Self-Care Series, Episode 4: The Time I was Asked About Diets

Thursdays I teach a small group class at a local St. Louis corporation. Some weeks I share with them interesting things I’ve read about or have been studying. Other weeks I ask if they have questions or want to share something.

Today one of the students said he had been getting into learning about nutrition and asked if there were any diets I follow or recommend.

Such an interesting question.

I understand why he would ask that because yoga is becoming such a part of the fitness industry it is easy to assume yoga teachers would eat certain ways, similar to the idea personal trainers eat certain ways. There’s also the understanding that society is hyper-focused on achieving a particular “body” and the assumption that it can be “done” through diet and exercise. Because of these understandings and assumptions, I wanted to give him an honest answer — an answer that was authentic and truthful for me. However, I didn’t want to come off condescending or righteous because that can happen when topics of food and dieting comes up. I wanted to create a space of sharing and discussion, not confrontation.

Here’s my answer.

I don’t diet. I don’t follow certain food protocols, restrictions, whatever you want to call it. At least not in the traditional sense. When I did do those things, they led to disordered eating. (He was sort of taken aback, which tends to happen when I say I’ve struggled with food.) Now, I try to practice more intuitive eating. I try to listen to the messages and cues my body is sending me as best I can and honor them. I focus more on how the things I consume make me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally, without restricting and placing rules on myself. The only foods I avoid are the ones in which I have a sensitivity, i.e. soy, avocado, bananas. I try to not judge or punish myself for choices or amounts. Instead of restricting, I am practicing unrestricting. At one time I had a list of foods, while not considered “unhealthy” by most people, that were on a list of foods I couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t eat because of their nutritional value, or lack thereof. Now I have an incredible list of foods that make me feel functional, whole, satisfied, vibrant because that’s more valuable to me. I am not going to judge anyone who practices a particular restrictive diet, like Paleo, Keto, Veganism, etc., but I also won’t promote those practices.

(This might not be the popular answer, but it’s mine.)

Why did I make this part of the Self-Care Series?

I truly believe if we were not meant to enjoy food and drink then our senses wouldn’t attract us to it. Why do smells make our mouths water? Why do the bright colors of produce draw us in? Why are we able to notice the different textures and flavors? Why entice us if we aren’t supposed to experience pleasure and satisfaction? I also believe food can be medicine for physical, mental, and emotional bodies. I believe making empowered choices regarding what each one of us consumes is a big middle finger to an industry that wants us to be complacent. I believe the way we think about what we consume is an indication of how we treat and care for ourselves.

The diet industry is a big business. It makes approximately $60 billion dollars a year, and the focus is not on helping people. The industry’s focus is on shaming people into to believing their bodies make them unworthy and they’ll find happiness if they change their appearance. The diet industry is focused on making people feel guilty when a diet fails, and plays hero by swooping in with another diet for the person to try so the cycle can continue. The diet industry is about sales.

Start to notice and analyze your relationship with food. Do you feel empowered by your consumption choices? Do you find pleasure and satisfaction with food? Are you able to interpret your body’s messages? Can you read them loud and clear? Or do you ignore your body? Do you feel shamed, guilty, beat down? Do you spend more time thinking about food and planning meals that it takes away from the other things in your life? Is your list of “no-no” foods a hell of a lot longer than your list of “yes, please” foods? If you are feeling more negative toward yourself and food, maybe it’s time to practice something different. Maybe it’s time to say, “Fuck you,” to the diets. Maybe it’s time to become friends with your body because contrary to what the diet industry tells us the body is quite intelligent and knows what it is doing.

Self-Care Series, Episode 3: Mindful Movement

Welcome, everyone! It’s Self-Care Sunday, again, and we’re talking Mindful Movement!

(I apologize for not posting an episode last Sunday, but I needed a self-care day with zero obligations. Now on to the show!)

Something I realized when I was an interior designer, and I see it even now as a yoga teacher, is people are all about instant gratification and results. Whether we want that new custom sofa or the lengthiest hamstrings there ever were, we want it yesterday. What happens, and this is seen a lot with New Year’s Resolutions, we dive all in – gym time for 2 hours 5 days a week, running 5 miles a day, etc. – get burned out, shame ourselves, and do it all over again.

The world we live in is based on results quickly and in large amounts. Deadlines are ridiculously short, sometimes unattainably short, but we’re still expected to meet them. Work loads are overwhelming and sometimes more than even two people can handle. Stress hormones are in a constant state of flux, which causes people to believe it’s normal to be on a constant adrenaline rush, and if we aren’t on this constant adrenaline rush, then there must be a problem…right? Our world is very much focused on quantity and instant results to that point that if our movement isn’t giving us gratification immediately then it’s broken.

What if I told you that the type of movement and how much you move isn’t as important as how you engage with movement? Or that moving your body mindfully is a way to honor and celebrate your body, rather than punish it? That movement can be for pleasure?

How does someone practice mindful movement?

Mindful movement requires the development and practice of dual awareness – proprioception (a sense of the position and movement of one’s body parts) and exteroception (a sense of external stimuli) and/or interoception (a sense of internal stimuli, i.e. hunger, pain, etc.). In yoga, students practice proprioception and interoception by becoming aware of how and where their body is moving and landing on their mat, but also noticing how their body is responding to postures and transitions.

