sad? What signals indicate to me that I am sad?

As Rocky’s coach Mick Goldmill would say, “Go to the body!” Search for physical manifestations of the feeling and explore sensations in the body. Sadness might manifest as a heaviness in the limbs or heart, anxiety as tension in the neck and back, or fear as heat in the chest. We may be surprised what we discover when we look for how emotions express themselves in our flesh.

The strategy of going to the body is meant to anchor us in the present moment and quiet the inner narrator who is constantly chatting with us about the past experience that led to this emotion and what future things will be affected by it. Stay in the body and stay with the breath– the inner narrator will recede and get quieter with practice.

4. Non-identification

Feeling something does not mean we are that thing. There is a difference between feeling depressed and being depressed, between, “I am experiencing sadness” and “I am a sad person.”

When we are entangled with an emotion, there is almost always some aspect of identification with it, a feeling of “I, me, or mine,” or identification with the story that is associated with it.

-Andrea Fella

Having recognized, accepted, and investigated our feeling(s), we are able to step back and not to mistake emotion as being part of us but rather as an experience we are having. We need to remember that we are not the feeling: we are the human being having the feeling.

If we can only experience serenity when we feel good, we will be constantly diving in and out of it, with even our serene moments colored by the knowledge that the next unpleasant feeling will take it from us. Mindfulness of emotions teaches us that our feelings, good and bad, simply exist and pass, like an internal rainstorm, and we can be peaceful and free no matter what the weather.

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Mindful Eating Exercise: The Ecstasy of A Single Grape

grape

“Mindful eating” sounds good, but how is it done, and through what practice can we hone our skill at it? Below, you will find an exercise during which you will consume a single grape with radical slowness and clarity. By performing the exercise, you can touch the experience of eating as never before, re-enchant the process, and bring more mindfulness into your relationship with food and the act of consuming it. I encourage you to try this at least once– the entire practice takes about 10 minutes.

1. Find a comfortable seat at a table or on the floor. If at a table, place a grape on a plate or napkin before you. If on the floor, place a grape on a plate or napkin on your lap.

2. Close your eyes and take at least three calming breaths. Imagine that as you exhale, you are releasing the events of the day so far and your expectations of the rest of the day. Feel like you are arriving in the moment.

3. Look down at the grape and consider its origin.

Some time ago, someone planted a grape seed. That grape seed began to sprout, and it grew into a vine. There was soil, sun, rain, and water, and perhaps fertilizer; thee were humans who tended to the vine. The vine grew and grew, and ultimately it began to sprout fruit. Then someone came along and cut the vine, whose grapes may have been packaged at that point, wrapped in plastic, loaded on trucks, and driven to supermarkets where you purchased them. There are many secondary connections to reflect on… all of the humans involved in the process. There were people who tended, people who harvested, people who drove the trucks. And we don’t know the circumstances under which the farmworkers lived and worked; perhaps their lives were quite difficult. 

We do know that each person had a set of parents. Their parents had parents, and their parents had parents, and so on. And each person was clothes and fed and ate countless amounts of food. Where did that food come from? Let your mind roam and imagine the answer to this question. The truck, for instance, where did that come from? Oil and metal and plastic and glass. How about the roads the truck drove on to cart the grapes to market? Who tarred, cemented, and paved theose roads? Let your mind consider this.

-Susan Smalley & Diana Winston, “Is Mindfulness for You?”

4. Redirect your attention to how you are feeling in this moment. Close your eyes and perform a brief body scan, noticing any physical sensations without labeling them as positive or negative. Notice what is going on in your thoughts and emotions: desire, hunger, appreciation, fatigue? Simply check in with yourself.

5. Pick up a grape and hold it either in the palm or between two fingers. Open your eyes and gaze at it. Try to see the grape as a child might upon seeing a grape for the first time. Or, you could imagine that you are an alien and have never before seen a grape. See the grape with HD clarity: the way it reflects light, its color, the indentation where the stem once was, any imperfections or patterns or variations in coloration.

6. Close your eyes again and focus on your sense of touch. Turn the grape in your hands and note the temperature of the fruit, its texture, shape, the springiness of the fruit’s flesh.

7. Now focus on your sense of smell. Hold the grape up to your nose and take in the aroma that comes off the grape. Notice if the smell provokes any sensation in your mind or body.

