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Every year, right after New Year’s, I am caught up in a flurry of activity. People are interested in working on their New Year’s resolution—which is to lose weight and be healthier this year.
Of course, it is best if we are always as healthy as possible. But New Year’s does seem to be a good time to start something. We’ve seen our friends and family over the holidays, so this month we have fewer social obligations. At the office, sweets are not in front of us at every turn. The frantic holiday energy on the street has calmed down, allowing us to focus inward.
So how to start? A cleanse? A radical change in diet? Get up at 4 am for a three-hour workout? These measures are probably a bit extreme, and often lead to a short burst of adherence, followed by a return to old behaviors.
I suggest we all (new to this practice or not) focus on the joy in our practice.
If you are new to yoga, you are in for a treat—find a brief time (20 minutes or so) daily to do a stress-relieving practice. If done in a light, easy, not-too-serious way, you will experience great joy.
If you already practice, re-evaluate what you like about it. Go to classes or do sequences that leave you feeling energized and happy. Remember your beginner’s mind, and swim in the positive and peaceful feelings that your practice brings.
Extend this joyful practice to eating. Relish and enjoy the daily foods in your life. Take a small amount of time to contemplate how food enhances your life. Notice the complex and interesting flavors of your favorite foods. Allow the experience of eating to be fun. I was reminded of this while eating clementines recently. What sweet could be better?
If our resolutions include these joyful practices, the more challenging aspects of our lives will be balanced—and where there is balance, there is peace.
May we all be free and happy this year.
Yoga is compassion, love, and acceptance. In asana we accept our strengths and limitations in the pose. This attitude brings peace to our mind, body, and spirit.
With a little effort, skill, and luck, this practice extends from the yoga mat to our wider life and our interactions with the people around us. We accept our own behaviors, and the behaviors of those around us. Things get easier.
These thoughts occurred to me while eating my fifth gingerbread maple cookie at a party this weekend. It really was the best cookie I’ve had in years. I was thoroughly enjoying it. But as I looked around the room and met eyes with a weight loss client of mine, I had a sudden pang. Maybe I shouldn’t be eating this cookie? Self-doubt crept in.
It then occcured to me that the guilt was a cover-up—a pattern I’d seen before. It was easier to feel guilty than to fully embrace the moment, and enjoy my cookie! Could I just accept this moment for what it was and enjoy myself? Eat my cookie and move on? The answer was yes. I woke up the next morning and did my practice. Not an ounce heavier—physically or mentally—than the day before.
My holiday message is this: love yourself, enjoy yourself, and accept yourself. Let old habits go and enjoy the food, parties, family, shopping, etc… that are part of this season. Acknowledge that you will eat and practice a bit differently than at other times of the year. Be present, and you will know if you are practicing in a way that brings you joy and peace.
My annual charity appeal: Doctors Without Borders delivers medical care to those in need in really difficult situations. They go places where there is often no one else to help. If you can, please drop them few bucks this holiday season.
Loka samasta sukino bhavantu
May all beings be free.
What poses are best for weight loss? This is a question I am asked constantly. The answer is always the same: What pose or poses do you need to do to feel better?
Can it really be that simple? Yes. The foundation of our system is a practice that leaves us feeling less stressed – physically and mentally – and more energized. We are interested in “building” prana (energy). Stress reduces our energy. Forget targeting poses for weight loss – you’re on the wrong track. The mind IS the body. As we bring the mind into balance, our body naturally follows.
So, does this mean one should never do anything physically strenuous? No! In fact, that may be just the thing to bring you into balance. Discriminating between laziness and the need to take things slow and regenerate is a great point of practice.
Other times may find you reaching to do rounds and rounds of sun salutes to catch up with your sprinting mind. Ideally, your practice will change day to day, week to week, and leave you feeling peaceful and energized.
So, what poses should you do today? You tell me!
Dieting is restriction – Yoga is opening.
Our practice brings us into contact with the openness which is our nature. Unconscious eating is unhealthy eating. Unhealthy eating is eating in a way that restricts us. It slows us down, decreases our natural tendency toward positive contact with others. When we eat in a way that is healthy for us, we feel more in harmony with nature and those around us. Neurotic and destructive tendencies lessen. Our ability to be productive without exhaustion increases.
