Saturday, February 11, 2006

Yoga, intention, and trying not to diet

One of the reasons I got involved in Ayurveda is because of its connection to yoga -- I had thought it was an extension of yoga, but it's actually the other way around: yoga is an arm of Ayurveda.

I started yoga because I needed to get flexible and strong, having been unathletic and physically stiff most of my life. Bit by bit I am getting stronger (I can do a handstand!) and more flexible (my left foot can almost reach behind my head). But the yoga classes I used to go to too closely resembled aerobics. It got quietly self-competitive, everyone started wearing Lululemon, and it even got a bit clique-ish. Personally I didn't want to sweat and get muscle burn every time I went to a vinyasa class. And it was too easy to get obsessive and have it start becoming a body issue thing. I'm convinced that for many urban yogis, this practice is a massage of our vanity, or a perpetuation of our control issues and/or exercise abuse (if there's such a term).

Luckily I somehow came across Ayurveda, and it became so clear that this yoga craze is facile, superficial and misguided despite its feel-good reputation. And it wasn't just because of an article on a disco yoga fad in L.A. (No joke.) Learning that Ayurveda explains mind-body characteristics in a categorized way made me feel... understood. I realized there was a reason for my constitution -- why I had certain medical problems and digestive discomfort and stiffness in my joints and why I hated sweating and straining in over-exertive yoga classes. It all made sense, it was okay for me to be the way I was, and it didn't matter if I couldn't explain myself to someone, because I actually fit in the grand scheme of Nature. I could just go with my flow instead of fight my nature and try to change who I was. At the same time, I began to understand what really was an "imbalance" in my mind or body, and what I could do to feel better.

So, I stopped going to yoga classes and now set up my room every night and do the postures and movements that I need, not what Madonna does to get those muscles (I'm positive she's a Pitta anyway so it's easier for her to get so toned...). I try to focus a bit more than before on what yoga is doing for my spirit and my state of mind. Inevitably, every night I feel a thankfulness that springs from this ritual. I almost feel like I'm getting closer to finding my religion.

I find that my challenge is to try to pull away from the material details around us (does it really matter if I didn't mop the bathroom before guests came for dinner?) and open my mind to the big picture. And I really feel how challenging this is when it comes to food. I know how I should approach food, but in practice it's very complicated for me. Over Christmas I had on average 4 chocolate truffles a day. And some straight-up spoonfuls of peanut butter. And okay, at least one if not two fresh warm croissants. And fries, or take-out, or pizza -- and this is daily! For a party I had, I planned what pants to wear, and when it was time to get dressed, they did not fit -- not by a LONG SHOT. For the first time since my very disordered eating as a teen... I weighed myself. 15 pounds up, out of nowhere. And now I'm determined to lose weight.

And the challenge peaks: lose weight? Diet? That's as polluted a mind-set as doing yoga to look hot! I've tasted "thin-ish" for a year, and now hate myself for getting flabby and feeling tight in my pants. This is where I struggle, to stop the self-hatred. To still accept myself, not judge, not shake my head in shame and disappointment as I towel off after my morning shower. Even my new-found knowledge of Ayurveda and all its guidance feels at a discord with my will or action.

But, this is the load I've been given to bear. It's quite light compared to most I'm sure. Food is my addiction, and it stems from some mental, emotional, spiritual disharmony. So I struggle upward with my challenges. I'm not going to stop just because it's hard. (Yes, I do have a mild martyr complex but maybe it'll work in my favour in this case.) I've already discovered that I actually need much less food to feel satiated than I once thought -- about half as much, really. I've discovered that eating junk leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and eating greens and red lentils and spices makes me happy. Green chai in the morning doesn't make me crabby or headachey like coffee does. Sometimes I'm not hungry at lunch or dinner so I don't need to eat just because of the clock. But it's also become clear to me that, hungry or not, I won't stop eating until my plate, my husband's plate, and the serving plates, are empty and licked clean. That is a little psychotic part of me. But I think I'll overcome even this in time. I'm on a path. I need to discard the scabs and armour and uncover the true me, perhaps find a pre-body me that has existed for millenia in fragments around the universe before there were weight scales or nanaimo bars or addictions or social expectations.

It sounds like it would be a very free me.

15 comments:

Because of B said...

so would you happen to be a vegetarian too?:)

Frannie said...

"Mostly". I used to be a cheese addict but then I found that at heart I am vegan. But a year or so ago my naturopath instructed me to include some animal protein in my diet for health purposes, so... I am vegan out of love and principle, but temporarily with an omnivore diet.

DMerk said...

