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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The Void: April’s New Moon

*I’m going to preface this post with the acknowledgement that I am in no way an expert in the Lunar Cycle or Astrology. Last August’s Total Solar Eclipse was an incredible event, which reignited my connection to the Moon and the night sky. The knowledge I share in regards to the Moon and her cycle is basic stuff I’ve learned so far.*

The Lunar Cycle is comprised of multiple phases. Some of the more widely known phases are New Moons and Full Moons. Today is the New Moon for April coming off of the Full Moon on March 31st.

The New Moon is both the end and the beginning of a Lunar Cycle. It is a time when the Moon in invisible to the eye creating a moonless night sky. Because of this we’re in a moment that can be viewed as nothingness, darkness, silence, a blank slate, a void. This moment is like the pause at the end of the exhale before the lungs begin to draw breath in again. (Take a moment to observe your breath. Can you feel the space between exhale and inhale?) However, this space doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Within this void there is release and creation, surrender and control, rest and action.

This is a time when some people feel called to draw inward to visit their shadowside or darkness to examine and evaluate what is found there, release that which no longer has purpose or serves, and create new intentions or beginnings. While some can embrace this experience freely, there are many people who avoid such things.

Think about how voids show up in your life. Are you ever excited to pause? Do you embrace the stillness? Or does stillness make your cringe? Do you try to find something to fill the empty time slot because you feel lazy or guilty about not being “productive” all the time? Why is stillness considered unproductive? If a room becomes quiet, do you feel compelled to speak? Why is that? What would happen if you let the stillness or the silence envelop you? What would happen if you turned inward, cleared a plot, tilled some soil, and planted some internal seeds?

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

Self-Care Sunday, Episode 1: What is Self-Care

Welcome to Self-Care Sunday!

For quite a while now, I have been wanting to do a series of posts on self-care. However, I have also been hesitant about this idea. My intention with these posts is to provide readers with ideas for different ways to care for themselves. These posts are not meant to say one thing is better than another, and these posts are not meant to be the “be all and end all” of self-care. I think there is a real lack of self-care in people’s lives. For many, they feel self-care is selfish. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. Showing oneself love, kindness, and compassion allows that person to show love, kindness, and compassion to others.

What the heck is self-care?

Self-care is the care for oneself, according to Merriam-Webster, but so many of us still don’t know what that means. Self-care is the practices, activities, and routines that support ones physical, mental, and emotional health. It is what refuels, rather than takes away.

Like I mentioned above, many people have come to think self-care is something selfish. As in, “How dare you take time for yourself to fill your figurative cup of well-being, instead of continuing to give all of your energy to beings, even when you no longer have any energy to give!” Self-care is actually quite the opposite of selfishness. By taking care of ones needs and refueling themselves the person is then able to take better care of others. Our world must be quite ill for self-care to be considered a negative thing.

How does someone practice self-care?

Here are some tips for practicing self-care.

  • Actively pursue it. Schedule it. Write it on the calendar. Block out time for yourself.
  • Have a clear intention that this is for your well-being. If you’re just doing something without a clear intention, then the result won’t be very fulfilling.
  • Figure out what you like and dislike. There’s no point in doing something you don’t like, even if the internet says you should do it. Not everyone has the same needs so test out different things to find what works for you.

With all of that being said, self-care is not always a “pretty” thing like bath bombs and coffee dates. Sometimes it’s looking at failures, re-evaluating, and trying again, if necessary. Sometimes it’s disappointing others by saying no to something. But most of all, self-care isn’t about fixing oneself. The focus is on taking care of oneself, and it is a necessary and essential thing for a balanced life.

My goal is to post a different method of self-care each Sunday creating a series of offerings to readers. These offerings will range from taking a bath to movement to stepping away from something negative. I’m quite excited for this series, and I hope you are, too. If you ever have a suggestion or have a self-care practice you love and would like me to share, please leave a comment and I will do my best to add it to my list.

Tune in next Sunday for episode 2!