So it may be necessary to change the way you are currently eating to feel these results. Is this a diet? No, because once these effects are experienced, the connection between food and this openness is established. Then there is no need to restrict. Your desires will be in line with what is “good” for you.
Begin this practice today. Ask yourself: what do I really want to eat? Allow yourself to receive the answer without judgement. If it’s tomatoes – just eat tomatoes. If it’s cake – have cake. As you become more used to this practice you will be very surprised at the results.
Things take care of themselves… …when we participate.
Healing, peace and happiness are available to all of us. We naturally gravitate toward them when we partipiate in our own unique lives. Occasionally (or often!) we get distracted and drift away from our NORMAL state of peace.
Our body is a tool to help us stay with our life—to participate in it as much as possible. The simple act of watching your breath move in and out of your body will bring you back to the present—to this place of healing and happiness.
We engage in yoga practice to participate more fully in our life. To start our day with easeful, life-affirming movement is in keeping with our natural state of balance. The more we experience this, the more we do what is natural to our body and mind. Movements become more graceful and natural—food choices become more simple and healthful. We experience a state of “just being” and things (like excess weight or insomnia) begin to drift away and take care of themselves.
So NOT doing your yoga is not being yourself. To do your yoga is to allow yourself to be you. Food for thought…
Different and new points of view are great—they help us break out of old, unproductive patterns and acknowledge the ones that are working well.
In Ayurvedic thinking, there are three basic states: Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. Sattva is the peaceful or harmonious state. There is very much advice about food and lifestyle, but I think the basics make sense to me, and will to you too.
Sattvic Food—should be fresh, never more than 24 hours old. Not too spicy (for you). Although ingredients can be combined, food should be kept simple. In general one should eat until 3/4 of the stomach is full (in other words, don’t stuff yourself). Late night eating is discouraged.
Sattvic Sleep Patterns—First, get enough sleep. Second, sleep the same times every day. Third, sleep at night. : )
Sattvic Exercise—should be gentle to moderate. It should be energy- building, not depleting. And it should be done in the early morning.
Spiritual practice is the above three, which will make one more receptive, calm and peaceful in general. In yoga, there are many paths, but all have a sense of surrender and selflessness.
By taking care of our physical and mental needs, we put ourselves in a position to see our true spiritual nature clearly. When we don’t, we become Rajasic (agitated) or Tamasic (dull and lethargic). By encouraging and participating in a Sattvic lifestyle, we lessen the other tendencies and set ourselves up for a spontaneous, naturally occurring state of peaceful being.
May your weight loss process lead you towards Sattva.
My clients and I keep coming to the same conclusion: If I eat mostly whole foods, I feel great and my weight finds itself a comfortable spot for me.
I am blessed to watch people experience this time and time again.
I also get to see another common occurrence: the silly mind sneaking in and saying, “It’s not that simple—it was really the exercise, vitamins, starvation, etc…”
Sometimes the mind does its nasty work by simply allowing us to forget simple truths. Sometimes it is protecting us from the pain of realizing that the trauma we have been putting ourselves through is so easily rectified.
So here it is. Allow yourself to be free of suffering from your diet. Today allow your eating to be part of your ongoing process of self-realization—today, nourish yourself. We allow our energy to rise, our minds to be clear, our bodies to be more easeful, by eating whole food. The only effort we need to apply is not to forget that eating is simple.
Don’t believe me—try it.
“Yoga asana is a steady comfortable position
reducing the tendency for restless breathing
and promoting one’s identification with infinite breath of life.”
-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as translated by Mukunda Stiles
I love this sutra. It always reminds us of how to practice.
On the mat, we tend to want to “feel” something. Our head is so filled with mental static that we tend to seek an uncomfortable position we can’t ignore in order to remind ourselves that we have a body. Our breathing becomes more difficult, or too purposeful.
Even while working, your practice should promote an easy breath. That easy breath will allow your thoughts to slow and the awareness beneath your thoughts to arise.
We often perform this same behavior in the way we eat—eating until our stomachs are bulging is one way to feel something. Or eating so quickly we miss the flavor altogether. Our breath is shallow, and our awareness of internal sensation is low.