I like your sincerity! I too got frustrated with some aspects of a yoga class--much prefer to do it on my own (but often fall off the wagon without a class to go to). Any books you can recommend for learning the best poses for your type? I had been doing Kundalini yoga, which I like, but classes can get kinda cult-y. I was inspired to look up my dosha (Vata) and it is a relief to see yourself described somewhere!

Frannie said...

Thanks for your appreciation! I completely relate to what you're saying. And yeah, it can be a challenge to do yoga regularly on your own, but making it a solid routine makes it easier (and Vatas really benefit from daily routines, btw!). This website has some specific poses for Vatas and our particular ailments. As for books, I myself am searching for one that guides our yoga practice based on Ayurvedic principles. I'll be sure to post it once I find it!

kat said...

I'm lucky to have found a great (and non-competitive/new-agey) yoga class that I go to every week, and at my gym, no less! I struggled with continuing to practice on my own time though. I've found two great resources.

One is a show that airs on Citytv on Saturday and Sunday mornings (I tape it) called Namaste. It has a website @ www.namaste.tv and is filmed in the Vancouver area. The other resource is Rodney Yee's book "Moving Towards Balance". It's an 8 week program to help you learn how to do your own home practice, and slowly move through and build on each posture. It's very detailed and helpful!

jim said...

Very brave and candid of you to talk about these things, Claudia...

One of the reasons I felt like yoga was for me was when I realized that I wasn't thinking any more about my weight. It used to be this thing that I thought about a couple of times a week, but now that I have a regular physical routine I don't really care any more. I'm not losing weight, but to me it isn't about that extra 10-20 pounds: it's that I resented having to waste mental energy thinking about something I don't consider worth stressing about. When I get caught up in this cycle I get twice the dose of self-loathing: I don't like how I look but I shouldn't care that much about how I look but I don't like how I look... So I'm pretty happy that I've found a physical activity that works to shut down that cycle.

Frannie said...

Thanks, Jim. For me, starting yoga was also a great influence and both helps put things in perspective when it comes to mind and body (and universe), but also can be cliquish. Maybe I'm giving certain groups too much power over my views, come to think of it. Hmm...

Mel said...

Claudia, I love your post. It's very inspired and inspiring. And I second Jim - very brave and very valuable.

I gave up on yoga because I wasn't digging the energy around me (a lot of competitive, materialistic, eating disordered girlies with designer clothing were dominating the classes I attended ... even at the more traditional studios). People say "just ignore it" and stuff like that but, honestly, that's like telling me not to be bothered by the advertising on subway cars. Sure, you can get used to anything. I prefer not to get used to, or deal with certain things. I suppose I also wasn't prepared to search to the ends of the earth to find a place free of the boga vibe. I wrote a long post (which this comment links to) about some of my problems with all of it. But I applaud those of you who love it enough to stick it out or who are disciplined enough to just do it at home (I never got that far ... ).

What you say about body image and motivation really strikes a chord with me right now. There are a lot of truly toxic reasons to lose weight, all of which currently connect to a sexist, self-hating beauty ideal that requires us to make our bodies do the opposite of what they naturally do - to flatten our bellies, tighten our asses and firm up all those other giggling girly parts that nature intended. Why? Think about what bodies have no ass, no hips, no thighs ... male bodies. Add a pair of super huge breasts and you've got a super hero. Seriously. The current "ideal" is actually a man's body with tits. Except certain cultures where having a booty, especially a big one, is desired and adored.

After a year of building my base as a runner I'm finding I need strong motivation for my longer and more challenging runs. In running, there is a similar kind of problem as you see in the yoga studios and it stems from not respecting the foundation of the sport/practice. You've got these egocentric people who show up to a half or full marathon clinic who've never run before and who disrespect the training that has to happen before you step up to those kinds of goals. Successories types I call them. They don't respect the fact that you need more than a year's base of steady running before embarking on the big goals. For them, it's not about running but some weirdo competitive goal (i.e., I "must" do a marathon). It's like people who talk about writing a novel but haven't even written a single story ... they don't respect the craft, the paying of dues or the form itself. They're just about the "idea" of a thing (not the thing itself). It gets me thinking about authentic versus inathentic motivation. By authentic motivation I mean something that is based on genuine inspirations rather than empty ideals.

As I've moved up from learning to run through 5K to 10K and now half marathon training I've learned to respect the difficulty of what it is I'm engaging in and the mental and physical demands of endurance sport. I've met a lot of different kinds of runners. I've met the corporate types who just want to win for winning's sake. Turkeys who must be at the front, who need to be the fastest and have the most expensive gear (they're also, unsurprisingly, the ones who suffer the highest rate of critical injury). But I've also met a whole other breed of runners who run for running's sake. Who truly love running! They're the most supportive runners, too. They're there for you when you need some kick in the ass. They're there at the end with a high five or a hug. They're the ones who don't care about their time so much as whether they "finished well" (that means ending a race with a smile on your face). There's a kind of zen there, an authentic heart, that is absent from the former runners trip. These are the ones who end up doing ultra marathons. Who get mystical about running. I think there is a connection there with the true heart of yoga.