8. With your eyes open, bring the grape to your mouth. Notice how the motion is intuitive, how the arm and hand and mouth work in unison to bring the grape to your lips. Move the grape across your lips, sensing it, feeling the shape and touch of it. Then, put the grape into your mouth. Hold it on your tongue without chewing, rolling it around in your mouth and noticing the sensations. Explore the grape with your tongue.

9. Now direct your attention to your sense of taste. Remember that you do not necessarily have to think about something in order to experience it.

When you are ready, prepare to chew… noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the object itself.

-Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness

10. Notice when the impulse to swallow arises and let yourself experience the desire to do so for a moment before you actually swallow. Then, swallow. Pay attention to the movement in the tongue and back of the mouth as you allow the grape to move deeper into the mouth and down the throat. Notice any sensations in the neck and throat past where you have voluntary control of the muscles.

11. Sit quietly for a moment, noticing whether you feel any changes in the sensations of the stomach or in the mind because of your knowledge that the grape is inside you. Scan the body and mind with kind curiosity, and notice any thoughts or feelings that are there.

12. Reflect on the experience and consider how slowing down to eat more mindfully might benefit your interactions with food and your overall health.

Although it is not appealing or even really feasible to apply this technique to all our meals, there are elements of the exercise that you can bring to every interaction you have with food. Imagine if you were really in touch with your body and its needs: imagine that when you ate you were so acutely present while doing so that you derived deep, real satisfaction from eating. Many of us enter the kitchen and begin to mindlessly throw food at a vague feeling of emptiness inside us. What if you could slow down long enough to plug into what you are really hungry for and then enjoy the satisfaction that comes from having it?

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Gratitude Gratitude Gratitude

thanksgiving

I am turning 29 next week, and birthdays have always been for me a time to size up where I am in life and whether I have achieved enough. It is good and natural to be ambitious, but when looking at what’s ahead comes at the expense of what is now, it is a serious impediment to happiness. I have been known to occasionally scroll through my FB feed, torturing myself by sizing up how I am doing against others my age. This is when I need to remember gratitude, to hold it close to me and practice it.

The fact is that happy people do not necessarily have what they want: they want what they have. The best thing we can do in our search for happiness is not to seek it in goal-setting but to find it exactly where we are and with what we have today.

Gratitude is a matter of attention, a direction of our focus toward all the wonderful things in our lives. We should release our discontent and cultivate contentment by acknowledging all the comforts in our lives, all the friends and family who love and support us, all the fortune we have worked to earn or simply stumbled upon. Let us become aware of all that we have to be grateful for, and in doing so let us feel more satisfaction and peace with the way things are for us at this moment.

When we focus on those things and situations we think we need to be happy instead of focusing on what is good in the present, we live in a fantasy world and become restless machines of yearning. With our thoughts, we make our world, so we need to choose our thoughts to make a world that is joyful and comfortable. When we are able to be grateful in our thinking, to hone in on the good, we transform our interior world into one where this moment is a wonderful moment, and everything in it is just right.

Today I will take the time to meditate on the positive in my relationships and circumstances. In the quiet of my mind, I will imagine gratitude as a soft, warm light I can shine on everything in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

turkeyfinishedbowl

My family could not all be together on Thursday, so we celebrated with a traditional turkey on Saturday night. Afterward, I took home the carcass and made this delicious soup. It is a great way to make sure that nothing on your table goes to waste. Making the most of your Thanksgiving leftovers fits nicely into the spirit of Thanksgiving: gratitude for what you have. When what you have is the remains of a tasty bird, you can transform it into this rich, soulful soup. The recipe below makes 10 servings. It stays good for up to 4 days in the fridge and up to 4 months in the freezer.

Ingredients:

turkey carcass

1 or 2 bay leaves

5 carrots

5 stalks celery

1 1/2 onions

bunch of kale

1/4 teaspoon each dried thyme, marjoram, sage, and rosemary

teaspoon fresh rosemary or 1/3 teaspoon dry

cup wild rice blend

7 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon white flour

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups half and half

zest of 1 lemon

Carcass is an ugly word, but it's fitting.

Carcass is an ugly word, but it’s fitting.

turkeystockpot

Break up the carcass and place in large stock pot. Add 1 or 2 bay leaves, 1/2 an onion, a stalk of celery, and a carrot. Fill with water and boil for one hour.

This step is only for heavy metal home cooks: remove carcass with tongs, let cool for a few moments, then pick off bits of meat by hand. Once bones are stripped, bang them with a meat tenderizer and return to stock pot.

This step is optional– for heavy metal home cooks only. Remove carcass with tongs, let cool for a few moments, then pick off bits of meat by hand.