As we move in a more comfortable manner and can feel our breath moving, we allow thoughts and emotions to surface and dissipate. Our mind is able to “settle” into a peaceful, less turbulent state.
Consider the position in which you eat as an asana. Find a comfortable, long spine. Take a moment and observe your breathing. Allow it to find a natural, easy flow. As you eat, maintain this comfortable pose and notice the difference in your ability to stay present with your food. Many find that this promotes a greater awareness of taste and smell, as well as naturally slowing their eating down.
Maintaining this comfortable posture and breath throughout your day—during work and play—is a thread of ease and peace that reminds us of the connectedness of all things.
I’ve been writing a lot about food lately, so I thought I’d get back to the foundations of the Peaceful Weight Loss practice.
Every day we return to the mat and again begin the process of finding ourselves. It begins by releasing tension from the body. Feeling our breath move easily into the abdomen. With each exhale we let go of a bit of anxiety and our peaceful nature begins to surface.
Our practice continues with various poses designed to strengthen and stretch our muscles – allowing us to feel comfortable in our body, so it doesn’t distract us from our naturally occurring peaceful nature. We end in savasana – relaxation, further unraveling our tension and watching our mind and body slow down.
Our practice supports our natural state. It reminds us that we are at our core stress-free. We see this by watching our thoughts and emotions pass in front of us as we move, breathe, and sit still. We become aware that these thoughts and feelings are not the entirety of who we are – there is something underneath these swirling thoughts and emotions that is calm, peaceful and present.
That core of our being is not fat or thin, strong or weak, happy or depressed. That core is beyond these states and is always available to us. That self is the experience of peace. It can come at any time: while you are in triangle, eating the perfect piece of mango, or walking down the street.
Our practice opens us up to experiencing this self. The more we taste it, the more aware we become of it. Non-beneficial behaviors begin to drop away. We are able to see clearly – to easily gravitate to useful, positive choices in our life. Food becomes nourishment for body, mind and spirit. Self-loathing and disappointment drop away as we see how beautiful our true self is. We become gentler towards others as we see that our core is similar, and possibly the same as theirs. We find love and acceptance in the present, and worry less about the future. Unneeded weight disappears as we let it go, by nourishing that self instead of obscuring it.
So enjoy your practice today – let that enjoyment radiate through your day and infuse your life.
May we all be peaceful and happy.
Loka Samasta sukhino bhavantu.
The desire to cleanse increases in the spring. We also naturally grow more active. The trick is to manage this natural spring “push.” Keeping a balanced yet heightened energy for the next few months will allow you to purge what is not needed and take in the new, fresh energy.
Focus on practice
Reassess your schedule and make a little more time for your yoga practice. It may mean getting up earlier, or signing up for that class you’ve been meaning to take. Your practice is the base from which everything else grows. Spring is a good time to pick up the pace. Be open to your practice taking a new shape. Your practice is there for you to expand awareness and heighten your sensitivity. Shaking things up for the new season may help with this.
Clean up your kitchen
In order to make way for dietary changes, set the stage by purifying your physical environment.
– Clean your food preparation space
– Clean your eating area
Clean up your diet
The winter was a time to move inward and eat heavier foods. Spring asks us to turn our energy outward again. Foods that are less spiced and have more naturally occuring flavor will help with this. Your heightened practice will naturally lead you to a diet that is lighter and contains more live foods.
– Re-evaluate grocery store choices
– Find fresher food
– Buy more fresh produce and herbs
– Drop salty, heavy foods that aren’t that interesting to you
– Eat regularly, eating smaller meals
I’m often asked about fasting. Fasting can be useful, but not for weight loss. Strict fasting is too much for most people who are holding weight, and it ends up producing the opposite effect.
Instead, clean up your diet and watch the timing of your eating. Don’t eat at least two hours (preferably more) before you sleep. Fast from feeling “heavy” or too full after meals. The cleanup will have a gentle cleansing effect on your whole system. You will be able to maintain it throughout the spring and gain more benefits. If you must fast, remember that fasting is actually obstaining from any aspect of what you usually do. I suggest fasting from meat and/or dairy for a few weeks, and seeing how that affects you.
So enjoy retooling for the new season. May your practice open your heart to new possibilities. May we all have the good fortune to fully experience every day.