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.

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Discovering Your Truth

satya

 

Yoga is described as a journey of the self through the self to the self. This is done through physical movement, meditation, sensory deprivation, ethical living, etc. The first step of the journey is through ethical living, and the guidelines for ethical living are called Yamas and Niyamas. Within each guideline is a set of rules or commandments, so to speak.

The focus of this post is truthfulness, which is the Yama known as Satya. “Sat” means “true essence,” “true nature,” “unchangeable.” The practice of Satya is being true and consistent with reality in ones thoughts, speech, and actions. Our thoughts, speech, and actions are interchangeable and tend to be a result of how we feel in a particular moment, a result of primitive thinking, rather than seeing things for how they really are, the unchanging truth. Usually the reaction within a moment comes from a place of fear and conditioning. Thoughts, ways of speaking, and actions are influenced and conditioned by our life experiences such as events, trauma, and relationships.

How does one practice Satya?

First of all, in order to be honest with others we must first be honest with ourselves. It’s typical for people to identify with judgments. For instance, “I am a bad person…,” “I am not in a good mood…,” “I have a bad shoulder so I just deal with it.” These judgment usually arise in the moment and we attach to them. In order to detach from irrational thoughts or feelings offer yourself some space and stillness. Allow yourself to slow down and sit in observation of your thoughts. One way is to observe each thought as it comes up, offer a polite greeting, then watch each thought pass by, as if you are passing someone kindly on a street or watching cars drive by.

However, sometimes a thought or feeling sticks around or continues to come up. In that instance, allow yourself to analyze the thought or feeling. Instead of letting it multiple and grow into this mass of irrational thinking, ask yourself questions. “Why does this thought keep showing up?” “Why does it show during this particular scenario?” “Why do I feel this way?” Begin to dismantle the thought, gently and non-judgmentally taking it apart so you can arrive at the root of the thought or feeling, the truth.

This practice of observing thoughts can be done with regards to other people. Watch your thoughts as they come up. Analyze the recurring thoughts or feelings. Come to the truth about why you feel or think that way toward that person or group of people.

As you start move away from fear based thinking and feeling you can start to live and speak your truth. Allowing your entire self to be seen by everyone and voicing your needs. Speaking the truth can be just as difficult as, if not more difficult than, observing thoughts and feelings. When one is speaking it is easy to state an opinion or judgment. “I don’t like the way you fill the dishwasher.” “I can’t believe you are wearing that dress. It’s so ugly.”

Satya is the second Yama. It follows the first, and most important, Yama, which is Ahimsa (non-violence). In speaking our truth we must also practice Ahimsa. This means we must try to speak in a way that will not hurt ourselves or others. This requires us, again, to slow down and observe what is happening. A way to practice non-violent speech is Non-Violent Communication. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is observing thoughts and feelings, creating a dialogue, and expressing needs in a way that contains compassion and truth. For instance, you come home and your partner forgot she had a cup of milk on the side table and one of the dogs had gotten on the furniture to get the cup, which resulted in milk spilled on the rug. A lot of thoughts are probably popping into your head, “I can’t believe she left a cup out again! Our dog is in so much trouble! This is ridiculous! I just got home and I have to deal with this crap!” Instead of immediately reacting and coming to your partner with all of these thoughts in your head, give yourself some time to slow down, breathe, and start to observe. Start the conversation by making a non-judgmental observation, “There is milk on the floor.” Then consider and state your feelings, “I am frustrated.” Followed by stating your needs, “I need to come home from work to an orderly space so I can relax.” Then make a request, “Would you be more conscious of where you leave things?”

This type of dialogue will result in less arguments, people will be more willing to accommodate your requests when you approach them in a calmer manner, and you will have spoken your actual truth. This can be used in all kinds of scenarios with all kinds of people. I try to use NVC when speaking to my classes. I recently had two very full classes. One being 36 out of 41 spots filled and 34 out of 35 spots for the other. I become very nervous and very concerned with student safety in classes that full because students only have about a block width between them and each person around them. I handle this by stating the obvious fact, “Wow! There are a lot of people here today!” Then I express something like, “I am so excited to have all of you! I’m also a little concerned about safety.” Followed by my needs and request, which is typically, “I need to create a safe space for each student, and because there are so many of you I need your help with that. My first request is you become and remain conscious of those around you. I’ve literally been kicked in the face while taking a class. It’s not fun to have someone’s foot touch your face. [pause for laughter] My second request is you refrain from doing particularly complex postures, like handstand. Save those for another time, please.” It is incredibly rare for a student to not honor these requests.