So when you get to that place, that authentic place, it is no longer about "being the best" or "being hot" or "getting skinny" ... it's about the thing itself. That's when you start opening up to more authentic motivation. Like world peace or social justice or something. If you're going to do something and put your heart into it you quickly realise what's empty and that materialistic goals will always fail you. Because they're not real. Because they lack substance. So if somebody asks me what motivates me I tell them I'm running for medicare. I'm running for social justice. I'm running for things that are personally meaningful - not being "better" than other people ... or having a tigher booty. That stuff is jive. It's poison.

[you can delete the other comment!]

Frannie said...

Mel, that's exactly it. I have no experience in running, but knowing you and from your description and experiences with running and yoga it sounds like we're coming into similar frames of mind and body. Social influences aside, I feel that the reason I am dissatisfied with my physique is a result of eating issues, which is the result of needing to be "fed" and loved (not to sound super cheezy), but it's true. It roots back to old issues of lack of nurturing and security, which lead to having food as comfort. Which is why I say it's my lot in life to get past these things that have a subliminal hold on the way I function, so I continue on the path of getting to the root of it, discarding the muck that is holding me down, and reach a more zen frame of mind.

Mel said...

I understand what you're saying Claudia. I have similar issues sometimes with food but just as frequently I think about food as a part of pleasure. If you're at all sensual, food is part of the experience of being human. Being alive. Perhaps we just need to find a happy medium between what's going on in our heads, senses and bellies ;-)

Sharon said...

most sincere thanks for posting this :)

Michelle said...

Finally I feel like someone is speaking what is in my mind. I too have gained 15lbs post-Christmas/break-up. It's a mental thing. I am a pitta..so I need to start balancing myself out a bit. Thank you so much for writing this...it spoke straight to me.

~Michelle

ohh said...

awwww, thanks so much for writing this. it's exactly what i'm going through at the moment, with all the uncomfortable details. so happy i found your blog.

i'm slowly but surely understanding, that i've got it all wrong - i've been mad at my own body for being out of shape, and grounding it (i'll go out when i'm thinner, i'll go for a run when i look good in tight-fitting clothes) because of that..which doesn't make any sense - i should be treating my body with respect and care for it (it didn't choose the lazy-ass soul, that i am), instead of being angry at it, for not responding too well to what i put into my poor body.

the thing is, my food choices are very healthy, i'm vegetarian by choice and avoiding dairy due to lactose intolerance, but i am NEVER full for longer than half an hour.
i can't stop being hungry all the time, so even if it is all ultra-tasty, state-of-the-art organic veggies-grains-legumes-etc stuff that i'm eating, my food's proportions are way beyond what my body actually needs... and that's what i'm trying to figure out at the moment - why it's so hard for me to eat less, and less often, too.

fasting for a day always sounds like an excellent idea to restart my eating habits, but then the morning comes and i'm starving and i can't focus on any of my daily tasks, since there's only one thought pounding in my head: "just..one..apple....or..a..whole wheat-tomato...sandwich.. they're healthy and better for my bodyyy than starvation..". and then one more, and a few more, and so it all goes again.

then there's always a buffet lunch at work, so portion control goes out of control at noon, and at dinner time, it's "ah, what the heck, today's plan of balanced eating is screwed anyway" time.

i've signed up for a very nice-sounding body & mind week-long camp with fixed meals and lots of yoga in the countryside, so that's what i'm putting my hopes on at the moment... but that's 3 long months away, and i really feel i want to be happy in my body sooner..it's only 5kg, that prevent me from going out and enjoying life due to my damn insecurity.
kilos piled up after i've quit smoking - i was slim and happy before, so that's why it's pretty much impossible to accept my changed body.

uh. that's probably the longest comment i've ever written to a blogpost:) feels liberating.
i'll follow your blog from now on, you seem to be onto some solid truths:)..inspiration is something everybody needs from time to time.

Jenny said...

Fran - I'm so glad I found your site - you sound just like me! I had a lot of disordered eating problems and now I am struggling to calm my mind and heal my body. It's so true though that I can't ever bear to waste food! Good luck with everything.

Jess said...

This blog is really a gem! You have summed up my own eating and weight issues so well in this post, but it's what you've mentioned about authentic and inauthentic that intrigues me most.

I am facing 30 and am finding that I am all out of whack physically and spiritually. I've just learned about the Ayervedic "diet" and this blog is truly informative.

Thanks Fran!