I filled a whole cereal bowl with meat picked off the carcass!

I filled a whole cereal bowl with meat picked off the carcass! Once you have stripped the bones of meat, return them to the stock pot and simmer for 3+ hours.

Strain the stock and discard bones and veggies.

Then, strain the stock and discard bones and veggies.

Put the strained stock back on the stove and add some spices.

Put the strained stock back on the stove and add some spices. Also add whatever meat you were able to pick off the bones.

wildrice

Add wild rice blend.

turkeyaromatics

Gather up the rest of your aromatics.

Chop 'em up.

Chop ‘em up. Put them in your soup.

Chop some kale too.

Chop some kale too and add to soup.

Melt butter in saucepan and whisk in flour, stirring constantly to make roux.

Now time to make roux. Melt butter in a separate saucepan and whisk in flour, stirring constantly.

Add milk gradually.

Add milk gradually.

It will get gooey and brown.

It will get gooey and brown. Add it to your soup and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Simmer for a few minutes as the soup thickens.

Add the zest of a lemon. It will help cut the creaminess of the soup and add brightness to the flavor.

Add the zest of a lemon. It will help cut the creaminess of the soup and add brightness. You can let the soup simmer awhile if your rice isn’t soft yet. 

turkey2inbowlwithspoon

turkey2inbowl

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7 Obstacles to Meditation and How to Overcome Them

ganeshasand

1. Feeling Like We Have Other, More Important Things to Do

If we have carved out the time in our day to meditate, we have nowhere else to be and nothing else to be doing in that moment. However, the mind will trick us into thinking otherwise. We are so addicted to productive activity that we think we need to be DO things in order to BE someone. We need to remind ourselves that is okay to just be. We also need to remember that our meditation is valuable. It is important—just as important as any other task we will accomplish today.

2. Taking Ourselves too Seriously

As stated above, meditation is valuable and important, but it must not be taken too seriously. Lighten up! If we approach the practice with a somber and studious attitude, we risk squelching the kindness and non-attachment that is essential to successful meditation. When you notice yourself being rigid and overly serious, subtly turn up the corners of your mouth and bring a touch of ease and lightness to your attitude.

3. Physical Discomfort or Pain

Sitting can be uncomfortable, and in the absence of distractions, that discomfort is amplified by the mind. We need to get clear about the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort while sitting is not the worst thing in the world, and many of us need to develop “sitting muscles,” greater strength through the psoas, core body, back, and shoulders. Be rigorously honest with yourself about whether you are experiencing discomfort or pain. A bit of physical discomfort is normal and welcome, but pain is a different matter and should be addressed. Perhaps we need to sit in a chair instead of on the floor or to sit against a wall instead of supporting our torso alone. Although laying down is NOT recommended, those of us with medical conditions might consider doing so as long as they are hyper-vigilant about staying awake.

4. Boredom and Restlessness

Impatience and anxiety are great examples of the mind creating drama and problems where there are none. When we feel restless, we should meditate on the restless feelings and watch them with an awareness that is kind, nonjudgmental, and curious. We must not berate ourselves for feeling what we feel, but rather observe ourselves with mindfulness. We must accept our thoughts and feelings completely as they are in this moment, stepping back to watch them with magnanimous impartiality. Then, we gently shift our awareness back to the breath.

5. Really Weird Thoughts

As we are sitting quietly, we may have random thoughts that are just plain strange. They seem to come out of left field. Sometimes they are creative, sometimes they are upsetting, sometimes they are even perverse. If you encounter a weird thought, note the fact that you are perceiving it as weird or strange or unwelcome. Consider the mind’s compulsive value labeling, its need to hang judgment tags on everything. As above, see if you can step back from the thought and observe it without judgment, then bring your attention back to the breath.

6. Sleepiness

Unfortunately, many of us have an on/off switch. We find that we are either in the mode of being hyperproductive and busy or that we are switched off: limp on the couch in front of a television or snoozing away the day’s chaos. In meditation, we are searching for the in-between, a state that is both alert and relaxed. If we are truly fatigued, perhaps we decide that muscling through a sit would be counterproductive, and we need to show ourselves kindness and wait until we are better rested. If we think we can endure. adjusting our carriage is an option, perhaps rolling the shoulders back and sitting up straighter or else adjusting our sitting position to be a little less comfortable. We can also deepen the breath, exaggerating it to oxygenize and energize. We can choose to open our eyes and softly, with an unfocused gaze, keep them open for the duration of our sit.