Keep in mind observing thoughts and feelings is a difficult task. People are used to having a constant monologue of self-talk in their heads. People are used to reacting from an emotional place. Know there may be times that you are trip up and cause yourself or someone else pain. It happens. In those instances, offer a heartfelt apology, then keep going. This is one of the reasons why Yoga is a practice.

Nourishment for the Heart and Soul

nourishment

At the moment I am participating in an online course called Manifest: A Corse About Standing in Your Power hosted by Amber Karnes of Body Positive Yoga and Kelley Carboni-Woods, author of Manifest: 30 Days of Intentional Mantras. The course is a practice of self-exploration to build trust with ones self and stand in ones power. Each week we are given two mantras for reflection and two asana practices that correspond with each mantra.

The first mantra of Manifest was, “I nourish myself with the best.” Typically, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about nourishment is food. The body derives nutrients from the food and drink consumed to help it function and sustain life. But what comes to mind if you look beyond what you eat? We nourish ourselves with quality of the media we choose, the music we listen to, the activities we participate in, and the people we interact with. Personally, I find nourishment through reading, creating art, moving my body, taking naps, snuggling my dogs, and spending quality time with my boyfriend. However, I think nourishment goes even further than just what we take in. I think it also involves what is released.

Think about the thoughts, events, people, feelings, etc. that you might continue to harbor negativity toward. Are you someone who holds a grudge? I certainly was. Are you someone who revisits some past event and replays it differently in your head so there is a different outcome? Again, I was. What does holding on to all of that do for you, especially if it is something that happened years ago? Holding on to all of the negativity not only gives that person/event/thought/feeling power and control over you, but it takes up space that could be used for something else, something more positive and productive. Lessons can be learned and growth can be produced from certain situations, but once that has happened let the negative go. Granted that is easier said than done in many cases and can take a long time to happen. Keep in mind it doesn’t mean you have to forgive and forget.

I held a lot of anger toward someone for many years. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized it didn’t serve me to be angry. It wasn’t going to change the past, and it drained my energy, which took away from the important things in my life. While I may not have necessarily forgiven this person, I have been able to release my anger toward them. This has allowed me to see some of the growth this person has gone through, as well as see this person as an actual person.

Allowing the negative to be released clears up space for you to take in nourishment from the things that light up your soul. It allows you to give energy to the things you enjoy, rather than to the things that bring you discomfort, pain, heartache. Offer yourself the best quality nourishment you can because you deserve it. You deserve to be filled with positivity. For it’s this positive energy that allows us to share the best parts of ourselves with the world.

Do you agree with the idea that nourishment can come from letting something go? In what ways, do you find provide yourself the best nourishment? If you are holding on to something negative, will you consider or work toward letting it go?

Studio Etiquette? What’s That?

studio-etiquette

Maybe it’s because I’m leading a workshop designed for beginning yogis or maybe the Universe is just trying my teacher patience, but etiquette, sometimes lack thereof, has been showing up a lot lately in quite a few of my studio classes. As a yoga teacher, I try to provide a safe, supportive, and respectful space for students to practice in.

For anyone new to yoga or new to practicing in a studio here are some things to be conscious and aware of in class. For anyone currently practicing at a studio this is your friendly, not-so-subtle reminder about respecting the yoga space, your practice, and the practice of others in the room. Keep in mind each studio has its own culture. Therefore some of these may not apply or they might have even more rules for etiquette.