Rather than thinking about movement in a quantitative way, what would happen if movement was thought about with a qualitative approach? In other words, instead of focusing on steps taken, calories burned, pounds lost, think about how the movement makes you feel, are you actually engaging, and do you even like how you are moving.

If you are someone who “punishes” yourself through movement, ask yourself why? If you are someone who focuses on the results, ask yourself why? Then ask yourself, what would it be like to move for the pleasure of moving? How would it feel to move because you enjoy it and because you have a body capable of moving? What do you notice when you focus on the quality of movement, what your body is doing, and how it’s responding?

Self-Care Sunday, Episode 2: Bath Time

Bathing dates back to Ancient Greece and has been practiced by many cultures. Bathing can be done for hygiene, therapeutic, and religious purposes. I want to focus on the therapeutic aspect of bathing. While bathing can help with the rehabilitation of an injury, many people bathe for relaxation.

Bathing, aka soaking, is one of my personal favorite methods of self-care. For me it’s a great time to be with myself and my thoughts. It also relieves physical pain. I was diagnosed with my first knee issue shortly before I turned 11, and the conditions piled up for years. I’ve had surgery to partially remove a tumor from my right knee, several bouts of bursitis, Osgood Schlatter Disease, and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome aka Runner’s Knee. At one point, if I remember correctly it was when I diagnosed with Runner’s Knee, the doctor told me I should NEVER use stairs again. I was about 16 years old. To say the least, I’ve struggled with knee pain for about 18 years. It comes and goes. But I find when the pain is particularly uncomfortable a hot bath helps me find relief.

Isn’t soaking just sitting in a tub of water?

Well, put like that is sounds pretty lame. True, sitting in a tub of water with lights blazing can be pretty underwhelming, so while the tub is filling set the mood. Create some ambiance by dimming the lights or lighting a candle or two. Decide if you’d like music or not, and if so, what type of music. My musical choice varies depending on my mood. I’ll listen to anything from instrumental to Birdy to East Forest to Def Leppard. Listen to whatever is appealing in the moment. Then it’s time to decide if you want to add anything to the tub; Epsom salt, essential oils, bubbles, bath bomb, bath salt (not the synthetic kind that make people zombie-like). This, too, depends on my mood, but I’m partial to tub tea. Tub tea is a mixture that steeps in the water as a person soaks. The different elements of the mixture offer different benefits, some physical and some aromatic. I’m currently using a Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea mixture. The recipe can be found at the bottom of the post.

What are some benefits of bathing?

Soaking in a tub of water can do the following:

  • Increased blood circulation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • General relaxation
  • Improved sleep
  • It’s been reported that soaking can help with Diabetes by reducing levels of glucose and sugar in the blood
  • Steam from the hot water can help reduce mucus and clear nasal passages
  • Relieve pressure on joints

These are just a handful of benefits. If you don’t have a tub, don’t worry. You can still take get some of these benefits from a hot shower. While there are some limitations with showering, you can use salt or sugar scrubs to exfoliate skin. For aromatherapy you can hang a bundle eucalyptus stems from the shower head. The steam from the water will help to release oil from the eucalyptus leaves.

Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea

Attunement

Attuning is defined as making aware, or making harmonious or balanced. As children, everyone is connected so closely to their inner Self. They are attuned to their body and mind. Some say babies are connected to the Divine or Universe or Supreme Consciousness. But as babies get older the connection to this inner knowledge slowly breaks down. Maybe this is because as the child gets older other parts of the brain develop, like the neocortex, or maybe it’s because children are taught by caregivers and society to ignore messages from their body and mind.

Something I notice, as a yoga teacher, is this lack of attunement. As students enter the room I like to check  in with them by asking how they are feeling (mental/emotional check in) and how their body is feeling (physical check in). The answer I get most often when I ask how someone is feeling is “Good.” Sometimes that is how the person is feeling. They’ve had a “good” day, but more often than not it’s just an automatic response. The majority of time when I inquire about their body I get an answer like, “My shoulder/low back hurts, but I’ll deal with it.” Another thing that has been slowly increasing during classes is the checking of smartwatches. People are so driven to be connected with external sources that they will sacrifice another person’s chance to draw inward.

In my classes, I’ve been encouraging students to tune in with themselves multiple times during their practice. There’s the initial tuning in, then a couple-few times after movement, and a final moment at the end of class. I’ve been doing this because our physical, mental, and emotional states are in a constant state of ebb and flow. There’s not one feeling throughout a single day, and if something does go wrong we have the choice to continue focusing on it even if the issue has been resolved or to move on to the next feeling.

In addition to asking students how they feel, after they’ve checked in a few times I’ve asked them to notice if they need to change something to honor what is happening — do they need a break, do they need a sip of water, do they need to reconnect with their breath, etc.

I challenge you to skip checking Facebook a handful of times today and instead check yourself. Ask yourself the general attunement question, “How do I feel right now; pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?” At each check in notice if your answer changed from the previous check in(s). Maybe the first few times you ask this question you don’t know the answer. That’s okay. Like with most things in life and yoga, it might take time. Be kind and patient as you begin to relearn your body and mind’s language. Once you are able to tune in with how you are feeling maybe you can become aware of what change(s) may or may not need to be made.

Give it a try, and if you want feel free to leave a comment with your observations.