7. Focusing on Results

We have to stop focusing on lofty outcomes like bliss or supernatural absence of all thought. If we think about and are motivated by what we think the results of our meditation should be, we are in danger of approaching meditation like a frowning A-student filling out a Scantron test. We will take the joy out of the journey. We have to remember that the goal of mindfulness meditation is not to change our thoughts, feelings, and sensations but to change our attitude toward them. All you have to do to be successful is to be present and to choose to continually return your attention to the moment.

Do not let your difficulties with meditation sway you from practicing, but rather look at your difficulties with kind curiosity and consider them to be part of your practice. Anyone can meditate, and that means you!

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Mindful Eating Means Never Dieting Again

bagel

Multigrain bagel with cream cheese and halved grape tomatoes.

Although it is normally rude to comment on people’s bodies and ask them what they eat, as a yoga teacher I am often the subject of such remarks and questions. When my figure is complimented, I say thank you and give all the credit to a robust yoga practice and occasional high-incline strolls on a treadmill. As for my diet, I try to be honest with students about my eating habits without seeming too preachy.

The truth is that I eat whatever I want. But that doesn’t mean what you think it means. 

It doesn’t mean that I constantly gorge myself on rich treats because I am gifted the metabolism of a hummingbird.

What it means is that I am in touch with what I truly want, and because I am in touch with my real cravings, I need not fear them. That is mindfulness in action.  I have filled this post with photos of everything I ate in one day, but it is not the food itself that matters: it is the mindfulness with which I approached my food choices.

appleandalmonds

Honeycrisp apple with handful of oven-roasted, salted almonds.

To those of us who have ever felt compulsive around food (myself included!), the idea that we should eat whatever we want is frightening. We think that, given free reign of all the food available to us, we would surely eat ourselves into obesity and premature death. Regimented diets and food plans are perceived protections from ourselves, disciplines to corral the ugly glutton within.  When we go on a diet, we are saying to ourselves, I cannot trust my hunger. If my relationship with food were not managed by rules, I would go crazy with food.

Deprivation reinforces this negative idea: it generates craving and makes our fear of food freedom worse. When we are hungry, denying ourselves, we create a pattern of withholding and indulgence. We are “good” until we can no longer bear it, then we are “bad.” Because we are deprived, when we give in and are “bad,” we tend to grossly overeat or to consume extremely rich food that we know doesn’t nourish us. We then interpret this pattern as proof that we cannot trust our desires.

veggieskillet

Broccoli, carrots, yellow onion, and jalapeno peppers sauteed in safflower oil.

I started dieting at the age of fourteen and have tried countless diets, including some that qualify as eating disorders. For me, interacting with food has often been embattled, and the only solution that works for me is to give up the fight completely: surrender to win. I do this by making mindfulness the operating principle of my diet.  Mindfulness can be defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. By slowing down and becoming acutely aware of myself and my needs, I have been able to find the calm and rational voice within- a voice I can trust absolutely.

crackers

Raisins and saltines.

Beginning to practice mindfulness means developing a quality of awareness that is radically nonjudgmental and compassionate. If we have struggled with food at all in the past, this is a revelation. The fact is that when we are able to slow down and become quiet enough to listen to our bodies, we start to distinguish emotional needs from food needs. Often, I find that what appears to be a craving for Cheetoes in front of the television is actually loneliness, or that an impulse to skip a meal on a busy day is anxiety disguised. Practicing mindfulness, we will find that what we really want to eat actually supports our health. We have been fighting food for so long that we have forgotten the body’s evolutionary wiring to survive: the body  wants to be nourished, and it craves nourishing food. We simply need to become mindful enough to hear what it is asking for.

steakandmashedyams

Mashed sweet potato, sirloin steak, and fresh parsley.

Before I eat, I get quiet and become aware of the physical sensation of hunger, the longing on my tongue. I consider what I know about good nutrition and balance it with what I am craving. I consider the food options in front of me and think about how each option will make me feel. Then, I make a decision on what to eat. It is that simple. When I first started practicing this, I occasionally agonized over choices, but as time has gone on I draw on my inner wisdom and find that I have quicker and quicker access to what will satisfy my body, mind, and spirit.

Two books that helped me develop these ideas and habits were Susan Kano’s Making Peace with Food and Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God.  I would highly recommend these for people who want to free themselves from obsession with food, body, and weight.

chocolate

Chocolate!

What do you think of mindful eating? Are you afraid of what would happen if you slowed down and simply ate what you wanted to?

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