  1. Be in the room at the scheduled start time for class. Or better yet, be in the room early!
    • Getting to class early allows you time to actually set up your space and settle yourself before class begins. Sometimes things happen, like traffic, and it’s difficult to get to class early. If that’s the class try to be in the practice room at the time class is scheduled to start. The instructor can always give announcements while you are getting settled. Another tip is to call the studio if you are running late. In some cases, the instructor can set up a spot (mat and props) for you so all you have to do is quickly come in while they are giving announcements.
    • Entering the practice space after class has started causes a few issues. First, it’s distracting for everyone involved. There is no possible way for this to not distract the other students and the teacher. It’s like trying to open a potato chip bag in a quiet room. Second, if the class has already gone through their warm up you are putting yourself at risk of becoming injured because you have not given yourself ample time to warm up. Third, depending on the class type or size there’s a possibility of getting kicked in the face or accidentally knocking into someone potentially causing harm to you, someone else, or both.
  2. Avoid flopping your mat down.
    • Other students are trying to get settled and center before class. When someone drops or flops their mat on the floor it creates an unnecessary distraction and throws off other students’ peace of mind.
  3. Unvelcro your mat strap before entering the room.
    • Similar to #2. Try to create as little noise as possible when getting yourself set up for class. For some people this class might be their only quiet time or personal time that day or week. Be respectful of that concept.
  4. If it isn’t yoga related, then don’t bring it in the room.
    • This includes cell phones. Personally, I prefer when students leave watches, fitness trackers, and smart watches outside the room, as well. Part of practicing yoga is removing distractions. How can you have a distraction-free practice if you are worried your phone might go off in class or when you are texting on your smart watch during Savasana?
  5. NO shoes in the room!
    • Do not wear your shoes into the practice space. Depending on the flooring in the studio, shoes can actually mess up the floor. It creates an unhygienic practice area. Keep in mind hands, feet, and faces all end up near or against the floor at some point. Studios work incredibly hard to keep the practice space floors clean to make sure students stay healthy. I know this can be hard at smaller studios. Believe me. I’ve practiced at a studio where you open the door and you are in the practice space and cubbies were all the way across the room in a separate space. Take your shoes off the moment you walk in and carry them to the cubbies. Easy peasy.
    • The only time it is acceptable to wear shoes into the room is if you have a medical condition, i.e. plantar fasciitis. In that case, bring a second pair of shoes to class that is dedicated only to being worn in the studio – something that is never worn outside or anywhere else.
  6. If you think you will be tempted to talk to your neighbor during class, then place your mat elsewhere.
    • Sometimes friends, colleagues, or partners will go to class together. I know it’s tempting to talk during class, especially the first class, because it’s something new and weird, and nervousness is pouring from you and it’s manifesting in an urge to talk. But please don’t do it. In fact, just put your mat somewhere away from your buddy if you think either of you will be tempted to talk.
  7. Do NOT place your hands on another student!
    • You’ve convinced your partner to come try yoga. You get everything set up while your partner is filling out their liability waiver or changing in the locker room. Class starts. Everything is going peachy, then the first Downward Facing Dog arrives and you decide to get off your mat and “adjust” your partner. (Yes, this has happened in a class before.) As a teacher, this is the fastest way for me to go from being nice to flames in my eyes and smoke coming out of my ears. DO. NOT. TOUCH. SOMEONE. ELSE. You are responsible for you. Unless you attending an integrated accessible yoga class as someone’s caretaker and are being employed to assist them through the class then DO NOT PLACE YOUR HANDS ON ANOTHER PERSON! Don’t do it. Ever. I’m sure your intentions are good, but forcing someone’s body into a shape it’s not used to making is a great way for them to get injured. If you think you might be tempted to touch them, then see the suggestion in #6 – put your mat elsewhere.
  8. Stay the entire time.
    • Please, please, please stay the entire time. Savasana (Corpse Pose) is essential to the practice. It allows students to practice letting go of the grasp on thoughts and observe them entering and exiting the mind as they please. If you aren’t quite ready to practice thought control, then think of it like a cool down for any other physical activity. It lets the body calm and relax and the practice integrate with the body. This allows the body to reap maximum benefits and decrease the risk of injury.

This list and my thoughts might seem a little harsh, but these are all things I’ve experienced as a teacher and as a student. These are things I’ve had students complain about or wish would be practiced more often. The studio space may be just a workout space for some, and that’s fine, but the studio space is also a sacred space for others. No matter your reason for coming to a studio, please respect the space and the people you share it with.

If you practice at a studio, what are some other guidelines you wish others would respect? Do you try to practice all of those listed above? Maybe you are someone who unconsciously does one of the things listed about, would you be willing to make a conscious effort to do something different? Leave you comments or insights!